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.