During the time of Lord Mahavir, there was a rich merchant called Dhanna who lived in a big town. Dhanna once wondered what would happen to his wealth after he died. Would his sons and daughters-in-law look after it or spend it all? He thought of testing the wisdom and ability of his daughter-in-law. He wanted to know who was the wisest and the most prudent amongst them, because he wanted to appoint one of these women to be in charge of the household and hand over the keys of the safe.
Dhanna one day invited his four sons and their wives. They all had a grand dinner together. After the dinner, Dhanna brought some uncooked rice and gave five grains of rice to each of the women. He said to them : could you look after these grains of rice and when I ask you for them give them back? All four women took five grains of rice each.
The Oldest one thought : we have got whole stores full of rice. I would rather throw these grains away and when the merchant asks me to give them back, I will take five grains from the store and give them to him. Thus, she threw away all five grains.
The second woman also thought it was stupid to keep these grains. She just ate them all and thought that she would give back lots of rice grains from the stores when the merchant, Dhanna, asked for them.
The third woman guessed there must be some reason why he gave these grains of rice. “I had better look after them,” she thought, and so she put the grains in a jewellery box and put the box in a safe place.
The fourth woman who was the youngest and whose name was Rohini, knew what to do with these grains. She had these grains planted on a small plot of land. During the monsoon season, the rice started growing and after several months of care, a crop of rice grew. The next year, Rohini took more of these fresh rice-grains and planted them on a bigger plot of land. Thus, she grew more rice. In this way, after five years, she had a small field full of a crop of rice.
After five years, Dhanna came back and asked for his rice back. The oldest woman hurriedly went to the store, took five grains of rice and gave them to the merchant. The second woman did the same thing. The third woman came with her jewel-box and said, “I have looked after these grains and here they are”– she gave these grains back to the merchant. Finally, Dhanna asked Rohini, “What about you, Rohini, where are the grains I gave you?” Rohini said, “I would like to give them back but you will have to arrange for the transport because those five grains were planted and now after five good years we have a whole store full of rice.” The merchant Dhanna was thrilled on hearing this. He knew that Rohini was the cleverest and the wisest. He gave all the keys of the safe to Rohini.
(When Lord Mahavir told this story to his disciples, he explained that we too should make good use of our life. We should not waste time and therefore throw away our life which is so valuable, but instead we should do good deeds and charitable work. The five grains in the story symbolize the five vows in the Jain religion. These five vows are: non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-acquisition.)
Sourced from: Stories from Jainism by Dr Kumarpal Desai