Jataka 83

Kālakaṇṇi Jātaka

The Mud Pie Friend

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 a wonderful story about judging someone by the strength of their character rather than the family or status from which they come. This is a common theme in the Buddha’s teaching:

I call him not a brahmin

Because of his origin and lineage.

If impediments still lurk in him,

He is just one who says ‘Sir.’ [He is ordinary.]

[One] Who is unimpeded and clings no more:

He is the one I call a brahmin. – [MN 98.27]

In this case, the Buddha is referencing the original meaning of the word “brahmin,” which is someone of high status.

Also note in this story the charming details that Anāthapiṇḍika and his childhood friend made mud pies together, and that his friend has the rather unfortunate name “Curse”!

A friend is he.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a friend of Anāthapiṇḍika’s. Tradition says that the two had made mud pies together and had gone to the same school. But as the years went by, the friend, whose name was “Curse,” fell on hard times and could not make a living. So he went to the rich man, who was kind to him, and he gave him a job looking after his property. So the poor friend was employed under Anāthapiṇḍika and did all his business for him.

After he started working for the rich man, it was a common thing to hear in the house “Stand up, Curse,” or “Sit down, Curse,” or “Have your dinner, Curse.” One day the Treasurer’s friends and acquaintances called on him and said, “Lord Treasurer, don't let this sort of thing go on in your house. It’s enough to scare an ogre to hear such ill-omened words as ‘Stand up, Curse,’ or ‘Sit down, Curse,’ or ‘Have your dinner, Curse.’ The man is not your equal. He’s a miserable wretch, dogged by misfortune. Why do you have anything to do with him?”

“This is not so,” replied Anāthapiṇḍika. “A name only serves to identify a man. The wise do not measure a man by his name, nor is it proper to create meaning from mere sounds. I will never betray, just because of his name, a friend with whom I made mud pies as a child.” And he rejected their advice.

One day the great man went to visit a village where he was the head man. This left the other man in charge of the house. Hearing he had left, some robbers made up their minds to break into the house. Arming themselves to the teeth, they surrounded it in the night time. But Curse had a suspicion that burglars might be coming, and he was waiting for them. And when he knew that they were there, he ran around to arouse his people. He sounded a horn and beat a drum until he had filled the whole house with noise. It was as though he were rousing a whole army of servants. The robbers said, “The house is not as empty as we thought. The master must be at home.” Throwing away their stones, clubs and other weapons, they bolted for their lives.

Figure: Curse’s Quick Thinking Saves the House

Figure: Curse’s Quick Thinking Saves the House

On the next day a great alarm was caused by the sight of all the discarded weapons lying around the house. Curse was lauded to the skies by such praises as this, “If the house had not been patrolled by so wise a man, the robbers would have simply walked in at their own pleasure and plundered the house. The Treasurer owes this stroke of good luck to his staunch friend.” And the moment the merchant came back from his village they hurried to tell him the whole story. “Ah,” he said, “this is the trusty guardian of my home who you wanted me to get rid of. If I had taken your advice and gotten rid of him, I would be a beggar today. It’s not the name but the heart within that makes the person.”

So saying he raised his wages. And thinking that here was a good story to tell, he went to the Master and gave him a complete account of all that had happened. “This is not the first time, sir,” the Master said, “that a friend named Curse has saved his friend’s wealth from robbers. The same thing happened in bygone days as well.” 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 a Treasurer of great fame, and he had a friend whose name was Curse, just as in the foregoing story. He was on his way back from collecting taxes when the Bodhisatta heard what had happened. He said to his friends, “If I had taken your advice and gotten rid of my trusted friend, I would be a beggar today.” And he repeated this stanza:

A friend is one who goes the extra step

To help us. This attests the true comrade.

A week or a month’s true loyalty

Makes us family, a longer time a brother true.

-- Then how shall I, who has known so many years

My friend, be wise in driving Curse away?

His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “Ānanda was the Curse of those days, and I was the Treasurer of Benares.”