Demons In The Desert – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[The Correct Way Of Thinking]
Once upon a time there were two mer-
chants, who were friends. Both of them were get-
ting ready for business trips to sell their merchan-
dise, so they had to decide whether to travel
together. They agreed that, since each had about
500 carts, and they were going to the same place
along the same road, it would be too crowded to
go at the same time.
One decided that it would be much better to
go first. He thought, “The road will not be rutted
by the carts, the bullocks will be able to choose
the best of all the grass, we will find the best fruits
and vegetables to eat, my people will appreciate
my leadership and, in the end, I will be able to
bargain for the best prices.”
The other merchant considered carefully
and realized there were advantages to going sec-
ond. He thought, “My friend’s carts will level the
ground so we won’t have to do any road work, his
bullocks will eat the old rough grass and new ten-
der shoots will spring up for mine to eat. In the
same way, they will pick the old fruits and vege-
tables and fresh ones will grow for us to enjoy. I
won’t have to waste my time bargaining when I
can take the price already set and make my
profit.” So he agreed to let his friend go first. This
friend was sure he’d fooled him and gotten the
best of him – so he set out first on the journey.
The merchant who went first had a trouble-
some time of it. They came to a wilderness called
the ‘Waterless Desert’, which the local people said
was haunted by demons. When the caravan
reached the middle of it, they met a large group
coming from the opposite direction. They had
carts that were mud smeared and dripping with
water. They had lotuses and water lilies in their
hands and in the carts. The head man, who had a
know-it-all attitude, said to the merchant, “Why
are you carrying these heavy loads of water? In a
short time you will reach that oasis on the horizon
with plenty of water to drink and dates to eat.
Your bullocks are tired from pulling those heavy
carts filled with extra water – so throw away the
water and be kind to your overworked animals!”
Even though the local people had warned
them, the merchant did not realize that these were
not real people, but demons in disguise. They
were even in danger of being eaten by them. Be-
ing confident that they were helpful people, he
followed their advice and had all his water emp-
tied onto the ground.
As they continued on their way they found
no oasis or any water at all. Some realized they’d
been fooled by beings that might have been de-
mons, and started to grumble and accuse the mer-
chant. At the end of the day, all the people were
tired out. The bullocks were too weak from lack
of water to pull their heavy carts. All the people
and animals lay down in a haphazard manner and
fell into a deep sleep. Lo and behold, during the
night the demons came in their true frightening
forms and gobbled up all the weak defenseless be-
ings. When they were done there were only bones
lying scattered around – not one human or animal
was left alive.
After several months, the second merchant
began his journey along the same way. When he
arrived at the wilderness, he assembled all his
people and advised them – “This is called the
‘Waterless Desert’ and I have heard that it is
haunted by demons and ghosts. Therefore we
should be careful. Since there may be poison
plants and foul water, don’t drink any local water
without asking me.” In this way they started into
the desert.
After getting about halfway through, in the
same way as with the first caravan, they were met
by the water soaked demons in disguise. They told
them the oasis was near and they should throw
away their water. But the wise merchant saw
through them right away. He knew it didn’t make
sense to have an oasis in a place called ‘Waterless
Desert’. And besides, these people had bulging
red eyes and an aggressive and pushy attitude, so
he suspected they might be demons. He told them
to leave them alone saying, “We are business men
who don’t throw away good water before we
know where the next is coming from.”
Then seeing that his own people had
doubts, the merchant said to them, “Don’t believe
these people, who may be demons, until we actu-
ally find water. The oasis they point to may be just
an illusion or a mirage. Have you ever heard of
water in this ‘Waterless Desert’? Do you feel any
rain-wind or see any storm clouds?” They all said,
“No”, and he continued, “If we believe these
strangers and throw away our water, then later we
may not have any to drink or cook with – then we
will be weak and thirsty it would be easy for de-
mons to come and rob us, or even eat us up!
Therefore, until we really find water, do not waste
even a drop!”
The caravan continued on its way and, that
evening, reached the place where the first cara-
van’s people and bullocks had been killed and
eaten by the demons. They found the carts and
human and animal bones lying all around. They
recognized that the fully loaded carts and the scat-
tered bones belonged to the former caravan. The
wise merchant told certain people to stand watch
around the camp during the night.
The next morning the people ate breakfast,
and fed their bullocks well. They added to their
goods the most valuable things left from the first
caravan. So they finished their journey very suc-
cessfully, and returned home safely so that they
and their families could enjoy their profits.
The moral is: One must always be wise
enough not to be fooled by
tricky talk and false appearances.