Sage Nandisen was a great ascetic and well versed in the scriptures. He took a vow to serve monks with utmost devotion. His devotion of serving the monks was popular even in the heavenly abode.
One day his services were very much commended by Indra in an assembly of angels. One of the angels could not believe this and decided to check out the worthiness of sage Nandisen.
The angel gods, due to their miraculous power, can assume any form they desire and can reach any where in a split second. This god arrived at the outskirts of the village where sage Nandisen was, to test his "Vow of Service" and assumed a form of two monks. One became a very old and debilitated monk, while the other became a young and healthy monk.
It was a day when the sage Nandisen was to break his fast. After he came from gathering gochari (alms) and was about to break the fast, the young monk came to him and said, "Oh blessed one! There is a very old monk suffering from diarrhea, extreme thirst, and hunger. He is weak and needs your help."
Hearing these words, sage Nandisen immediately got up, took pure water with him and went to the place where the old monk was. Seeing Nandisen, the old monk at once raged, "Oh you wretch, I am lying here suffering and you did not even care to find if anyone needs help."
Sage Nandisen was not offended by these words. He had developed virtues of tolerance, forgiveness and, compassion. He calmly replied, "Oh, the best of the monks, kindly excuse my oversight. I have brought pure water for you to drink."
He helped the old monk drink the water. He cleaned his clothes, his body and helped him sit up. The old monk again became irritated. He frowned, "Oh you fool, don't you see that I am too weak to sit. What are you doing to me?"
Sage Nandisen said, "I will help you.” After helping the old monk to sit up, he said, "Oh revered monk, if you desire, I shall carry you to Upashray (place where monks stay temporarily) where you will be more comfortable."
The monk replied, "Why are you asking me? You may do so if you wish."
Sage Nandisen seated the monk on his shoulders and slowly proceeded towards Upashray. He walked slowly, watching every step carefully. The old monk (angel god) was determined to test him, so he increased his own weight gradually. With the increase in weight on his shoulder, sage Nandisen began to tremble and he almost fell down. The old monk said, "Oh you wretch, what is wrong with you? Don't you know how to walk? You are shaking my entire body. Is this the way to serve the sick?"
His words were very rude and harsh but sage Nandisen was not disturbed at all. He said, "Pardon me. I shall be more careful."
He ignored this and continued walking and took care not to offend the monk with any of his actions. On the way he thought about how to cure the monk.
He arrived at the Upashray with the monk. During all this the old monk was watching sage Nandisen and did not see any change in the helping nature of sage Nandisen even after all the aggravation. So the old monk turned back into an angel and bowed down at once to sage Nandisen, saying, "Blessed are you. Oh sage, you are the illustration of a real monk. You deserve all the praise by Lord Indra. I am very pleased with you and grant you whatever you choose."
"Oh heavenly angel, this human life is very precious. Nothing is more valuable than human existence. I am content. I crave for nothing", said sage Nandisen. The heavenly angel bowed his head at the feet of the sage and returned to his abode, applauding the merits of the sage.
This story teaches us the importance of tolerance, discipline, and contentment, which are all fundamental principles of Jainism. First and foremost, Nandisen had chosen to devote his human birth to serving monks, which is very admirable and requires utmost levels of dedication and discipline. The important point to realize is that Nandisen demonstrated his tolerance (i.e. abstinence from getting angry) and willingness to serve others before serving (food and water) one’s self without even knowing that he was being tested by the angel gods. This means that he was truly dedicated to the monks and believed in what he was doing. He also indicated his contentment with the human life when asked for a wish. This contentment is symbolic of the principle of non-possessiveness.