Ja 91 Littajātaka
The Story about what is Smeared (with Posion) (1s)

In the present the monks are not thoughtful about the use of their requisites, which the Buddha compares to taking poison. The Buddha then tells a story about a gambler in the past who would hide dice in his mouth, until one of the dice was covered with poison, which cured him of his deceit.

The Bodhisatta = the wise gambler (paṇḍitadhutta).

Past Compare: DN 23 Pāyāsisutta (2.348).

Keywords: Thoughtlessness, Gambling.

“He bolts the die.” This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about using things thoughtlessly.

Tradition says that most of the monks of that day were in the habit of using robes and so forth, which were given them, in a thoughtless manner. And their thoughtless use of the Four Requisites as a rule barred their escape from the doom of rebirth in hell and the animal world. Knowing this, the Teacher set forth the lessons of virtue and showed the danger of such thoughtless use of things, exhorting them to be careful in the use of the Four Requisites, and laying down this rule, “The thoughtful monk has a definite object in view when he wears a robe, namely, to keep off the cold.” After laying down similar rules for the other Requisites, he concluded by saying: “Such is the thoughtful use which should be made of the Four Requisites. Thoughtlessly to use them is like taking deadly poison; and there were those in bygone days who through their thoughtlessness did inadvertently take poison, to their exceeding hurt in due season.” So saying he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a well-to-do family, and when he grew up, he became a dice-player. With him used to play a sharper, who kept on playing while he was winning, but, when luck turned, broke up the game by putting one of the dice in his mouth and pretending it was lost – after which he would take himself off. {1.380} “Very good,” said the Bodhisatta [1.222] when he realised what was being done, “we’ll look into this.” So he took some dice, anointed them at home with poison, dried them carefully, and then carried them with him to the sharper, whom he challenged to a game. The other was willing, the dice-board was got ready, and play began. No sooner did the sharper begin to lose than he popped one of the dice into his mouth. Observing him in the act, the Bodhisatta remarked, “Swallow away; you will not fail to find out what it really is in a little time.” And he uttered this verse of rebuke:

1. “He bolts the die quite boldly – knowing not
What burning poison thereon lurks unseen.
Aye, bolt it, sharper! Soon you’ll burn within.”

But while the Bodhisatta was talking away, the poison began to work on the sharper; he grew faint, rolled his eyes, and bending double with pain fell to the ground. “Now,” said the Bodhisatta, “I must save the rascal’s life.” So he mixed some medicines and administered an emetic until vomiting ensued. Then he administered a draught of ghee with honey and sugar and other ingredients, and by this means made the fellow all right again. Then he exhorted him not to do such a thing again. After a life spent in generosity and other good works, the Bodhisatta passed away to fare thereafter according to his deeds.

His lesson ended, the Teacher said: “Monks, the thoughtless use of things is like the thoughtless taking of deadly poison.” So saying, he identified the Jātaka in these words, “I was myself the wise and good gambler of those days.”

(Pāli Note. No mention is made of the sharper – the reason being that, here as elsewhere, no mention is made of persons who are not clearly known about at this time.)