Ja 290 Sīlavīmaṁsajātaka
The Story about the Enquiry into Virtue (3s)

Alternative Title: Sīlavīmaṁsakajātaka (Cst)

In the present a brahmin seeks to find out if the king favours him for his birth, or for his goodness, so he starts stealing a penny a day from the king. When the king finds out he decides to punish him, until the brahmin explains his actions. The Buddha tells a story of similar happenings in a past life.

The Bodhisatta = the brahmin priest who measured his own virtue (sīlavīmaṁsako purohito brāhmaṇo).

Present Source: Ja 330 Sīlavīmaṁsa,
Quoted at: Ja 86 Sīlavīmaṁsana, Ja 290 Sīlavīmaṁsa,
Past Compare: Ja 86 Sīlavīmaṁsana, Ja 290 Sīlavīmaṁsa, Ja 330 Sīlavīmaṁsa, Ja 362 Sīlavīmaṁsa.

Keywords: Honour, Virtue.

“Virtue is lovely.” This story the Teacher told at Jetavana, about a brahmin who put his reputation to the test. The circumstances which gave rise to it, and the story itself, are both given in the Sīlavīmaṁsajātaka [Ja 86], in the First Book.

This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a brahmin who put to the test his reputation for virtue. This brahmin, who was maintained by the king of Kosala, had sought the Three Refuges; he kept the Five Precepts, and was versed in the Three Vedas. “This is a virtuous man,” thought the king, and showed him great honour. But that brahmin thought to himself, “The king shows honour to me beyond other brahmins, and has manifested his great regard by making me his spiritual director. But is his favour due to my virtue or only to my birth, lineage, family, country and accomplishments? I must clear this up without delay.”

Accordingly, one day when he was leaving the palace, he took without permission a coin from a treasurer’s counter, and went his way. Such was the treasurer’s veneration for the brahmin that he sat perfectly still and said not a word. Next day the brahmin took two coins; but still the official made no remonstrance. The third day the brahmin took a whole handful of coins. “This is the third day,” cried the treasurer, “that you have robbed his majesty,” and he shouted out three times, “I have caught the thief who robs the treasury.” In rushed a crowd of people from every side, crying, “Ah, you’ve long been posing as a model of virtue.” And dealing him two or three blows, they led him before the king. In great sorrow the king said to him, “What led you, brahmin, to do so wicked a thing?” And he gave orders, saying: “Off with him to punishment.” “I am no thief, sire,” said the brahmin. “Then why did you take money from the treasury?” “Because you showed me such great honour, sire, and because I made up my mind to find out whether that honour was paid to my birth and the like or only to my virtue. That was my motive, and now I know for certain (inasmuch as you order me off to punishment) that it was my virtue and not my birth and other advantages, that won me your majesty’s favour.

Virtue I know to be the chief and supreme good; I know too that to virtue I can never attain in this life, while I remain a layman, living in the midst of sensual pleasures. Wherefore, this very day I would willingly go to the Teacher at Jetavana and renounce the world for the Saṅgha. Grant me your leave, sire.” The king consenting, the brahmin set out for Jetavana. His friends and relations in a body tried to turn him from his purpose, but, finding their efforts of no avail, left him alone.

He came to the Teacher and asked to be admitted to the Saṅgha. After admission to the lower and higher ordination, he won by application insight and became an Arahat, whereon he drew near to the Teacher, saying: “Sir, my joining the Saṅgha has borne the Supreme Fruit,” thereby signifying that he had became an Arahat.

Hearing of this, the monks, assembling in the Dhamma Hall, spoke with one another of the virtues of the king’s family priest who tested his own reputation for virtue and who, leaving the king, had now risen to be an Arahat. Entering the Hall, the Teacher asked what the monks were discussing, and they told him. “Not without a precedent, monks,” said he, “is the action of this brahmin in putting to the test his reputation for virtue and in working out his safety after renouncing the world. The like was done by the wise and good of bygone days as well.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, his family priest resolved to test his own reputation for virtue, and on two days abstracted a coin from the [2.293] Treasurer’s counter. On the third day they dragged him to the king, and accused him of theft. On the way he noticed some snake-charmers making a snake dance. The king asked him what he had done such a thing for. The brahmin replied, “To try my reputation for virtue,” and went on

1. “Virtue is lovely – so the people deem –
Virtue in all the world is held supreme.
Behold! This deadly snake they do not slay,
‘For he is virtuous,’ they say. {2.430}

2. Here I proclaim how virtue is all-blessed
And lovely in the world: whereof possessed
He that is virtuous evermore is said
Along perfection’s path to tread.

3. To kinsfolk dear, he shines among his friends;
And when his union with the body ends,
He that to practise virtue has been fain
In heaven will be born again.”

Having thus in three verses declared the beauty of virtue and discoursed to them, the Bodhisatta went on, “Great king, a great deal has been given to you by my family, my father’s property, my mother’s, and what I have gained myself: there is no end to it. But I took these coins from the treasury to try my own virtue. Now I see how worthless in this world is birth and lineage, blood and family, and how much the best is virtue. I will embrace the ascetic life; allow me to do so!” After many entreaties, the king at last consented. He left the world, and retired to the Himālayas, where he took to the ascetic life, and cultivated the Super Knowledges and Attainments until he came to the Brahmā Realm.

When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he identified the Jātaka, “At that time the brahmin family priest who tried his reputation for virtue was I myself.”