Lesson from a snake

Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta of Benares had a very valuable adviser priest. He came from a rich noble family. He was intelligent and full of knowledge. He was generous with his wealth and knowledge, holding nothing back. People thought of him as a kind and good person.

By practicing the Five Training Steps, he trained his mind to avoid the five unwholesome actions. He discovered that giving up each unwholesome action made him better off in its own way:

destroying life, since you have to kill part of yourself in order to kill someone else;
taking what is not given, since this makes the owner angry at you;
doing wrong in sexual ways, since this leads to the pain of jealousy and envy;
speaking falsely, since you can’t be true to yourself and false to another at the same time;
losing your mind from alcohol, since then you might hurt yourself by doing the other four.
Seeing how he lived, King Brahmadatta thought, ‘This is truly a good man.”

The priest was curious to learn more about the value of goodness. He thought, “The king honors and respects me more than his other priests. But I wonder what it is about me that he really respects most. Is it my nationality, my noble birth or family wealth? Is it my great learning and vast knowledge? Or is it because of my goodness? I must find the answer to this.”

Therefore, he decided to perform an experiment in order to answer his question. He would pretend to be a thief!

On the next day, when he was leaving the palace, he went by the royal coin maker. He was stamping out coins from gold. The good priest, not intending to keep it, took a coin and continued walking out of the palace. Because the money maker admired the famous priest highly, he remained sitting and said nothing.

On the following day the make-believe thief took two gold coins. Again the royal coin maker did not protest.

Finally, on the third day, the king’s favorite priest grabbed a whole handful of gold coins. This time the money maker didn’t care about the priest’s position or reputation. He cried out, “This is the third time you have robbed his majesty the king.” Holding onto him, he shouted, “I’ve caught the thief who robs the king! I’ve caught the thief who robs the king! I’ve caught the thief who robs the king!”

Suddenly a crowd of people came running in, yelling, “Aha! You pretended to be better than us! An example of goodness!” They slapped him, tied his hands behind his back, and hauled him off to the king.

But on their way, they happened to go by some snake charmers. They were entertaining some bystanders from the king’s court with a poisonous cobra. They held him by the tail and neck, and coiled him around their necks to show how brave they were.

The tied up prisoner said to them, “Please be careful! Don’t grab that cobra by the tail. Don’t grab him by his neck. And don’t coil that poisonous snake around your own necks. He may bite you and bring your lives to a sudden end!”

The snake charmers said, “You ignorant priest, you don’t understand about this cobra. He is well-mannered and very good indeed. He is not bad like you! You are a thief who has stolen from the king. Because of your wickedness and criminal behavior, you are being carried off with your hands tied behind your back. But there’s no need to tie up a snake who is good!”

The priest thought, “Even a poisonous cobra, who doesn’t bite or harm anyone, is given the name ‘good’. In truth, goodness is the quality people admire most in the world!”

When they arrived at the throne room, the king asked, ‘What is this, my children?” They replied, ‘This is the thief who stole from your royal treasury.” The king said. “Then punish him according to the law.”

The adviser priest said, ‘My lord king, I am no thief!” ‘Then why did you take gold coins from the palace?” asked the king.

The priest explained, “I have done this only as an experiment, to test why it is you honor and respect me more than others. Is it because of my family background and wealth, or my great knowledge? Because of those things, I was able to get away with taking one or two gold coins. Or do you respect my goodness most of all? It is clear that by grabbing a handful of coins I no longer had the name ‘good’. This alone turned respect into disgrace!

“Even a poisonous cobra, who doesn’t harm anyone, is called `good’. There is no need for any other title!”

To emphasize the lesson he had learned, the wise priest recited:

“High birth and wealth and even knowledge vast, I find, Are less admired than goodness is, by humankind.”

The king pardoned his most valuable adviser priest.

He asked to be allowed to leave the king’s service in the ordinary world and become a forest monk. After refusing several times. the king eventually gave his permission.

The priest went to the Himalayas and meditated peacefully. When he died he was reborn in a heaven world.

The moral is: People prize goodness most of all.

Jataka Tales

Forest Monks in a King’s Pleasure Garden (Pupils Without a Teacher)

Once upon a time, there was a high class rich man who gave up his wealth and his easy life in the ordinary world. He went to the Himalayan forests and lived as a homeless holy man. By practicing meditation, he developed his mind and gained the highest knowledge. Dwelling in high mental states, he enjoyed great inner happiness and peace of mind. Before long, he had 500 pupils.

In a certain year, when the rainy season was beginning, the pupils said to their teacher, “Oh wise master, we would like to go to the places where most people live. We would like to get some salt and other seasonings and bring them back here.”

The teacher said, “You have my permission. It would be healthy for you to do so, and return when the rainy season is over. But I will stay here and meditate by myself.” They knelt down and paid their farewell respects.

The 500 pupils went to Benares and began living in the royal pleasure garden. The next day they collected alms in the villages outside the city gates. They received generous gifts of food. On the following day they went inside the city. People gladly gave them food.

After a few days, people told the king, “Oh lord king, 500 forest monks have come from the Himalayas to live in your pleasure garden. They live in a simple way, without luxuries. They control their senses and are known to be very good indeed.”

Hearing such good reports, the king went to visit them. He knelt down and paid his respects. He invited them to stay in the garden during the whole four months of the rainy season. They accepted, and from then on were given their food in the king’s palace.

Before long a certain holiday took place. It was celebrated by drinking alcohol, which the people thought would bring good luck. The King of Benares thought, “Good wine is not usually available to monks who live simply in the forests. I will treat them to some as a special gift.” So he gave the 500 forest monks a large quantity of the very best tasting wine.

The monks were not at all accustomed to alcohol. They drank the king’s wine and walked back to the garden. By the time they got there, they were completely drunk. Some of them began dancing, while others sang songs. Usually they put away their bowls and other things neatly. But this time they just left everything lying around, here and there. Soon they all passed out into a drunken sleep.

When they had slept off their drunkenness, they awoke and saw the messy condition they’d left everything in. They became sad and said to each other, ‘We have done a bad thing, which is not proper for holy men like US.” Their embarrassment and shame made them weep with regret. They said, ‘We have done these unwholesome things only because we are away from our holy teacher.”

At that very moment the 500 forest monks left the pleasure garden and returned to the Himalayas. When they arrived they put away their bowls and other belongings neatly, as was their custom. Then they went to their beloved master and greeted him respectfully.

He asked them, How are you, my children? Did you find enough food and lodgings in the city? Were you happy and united?”

They replied. “Venerable master, we were happy and united. But we drank what we were not supposed to drink. We lost all our common sense and self-control. We danced and sang like silly monkeys. It’s fortunate we didn’t turn into monkeys! We drank wine, we danced, we sang, and in the end we cried from shame.”

The kind teacher said, “It is easy for things like this to happen to pupils who have no teacher to guide them. Learn from this. do not do such things in the future.”

From then on they lived happily and grew in goodness.

The moral is: A pupil without a teacher is easily embarrassed.

Impoverished son

The Parable of the Impoverished Son From the Lotus Sutra Chapter 4, Belief and Understanding

Once a boy ran away from home and wandered for many years becoming more and more poor and confused.

The boy’s father loved his son very much, but had no idea where to find him. As time went on, the father became very rich.

Fifty years passed. One day, the son showed up at his father’s estate. He did not know whose grand home this was, but wondered if he could find a job there. The father recognized his son, and set messengers to greet him. The father was overjoyed that his son had returned.

But the son misunderstood. He thought the messengers were trying to arrest him for doing something wrong.

The father saw his son’s fear and confusion. He realized his son was not ready to accept the truth, so he told the messengers to leave his son alone.

Later the father had some of his servants dress in rags. He had these servants go to his son and offer him a job shoveling excrement. The son had been living so poorly for so long, he saw this job as a wonderful

Over the years, the father showed an interest in his son. He praised him, increasing his pay, and gave him better jobs. But he never told him his true identity.

After twenty years, the father was old and near death. By then the son was in charge of all of the wealthy man’s business. The son had become a responsible but humble man.

Finally, just before his death, the father gathered all of his friends and all the powerful people of the city to his bedside. He revealed then the true identity of his son. The son inherited all of the wealth.

Buddhist Tales

Angulimala: A Story of the Power of Compassion
(As told by Ven. Walpola Piyananda Thera in Love in Buddhism)

There was once the son of a Brahmin (the highest “priestly” caste in India) in the court of King Pasenadi of Kosala, whose name was Ahimsaka. He was sent to Taxila for his studies. Ahimsaka was intelligent and obedient to this teacher; therefore he was liked by both the teacher and his wife. This made the other pupils jealous of him. So they went to the teacher and falsely accused Ahimsaka of having an immoral relationship with the teacher’s wife. At first, he did not believe them, but after hearing it a number of times, he thought it was true and vowed to have revenge on Ahimsaka. He thought that to kill him would reflect badly on him. His rage prompted him to suggest the unthinkable to the young and innocent Ahimsaka. He told his pupil to kill a thousand human beings and to bring the right thumb of each as payment for teaching him. Of course the youngster would not even think of such a thing, so he was banished from the teacher’s house and returned to his parents.

When his father learned why Ahimsaka had been expelled, he became furious with his son, and would hear no reason. On that very day, with the rain pouring down, he ordered Ahimsaka to leave the house. Ahimsaka went to his mother and asked her advice, but she could not go against the will of her husband. Next Ahimsaka went to the house of his betrothed (in accord with the ancient custom in India calling for betrothal of children long before their actual marriage), but when the family learned why Ahimsaka had been turned out of school, they drove him off. The shame, anger, fear, and despair of Ahimsaka drove him out of his mind. His suffering mind could only recollect the teacher’s order: to collect 1,000 human thumbs. And so he started killing, and as he killed, the thumbs he collected were hung on a tree, but as they were destroyed by crows and vultures, he later wore a garland of the fingers to keep track of the number.

Because of this he came to be known as Angulimala (finger garland) and became the terror of the countryside. The king himself heard about the exploits of Angulimala, and he decided to capture him. When Mantani, Ahimsaka’s mother, heard about the king’s intention, she went to the forest in a desperate bid to save her son. By this time, the chain around the neck of Angulimala had 999 fingers in it, just one finger short of 1,000.

The Buddha; learned of the mother’s attempt to dissuade her son from, and reflected that if he did not intervene, Angulimala, who was on the lookout for the last person to make up the 1,000, would see his mother and might kill her. In that case, he would have to suffer an even longer period for his evil karma. Out of compassion, the Buddha left for the forest.

Angulimala, after many sleepless days and nights, was very tired and near exhaustion. At the same time, he was very anxious to kill the last person to make up his full quota of 1,000 and so complete his task. He made up his mind to kill the first person he met. As he looked down from his mountain perch, he saw a woman on the road below. He wanted to fulfill his vow to complete the 1,000 thumbs, but as he approached, he saw it was his mother. At the same time, the Buddha was approaching, and Angulimala had just enough presence of mind to decide to kill the wandering monk instead of his mother. He set out after the Blessed One with his knife raised. But the Buddha kept moving ahead of him. Angulimala just could not catch up with him. Finally, he cried out, “O Bhikkhu, stop, stop!” And the Enlightened One replied, “I have stopped. It is you who have not stopped.” Angulimala did not catch the significance of these words, so he asked, “O Bhikkhu! Why do you say that you have stopped while I have not?”

The Buddha replied, “I say that I have stopped because I have given up killing all beings. I have given up ill-treating all beings, and have established myself in universal love, patience, and knowledge through reflection. But you have not given up killing or ill treating others and you are not yet established in universal love and patience. Hence, you are the one who has not stopped.” On hearing these words Angulimala was recalled to reality, and thought, these are the words of a wise man. This monk is so very wise and so very brave that he must be the leader of the monks. Indeed, he must be the Enlightened One himself! He must have come here specially to make me see the light. So thinking, he threw away his weapons and asked the Blessed One to admit to the Order of the Bhikkhus, which the Buddha did.

When the king and his men came to capture Angulimala, they found him at the monastery of the Buddha. Finding that Angulimala had given up his evil ways and become a Bhikkhu, the king and his men agreed to leave him alone. During his stay at the monastery, Angulimala ardently practiced meditation.

Angulimala had no peace of mind because even in his solitary meditation he used to recall memories of his past and the pathetic cries of his unfortunate victims. As a result of his evil karma, while seeking alms in the streets he would become a target of stray stones and sticks and he would return to the Jetavana monastery with broken head and blood flowing, cut and bruised, to be reminded by the Buddha: “My son Angulimala. You have done away with evil. Have patience. This is the effect of the evil deeds you have committed in the existence. Your evil karma would have made you suffer through innumerable existences had I not met you.”

One morning while going on an alms round in Savatthi, Angulimala heard someone crying out in pain. When he came to know that a pregnant lady was having labor pains and facing difficulty to deliver the child, he reflected, all worldly beings are subject to suffering. Moved by compassion, he reported the suffering of this poor woman to the Buddha who advised him to recite the following words of truth, which later came to be known as Angulimala Paritta. Going to the presence of the suffering woman, he sat on a seat separated from her by a screen, and uttered these words:

Sister, since the day I became an arahat
I have not consciously destroyed
The life of any living beings.
By this truth, may you be well
And may your unborn child be well.
Instantly the woman delivered her child with ease. Both the mother and child were well and healthy. Even today many resort to this paritta.
Angulimala liked living in solitude and in seclusion. Later he passed away peacefully. As an arahant, he attained parinibbana.

Other bhikkhus asked the Buddha where Angulimala was reborn, and when the Blessed One replied, my son Angulimala has attained parinibbana, they could hardly believe it. So they asked whether it was possible that such a man who had in fact killed so many people could have attained parinibbana. To this question, the Buddha replied, “Bhikkhus, Angulimala had done much evil because he did not have good friends. But later, he hound good friends and with their help and good advice he became steadfast and mindful in practicing the dhamma and meditation. Thus, his evil deeds have been overwhelmed by good karma and his mind has been completely rid of all defilement’s.”

The Buddha said of Angulimala

“Whose evil deed is obscured by good,
he illumines this world like the
moon freed from a cloud.”
The power of love and compassion are stronger than any evil, and are absolute conditions for awakening.