Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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20. The Story of the Treasurer (Hrī)
(Compare Pāli Jātaka, No. 171, Fausböll II, 64, 65)

An unfounded opinion of their possession of some virtue acts upon the virtuous like a stirring spur. [165] Considering thus, one ought to strive after the realisation of virtues; as will be taught in the following.

One time the Bodhisattva is said to have been a king’s treasurer, illustrious for his learning, his noble family and his modest behaviour. He had lofty aspirations and a clever intellect, loved honest practices in business, and owing to his thorough study of many branches of science, attracted notice by his elegance of speech. Compassionate as he was and in the possession of a large estate, he made the bliss of his wealth flow in all directions by his great gifts of charity. So he was considered the jewel of householders.

1. As he was by his nature fond of righteousness, and was adorned by (acquired) qualities, sacred learning and the like, people were wont to look upon him as worthy of veneration above all others.

One day, when that Great Being had gone out for some business to the king’s palace, his mother-in-law came to his house to see her daughter. After the usual welcome and inquiries as to health, there ensued a conversation, in the course of which, being alone with her daughter, the wife of the Bodhisattva, she turned to put questions to her such as these: “Your husband does not disregard you, my dear, I hope? And does he know how to show you attention? He does not grieve you by misconduct, I hope?” And she answered with downcast looks bashfully in a soft tone: “Virtuous conduct and behaviour such as his are hardly to be met with even in a mendicant who has renounced the world.”

But her mother, whose hearing and understanding were impaired by old age, did not well catch the meaning of these words of her daughter, as they were spoken with shame in a rather low voice, and having heard the mention of a mendicant who had renounced the world, drew the inference that her son-in-law had become a religious mendicant. She burst into tears, and overpowered by the violence of her grief, indulged in lamenting and bewailing her daughter. “What virtuous behaviour and conduct is shown by him who leaves the world in this manner, [166] abandoning his affectionate family? And what has he to do with world-renunciation, after all?

2. What is the reason that such a person as he is, young, handsome, delicate, accustomed to a life of comfort, a favourite with the king, should feel a vocation for the forest-life?

3. How did it come to pass that without experiencing any wrong from the side of his family and before the deformity of old age had come, he left suddenly and without pain his home abounding in wealth?

4. He, adorned by a decent behaviour, by wisdom and love of righteousness, he, full of compassion for others – how is it that he could come to such a reckless deed without mercy for his own family?

5. As he was in the habit of honouring Śramaṇas and Brāhmans, friends and clients, his own family and (that larger family of) the distressed, and as he considered a spotless conduct his (highest) wealth, say, could he not attain in the world that which he seeks in the forest?

6. Abandoning his chaste and devoted wife, the companion of his religious duties, how is it that he does not perceive that by excessive love of the Law he is here transgressing the path of the Law?

7. Alas! It is a pity! Fie upon the bad management of Destiny, that men can leave their beloved relations without being withheld by Compassion, or that they can be successful even in the slightest part of the holiness they pursue!”

When the Bodhisattva’s wife heard those piteous and sincere lamentations of her mother on account of her husband having renounced the world, she grew alarmed (being impressionable) after the nature of women. Her disturbed countenance expressed the dejection of her mind shaken by the sudden assault of sorrow and pain. She wholly forgot the subject and the connection of the conversation, and reflected:

“My husband has forsaken the world, and my mother on hearing the sad news has come here in order to comfort me.” Having thus made up her mind, the [167] young, girlish woman began to lament and to weep, and with a loud cry swooned away. The other members of the family and the attendants, hearing the matter, became utterly distressed, and burst into lamentations. On hearing that noise, neighbours, friends, kinsmen, and other relations, clients, chiefs of Brāhmanical families, in short, the bulk of the citizens, as they were much attached to the treasurer, gathered round his house.

8. As a rule, he had always shared the good and the ill fortune of the people. In consequence thereof the people, as if they had learnt this behaviour from him, showed him the like sympathy in both fortunes.

Now, when the Bodhisattva on his return from the king’s residence approached his dwelling-place, he heard the lamentations resounding from his house, and saw the large multitude there assembled. He ordered his attendant to go and learn what was the matter, who having got that information came back and reported it to him.

9. “It has been rumoured, I do not know in what way, that Your Honour has given up his wealthy home to become a mendicant. This news has induced this large body of people to crowd here out of affection.”

Upon hearing these words, the Great Being felt something like shame. His heart of innate pureness was alarmed by what appeared to him like a reproof. And he entered upon this reflection: “Oh! how much am I honoured by this opinion of the people!

10. If after obtaining this high opinion of my virtues from the part of the citizens, I should cling to the home-life henceforward, should I not be a coward?

11. I should make myself reputed as one attached to vice, ill-behaving and a despiser of virtues; and would consequently lose the esteem I now enjoy from the virtuous. So living, life would be insupportable to me.

12. For this reason, in return for the honour conferred upon me by public opinion, I will honour them [168] again by realising it, and affected with a pious love of the forest-groves, detach myself from my home with its vice-producing evil passions.”

Having thus considered, the Great Being forthwith turned back, and caused himself to be announced to the king: “The treasurer wants to see Your Majesty once more.” After being admitted to the king’s presence, and after the usual salutations, being asked by the king the reason of his return, he said: “I desire to renounce the world, and beg you to grant me your permission, Your Majesty.”

On hearing this, the king was troubled and alarmed, and said these affectionate words:

13. “What ails you that, while I am living who love you more than your friends and kinsmen, you should want to withdraw to the forest, as if I were unable to relieve you from that pain either by my wealth or my policy or my great power?

14. Are you in want of money: take it from my side. Is it some grief that makes you suffer: I will cure it. Or is it for any other purpose that you desire to withdraw to the forest, leaving your relations and me, who entreat you in this manner?”

To these affectionate and honorific words of the monarch he answered in a tone of friendly persuasiveness:

15. “From whence can there arise grief to those whom your arm protects, or sadness caused by want of wealth? It is, therefore, not sorrow that induces me to withdraw to the forest, but another reason. Hear what it is.

16. The report is current, Your Majesty, that I have taken the Vows of a religious mendicant. A crowd of people mourn for it, and weep for sorrow. It is for this reason that I want to live in the solitude of the forests, since I have been judged a person capable of conceiving this virtuous purpose.”

The king replied: “Your Honour ought not to leave us on account of a mere rumour. The worth of persons like you does not depend on public opinion, [169] nor do they acquire their illustrious virtues nor lose them conformably to idle gossip.

17. Rumour is the result of unrestrained imagination. Once abroad, it runs about free and unchecked. Ridiculous is he who in earnest minds such gossip, more ridiculous is he who acts up to it!”

The Bodhisattva said: “No, no, Your Majesty, do not speak so! A high opinion of men must be acted up to. Will Your Majesty deign to consider this.

18. When a man becomes famous for holiness, Your Majesty, that person ought not to remain behind his reputation, if in fact he is pious, but, to say nothing more, his very shame must induce him to take upon himself the burden of that virtue.

19. For, if he is seen in any way acting in accordance with that high opinion of his virtue, the renown of his glory will shine the more, whereas he will be like a dried-up well in the opposite case.

20. By a false reputation of virtue, which will spread up to the time when subdued by further knowledge it will disappear, the good renown of men is utterly destroyed. Once destroyed, it is hardly able to shoot forth anew.

21. Thus considering, I am about to abandon my family and property, since those goods are the root of strife and trouble, and worth avoiding like black-hooded snakes with wrath-raised heads. It does not become you, Your Majesty, to oppose my determination.

22. (Do not supply me with money.) You are accustomed to show your attachment and gratitude to your loyal servants, as becomes you, I know; yet what to a homeless mendicant would be the use of money, which of necessity involves worldly goods and passions?”

So speaking the Great Being persuaded the king to give him his permission. After which he immediately set out for the forest.

But his friends, relations, and clients met him, and shedding tears and embracing his feet, tried to prevent him. Some obstructed his way, placing themselves [170] before him with respectfully folded hands. Some again endeavoured to lead him in the direction of his house (with soft violence), by embraces and similar persuasive practices. Others again were prompted by their affection to address him in somewhat harsh terms, expressing their blame in some way or other. Some also tried to persuade him that he ought to have regard to his friends and family, for whom he should feel compassion. Others, too, directed their efforts to convince him by argument, combining sacred texts with deductions of reasoning, to the effect that the state of a householder must be the holiest one.

There were others again who exerted themselves in different ways to make him give up his design; partly dwelling on the hardships of the life in a penance-grove, partly urging him to fulfil his obligations and duties in the world to the end, partly expressing their doubt as to the existence of anything like reward in the other world. Now when he looked on his friends thus opposing his world-renunciation and earnestly endeavouring to hinder his departure for the forest with faces wet with tears, surely, this thought arose in his mind:

23. “If a person acts inconsiderately, it is the duty of those who claim to be his friends to care for the good of their friend, be it even in a rough manner. Such, indeed, is acknowledged to be the righteous way of proceeding among the pious. How much the more, if the good they advise be at the same time something pleasant.

24. But as to them, how is it possible that preferring the home-life and boldly deterring me from the forest-life as from the contact of some evil, they should express the judgment of a sound mind?

25. A dead man or one in danger of death is a person to be wept for, likewise one fallen from righteousness. But what may be the meaning of this weeping for me who am alive but desirous of living in the forest?

26. Suppose the separation from me should be the cause of their sorrow, why will they not dwell in the [171] forest with me? If however they prefer their homes to me, why are they prodigal of their tears?

27. But granted that attachment to their family prevents them from adopting the state of an ascetic, how is it that the like consideration did not formerly present itself to them on so many battle-fields?

28. I have often experienced the heroism of their sincere friendship in adversity, and now behold that deep-rooted friendship, as it were, embodied in their tears. Yet, notwithstanding this, it will seem mere guile to me, since they do not follow my example.

29, 30. As surely as it is great regard for their friend deserving regard, that makes their eyes full of tears, their heads reverentially bent, their words interrupted with sobs, while they are exerting themselves to hinder my departure, so surely ought their love to have the effect of bringing them to the praiseworthy resolution to go and wander about with me, lest they should appear like actors in a theatrical performance, to the shame of the pious!

31. If anybody be in distress, be he ever so wicked a person, some two or three friends will keep with him, at least; but for a man, however excellent by virtue, it will be oh! so hard to get one single comrade, when setting out for the forest!

32. Those who in battles, when danger was imminent from furious elephants, used to set an example (of fearlessness) to me, even they do not follow me now, when I lead them to the forest. Verily am I, are they, the same as we were before?

33. I do not recollect having done them any wrong that could cause the ruin of their attachment... So this behaviour of my friends may, perhaps, issue from the care for what they consider my happiness.

34. Or is it rather my lack of virtues that hinders them from being my companions in the forest? For who may possess the power of loosening hearts that have been won by virtue?

35. But why indulge in idle reflections about these persons? Of a truth, since they are unable to [172] perceive the evils, however obvious, inherent in the home-life, nor the virtues to be found in the penance-groves, the eye of knowledge is shut to them!

36. They are not capable of parting with worldly pleasures, the cause of suffering both in this world and in the next, but forsake both the penance-grove which frees from those sufferings, and me! Fie upon their infatuation!

37. O, those very sins by the delusions of which these friends of mine and the whole of the creatures are prevented from tranquillity, I will crush down forcibly whenever I shall have obtained by residence in the penance-forest the excellent power of doing so!”

Of such a kind were his reflections. And after thus making up his mind, he put aside the manifold affectionate entreaties of his friends, made plain to them his firm resolution in kind and gentle terms, and set out for the penance-forest.

In this manner, then, an unfounded opinion of their possession of some virtue acts upon the virtuous in the same way as a stirring spur. Thus considering, one ought to strive after the realisation of virtues.

[For this reason a pious man, being esteemed for his virtues as a monk or as a lay-devotee, must strive to be in fact adorned with the virtues fit for that state.

Further, this story may be adduced with the object of showing the difficulty of finding companions for a religious life.]