Serivanija Jataka (#3)

painting of Serivanija Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a traveling pot and pan salesman. He and another dealer came to a new city at the same time and they each took half of it to do their business. The other dealer called at the home of a destitute family, just a girl and her grandmother, whose ancestors had been rich merchants. They had no money, but asked if he would take their grimy old dining bowl in trade for a small trinket. The greedy salesman suspected their bowl was actually made of gold, and a sly pin scratch through the tarnish confirmed it. In a ruse to get the bowl for as little as possible, he tossed it on the ground and declared it worthless.

Later the Bodhisatta passed the same house and got the same request. Examining the bowl, he also saw it was made of gold, but he told the family the truth: it was worth one hundred thousand coins. But he couldn’t buy it as he did not have nearly that much money. Believing the bowl must have turned to gold due to the innate goodness of the Bodhisatta, the grandmother agreed to accept whatever he wanted to pay. He gave her five hundred coins and all of his stock (which was worth about five hundred), keeping only his scale, his bag, and eight coins that he needed to pay for a boat ride across the river.

Soon after, the greedy salesman returned to the house, intending to buy their bowl for a pittance. But when told what had transpired, he lost his mind. Believing the bowl was rightfully his, he threw everything he had on the ground except the beam of his scale, which he intended to use as a club, and rushed to find the Bodhisatta. But the greedy salesman found him too late; he was already halfway across the river. Full of rage, with blood gushing from his lips, he had a heart attack and died on the spot.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The greedy salesman was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, and this was the first time he had anger toward the Bodhisatta. The Buddha told this story to one of his disciples who had stopped working toward reaching enlightenment to let him know he should not quit because the reward for his efforts is great, and if he stopped he would forever regret it.

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