Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Get Rich (Jataka Tale)

Based on Chalmers' translation, Oxford, Pali Text Society (Labha Garaha Jataka, 287)
"He that hath madness..." -- The Buddha told this story at Jetavana about a fellow-monk of the Elder Sariputra. This monk came and greeted the Elder. And respectfully sitting to one side, he asked him to explain the way in which one could get great gain and clothes and the like.

The Elder replied, "Friend, there are four qualities that make a man successful in getting gain:
  1. "He must get rid of modesty from his heart, must resign his orders, must seem to be mad even if he is not.
  2. He must speak slander.
  3. He must behave like a dancer.
  4. He must use unkind words everywhere."

Thus he explained how a man gets a great deal of things. The monk strongly objected to that way of life and went away. The Elder went to the Buddha and told him about it. The Buddha said, "This is not the first time this monk spoke in dispraise of gain. He did the same before." Then, at the request of the Elder Sariputra, the Buddha told an old-world tale [a past life Jataka story].

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Buddha-to-be was born in a brahmin family. When he grew up to the age of 16 years, he had already mastered the three Vedas and the 18 accomplishments. And he became a far-famed yoga teacher, who educated a large group of young men. One young man, a youth of virtuous life [i.e., a brahmacaryin or celibate student, a guru's apprentice], approached his teacher one day with the question, "How is it these people get gain?"

The guru answered, "My son, there are four qualities that procure gain for those people." Then he uttered the first stanza:

  • "He that hath madness, he that slanders well
  • That hath an actor's tricks, ill tales doth tell,
  • Such is the man who wins prosperity
  • Where all are fools: let this your maxim be."

The pupil (chela) on hearing his guru's words, expressed great disapproval of gain-getting in the two following stanzas:

  • "Shame upon him that gain or glory wins
  • By dire destruction and wicked 'sins.'"
  • "With bowl in hand a wanderer's life I'll lead
  • Rather than live in wickedness and greed."

Thus did the youth praise the quality of the holy-life (brahmacarya) and straightaway became a wandering hermit who sought alms with righteousness, cultivating the Attainments until he became destined to the Brahma world.

When the Buddha had ended this discourse he identified the birth: "At that time the monk who disapproved of gain was the young pupil, and I myself was his guru."

  • Why were Jataka Tales told? Wisdom Quarterly answers.

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