The Golden Plate – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Greed and Honesty]
Once upon a time in a place called Seri,
there were two salesmen of pots and pans and
hand-made trinkets. They agreed to divide the
town between them. They also said that after one
had gone through his area, it was all right for the
other to try and sell where the first had already
been.
One day, while one of them was coming
down a street, a poor little girl saw him and asked
her grandmother to buy her a bracelet. The old
grandmother replied, “How can we poor people
buy bracelets?” The little girl said, “Since we
don’t have any money, we can give our black
sooty old plate.” The old woman agreed to give it
a try, so she invited the dealer inside.
The salesman saw that these people were
very poor and innocent, so he didn’t want to waste
his time with them. Even though the old woman
pleaded with him, he said he had no bracelet that
she could afford to buy. Then she asked, “We have
an old plate that is useless to us, can we trade it
for a bracelet?” The man took it and, while exam-
ining it, happened to scratch the bottom of it. To
his surprise, he saw that underneath the black
soot, it was a golden plate! But he didn’t let on
that he had noticed it. Instead he decided to de-
ceive these poor people so he could get the plate
for next to nothing. He said, “This is not worth
even one bracelet there’s no value in this, I don’t
want it!” He left, thinking he would return later
when they would accept even less for the plate.
Meanwhile the other salesman, after finish-
ing in his part of town, followed after the first as
they had agreed. He ended up at the same house.
Again the poor little girl begged her grandmother
to trade the old plate for a bracelet. The woman
saw that this was a nice tender looking merchant
and thought, “He’s a good man, not like the
rough-talking first salesman.” So she invited him
in and offered to trade the same black sooty old
plate for one bracelet. When he examined it, he
too saw that it was pure gold under the grime. He
said to the old woman, “All my goods and all my
money together are not worth as much as this rich
golden plate!”
Of course the woman was shocked at this
discovery, but now she knew that he was indeed a
good and honest fellow. So she said she would be
glad to accept whatever he could trade for it. The
salesman said, “I’ll give you all my pots and pans
and trinkets, plus all my money, if you will let me
keep just eight coins and my balancing scale, with
its cover to put the golden plate in.” They made
the trade. He went down to the river, where he
paid the eight coins to the ferry man to take him
across.
By then the greedy salesman had returned,
already adding up huge imaginary profits in his
head. When he met the little girl and her grand-
mother again, he said he had changed his mind
and was willing to offer a few cents, but not one
of his bracelets, for the useless black sooty old
plate. The old woman then calmly told him of the
trade she had just made with the honest salesman,
and said, “Sir, you lied to us.”
The greedy salesman was not ashamed of
his lies, but he was saddened as he thought, “I’ve
lost the golden plate that must be worth a hundred
thousand.” So he asked the woman, “Which way
did he go?” She told him the direction. He left all
his things right there at her door and ran down to
the river, thinking, “He robbed me! He robbed
me! He won’t make a fool out of me!”
From the riverside he saw the honest
salesman still crossing over on the ferry boat. He
shouted to the ferry man, “Come back!” But the
good merchant told him to keep on going to the
other side, and that’s what he did.
Seeing that he could do nothing, the greedy
salesman exploded with rage. He jumped up and
down, beating his chest. He became so filled with
hatred towards the honest man, who had won the
golden plate, that he made himself cough up
blood. He had a heart attack and died on the spot!
The moral is: “Honesty is the best policy.”