sunset

Jataka 125

Kaṭāhaka Jātaka

Kaṭahaka’s Tale

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


Police officers often say that they would never catch any criminals if they were not so stupid (!). Here is a story about not getting too cocky.

If he among strangers.” This story was told by the Master while he was at Jetavana. It is about a boastful monk. The introductory story about him is like what has been already related. (The PTS edition notes that this is probably Jātaka 80.)


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was a rich Treasurer. His wife gave birth to a son. On the same day a female slave in his house gave birth to a boy. His name was Kaṭāhaka, and the two children grew up together.

When the rich man’s son was being taught to write, Kaṭāhaka used to carry the young master’s tablets, so he also learned how to write. In the same way he mastered several crafts. He grew up to be a well-spoken and handsome young man.

Although he had a good job as a private secretary, he thought to himself, “I will not always be in this favored position. At the slightest fault I will be beaten, imprisoned, branded, and fed on slave’s food. There is a merchant who lives on the border who is a friend of my master. Suppose I go to him with a letter that appears to come from my master. In that letter I can pretend to be my master’s son. Then I can marry the merchant’s daughter and live happily ever afterwards.”

So he wrote a letter that said, “The bearer of this letter is my son. It is appropriate that our houses should be united in marriage. I propose that you give your daughter to my son and have the young couple live near you for the present. As soon as I can conveniently do so, I will come visit you.”

He sealed this letter with his master’s private seal and went to see the border merchant. He took with him a well-filled purse, handsome clothes, perfumes and the like. With a bow he stood before the merchant.

“Where do you come from?” said the merchant.

“From Benares.”

“Who is your father?”

“The Treasurer of Benares.”

“And what brings you here?”

“This letter will tell you,” said Kaṭāhaka, handing it to him. The merchant read the letter and exclaimed, “This gives me new life!”

And in his joy he gave his daughter to Kaṭāhaka and set up the young couple to live in grand style.

But soon after Kaṭāhaka started acting in a conceited and arrogant way. He became very snobbish and self-absorbed. He used to find fault with the food and the clothes that were brought to him. He scathingly called them “rustic” and “provincial.”

“These misguided yocals,” he would say, “have no fashion sense. And as for taste in scents and garlands, they’ve got none.”

Meanwhile the Bodhisatta missed his private secretary. He said, “I don’t see Kaṭāhaka. Where has he gone? Go find him.” And off the Bodhisatta’s people went in search of him. They searched far and wide until they finally found him. Then back they went, without Kaṭāhaka knowing that they had found him. They told the Bodhisatta what had happened.

“This will never do,” the Bodhisatta said on hearing the news. “I will go and bring him back.”

After asking the King’s permission, he left with a great following. The news spread everywhere that the Treasurer was on his way to the borders. Hearing this news, Kaṭāhaka tried to come up with a plan. He knew that he was the reason the Treasurer was coming. If he ran away now then he would destroy any chance of returning. So he decided to go meet the Treasurer and win his favor by acting as a slave towards him as he had in the old days.

Acting on this plan, he made a point of declaring as often as possible how much he disapproved of the lamentable decay of respect towards parents, especially in children’s sitting down to meals with their parents instead of serving them. “When my parents eat their meals,” Kaṭāhaka said, “I hand them their plates and dishes. I bring the spittoon and fetch their fans for them. Such is my diligent practice.” And he carefully explained a slave’s duty to his master, such as bringing them water and tending to him when he retired.

Having made his views commonly known, he said to his father-in-law shortly before the Bodhisatta arrived, “I hear that my father is coming to see you. You had better prepare to entertain him, while I will go and meet him on the road with a gift.”

“Do so, my dear boy,” his father-in-law said.

So Kaṭāhaka took a generous present and went out with a large following to meet the Bodhisatta. He handed him the present with great humility. The Bodhisatta received the present with kindness. Then Kaṭāhaka fell at the Bodhisatta’s feet and cried, “Oh, sir, I will pay any amount you want, but do not expose me.”

“Do not worry about me exposing you,” the Bodhisatta said. Pleased with Kaṭāhaka’s dutiful conduct, he entered the city where he was greeted with great magnificence. And Kaṭāhaka continued to act as his slave.

As the Treasurer sat, the border merchant said, “My Lord, upon receipt of your letter I duly gave my daughter to your son in marriage.” The Treasurer made a suitable reply about “his son” in such a kind way that the merchant was delighted beyond measure. But from that time on the Bodhisatta could not bear the sight of Kaṭāhaka.

One day the Great Being sent for the merchant’s daughter. He said, “Now tell me, my dear, whether my son is a reasonable man in good times and bad, and whether you manage to get along well with him.”

“My husband has only one fault,” she replied. “He finds fault with his food.”

“He has always had his faults, my dear. But I will tell you how to stop his complaints. I will teach you a verse that you must learn carefully. It is in a language that you do not know, but he will understand it. Repeat it to your husband the next time that he finds fault with his food.”

So he taught her the verse and shortly after that he left for Benares. Kaṭāhaka accompanied him part of the way, and then left him after offering valuable presents to the Treasurer.

Once the Bodhisatta left, Kaṭāhaka grew more and more conceited. He was even more insufferable than before. One day his wife prepared a nice dinner. She carefully dished it out for him. But at the first mouthful Kaṭāhaka began to complain. Then the merchant’s daughter remembered the verse. She repeated the following stanza:

If far from home a man talks big,

His visitor will return to spoil it all.

Come, eat your dinner then, Kaṭāhaka.

Figure: Caught!

Figure: Caught!

“Dear me,” Kaṭāhaka thought. “The Treasurer must have told her who I am along with the whole story!” And from that day on he lost his pomposity. He humbly ate whatever was set before him. And at his death, he passed away to fare according to his karma.


His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “This pompous monk was the Kaṭāhaka of those days, and I was the Treasurer of Benares.”