A Man Named Bad – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Self Acceptance]
[Nāmasiddhi-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was living in
Jetavana monastery with regard to a monk who thought that
luck went with a name, and who wished to change his name.
This monk, named ‘Bad’ [Pāpaka], asked his teachers
to change his name to one of better omen. But his teachers
told him that a name only served to denote a thing, and did
not impute qualities. He continued in his request, though, till
the entire community of monks knew of it.
One evening, the monks in the preaching hall were
discussing this matter. When the Buddha entered and found
out what they were talking about, he said, “Oh monks, this is
not the first time that this brother has believed that luck went
with names. He was equally dissatisfied with the name he
had in former days, as well.” And the Buddha told this story
of the past:
Once upon a time there was a world-famous teacher in
Takkasilā, in northwestern India. He had 500 high-class
students who learned sacred teachings from him.
It just so happened that one of these high-class students
had been named ‘Bad’ [Pāpaka] by his parents. One day he
thought, “When I am told, ‘Come Bad’, ‘Go Bad’, ‘Do this
Bad’, it is not nice for me or others. It even sounds
disgraceful and unlucky.”
So he went to the teacher and asked him to give him a
more pleasant name, one that would bring good fortune
rather than bad. The teacher said, “Go, my son, go wherever
you like and find a more fortunate name. When you return, I
will officially give you your new name.”
The young man named Bad left the city, and traveled
from village to village until he came to a big city. A man had
just died and Bad asked what his name was. People said, “His
name was Alive [Jīvaka].” “Alive also died?” asked Bad. The
people answered, “Whether his name be Alive or whether it
be Dead, in either case he must die. A name is merely a word
used to recognize a person. Only a fool would not know
this!” After hearing this, Bad no longer felt badly about his
own name – but he didn’t feel good about it either.
As he continued on his way into the city, a debt-slave
girl was being beaten by her masters in the street. He asked,
“Why is she being beaten?” He was told, “Because she is a
slave until she pays a loan debt to her masters. She has come
home from working, with no wages to pay as interest on her
debt.” “And what is her name?” he asked. “Her name is Rich
[Dhanapālī],” they said. “By her name she is Rich, but she
has no money even to pay interest?” asked Bad. They said,
“Whether her name be Rich or whether it be Poor, in either
case she has no money. A name is merely a word used to
recognize a person. Only a fool would not know this!” After
hearing this, Bad became even less interested in changing his
name.
After leaving the city, along the roadside he met a man
who had lost his way. He asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “My name is Tourguide [Panthaka].” “You mean
to say that even a Tourguide has gotten lost?” asked Bad.
Then the man said, “Whether my name be Tourguide or
whether it be Tourist, in either case I have lost my way. A
name is merely a word used to recognize a person. Only a
fool would not know this!”
Now completely satisfied with his own name, Bad
returned to his teacher.
The world-famous teacher of Takkasilā asked him,
“How are you, my son? Have you found a good name?” He
answered, “Sir, those named Alive and Dead both die, Rich
and Poor may be penniless, Tourguide and Tourist can get
lost. Now I know that a name is merely a word used to
recognize a person. The name does not make things happen,
only deeds do. So I’m satisfied with my name. There’s no
point in changing it.”
The teacher summarized the lesson his pupil had
learned this way – “By seeing Alive as dead, Rich as poor,
Tourguide as lost, Bad has accepted himself.”
The Buddha then identified the births:
“This brother who is today dissatisfied with his name,
was the similarly dissatisfied high-class student of the past.
The 500 high-class students are today the Buddha’s disciples.
And the world-famous teacher was I who am today the
Buddha.”
The moral: “‘A rose by any other name would smell as
sweet.’”