The youth continued asking: “Will such happen to every one, or does it happen but to some of us?”
They replied: “If death does not overtake us in our younger years, then it is impossible, after many years, not to attain that state.”
The youth asked: “At what age do people become like him, and if death awaits each one of us without exception, is there no possibility to escape it and to avoid this misery?”
And he was told: “At the age of eighty or one hundred, people weaken, become feeble and die, and it cannot be otherwise, for death is the natural due of man, and its approach is inevitable.”
Seeing and hearing all this, the youth, sighing from the depths of his heart, said:
“If this is so, then our life is bitter and full of woe, and who can be gay and devoid of sorrow, when he is ever awaiting death, which is not only inevitable, but also, as you say, unexpected.”
And he returned to his palace very, very sad, continually pondering over death and repeating to himself:
“If all are to die, I also must die, and I even do not know when… And after my death, who will remember me? And after long ages everything will pass into forgetfulness. ... Is there no other life after death and is there no other world?” . . .
And he became very troubled by all these thoughts. However, he said nothing to his father, but asked his mentor whether he did not know of some one, who could explain all this to him and ease his mind for in thought he could find no solution.
His teacher said:
“I have told you before, that the wise hermits, who lived here and who pondered over all these questions, have either been killed by your father or have been exiled in his moments of anger. Now I know of no one within our boundaries.”
The youth became deeply grieved at this, and his heart ached and life became a continuous torture; and thus all the sweetness and the beauty of this world became in his eyes but debris and dirt. And God, desiring that each one save himself and that reason should reach truth, with His usual love and His mercy to mankind, pointed the right way to the youth in the following manner:
At this time there lived a monk, wise, fully perfect in all virtues, by the name of Varlaam, a priest by rank. He lived in the desert of Senaridia. Inspired by Divine revelation, this wise man learned of the prince’s plight, and, departing from the desert and changing his garments for those of a merchant, took ship and departed to the Indian Kingdom. Arriving in the city, where the prince lived in his palace, he stayed there many days acquainting himself with details about the prince and his near ones. Thus, finding out that the mentor was nearest to the prince, he went to the mentor and said:
“Know thou, my sir, that I am a merchant and that I have come from far-off lands. I have a precious stone, which has no equal anywhere and never had, and which up till now I have shown to no one, but I now speak to you about it, because I see that you are a clever and able man. Therefore take me to the prince and I will give him that stone, which is of such high price that no one can calculate it, for it exceeds all good and expensive things. The stone gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, health to the ailing, and can cast out the devil from the obsessed, making rational the insane. He who possesses this stone can attain all the good he desires.”
The mentor replied: “You seem an old man, yet you speak empty words and you overflow with self-praise: I have seen many precious stones and pearls and I have possessed many myself, but, I have never heard of nor seen a stone that possessed such powers. But let me see it and if your words are true I will immediately take you to the prince and you will be honored and you will receive the remuneration you merit.”
Varlaam said: “You are correct in saying that you have neither seen nor heard of such stones, but, believe me, I have such a stone. I do not wish to praise myself, nor do I lie in my old age, but I speak the truth. But as regards your desire to see it, listen to what I have to tell you: my precious stone, besides the faculties and miracles mentioned, has also this property, that it can be seen only by those, who possess absolutely healthy eyes and a perfectly chaste body; if, however, some one unclean unexpectedly sees the stone, he at once loses his sight and reason. Knowing the art of healing I can tell that your eyes ache and I therefore fear to show you the stone, lest I be guilty of your blindness. But of the prince I have heard that he leads a pure life, that he has healthy and clear eyes, and I therefore would show him my treasure. So do not be indifferent and deprive your master of such an important possession.”
The mentor replied: “If that be so, then do not show me the stone for I have defiled myself by many an unclean deed, and, as you say, I have an unhealthy vision. But I believe you and I will not be indifferent but will inform my master at once.”
And the teacher went into the palace and related to the prince all in the order as it happened. And the prince having listened to this, felt a great joy in his heart and became uplifted in spirit. He ordered the merchant to visit him at once.
Varlaam entered the room of the prince and, bowing, greeted him with a wise and pleasant speech. The prince ordered him to be seated and as soon as the mentor had left, said to the old man:
“Show me the stone of which you spoke to my mentor and of which you said such great and wonderful things.”
But Varlaam spoke thus to the prince:
“Everything that has been told to you about me, prince, is true and right, for it would not befit me to speak an untruth to your Highness. But before I have come to know your thoughts, I cannot open to you my great secret, because the Lord has said to me: ‘A sower went forth to sow. And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them; some fell upon stony places, where they had little earth; forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth; and some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up and choked them; but others fell into good ground and brought forth fruit a hundredfold.’ Thus if I will find in your heart good and fertile ground, I will not be hesitant but will sow the divine seed and will open to you the great mystery. But if the ground be stony or full of thorns, then better not to waste the saving seeds and better not to permit them to be devoured by birds and beasts, for it is strictly forbidden to throw jewels before them. But I hope to find in you the best soil for accepting the worthy seed and for beholding the precious stone and becoming enlightened by the dawn of light and yielding fruit an hundredfold. For because of you I have gone to many pains and I have sailed a long way, in order to show you what you have never seen and to teach you, what you have never heard.”