Monday, January 14, 2013

Friendship: Fool vs. Foe (Jataka)

Wisdom Quarterly; E.B. Cowell (ed.), The Jataka: Stories of the Buddha's Former Births (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1895), Book 1, No. 44. "Mosquito and Carpenter" (Makassa Jataka)
Vishvakarma or "Carpenter's Cave," Ajanta/Ellora Buddhist archeological site India, has a carved cathedral-shaped ceiling giving the impression of wooden beams (nozomiiqel/CC)

"Senseless friends" -- A rebirth story was recounted by the Buddha while on alms round in Magadha, about certain foolish villagers in a neighboring hamlet. Tradition has it that after traveling from the prosperous city of Sāvatthi to the kingdom of Magadha [where King Bimbisara reigned], the Buddha arrived at the village with its throngs of fools. 

These foolish villagers met together one day debating, "Friends, when we are at work in the jungle, mosquitoes devour us, which hinders our work. Arming ourselves with bows, arrows, and other weapons, let us go to war with the mosquitoes and shoot or hack them all to death." 

Off they went to the jungle shouting, "Shoot down the mosquitoes!" But they shot and struck one another until they were in a sad state and returned only to sink on the ground in or within the village or at its entrance.
Surrounded by the Monastic Order, the Buddha entered the village on a quest for alms. The sensible inhabitants of the village as soon as they saw the Buddha set up a pavilion at the village entrance. And after bestowing the wandering ascetics headed by the Buddha with alms, they bowed respectfully and seated themselves. 
Observing wounded men lying around on this side and that, the Buddha asked the monastics, "These disabled men laying about, what happened to them?" 

"Venerable sir," they explained, "they went forth bent on war with the mosquitoes, only to shoot one another and so disable themselves."
The Buddha then said, "This is not the first time that these foolish people have dealt out blows to themselves instead of to the mosquitoes they meant to kill. In former times, too, there were those who set out to hit a mosquito only to hit a fellow-creature instead." So saying, at the villagers' request, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisat gained his livelihood as a trader.
In those ancient days, in a frontier village in Kasi, there lived a number of carpenters. By chance one of them, a balding gray-haired man, was whittling away at some wood. His scalp glistened like a copper bowl as a mosquito settled on it and stung him like a dart.
The carpenter said to his beloved son who was sitting nearby: "Be a good boy, son. There's a mosquito stinging my head. Drive it away."
"Hold still, father," answered the son. "One blow will settle it."
Now at that very moment the Bodhisat arrived at the village to trade. And he was sitting in the carpenter's shop.
"Rid me of it!" cried the father.
"All right, father," answered the son, who was standing behind the old man raising a sharp axe intent on killing just the mosquito. He swung and cleft his father's head in two. The old man fell dead on the spot.
The Bodhisat, an eye-witness to this tragic event, thought to himself: "Better than having such a foolish 'friend' is having an enemy with sense, for even just the fear of human vengeance will deter from killing a person." Then he recited these lines: 
Senseless friends are worse than sensible foes;
Witness the son who sought the gadfly to slay,
But, poor fool, instead cleft his father's skull in two.
So saying the Bodhisat rose up and departed, later passing away to fare according to his karmic deserts. As for the carpenter, his body was cremated by his kinsfolk.

"Therefore, lay followers," said the Buddha, "in bygone times too there were those who, seeking to hit a mosquito, struck down a fellow-creature." This lesson ended, he pointed out the connection by identifying the rebirth: "In those days I myself was the wise and good trader who departed after repeating the stanza."

Part III. Friendship
Buddha at Sukhothai (Aidan McRae Thomson/flickr)
(Wisdom Quarterly translation, "A Brief Code of Buddhist Ethics," DN 31)
..."These four, young householder, should be understood as Foes in the Guise of Friends:
  1. one who borrows your possessions,
  2. one who renders lip-service,
  3. one who flatters,
  4. one who encourages ruin.
[Why?] "In four ways, young householder, should one who borrows your possessions be understood to be a foe in the guise of a friend:

One borrows with no thought of returning,
appropriating everything.
One gives little wanting much in return.
What one must do one does out of fear.
One is always looking out for selfish ends.

"In four ways, young householder, should one who renders lip-service be understood to be an adversary disguised as a friend:
  1. One speaks proudly of favors attempted in the past.
  2. One makes friendly vows regarding the future.
  3. One tries to gain favor with empty words.
  4. One pleads inability when an opportunity to be of service actually arises.
"In four ways, young householder, should one who flatters be understood to be a foe masquerading as a friend: More on friendship

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