A poor old man lived in a forest and eked out his living by making charcoal from scraps of wood and selling it. One time, as a reward for rescuing a king who had lost his way in the forest, the poor man was given a beautiful grove full of most fragrant type of sandalwood trees. These trees were of a special quality from which expensive and rare perfume was made. One of these trees, in its natural state and without any effort on the part of the old man, was alone was worth more than the poor man could have earned during the rest of his life by producing and selling wood as charcoal.
Of course, the poor old man was very happy over this gift, but did not realize what a great fortune was bestowed on him. So, in order to make a living, he resorted to making charcoal out of sandalwood trees and selling it in the market for a pittance.
After a long time the king happened to pass that way again and noticed that the most valuable grove had been reduced to ashes, also that the old man was in the same poor condition as before. When the king enquired as to what had happened, the old man related that he had been earning his living by making charcoal from the trees. The king then asked him if he had any sandalwood left. The old man replied that he had nothing except a small piece, perhaps, one or two feet long. The king told him to go to the same bazaar where he had been selling the charcoal and sell this piece of wood without first turning it into charcoal. There were some wealthy people in the bazaar who noticed the excellent quality and rare fragrance of this piece of sandalwood. Recognizing its value, they all wanted to buy it. The result was that the old man earned hundreds of rupees out of that small one piece of sandalwood.
He returned to the king with the money, and the king said: “You have not appreciated the value of this wood. Had you appreciated it, you could have earned millions instead of paltry sum you did by selling it as charcoal and that too after going through the unnecessary labour of first making charcoal out of it.” On realizing his mistake, the old man asked the king for another such gift that he might make proper use of it. The king replied that such gift is bestowed only once in a lifetime.
In the same way, the true value of the human body is realized at the time of death, when man regrets that he has squandered his most precious possession. The result is that he has to go to hell or lower births. Similarly, the Bible says that we are selling our birthright for a mess of pottage.
Our body may be likened to a precious sandalwood forest, which we can exchange for millions of rupees (spiritual values) but we, in our ignorance, reduce it to charcoal in the fires of the five passions.