The Bodhisatta was once a student of a king’s chaplain. The chaplain was toothless and had tawny brown skin, and his wife was having an affair with a man of similar appearance. Try as he might, the chaplain could not get his wife to stop seeing him, so he decided to have his rival killed. The chaplain’s plan began by convincing the king that the city’s southern gate was unlucky and should be rebuilt with suitable sacrifices done during the proper celestial alignment. The king had the gate pulled down and started constructing a new one. When it came time, the chaplain told the king the stars were aligned for the sacrifice, and a tawny-skinned, toothless, pure-blooded brahmin must be killed and buried under the gate the next day.
Back at home, the chaplain couldn’t contain his excitement, and he told his wife how her lover would be dead tomorrow. She, of course, sent her lover a message warning him to flee. And he spread the news, so all other men with tawny skin also left town. The next morning, the chaplain told the king where to find a suitable victim, and he sent his men to get the wife’s lover. When this man could not be found, the king’s men searched all around the city for another tawny-skinned, toothless, pure-blooded brahmin, but there were none—except for the king’s chaplain. The king said a religious man couldn’t be killed, but his men reminded him that his chaplain had said the next auspicious day was a year away, and they could not leave the city undefended that long: someone needed to die now. The king’s men also told their lord that the chaplain had a student who could replace his master.
The king took their advice and had the Bodhisatta summoned and the chaplain tied up. As the two walked into the pit, the condemned former chaplain lamented his self-inflicted demise, confessing what he had done. The Bodhisatta replied that not being careful with one’s words was a common cause of misery and told him four stories as examples, and also one story where speaking carefully saved lives.
- A high-class prostitute earned one thousand coins a day. Her brother was a good-for-nothing drunk, though she supported him despite his faults. But one time after he lost everything, including his clothes, in a game of dice, she’d had enough and ordered her servants not to let him into the house or even give him clothes to wear. One of her regular customers arrived for a night of pleasure and saw the brother crying outside the door, wearing just a rag for a loincloth. He could not convince the woman to soften her heart, so he gave the brother his own clothes to wear since he didn’t need them until the next morning. The brother ran off to the tavern and had not returned when the customer left the next morning. The customer walked home naked and ashamed, wishing he had not opened his mouth the day before.
- Two goats were fighting quite fiercely in their pasture. A small bird who had no part in their quarrel was concerned they would smash their heads and die, so he told them to stop. But the goats paid the bird no mind and continued battling. The bird climbed on their backs, and then on their heads, imploring them to listen to him, but they did not. Finally, the bird flew between the goats and said, “If you want to keep fighting, you’ll need to kill me first!” and was promptly crushed to death.
- While a man was in a tree gathering fruit, a snake crawled up the trunk, and the people down below were unable to knock it off with their sticks. The man in the tree was terrified, and people grabbed a strong cloth by its corners and told the man to jump down. He landed right in the middle, and the men holding the cloth were pulled together by the force. They smacked their heads together and died.
- Some thieves stole a goat and hid it in a bamboo clump until they could cook it. The next day, when they went to kill it, they realized they had forgotten to bring a knife. So they set the goat free. Earlier, some basket weavers had come to cut bamboo and left a knife behind. Instead of fleeing, the goat played in the bamboo and kicked the knife loose, knocking it to the ground. When the thieves saw it, they killed the goat and ate it.
- A hunter had captured two fairies in the forest and presented them to the king, telling him they sang and danced better than any human. The king ordered the fairies to perform, but they would not do it because they could not perform to their very best ability in that situation, and they did not want to be criticized. The king begged them repeatedly, but the fairies just remained silent. Eventually the king grew angry and ordered the fairies killed, cooked, and served to him for dinner. Hearing this, the female fairy explained the reason for their silence, and the king, pleased with her answer, set her free. Then the male did the same, making it clear their silence was not meant as disrespect to the king. And the king also set him free.
After telling the stories, the Bodhisatta told his former teacher he would secretly set him free. He delayed the execution by telling people the proper alignment would come in the dead of night. Then, when nobody was there to see, he let the former chaplain escape to a faraway place and buried a dead goat under the gate instead.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The tawny-skinned brahmin was an earlier birth of Cula Kokalika, a greedy disciple of the Buddha. Two of the Buddha’s top disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, spent one rainy season at Cula Kokalika’s home, with the instruction not to tell the locals they were there. After the three months had passed, they set off back to the Buddha’s monastery. Right after they departed, Cula Kokalika boasted to people about who had been staying with him. They quickly gathered food and robes to donate and rushed after the departed disciples to pay respect. Knowing that Sariputta and Moggallana were very frugal and would not accept the gifts, Cula Kokalika followed, expecting that the things would be given to him. But the elder disciples just told the people to keep everything, and this angered Cula Kokalika.
A short time later, Sariputta and Moggallana led a thousand disciples on an alms pilgrimage. When they passed through Cula Kokalika’s town, the laypeople greeted them enthusiastically and donated many robes and other things. Again, Sariputta and Moggallana gave nothing to Cula Kokalika, and this time he was so furious he began insulting them for being greedy and selfish. So the disciples left the town. People begged them to stay, but could not change their minds. The angry people told Cula Kokalika to fix the problem he had created; and if he could not convince Sariputta and Moggallana to return, he would have to go live elsewhere. Fearful of losing his home, he tried to persuade them. But he failed.
Forced to leave, Cula Kokalika went to the Buddha’s monastery. When he got there, he immediately began to tell the Buddha how wicked Sariputta and Moggallana were, not stopping even after being rebuked by the Buddha for his inappropriate words. Moments later, bloody boils erupted on his body and he fell over in pain. One of his former teachers heard his cries and came down from heaven, encouraging him to make peace with the elders. But Cula Kokalika would not let go of his anger, and he died and went to hell.
When the Buddha later heard some of his disciples discussing Cula Kokalika’s downfall, he told them this story so they knew that this was not the first time Cula Kokalika’s own words had caused his destruction.