Ja 125 Kaṭāhakajātaka
The Story about the (Deceitful Secretary) Kaṭāhaka (1s)
In the present a monk lies about his family, fortune and fame, until he is discovered. The Buddha tells a story of a past life, in which the same person had cheated his master’s friends and married into the family, putting on airs and graces, until his master taught his wife a verse to repeat to him.
The Bodhisatta = the wealthy man of Benares (Bārāṇasiseṭṭhi),
the boastful monk = (the deceiving secretary) Kaṭāhaka.
Present Source: Ja 80 Bhīmasena,
Quoted at: Ja 125 Kaṭāhaka, Ja 127 Kalaṇḍuka.
Keywords: Boasting, Vanity.
“If he ’mid strangers.”
This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a certain braggart among the monks. Tradition says that he used to gather round him monks of all ages, and go about deluding everyone with lying boasts about his noble descent. “Ah, monks,” he would say, “there’s no family so noble as mine, no lineage so peerless. I am a scion of the highest of princely lines; no man is my equal in birth or ancestral estate; there is absolutely no end to the gold and silver and other treasures we possess. Our very slaves and menials are fed on rice and meat-stews, and are clad in the best Benares cloth, with the choicest Benares perfumes to perfume themselves withal; while I, because I have joined the Saṅgha, have to content myself with this vile fare and this vile garb.” But another monk, after enquiring into his family estate, exposed to the monks the emptiness of this pretension.
So the monks met in the Dhamma Hall, and talk began as to how that monk, in spite of his vows to leave worldly things and cleave only to the dispensation which leads to safety, was going about deluding the monks with his lying boasts. While the fellow’s sinfulness was being discussed, the Teacher entered and enquired what their topic was. And they told him. “This is not the first time, monks,” said the Teacher, “that he has gone about boasting; in bygone days too he went about boasting and deluding people.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.
In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was a rich Treasurer, and his wife bore him a son. And the self-same day a female slave in his house gave birth to a boy, and the two children grew up together. And when the rich man’s son was being taught to write, the young slave used to go with his young master’s tablets and so learned at the same time to write himself. Next he learned two or three handicrafts, and grew up to be a fair-spoken and handsome young man; and his name was Kaṭāhaka [Vessel]. Being employed as private secretary, he thought to himself, “I shall not always be kept at this work. The slightest fault and I shall be beaten, imprisoned, branded, and fed on slave’s fare. On the border there lives a merchant, a friend of my master’s. Why should I not go to him with a letter purporting to come from my master, and, passing myself off as my master’s son, marry the merchant’s daughter and live happily ever afterwards?
So he wrote a letter,
Missing his slave, the Bodhisatta said: “I don’t see Kaṭāhaka. Where has he gone? Find him.” And off went the Bodhisatta’s people in quest of him, and searched far and wide till they found him. Then back they came without Kaṭāhaka recognizing them, and told the Bodhisatta. “This will never do,” said the Bodhisatta on hearing the news. “I will go and bring him back.” So he asked the king’s permission, and departed with a great following. And the tidings spread everywhere that the Treasurer was on his way to the borders. Hearing the news Kaṭāhaka fell to thinking of his course of action. He knew that he was the sole reason of the Treasurer’s coming, and he saw that to run away now was to destroy all chance of returning. So he decided to go to meet the Treasurer, and conciliate him by acting as a slave towards him as in the old days. Acting on this plan, he made a point of proclaiming in
So Kaṭāhaka took a magnificent present and went out with a large retinue to meet the Bodhisatta, to whom he handed the present with a low obeisance. The Bodhisatta took the present in a kindly way, and at breakfast time made his encampment and retired for the purposes of nature. Stopping his retinue, Kaṭāhaka took water and approached the Bodhisatta. Then the young man fell at the Bodhisatta’s feet and cried, “Oh, sir, I will pay any sum you may require; but do not expose me.”
“Fear no exposure at my hands,” said the Bodhisatta, pleased at his dutiful conduct, and entered into the city, where he was feted with great magnificence. And Kaṭāhaka still acted as his slave.
As the Treasurer sat at his ease, the border-merchant said: “My lord, upon receipt of your letter I duly gave my daughter in marriage to your son.” And the Treasurer made a suitable reply about ‘his son’ in so kindly a way that the merchant was delighted beyond measure. But from that time forth the Bodhisatta could not bear the sight of Kaṭāhaka.
One day the Great Being sent for the merchant’s daughter and said: “My dear, please look my head over.” She did so, and he thanked her for
“He has always had his faults, my dear; but I will tell you how to stop his tongue. I will tell you a text which you must learn carefully and repeat to your husband when he finds fault again with his food.” And he taught her the lines and shortly afterwards set out for Benares. Kaṭāhaka accompanied him part of the way, and took his leave after offering most valuable presents to the Treasurer. Dating from the departure of the Bodhisatta, Kaṭāhaka waxed prouder and prouder.
One day his wife ordered a nice dinner, and began to help him to it with a spoon, but at the first mouthful Kaṭāhaka began to grumble. Thereon the merchant’s daughter remembering her lesson, repeated the following verse:
1. “If he ’mid strangers far from home talks big,
Back comes his visitor to spoil it all.
Come, eat your dinner then, Kaṭāhaka.” The commentator explains that the wife had no understanding of the meaning of the verse, but only repeated the words as she was taught them. That is to say, the gāthā was not in the vernacular, but in a learned tongue intelligible to the educated Kaṭāhaka, but not to the woman, who repeated it parrot-fashion.
“Dear me,” thought Kaṭāhaka, “the Treasurer must have informed her of my name, and have told her the whole story.” And from that day forth he gave himself no more airs, but humbly ate what was set before him, and at his death passed away to fare according to his deeds.
His lesson ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka by saying: “This bumptious monk was the Kaṭāhaka of those days, and I the Treasurer of Benares.”
last updated: November 2021