Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


12. The Story of the Brāhman (Hrī)
(Compare Pāli Jātaka, No. 305; Fausböll III, pp. 18, 19)

What forbids the virtuous to transgress the boundary of good behaviour is the very shame of the Self within their hearts. This will be taught by the following.

Once the Bodhisattva, it is told, came to life in an illustrious family of Brāhmans, well-reputed both on account of their ancestry and their conduct. They were highly esteemed and renowned, observing their traditional customs and setting a high value on good education and good manners. Having received in due order the different sacraments: garbhādhāna, puṁsavana, sīmantonnayana, jātakarma, and the rest, he dwelt at his teacher's, who was a Brāhman distinguished by the superiority of his learning, by his birth, and by his practice of the customary conduct, with the object of studying the Veda.

1. His quickness in mastering and retaining the texts he was taught, his devoted obedience for which his family had always been reputed - a virtue his correctness of conduct embellished by tranquillity, a rare ornament in a youth, made him obtain the love and affection of his teacher.

2. For virtues practised without interruption are magic charms to win the affection even of such as are burnt by the fire of hatred, how much more of the sound-hearted.

Now his teacher, in the intervals of rest from sacred study, with the object of trying the morals of all his disciples, was used to tell them frequently of his own sufferings, the effect of his poverty.

3. “To him no help his family affords,
No joy is his, not e'en on holidays,
And wretched alms-requesting makes him sick.
A pauper's wish, how may it be fulfill'd? [110]

4. The state of a moneyless man is the home of disregard, the abode of toil. And a very hard condition it is, devoid of pleasure, abounding in scantiness, and incessantly afflicting like a calamity.”

Like excellent horses, pricked with spurs, his disciples, very much moved by their attachment to their spiritual teacher, did their utmost to deliver to him ever more and better prepared food from their daily begging round. But he said to them: “Good sirs, do not exert yourselves in this way. No offerings of food obtained by daily begging will diminish the distress of poverty to anybody. If you cannot bear my hardship, you ought rather to apply these your efforts to gaining wealth. Doing thus, you would act in the proper manner. Why do I say so?

5. Hunger is driven away by food, and thirst by water. The spell-uttering voice together with medicine expels illnesses. But poverty's pain is destroyed by wealth, that cause of being honoured by one's kinsmen.”

The pupils answered: “What can we do for you? Unhappy we, that the extent of our power is so small. Moreover,

6, 7. If wealth, like food, were obtained by begging, we would not allow you to suffer by poverty in this degree, master. But the case is this.

The proper, though weak, means for Brāhmans of gaining wealth is receiving gifts: and people here are not charitable. So we are powerless, and by this impotency we are smitten with grief.”

The teacher replied: “But there are still other expedients for earning money, and they are explained in the law-books. Yet, my strength being exhausted by old age, I am not fit to put them into effect.”

The disciples said: “But our strength is not impaired by old age, master. If, then, you think us capable of acting upon those precepts of the law-books, inform us of them, that we may requite you for your labour of teaching us.”

The teacher said: “No, such means of earning money are hardly available, indeed, for young men, [111] whose mind is too loose to carry out a strong resolution. Nevertheless, if Your Honours urge me, well, Instead of sādhuḥ we must read sādhu.01 you may learn from me what one of the said expedients is.

8. In the law-precepts for the time of distress Read āpaddharme steyam, etc. The āpaddharma substitutes for the precepts of right conduct and right livelihood some others to be followed in times of distress, if the primary ones cannot be observed. The permission to Brāhmans to make money by theft is of course not lawful; it is inferred from the well-known pretension of the Brāhmanical caste to be owners of the whole earth. Even Śarvilaka, the thief in the Mṛcchakaṭikā does not venture to defend his deeds by arguments borrowed from the law-books; he avows that theft is blameable, ‘I blame it’, says he, ‘and yet I do it’.02 theft is an approved livelihood for Brāhmans; and poverty, I suppose, is the extreme distress in this world. Consequently, it is no sin for us to enjoy the wealth of others, and the whole of these goods belongs, of a truth, to the Brāhmans.

9. Men such as you, would doubtlessly be able to seize on wealth even by violence. You should, however, not practise that mode of taking, minding your reputation. Therefore, you must show your energy in lonely places and times.”

By such language he loosened the bridle from his disciples. Accordingly they exclaimed “Very well,” approving his bad words, as if they were good, and all of them engaged themselves to do so, all - save the Bodhisattva.

10. Him his innate goodness forbade to comply with the teacher's advice, and compelled him on the contrary to oppose it without delay, though it had been accepted as a duty by the other pupils.

Ashamed and with downcast looks he heaved a soft sigh and remained silent. The teacher perceived that the Bodhisattva did not approve of that fashion of making money, without, however, crying it down; and as he had a high regard for the virtue of that Great Being, he entered upon this reflection: “For what reason does he disapprove of theft? Is it want of [112] courage or disaffection towards me? Or does he really know it to be a wicked action?” Then in order to prompt him to open his true disposition of mind, he spoke in this way to the Bodhisattva: “Say, noble Brāhman,

11. Those twice-born men, incapable of bearing my misfortune, are willing to resort to the course of life followed by the energetic and the heroes; but in you I find nothing but indolence and dullness. Surely, it is not you who are affected by our distress.

12. My suffering is evident. Its whole extent lies open to your eyes. I have made it plain by speech. Notwithstanding this, you are keeping quiet! How is it that your mind is undisturbed and untouched by sorrow?”

Upon this the Bodhisattva, after making his respectful salute to the teacher, said quite alarmed: “Heaven forbid such feelings! Verily, it is not want of affection or hard-heartedness which causes me to keep apart, nor am I unmoved by the sufferings of my teacher, but I think the mode of acting which my master has shown us, cannot be put into practice. It is impossible, indeed, to commit a wicked action without being seen. Why? Because there does not exist anything like loneliness.

13, 14. No, loneliness is not to be found anywhere in the world for the evildoer. Are not the invisible Beings and the purified Munis, whose eye is endowed with divine power, lookers-on of men's actions? Not seeing them, the fool thinks himself alone and commits sin. Cp. Manu VIII, 85; Mahābhārata (ed. Bombay) 1, 74, 39.03

15. But I know no lonely place at all. Wheresoever I do not see anybody else, is such a place for that reason empty of my own Self?

16, 17. And of a bad action my Self is a witness far more sharp-sighted than any other person. Another may perchance perceive me, or he may not, his mind being occupied with his own business, but [113] my Self, eagerly surrendering my whole mind to passion, knows with certainty that I am doing evil.

For this reason, then, I keep aloof from the others.” And understanding that his teacher was fully appeased, the Bodhisattva continued:

18. “Nor can I persuade myself into the belief that you would deceive us in this way for the sake of obtaining wealth. Who, indeed, knowing the difference between virtue and vice, would allow himself to be seduced by the pursuit of wealth to oppression of virtue?

As to my own determination, I will inform you of it.

19. Better is it to take the almsbowl and vile garments, beholding the opulence of the mansions of one's enemies, than to bend one's mind shamelessly to the murder of Righteousness, be it even with the goal of attaining the Sovereignty of the Devas!”

At these words his teacher rapt with joy and admiration, rising from his seat, embraced him, and said to him: “Very well, very well, my son! well-said, well-said, noble Brāhman! This is becoming to your keen intellect adorned by tranquillity.

20. Fools leave the path of duty, stirred by any motive whatever, but the virtuous do not allow themselves to be led astray even in the greatest distress; penance, learning, and wisdom being their wealth.

21. As the moon rising in autumn adorns the firmament, so you are the ornament of your entirely spotless family. For you the sacred texts you have been taught have their full import; that you have well understood them is made plain by your good behaviour; and my labour is crowned with success, it has not been fruitless.”

So, then, it is the very shame of the Self within their hearts that prevents the virtuous from transgressing the boundary of good behaviour. [For this reason the pious man (ārya) ought to have a powerful shelter in shame.

(This story) is to be adduced on account [114] of such texts sūtreṣu. The same term is used at the conclusion of Story 21.04 as this: “In this way the faithful votary of our creed (āryaśrāvaka), being well-guarded by the trench of his shame, avoids what is noxious and fosters what is wholesome.”

Likewise in texts dealing with the feeling of shame and the regard of public opinion.]

The story of the Brāhman has the appearance of being the clumsy invention of some monk engaged in giving lessons of morality and in want of some story to illustrate the sinfulness of theft. I can scarcely believe it forms part of the old stock of traditional tales and folklore, as little as the story of the sacrifice (X). In its parallel in the Pāli Jātaka, No. 305, Śīlavīmaṁsanajātaka (Fausböll III, pp. 18, 19), the old teacher's trial of his disciples is better accounted for.