Ja 98 Kūṭavāṇijajātaka
The Story about the Cheating Merchant (1s)

In the present one merchant tries to cheat his partner out of the proceeds of their joint partnership. When the Buddha hears of it he shows how the same thing happened in a past life, and how the honest merchant prevailed.

The Bodhisatta = the wise merchant (paṇḍitavāṇija),
the cheating merchant = the same in the past (kūṭavāṇija).

Present Source: Ja 98 Kūṭavāṇija,
Quoted at: Ja 288 Macchuddāna.

Keywords: Names, Cheating, Wisdom, Devas.

“Wise rightly, Wisest wrongly.” [1.239] {1.404} This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a cheating merchant. There were two merchants in partnership at Sāvatthi, we are told, who travelled with their merchandise and came back with the proceeds. And the cheating merchant thought to himself, “My partner has been badly fed and badly lodged for so many days past that he will die of indigestion now he has got home again and can feast to his heart’s content on dainties manifold. My plan is to divide what we have made into three portions, giving one to his orphans and keeping two for myself.” And with this object he made some excuse day by day for putting off the division of the profits.

Finding that it was in vain to press for a division, the honest partner went to the Teacher at the monastery, made his salutation, and was received kindly. “It is a very long time,” said the Buddha, “since you last came to see me.” And hereupon the merchant told the Teacher what had befallen him.

“This is not the first time, lay-follower,” said the Teacher, “that this man has been a cheating merchant; he was no less a cheat in times past. As he tries to defraud you now, so did he try to defraud the wise and good of other days.” So saying, at the merchant’s request, the Teacher told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a merchant’s family and on name-day was named ‘Wise [Paṇḍita].’ When he grew up he entered into partnership with another merchant named ‘Wiser [Atipaṇḍita],’ and traded with him. And these two took five hundred wagons of merchandise from Benares to the country-districts, where they disposed of their wares, returning afterwards with the proceeds to the city. When the time for dividing came, Wiser said: “I must have a double share.” “Why so?” asked Wise. “Because while you are only Wise, I am Wiser. And Wise ought to have only one share to Wiser’s two.” “But we both had an equal interest in the stock-in-trade and in the oxen and wagons. Why should you have two shares?” “Because I am Wiser.” And so they talked away till they fell to quarrelling.

“Ah!” thought Wiser, “I have a plan.” And he made his father hide in {1.405} a hollow tree, enjoining the old man to say, when the two came, “Wiser should have a double portion.” This arranged, he went to the Bodhisatta and proposed to him to refer the claim for a double share to the competent decision of the Tree Devatā. Then he made his appeal in these words, “Lord Tree Devatā, decide our cause!” Hereupon the father, who was hidden in the tree, in a changed voice asked them to state the [1.240] case. The cheat addressed the tree as follows, “Lord, here stands Wise, and here stand I, Wiser. We have been partners in trade. Declare what share each should receive.” “Wise should receive one share, and Wiser two,” was the response.

Hearing this decision, the Bodhisatta resolved to find out whether it was indeed a Tree Devatā or not. So he filled the hollow trunk with straw and set it on fire. And Wiser’s father was half roasted by the rising flames and clambered up by clutching hold of a bough. Falling to the ground, he uttered this verse:

1. “Wise rightly, Wiser wrongly got his name;
Through Wiser, I’m nigh roasted in the flame.”

Then the two merchants made an equal division and each took half, and at their deaths passed away to fare according to their deeds.

“Thus you see,” said the Teacher, “that your partner was as great a cheat in past times as now.” Having ended his story, he identified the Jātaka by saying: “The cheating merchant of today was the cheating merchant in the story, and I the honest merchant named Wise.”