Mahasara Jataka (#92)

temple painting of Mahasara Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. One day while the king was swimming with his harem in his royal park, a monkey stole the queen’s pearl necklace when her slave dozed off. The monkey wore it around her neck briefly, but then hid it away in a hole in a tree so as to not have problems with other monkeys. When the slave awoke and saw that the necklace was gone, she tried to avoid blame for her blunder by yelling out that a man had just run off with it. While the guards spread out in search of the thief, a frightened peasant outside the park heard the commotion inside and fled out of caution, even though he didn’t know the reason for it. But the guards saw him running off, and assuming he was the thief they gave chase.

When they caught him, the guards beat a confession out of the peasant, who feared they would kill him if he denied it. When asked where the necklace was, he claimed, hoping that he would get some help in his defense, that the treasurer forced him to take it and he had given it to him. When the treasurer was brought before the king, he hoped having a second high officer also charged for the crime would eventually help prove his innocence, so he confirmed the accusation and said he had passed the necklace to the king’s chaplain. Then the chaplain also confessed, and named the palace’s chief musician as his link in the plot, figuring this would make his time in captivity pass more pleasantly. The musician then chose to indict a prostitute for the same reason. She, in turn, denied having any part in the theft.

Sunset came before the matter could be resolved, so the king decided to continue the investigation the next day. The Bodhisatta did not think the peasant could have snuck into the park, nor could anyone inside have got out without being seen, so he was convinced that all five were innocent and the chain of accusations had just been made for strategic reasons. He thought it most likely a female monkey had stolen the necklace. The Bodhisatta requested and received permission from the king to do his own investigation. He had his servants carefully listen to the suspect’s conversations that night and these confirmed their innocence in the Bodhisatta’s mind, so he turned, with the king’s blessing, to finding the necklace.

The Bodhisatta put bead necklaces around the necks, wrists, and ankles of many of the park’s monkeys and ordered men to watch them carefully, looking for the queen’s necklace. The thieving monkey grew jealous of the others who were flaunting their beads, so she put on her pearls. When the men saw this, they frightened her and made her drop the necklace, which they took to the Bodhisatta, who gave it to the king. The king was so pleased by the Bodhisatta’s wisdom he showered him with praise and treasure.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One day a jewel went missing from the king’s turban and everyone residing and working in the palace was searched and this made them worried. When Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, arrived at the palace, where he taught dharma to the king’s wives, and heard what had happened he went to the king and proposed getting the jewel back by allowing the thief to return it anonymously since this would get results without causing stress to innocent people. After a few days his plan worked.

When the Buddha heard some of his disciples talking about it, he told them this story so they knew he had also once cleverly retrieved lost jewels and spared innocent people from worry.

The king from the past was an earlier birth of Ananda.

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