Jataka 47

Vāruṇi Jātaka

The Liquor Spoiler

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University

This is another curious story that presumably is a folk tale borrowed and inserted into a Buddhist context. Like the last story, it is about foolish, unskillful behavior done from a desire to do good.

What makes this story curious is that in the Buddha’s teaching, selling alcohol is one of the jobs from which Buddhist laypeople are forbidden. And in the Five Precepts the fifth Precept is against the consumption of alcohol.

It is knowledge.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about one who spoiled liquor. Tradition says that Anāthapiṇḍika had a friend who kept a tavern. This friend had a supply of strong liquor that he sold for gold and for silver, and his tavern was crowded. He gave orders to his apprentice to sell for cash only, and he went off to bathe. This apprentice, while serving out the alcohol to his customers, saw them sending out for salt and brown sugar and eating it as an appetizer. He thought to himself, “There must not be any salt in our liquor. I’ll put some in.” So he put a pound of salt in a bowl of the liquor, and he served it to the customers. As soon as they drank it, they spit it out again, saying, “What did you do?”

“I saw you sending for salt after drinking our liquor, so I mixed some salt in.”

“And that’s how you have spoiled good liquor, you idiot,” cried the customers, and with abuse they got up one after another and left the tavern. When the keeper of the tavern came home and did not see a single customer, he asked where they had all gone. So the apprentice told him what had happened. Berating him for his folly, the man went off and told Anāthapiṇḍika. And the latter, thinking the story a good one to tell, went to Jetavana. There, after paying his respects, he told the Master all about it.

“This is not the first time, layman,” the Master said, “that this apprentice has spoiled liquor. He did the same once before.” Then at Anāthapiṇḍika’s request, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was the Treasurer of Benares, and he had a tavern keeper who lived under his protection. This man acquired a supply of strong spirits, which he left his apprentice to sell while he himself went off to bathe. During his absence his apprentice mixed salt with the liquor and spoiled it just in the same way. When he returned the young man’s guide and master found out what had happened. Later he told the story to the Treasurer. “Truly,” said the Treasurer, “the ignorant and foolish, with every desire to do good, only succeed in doing harm.” And he recited this stanza:

It is knowledge that crowns our efforts with success;

For fools are thwarted by their foolishness.

Witness the tavern’s salted bowl of liquor.

In these lines the Bodhisatta taught the truth.

The Foolish Bartender

Figure: The Foolish Bartender

The Master said, “Layman, this same person spoiled liquor in the past as now.” Then he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “He who spoiled the liquor now was also the spoiler of the liquor in those bygone days, and I myself was then the Treasurer of Benares.”