Sri Ramakrishna would often explain to his devotees the difference between the sacred and the secular. He would say that it is extremely difficult to separate the sacred from a secular point of view. To explain this idea he used to narrate a story.
There was a sage who used to roam from place to place on foot. He was a great sadhaka. One day he was lying deeply immersed in a state of super-consciousness or samadhi. A thief was passing by his side. He saw the sage and thought that the person must be a thief. He must have broken into someone’s house the previous night and was now sleeping due to exhaustion and the police would soon know about the robbery, come in search of the thief and arrest him from the spot. So, he felt that it was better to escape.
Soon after, a drunkard came there and seeing the sage, thought that the person must have drunk too much the previous night and because of intoxication must have lost his way and had fallen into the ditch. He felt that he was steadier than the other person although he was drunk. He was proud that he was not going to fall down.
In this way, several people passed by him and all of them thought differently about the sage according to their state of mind.
Then, another sage came that way. The moment he saw this sage he was deeply impressed. He could immediately realize that the sage was living in a state of samadhi. He sat down by his side and began to stroke his holy foot gently.
Thus, people with worldly tendencies could not recognise the true holiness of a sadhu. Rather, they misunderstood him. On the other hand, a real holy man could understand the spiritual greatness of another. Thus, Sri Ramakrishna would say it is dangerous to try to measure spiritual values by secular standards.
– by Swami Shantatmananda, published in the ‘Sacred Books of the East’ column, Sunday Guardian, 21st Sep 2013