The God in the Banyan Tree – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[A Bad Promise]
In the past, and even in some places today,
people have had superstitions. One such is that a
large or unusual tree is inhabited by a tree god, or
some kind of spirit. People think that they can
make a promise to this tree god, so he will help
them in some way. When they think the god has
helped them, then they must keep their promise.
Once upon a time, in the city of Kasi in
northern India, a man came upon a large banyan
tree. He immediately thought there must be a god
living there. So he made a promise to this tree god
that he would perform an animal sacrifice, in re-
turn for a wish being granted.
It just so happened that his wish was ful-
filled, but whether by a god or a demon or by
some other means – no one knows. The man was
sure the tree god had answered his prayer, so he
wanted to keep his promise.
Since it was a big wish, it called for a big
sacrifice. He brought many goats, mules, chickens
and sheep. He collected firewood and prepared to
burn the helpless animals as a sacrifice.
The spirit living in the banyan tree ap-
peared and said, “Oh friend, you made a promise.
You are now bound by that promise. You think
you must keep the promise in order to be released
from the bondage to it. But if you commit such
terrible unwholesome acts, even though promised,
the unpleasant results will put you in much greater
bondage. For you will be forced to suffer those re-
sults in this life, and even by rebirths in hell
worlds! The way to release yourself into future
deliverance is to give up unwholesome actions, no
matter what!
“And furthermore, since you think I’m a
true god, what makes you think I eat meat? Ha-
ven’t you heard that we gods eat better things, like
‘ambrosia’ or stardust or sunbeams? I have no
need of meat or any other food offerings.” Then
he disappeared.
The foolish man understood the mistake he
had made. Instead of doing unwholesome deeds
that would force unhappy results on him in the fu-
ture, he began to do only wholesome deeds that
would benefit himself and others.
The moral is: Keeping a bad promise is worse
than making it.