One day, God and a sage are walking across a vast desert. The Sage turns to God and asks, "O Greatest Lord, what is the secret of this life and the appearances of this world?" God smiles and makes no reply. They continue on.
"Child," God finally says. "The sun is hot today, and I am thirsty. Ahead you will find a village. Go there and fetch me a cup of water."
Sage sets off. Arriving at the village, he approaches the first house he sees and knocks at the door. A beautiful young woman answers. The moment Sage looks into her eyes he forgets God's command, and the reason for his mission.
The woman ushers Sage into the house, where he is warmly welcomed by her family. It is as if everyone in this gentle household has been expecting him. Sage is asked to eat with the family, and then to stay the night. He gladly accepts, enjoying the family's warm hospitality, and secretly marveling at the young woman's loveliness.
A week goes by, then two. Sage decides to stay on, and he soon begins to share in the household chores. After the appropriate amount of time passes he asks for the woman's hand in marriage. The family has been expecting nothing less, it turns out. Everyone is overjoyed.
Sage and his young wife settle down in her family's house, where she soon bears him three children, two sons and a daughter.
Years pass. When his wife's mother and father pass away, Sage takes over as head of the household. He opens a small shop in the village and it prospers. Before long he is an honoured citizen of the community and a prominent member of the town council. Giving himself up to the age-old joys and sorrows of village life, Sage lives contentedly for many years.
Then one evening during the monsoon season a violent storm breaks over head, and the river rises so high from the sudden rains that the village begins to flood. Sage gathers his family and leads them through the dark night toward higher ground. But the winds blow so violently and the rain pelts down with such force that one of Sage's sons is washed away.
Sage reaches for the boy, and in so doing lets go of his second son. A moment later a gales wind tears his daughter from his arms. Then his beloved wife is washed away into the roaring darkness.
Sage wails helplessly and claws at the sky. But his cries are drowned by a towering wave that rises from the depths of the terrible night and washes him headlong into the river.
All goes black. Many hours pass; perhaps days. Slowly, painfully, Sage comes to his senses, only to discover that he has been washed onto a sandbank far down the river. It is daytime now, and the storm has passed. But there is no sign of his family anywhere, nor, for that matter, of any living creature.
For a long time Sage remains lying on the sand Almost mad with sorrow and abandonment. Bits of wreckage float past him in the river. The smell of death is on the wind. Everything has been taken from him now; All things life-giving and precious have disappeared into the swirling waters. There is little to do, it seems, but weep.
Then, suddenly, Sage hears a voice behind him that makes the blood stop in his veins. "Child," the voice asks, "where is my cup of water?" Sage turns and sees God standing at his side. The river vanishes, and once again he and God are alone in the empty desert. "Where is my water?" God asks again. "I have been waiting for you to bring it now for several minutes."
Sage throws himself at his Lord's feet and begs for forgiveness. "I forgot!" Sage cries again and again. "I forgot what you asked of me, Great Lord! Forgive me!"
God smiles and says, "Now do you understand the secret behind your life, and the appearances of this world?"