There was a prince who was besotted with his own beauty. If any traveller came to the palace he would ask him: “Have you ever seen anyone as handsome as me?”
No one ever had. One day an obsequious traveller said to him: “I don’t think there could be anyone in the whole world as good-looking as you. I don’t think even a god could be as handsome.”
This made the prince very happy and he went around telling everyone that he was more handsome than any god.
One day he had two visitors who identified themselves as gods.
“We have come to see if you are as handsome as you claim,” they explained.
“Aren’t I?” he asked.
“We visited you earlier in the day when you were asleep,” said one of the gods. “You were more handsome then.”
“How could my looks decline within a few hours?” said the prince. He turned to his servants. “Did I look better in the morning?” he enquired.
“You looked the same,” said his servants. “We are gods,” said one of the visitors. “We can see what your servants cannot. Their vision is imperfect and we’ll prove it to you. Bring a bowl of water.”
A bowl of water was brought. The god asked the servants to study it closely and then leave the room. When they were gone, he removed half a spoonful of water from the bowl. Then the servants were called back in.
“Is there any change in the bowl of water?” asked the god.
“None,” said the servants. “They cannot see that the water has diminished,” said the god, “just as they cannot see that your beauty has deteriorated.”
The prince was shaken. He thought : “My beauty is diminishing by the day. It is short-lived. Why am I besotted by something so fleeting? I should concern myself with that which is eternal.”
He never again looked into a mirror and in course of time renounced his throne and became a monk.