Ja 256 The Story about the Old Well

In the present some merchants leave from Jetavana to go and make their fortune. When they come across a well and start digging they find great riches, and soon return again. The Buddha tells a story of how some people in a past life had found similar riches but refused to stop digging and were killed by the Nāgas who got angry at the destruction.

1. Jarūdapānaṁ khaṇamānā, vāṇijā udakatthikā,
Ajjhagamuṁ ayasaṁ lohaṁ tipusīsañ-ca vāṇijā,
Rajataṁ jātarūpañ-ca muttā veḷuriyā bahū.

Merchants, while digging an old well, desiring water, the merchants came across iron, copper, and lead, silver and gold, pearls, and beryl in abundance.

2. Te ca tena asantuṭṭhā bhiyyo bhiyyo akhāṇisuṁ,
Te tatthāsīviso ghoro tejassī tejasā hani.

Not being content with that they dug down deeper more and yet more, there a poisonous snake, dreadful, fiery, destroyed them with fire.

3. Tasmā khaṇe nātikhaṇe, atikhātañ-hi pāpakaṁ,
Khātena ca dhanaṁ laddhaṁ, atikhātena nāsitan-ti.

Therefore you should dig down, but not too much, digging too deep is bad, by digging down they gained wealth, but by digging too much it was lost.

In this connection, iron means manganese. The two metals are often found together.

Not being content with that means the merchants, not being content with that wealth.

There … them means the merchants in that well.

Fiery means endowed with fiery poison.

Destroyed them with fire means he destroyed them with fiery poison.

By digging too much it was lost means by digging too much both wealth and life was lost.