Ja 330 Sīlavīmaṁsajātaka
The Story about the Enquiry into Virtue (4s)
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, but here the brahmin learns deep lessons from his encounters with a hawk and a slave girl.
The Bodhisatta = the family priest (purohita).
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: Renunciation, Virtue.
“Power on earth.” This was a story told by the Teacher when at Jetavana, about a brahmin who was ever proving his virtue. Two similar stories have been told before. Ja 86 and Ja 290 [I include the story here.]
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 reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was his family priest – a man given to generosity and other good works, whose mind was set on righteousness, always keeping unbroken the Five Precepts. And the king honoured him beyond the other brahmins; and everything came to pass as above.
In testing his virtue he for three days took a coin from the royal treasurer’s board. They informed against him as a thief, and when brought before the king, he said:
1. “Power on earth beyond compare,
Virtue owns a wondrous charm:
Putting on a virtuous air
Deadly snakes avoid all harm.”
After thus praising virtue in the first verse, he gained the king’s consent and adopted the ascetic life.
Now a hawk seized a piece of meat in a butcher’s shop and darted up into the air. The other birds surrounded him and struck at him with feet, claws and beaks. Unable to bear the pain he dropped the piece of meat. Another bird seized it. It too in like manner being hard pressed let the meat fall. Then another bird pounced on it, and whosoever got the meat was pursued by the rest, and whosoever let it go was left in peace.
The Bodhisatta on seeing this thought: “These desires of ours are like pieces of meat. To those that grasp at them is sorrow, and to those that let them go is peace.” And he repeated the second verse:
2. “While the hawk had aught to eat,
Birds of prey pecked at him sore,
When perforce he dropped the meat,
Then they pecked at him no more.”
The ascetic going forth from the city, in the course of his journey came to a village, and at evening lay down in a certain man’s house. Now a female slave there named Piṅgalā made an appointment with a man, saying: “You are to come at such and such an hour.” After she had bathed the feet of her master and his family, when they had lain down, she sat on the threshold, looking out for the coming of her lover, and passed the first and the middle watch, repeating to herself, “Now he will be coming,” but at daybreak, losing hope, she said: “He will not come now,” and lay down and fell asleep. The Bodhisatta seeing this happen said: “This woman sat ever so long in the hope that her lover would come, but now that she knows he will not come, in her despair, she slumbers peacefully.” And with the thought that while hope in a sinful world brings sorrow, despair brings peace, he uttered the third verse:
3. “The fruit of hope fulfilled is bliss;
How differs loss of hope from this?
Though dull despair her hope destroys,
Lo! Piṅgalā calm sleep enjoys.” Compare Sānkhya Aphorisms, iv. 11 [which reads: He who is without hope, is happy, just like Piṅgalā.] Mahābhārata, xii. 6447.
Next day going forth from that village he entered into a forest, and beholding an ascetic seated on the ground and indulging in meditation he
4. “In this world and in worlds to be
Nought can surpass concentration:
To holy calm a devotee,
Himself unharmed, will none annoy.”
Then he went into the forest and adopted the ascetic life of a sage and developed the Absorptions and Super Knowledges, and became destined to birth in the Brahmā Realm.
The Teacher, having ended his lesson, identified the Jātaka, “At that time I myself was the family priest.”
last updated: November 2021