Jataka 53

Puṇṇapāti Jātaka

The Liquor Bowl

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

It is amazing that so many of these stories are about alcohol. This was, after all, roughly 450 BCE. It shows what a significant problem intoxication was then, as it is now.

What? Leave untasted?” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about some drugged liquor.

Once upon a time some carousing ruffians of Sāvatthi got together and said, “We do not have enough money to buy a single drink. How are we going to get some?”

“Cheer up!” said one of them. “I have a little plan.”

“What is it?” they cried.

“It is Anāthapiṇḍika’s custom,” he said, “to wear his rings and richest clothing when going to see the King. Let us drug some cheap alcohol and set up a drinking booth in which we will all be sitting when Anāthapiṇḍika passes by. ‘Come and join us, Lord High Treasurer,’ we’ll cry, and we will fill him with our liquor until he loses his senses. Then we will steal his rings and clothes and get the price of a decent drink.”

The other rogues were very pleased with his plan, and it was duly carried out. As Anāthapiṇḍika was returning, they went out to meet him and invited him to come along with them. They told him that they had some extremely fine liquor, and he must taste it before he went.

“What?” he thought. “Does a follower of the Buddha, who has found the path to the end of suffering, touch alcohol? Although I have no craving for it, I will expose these rogues.” So he went into their booth where he quickly figured out that their liquor was drugged. So he resolved to make the rascals take to their heels. He accused them of doctoring their liquor in order to drug strangers and then rob them. “You sit in a booth that you have opened, and you praise the liquor,” he said, “but not one of you has drunk it yourself. If it is not drugged, then drink it yourselves.” This made the gang take to their heels, and Anāthapiṇḍika went home. Thinking he might as well tell the incident to the Buddha, he went to Jetavana and related the story.

“This time, layman,” the Master said, “it is you who these rogues tried to trick. So too in the past they tried to trick the good and wise.” So saying, at his hearer’s request, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Treasurer of that city. And then, too, did the same gang of miscreants, conspiring together in the same way, drug liquor. They went out to meet him and tried to tempt him in the same way. The Treasurer did not want to drink at all, but nevertheless went with them, solely to expose them. Seeing what they were doing, he wanted to scare them away. So he told them that it would be an inappropriate thing for him to drink alcohol just before going to the King’s palace. “Stay here,” he said, “until I’ve seen the King and am on my way back. Then I'll think about it.”

A Losing Strategy

Figure: A Losing Strategy

On his return, the rascals called to him, but the Treasurer, looking at the drugged bowls, confounded them by saying, “I do not like your ways. The bowls stand here just as full now as when I left you. You loudly praise the liquor, but not a drop of it has passed your own lips. Why, if it had been good liquor, you’d have taken your own share as well. This liquor is drugged!” And he repeated this stanza:

What? Leave untasted drink you praise as so rare?

Nay, this is proof no honest liquor is there.

And after a life of good deeds, the Bodhisatta passed away to fare according to his karma.

His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “The rascals of today were also the rascals of those bygone days and I myself was then Treasurer of Benares.”