Jataka 48

Vedabbha Jātaka

The Treasure Spell

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 one of the longer stories, and it has two themes. One is someone who is intelligent but is too stubborn to accept wise advice. The original translation uses the word “self-willed,” which I have changed to “headstrong.”

The other theme is greed. And the story has a poignant lesson about how greed can go terribly wrong.

Misguided effort.” The Master told this story while at Jetavana. It is about a headstrong monk. The Master said to that monk, “This is not the first time, brother, that you have been headstrong. You had the same disposition in bygone times. You would not follow the advice of the wise and good. As a result, you were the cause for a thousand men to meet their end. And you were cut in two by a sharp sword and thrown on the highway.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a brahmin in a village who knew a magic spell called “Vedabbha.” Now this spell, so they say, was precious beyond all measure. For at a certain conjunction of the planets, if the spell was repeated while looking upwards to the skies, the Seven Things of Worth - gold, silver, pearl, coral, catseye, ruby, and diamond – rained from the heavens.

In those days the Bodhisatta was a pupil of this brahmin. One day his master took the Bodhisatta with him and left the village to go to the country of Ceti.

Along the road to Ceti there was a forest. And in this forest there were five hundred robbers known as “the Dispatchers.” They made it impossible to pass through. And these robbers caught the Bodhisatta and the Vedabbha-brahmin.

(Why, you might ask, were they called “the Dispatchers?” Well, the story goes that for every two prisoners they caught, they used to dispatch one to fetch the ransom. So that is why they were called “the Dispatchers.” If they captured a father and a son, they told the father to go for the ransom to free his son. If they caught a mother and her daughter, they sent the mother for the money. If they caught two brothers, they let the elder brother go, and if they caught a teacher and his student, they sent the student. In this case, therefore, they kept the Vedabbha-brahmin, and sent the Bodhisatta for the ransom.)

The Bodhisatta bowed to his Master and said, “In a day or two I will surely be back. Have no fear, but heed my adivce. Today is the conjunction of the planets that brings about the rain of the Things of Worth. Do not repeat the spell and call down the precious shower. For if you do, calamity will come both to you and this band of robbers.” With this warning to his master, the Bodhisatta left to get the ransom.

At sunset the robbers tied the brahmin up and shackled his feet. Just at this moment the full moon rose over the eastern horizon, and the brahmin, studying the heavens, knew that the great conjunction was taking place. “Why,” he thought, “should I suffer this misery? If I repeat the spell I will call down the precious rain, pay the robbers the ransom, and go free.” So he called out to the robbers, “Friends, why did you take me a prisoner?”

“To get a ransom, reverend sir,” they said.

“Well, if that is all you want,” the brahmin said, “then untie me, wash my head, put clean clothes on me, put perfume on me, and put garlands of flowers on me. Then leave me alone.”

The robbers did as he asked. And the brahmin, marking the conjunction of the planets, repeated his spell with eyes lifted up to the heavens. Immediately the Things of Worth poured down from the skies! The robbers picked them all up and wrapped their treasure into bundles with their cloaks. Then they marched away with the brahmin following in the rear.

Raining Treasure

Figure: Raining Treasure

However, as luck would have it, the party was captured by a second band of five hundred robbers! “Why do you seize us?” said the first to the second band.

“For treasure,” they answered.

“If you want treasure, seize that brahmin. He can bring riches down like rain from the skies by simply gazing upwards. He gave us everything that we have.”

So the second band of robbers let the first band go, and they seized the brahmin, crying, “Give us riches too!”

“It would give me great pleasure,” the brahmin said, “but it will be a year before the conjunction of the planets takes place again. If you will only wait until then, I will summon the precious shower for you.”

“You rascal brahmin!” the angry robbers cried. “You made the other band rich immediately, but you want us to wait a whole year!” And with that they cut him in two with a sharp sword and threw his body into the middle of the road.

Then they chased down the first band of robbers. They killed every one of them in hand-to-hand combat, and then they seized the treasure. Next, they divided themselves into two companies and fought among themselves, company against company, until two hundred and fifty of them were killed. And so they went on killing one another until only two of them were left alive. Thus did those thousand men come to destruction.

Now, when the two survivors had carried off the treasure, they hid it in the jungle near a village. One of them sat there, sword in hand, to guard it, while the other one went into the village to get rice and have it cooked for supper.

“Greed is the root of ruin!” thought the man who was guarding the treasure. “When my mate comes back, he will want half of this. Suppose I kill him the moment he gets back.” So he drew his sword and sat waiting for his comrade’s return.

Meanwhile, the other man had reflected in the same way that the treasure had to be shared, and he thought to himself, “Suppose I poison the rice and keep the whole treasure to myself.” So when the rice was boiled, he ate his own share, and then put poison in the rest. Then he carried it back with him to the jungle. But as soon as he set the rice down, the other robber cut him in two with his sword and hid the body in a secluded spot. Then he ate the poisoned rice and died right then and there. Thus, because of the treasure, the brahmin and all of the robbers came to destruction.

After a day or two the Bodhisatta came back with the ransom. He did not find his master where he had left him, but he did see the treasure strewn all about. His heart sank as he thought that in spite of his advice, his master must have called down a shower of treasure from the skies, and that they must have all died as a result. He proceeded down the road where he found his master’s body. “Alas!” he cried, “he is dead because he did not heed my warning.” Then he gathered sticks and made a fire on which he cremated his master’s body.

Continuing down the road, he came upon the five hundred “Dispatchers,” and further still he found the two hundred and fifty dead robbers. He saw that of the thousand men all but two had died. Feeling sure that there must be two survivors, and that these they probably fought as well, he pressed on to see where they had gone. Finally, he found the path they had taken into the jungle. There he found the treasure, with one robber lying dead with his rice bowl overturned at his side. Realizing the whole story at a glance, the Bodhisatta went to look for the missing man. At last found his body in the spot where it had been hidden. “And thus,” the Bodhisatta thought, “because he would not follow my advice, my headstrong master destroyed himself and a thousand others. Truly, they that seek their own gain by mistaken and misguided means shall reap ruin, even as my master did.” And he repeated this stanza:

Misguided effort leads to loss, not gain.

Thieves killed Vedabbha and then they were killed.

Thus spoke the Bodhisatta, and he went on to say, “And even as my master’s misguided and misplaced effort in causing the rain of treasure to fall from heaven caused his own death and the destruction of others, every other man who tries to gain some advantage by foolish means will perish and involve others in his destruction.”

The Bodhisatta’s words rang throughout the forest while the tree fairies shouted applause. He carried the treasure off to his own home where he lived out his life giving alms and doing other good works. And when his life ended, he was reborn in a heavenly realm.

Then the Master said, “This is not the first time, brother, you were headstrong. You were headstrong in bygone times as well, and because of this you came to utter destruction.” His lesson ended, he identified the birth by saying, “The headstrong monk was the Vedabbha-brahmin of those days, and I was his pupil.”