Kuhaka Jataka (#89)

temple painting of Kuhaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a merchant. A landowner had great faith in one ascetic, and he built him a hermitage and supported him with excellent food for every meal. One day the landowner took one hundred gold coins to bury at the hermitage for safe keeping. The ascetic, however, was not a genuine holy man and he dug up the coins for himself. The next day he announced he had remained in the same place for too long and it was time to move on. The landowner escorted him to the edge of the city before saying goodbye. But shortly after they split up, the ascetic decided to have a laugh and secretly mock the gullible landowner. He stuck a piece of straw in his matted hair and turned back. Meeting the landowner again, the ascetic told him that straw from his roof had got stuck in his hair and he rushed back to return it to its rightful owner. The landowner was highly impressed by this display of virtue.

The Bodhisatta was traveling at this time and had stopped in the landowner’s town for the night. He heard the pair’s exchange about the straw and suspected that the ascetic had stolen something. The Bodhisatta approached the landowner and asked if he had left anything in the ascetic’s care; if so, he should go confirm it was safe. When they found the gold missing, the landowner and the Bodhisatta chased down the ascetic; punching and kicking him until he confessed to the theft and gave back the gold. The Bodhisatta ridiculed the ascetic for telling such an implausible story and told him not to do anything like it ever again.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The rogue ascetic was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who claimed to dedicate himself to seeking salvation, but was known by other disciples to be dishonest. When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the dishonest disciple, he told them this story so they knew he had also been this way in the past.

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