Ja 89 Kuhakajātaka
The Birth Story about the Cheat (1s)

In the present one monk gets his living in dishonest ways. When the Buddha finds out he tells a story of an ascetic in the past who tried to steal his supporter’s savings, all the while appearing as more than virtuous.

The Bodhisatta = the wise man (paṇḍitapurisa),
the cheating monk = the cheating ascetic (kūṭatāpasa).

Present Source: Ja 487 Uddāla,
Quoted at: Ja 89 Kuhaka, Ja 138 Godha, Ja 173 Makkaṭa, Ja 175 Ādiccupaṭṭhāna, Ja 336 Brahāchatta, Ja 377 Setaketu.

Keywords: Cheating, Dishonesty.

“It seems that your words.” This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana about a cheat. The details of his cheating will be related in the Uddālajātaka [Ja 487].

This man, even though dedicated to the dispensation that leads to safety, notwithstanding to gain life’s necessaries fulfilled the threefold cheating practice [seeking requisites, seeking honour and hinting].

The monks brought to light all the evil parts in the man as they conversed together in the Dhamma Hall, “Such a one, monks, after he had dedicated himself to this dispensation which leads to safety, yet lives in deceit!” The Teacher came in, and would know what they talked of there. They told him. Said he, “This is not now the first time; he was deceitful before,” and so saying he told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there lived nearby a certain little village a shifty rascal of an ascetic, of the class which wears long, matted hair. The householder of the place had a hermitage built in the forest for him to dwell in, and used to provide excellent fare for him in his own house. Taking the matted-haired rascal to be a model of goodness, and living as he did in fear of robbers, the householder brought a hundred pieces of gold to the hermitage and there buried them, bidding the ascetic keep watch over them. “No need to say that, sir, to a man who has renounced the world; we ascetics never covet other folks’ goods.” “It is well, sir,” said the householder, who went off with full confidence in the other’s protestations.

Then the rascally ascetic thought to himself, “there’s enough here {1.376} to keep a man all his life long.” Allowing a few days to elapse first, he removed the gold and buried it by the wayside, returning to dwell as before in his hermitage. Next day, after a meal of rice at the householder’s house, the ascetic said: “It is now a long time, sir, since I began to be supported by you; and to live long in one place is like living in the world – which is forbidden to professed ascetics. Wherefore I must needs depart.” And though the householder pressed him to stay, nothing could overcome this determination. [1.219]

“Well, then, if it must be so, go your way, sir,” said the householder; and he escorted the ascetic to the outskirts before he left him. After going a little way the ascetic thought that it would be a good thing to cajole the householder; so, putting a straw in his matted hair, back he turned again. “What brings you back?” asked the householder. “A straw from your roof, sir, had stuck in my hair; and, as we ascetics may not take anything which is not bestowed upon us, I have brought it back to you.” “Throw it down, sir, and go your way,” said the householder, who thought, to himself, “Why, he won’t take so much as a straw which does not belong to him! What a sensitive nature!” Highly delighted with the ascetic, the householder bade him farewell.

Now at that time it chanced that the Bodhisatta, who was on his way to the border-district for trading purposes, had halted for the night at that village. Hearing what the ascetic said, the suspicion was aroused in his mind that the rascally ascetic must have robbed the householder of something; and he asked the latter whether he had deposited anything in the ascetic’s care.

“Yes – a hundred pieces of gold.”

“Well, just go and see if it’s all safe.”

Away went the householder to the hermitage, and looked, and found his money gone. Running back to the Bodhisatta, he cried, “It’s not there.” “The thief is none other than that long-haired rascal of an ascetic,” said the Bodhisatta, “let us pursue and catch him.” So away they hastened in hot pursuit. When they caught the rascal they kicked and cuffed him, till he discovered to them where he had hidden the money. When he procured the gold, the Bodhisatta, looking at it, scornfully remarked to the ascetic, “So a hundred pieces of gold didn’t trouble your conscience so much as a straw!” And he rebuked him in this verse:

1. Vācā va kira te āsi saṇhā, sakhilabhāṇino,
Tiṇamatte asajjittho, no ca nikkhasataṁ haran-ti.

It seems that your words are gentle, and that they are kindly spoken, he clings onto a mere straw, but does not take a hundred in gold. {1.377}

When the Bodhisatta had rebuked the fellow in this wise, he added, “And now take care, you deceitful person, that you don’t play such a trick again.” When his life ended, the Bodhisatta passed away to fare thereafter according to his deeds.

His lesson ended, the Teacher said: “Thus you see, monks, that this monk was as cheating in the past as he is today.” And he identified the Jātaka by saying: “This cheating monk was the cheating ascetic of those days, and I the wise and good man.”