Ja 288 Macchuddānajātaka
The Story about a String of Fish (3s)

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 tells a story of how one brother tried to cheat another, and how a Devatā helped the first regain his fortune, which had been swallowed by a fish.

The Bodhisatta = the elder brother (jeṭṭhabhātā),
the deceitful merchant = the younger brother (kaniṭṭhabhātā).

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

Keywords: Cheating, Greed, Devas, Animals, Fish.

“Who could believe the story.” [2.288] This story the Teacher told at Jetavana about a dishonest merchant. The circumstances have been told above. [Although not as clear as we might like, this seems to refer to Ja 98 Kūṭavāṇijajātaka, the story from which I include here.]

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 came last 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 king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in the family of a landed proprietor.

When he grew up, he became a wealthy man. He had a young brother. Afterwards their father died. They determined to arrange some business of their father’s. This took them to a village, where they were paid a thousand pieces of money. On their way back, as they waited on a riverbank for the boat, they ate a meal out of a leaf-basket. The Bodhisatta threw what he left into the Ganges for the fishes, giving the merit to the river Devatā. The Devatā accepted this with gratification, which increased her divine power, and on thinking over this increase of her power, became aware what had happened. The Bodhisatta {2.424} laid his upper garment upon the sand, and there he lay down and went to sleep.

Now the young brother was of a rather thievish nature. He wanted to filch the money from the Bodhisatta and keep it himself; so he packed a parcel of gravel to look like the parcel of money, and put them both away.

When they had got aboard, and were come to mid-river, the younger brother stumbled against the side of the boat, and dropped overboard the parcel of gravel, as he thought, but really the money.

“Monk, the money’s overboard!” he cried. “What’s to be done?” “What can we do? What’s gone is gone. Never mind about it,” replied the other.

But the river Devatā thought how pleased she had been with the merit she had received, and how her divine power had been increased, and resolved to take care of his property. So by her power she made a big-mouthed fish swallow the parcel, and took care of it herself.

When the thief got home, he chuckled over the trick he had served his brother, and undid the remaining parcel. There was nothing but gravel to be seen! His heart dried up; he fell on his bed, and clutched the bedstead. [2.289]

Now some fishermen just then cast their nets for a draught. By power of the river Devatā, this fish fell into the net. The fishermen took it to town to sell. People asked what the price was.

“A thousand pieces and seven annas,” said the fishermen. Everybody made fun of them. “We have seen a fish offered for a thousand pieces!” they laughed.

The fishermen brought their fish to the Bodhisatta’s door, and asked him to buy it. “What’s the price?” he asked. “You may have it for seven annas,” they said.

“What did you ask other people for it?” “From other people we asked a thousand rupees and seven alms; but you may have it for seven annas,” they said.

He paid seven annas for it, and sent it to his wife. She cut it open, and there was the parcel of money! {2.425} She called the Bodhisatta. He gave a look, and recognising his mark, knew it for his own. He thought: “These fishermen asked other people the price of a thousand rupees and seven annas, but because the thousand rupees were mine, they let me have it for seven annas only! If a man does not understand the meaning of this, nothing will ever make him believe,” and then he repeated the first verse:

1. “Who could believe the story, were he told,
That fishes for a thousand should be sold?
They’re seven pence to me: how I could wish
To buy a whole string of this kind of fish!”

When he had said this, he wondered how it was that he had recovered his money.

At the moment the river Devatā hovered invisibly in the air, and declared: “I am the spirit of the Ganges. You gave the remains of your meal to the fishes, and let me have the merit. Therefore I have taken care of your property,” and she repeated a verse:

2. “You fed the fish, and gave a gift to me.
This I remember, and your piety.” {2.426}

Then the Devatā told about the mean trick which the younger brother had played. Then she added, “There he lies, with his heart dried up within him. There is no prosperity for the cheat. But I have brought you your own, and I warn you not to lose it. Don’t give it to your young thief of a brother, but keep it all yourself.” Then she repeated the third verse:

3. “There’s no good fortune for the wicked heart,
In Devatās’ respect he has no part;
Who cheats his brother of paternal wealth
And works out evil deeds by craft and stealth.” [2.290]

Thus spoke the spirit, not wishing that the treacherous villain should receive the money. But the Bodhisatta said: “That is impossible,” and all the same sent the brother five hundred.

After this discourse, the Teacher declared the Truths: at the conclusion of which the merchant entered upon the fruition of the First Path, and identified the Jātaka, “At that time the younger brother was the dishonest merchant, but the elder was I myself.”