Ja 362 Sīlavīmaṁsajātaka Compare L. Feer, Journal Asiatique, 1875.
The Story about the Enquiry into Virtue (5s)

In the present a brahmin seeks to find out if the king favours him for his learning, 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 = one who went forth in the seer’s ordination (isipabbajjaṁ pabbajito).

Past Compare: Ja 86 Sīlavīmaṁsana, Ja 290 Sīlavīmaṁsa, Ja 330 Sīlavīmaṁsa, Ja 362 Sīlavīmaṁsa.

Keywords: Theft, Virtue.

“Virtue and learning.” [3.128] This story the Teacher, while residing at Jetavana, told concerning a brahmin who would test the power of virtue. The king, they say, owing to his reputation for virtue, regarded him with special honour, beyond what was paid to other brahmins. He thought: “Can it be that the king regards me with special honour, because I am endowed with virtue, or as one devoted to the acquisition of learning? I will just test the comparative importance of virtue and learning.”

So one day he abstracted a coin from the royal treasury board. The treasurer, such was his respect for him, did not say a word. It occurred a second time, and the treasurer said nothing. But on the third occasion he had him arrested as one who lived by robbery, and brought him before the king. And when the king asked what his offence was, he charged him with stealing the king’s property. {3.194}

“Is this true, brahmin?” said the king.

“I am not in the habit of stealing your property, sire,” he said, “but I had my doubts as to the relative importance of virtue and learning, and in testing which was the greater of the two, I thrice took a coin without permission, and then I was given into custody and brought before you. Now that I know the greater efficacy of virtue compared with learning, I no longer wish to live a layman’s life. I will become an ascetic.”

On obtaining leave to do so, without so much as looking back on his house door, he went straight to Jetavana and begged the Teacher to ordain him. The Teacher granted him both novice and full monastic orders. And he had been no long time in orders, before he attained to Insight and reached Arahatship.

The incident was discussed in the Dhamma Hall, how that a certain brahmin, after proving the power of virtue, took orders and obtaining Insight became an Arahat. When the Teacher came and inquired of the monks what was the nature of the topic they were sitting to discuss, on hearing what it was, he said: “Not this man only now, but sages of old also put virtue to the proof, and by becoming ascetics worked out their own safety.” And herewith he told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a brahmin family. And when he came of age, he acquired every liberal art at Taxila, and on his return to Benares he went to see the king. The king offered him the post of family priest, and as he kept the Five Precepts, the king looked upon him with respect as a virtuous man. “Can it be,” he thought, “that the king regards me with respect as a virtuous man, or as one devoted to the acquisition of learning?” And the whole story corresponds exactly with the modern instance, but in this case the brahmin said: “Now I know the great importance [3.129] of virtue compared with learning.” And hereupon he spoke these five verses:

1. “Virtue and learning I wanted to test;
Henceforth I doubt not that virtue is best.

2. Virtue excels vain gifts of form and birth,
Apart from virtue learning has no worth.

3. A prince or peasant, if to wrong enslaved,
In neither world from misery is saved.

4. Men of high caste with those of base degree,
If virtuous here, in heaven will equal be. {3.195}

5. Not birth, nor lore, nor friendship aught avails,
Pure virtue only future bliss entails.”

Thus did the Great Being sing the praises of virtue, and having gained the consent of the king, that very day he betook himself to the Himālayas region, and adopting the ascetic life he developed the Super Knowledges and Attainments, and became destined to birth in the Brahmā Realm.

The Teacher here ended this lesson and identified the Jātaka, “At that time it was I myself that put virtue to the test and adopted the ascetic life.”