An anecdote from the great epic Rāmāyaṇa

A long time ago there lived a powerful sage named Aṣtavakra Ṛṣi. The sage was curved in eight parts of his body, and when he walked his movements were quite peculiar and awkward. Although he was a young man, he was very ugly and people often laughed at the sight of him. Although externally he was awkward and crooked, internally his heart was pure because he had realized his eternal transcendental identity. He knew and realized the difference between the body and the soul.

Once, Aṣtavakra Ṛṣi was invited by the great king Mahārāja Janaka (father of Sītā Devī) to attend an assembly of saintly persons. As he entered the assembly, everyone present began to laugh at him. Hearing them, Aṣtavakra Ṛṣi also began to laugh. The members of the assembly were surprised and said to each other, “We are laughing at him, but he is laughing even more loudly than us. Why is this?”

Janaka Mahārāja rose from his throne and asked Aṣtavakra Ṛṣi, “Why are you laughing so loudly?” The sage replied, “I thought I was coming to join an assembly of saints and sages, but instead I have stumbled into a convention of cobblers. A cobbler’s interest is in leather and skin, and I see that all of you are just looking at my skin. Your interest is in seeing if someone is beautiful or ugly, healthy or disabled, young or old. Your minds are absorbed in these temporary things. You are not seeing my soul as saintly persons would. It is simply illusion to place importance on the external, temporary body while being oblivious to the eternal soul dwelling within.”

Janaka Mahārāja’s heart was deeply penetrated by Aṣtavakra Ṛṣi’s words. He realized that the sage was a liberated soul, and fit to sit on the throne. He very lovingly placed him on his own throne, bowed down to him, and accepted him as his instructing spiritual master.