Originally posted in 2015, this is a message that I felt bears repeating.
Have you ever, in the secret recesses of your mind, criticized the spiritual level of another person? It happens from time to time that people do so. But it's not a valuable way to spend our time because we just don't know the level of another person. Here's a lovely story (apparently a traditional story in the ancient scriptures of India, paraphrased by Savitr Ishaya and posted with his permission) on the subject. Enjoy.
An ascetic dwelt in a small hut by the side of a temple. A nearby house, long abandoned, was eventually taken over by a harlot. Seeing the constant concourse of men to the prostitute's house, the renunciate one day censured her, saying: "You are a great sinner. You sin day and night. Oh, how miserable will be your lot hereafter."
The poor woman became extremely sorry for her deeds, and with genuine inward repentance she prayed to God beseeching forgiveness. But as prostitution was her lot by caste, she could not adopt any other means of earning a livelihood. And so, whenever her flesh sinned, she always strived for greater contrition of heart and prayed to God more and more for forgiveness. Whenever she could afford it, she gave food and alms to those poorer than herself.
The ascetic saw that his advice had apparently produced no effect upon her, and thought, "Let me see how many persons will visit this woman in the course of her life." And from that day forward, whenever any person entered the house of the prostitute, the sannyasin counted him by putting a pebble aside, and in course of time there arose a big heap of pebbles.
One day the renunciate said to the prostitute, pointing to the heap: "Woman, don't you see this heap? Each pebble in it stands for one commission of the deadly sin you have been indulging in since I told you to desist from your evil course. Even now I tell you: Beware of your evil deeds!"
The poor woman trembled at the sight of the accumulation of her sins, and she prayed to God shedding tears of utter helplessness, inwardly repeating, "Lord, will You not free me from the miserable life that I am leading?" The prayer was heard: On that very day the angel of death passed by her house, and she ceased to exist in this world. By the strange workings of Divine Will, the renunciate also died on the same day.
The messengers of Indra came down from Heaven and carried the spirit-body of the contrite prostitute to the heavenly regions, while the messengers of Yama bound the spirit of the ascetic and carried him down to the nether world.
The ascetic, seeing the good luck of the prostitute, cried aloud: "Is this the subtle justice of God? I passed all my life in self-denial and poverty, and I am carried to hell while that prostitute, whose life was a display of sin, is going to Heaven!"
Hearing this, the messengers of Heaven said: "The decrees of God are always just; as you sow, so do you reap. You passed your life in external show and vanity, trying to get honor and fame; and God has given you this. Look at the treatment your body is receiving in the world below. As you never sinned with your body, they have decorated it with flowers and garlands, and are carrying it with music in a procession to consign it to the sacred river.
“But the woman's body, which had sinned, has been thrown onto the garbage heap and is being torn to pieces at this moment by vultures and jackals. Nevertheless, she was pure in heart, and her soul is therefore going to the regions of the pure.
“Your heart was always absorbed in judging her sins and thus became impure. You were the real prostitute, and not she."