A Man Named Wise – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Cheating]
[Kū avā ija-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while living in Jetavana
temple with regard to a scheming merchant of Sāvatthi.³²
There were two merchants in partnership in Sāvatthi
who traveled with their merchandise and then came back
with the proceeds. One was very cunning and the other was
very honest and well educated.
At one point, the cunning merchant thought to himself,
“My partner, for the entire duration of the last trip, ate only
very coarse food and slept in very uncomfortable
surroundings. Now that he is home again and can eat good
food, he will gorge himself and die of indigestion. Then
I
will divide what we have made into three portions, giving
one to his orphans and keeping two for myself.” And with
this in mind, he had put off day by day the division of the
profits.
Finding that it was in vain to press for a division of the
profits, the honest merchant took some flowers, incense and
lamps, and went to see the Buddha. The Buddha received
him kindly, and said, “Why, friend, have I not seen you for a
³² The “story of the present” here is the same as in Jātaka No.
218, also titled
Kū avā ija-Jātaka. The Jātaka story itself, however, is different.
long time?” And the merchant told the Buddha what was
going on. Hearing the explanation, the Buddha said to him,
“Not only now, but even in the past this man was a cunning
rogue.” And at the merchant’s request, the Buddha told the
past story:
Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being was born in
a merchants’ family in Benares, in northern India. He was
given the name Wise [Pa ita]. When he grew up he began
doing business with a man whose name just happened to be
Verywise [Atipa ita].
It came to pass that Wise and Verywise took a caravan
of 500 bullock carts into the countryside. After selling all
their goods they returned to Benares with their handsome
profits.
When it came time to split their gains between them,
Verywise said, “I should get twice as much profit as you.”
“How come?” asked Wise. “Because you are Wise and I am
Verywise. It is obvious that Wise should get only half as
much as Verywise.”
Then Wise asked, “Didn’t we both invest equal
amounts in this caravan trip? Why do you deserve twice as
much profit as I?” Verywise replied, “Because of my quality
of being Verywise.” In this way their quarrel went on with no
end in sight.
Then Verywise thought, “I have a plan to win this
argument.” So he went to his father and asked him to hide
inside a huge hollow tree. He said, “When my partner and I
come by and ask how to share our profits, then you should
say, ‘Verywise deserves a double share.’”
Verywise returned to Wise and said, “My friend,
neither of us wants this quarrel. Let’s go to the old sacred tree
and ask the tree spirit to settle it.”
When they went to the tree Verywise said solemnly,
“My lord tree spirit, we have a problem. Kindly solve it for
us.” Then his father, hidden inside the hollow tree, disguised
his voice and asked, “What is your question?” The man’s
cheating son said, “My lord tree spirit, this man is Wise and I
am Verywise. We have done business together. Tell us how
to share the profits.” Again disguising his voice, his father
responded, “Wise deserves a single share and Verywise
deserves a double share.”
Hearing this solution, Wise decided to find out if it
really was a tree spirit speaking from inside the tree. So he
threw some hay into it and set it on fire. Immediately
Verywise’s father grabbed onto a branch, jumped out of the
flames and fell on the ground. He said in his own voice,
“Although his name is Verywise, my son is just a clever
cheater. I’m lucky that the one named Wise really is so, and
I’ve escaped only half-toasted!”
Then Wise and Verywise shared their profits equally.
Eventually they both died and were reborn as they deserved.
The Buddha then said:
“The scheming merchant of today was the same as the
scheming merchant in this Jātaka story. And I was the honest
merchant named Wise.”
The moral: “A cheater may be clever but not wise.”