The Green Wood Gatherer – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Laziness]
[Vara a-Jātaka]
When the Buddha was living in Jetavanārāma, this
Jātaka story was told with regard to the venerable
Ku umbiyaputtatissa.
Ku umbiyaputtatissa once went to Jetavana temple with
twenty-nine of his friends from Sāvatthi to make offerings to
the Buddha. Hearing the Buddha preach, they all became
monks. After staying there for five years with their teachers,
they wished to go off into the forest to become ascetics and
meditate. After asking the Buddha for topics for their
meditation, they left Jetavanārāma. But Ku umbiyaputtatissa
weakened in his determination, thinking of the hardships of
ascetic life and the sweet food available at the temple. And
he turned back.
When the rainy season was over the others, having all
gained Arahant-ship [sainthood, through the eradication of
defilement], returned to Jetavanārāma to see the Buddha.
Ku umbiyaputtatissa heard the Buddha praise them, and set
his mind on following their example. When they obtained
permission to go back to the forest, he decided to return with
them. That same night, though, filled with a yearning to
begin his austerities at once, he slept in an upright posture.
But in the middle of the night, he fell down and broke his
thighbone. This accident delayed the departure of the other
monks. The Buddha, hearing of this, blamed
Ku umbiyaputtatissa for his unseasonable zeal. He said that
this was not the first time that their departure was delayed
because of Ku umbiyaputtatissa. And he told this story of the
past:
Once upon a time there was a world-famous teacher
and holy man in the city of Takkasilā. He had 500 students
training under him.
One day these 500 young men went into the forest to
gather firewood. One of them came upon a Vara a-tree with
no leaves.¹¹ He thought, “How lucky I am! This tree must be
¹¹ The bark of a Vara a-tree looks dry from the outside, but inside
its wood is
green.
dead and dry, perfect for firewood. So what’s the hurry? I’ll
take a nap while the others are busy searching in the woods.
When it’s time to return, it will be easy to climb this tree and
break off branches for firewood. So what’s the hurry?” He
spread his jacket on the ground, lay down on it, and fell fast
asleep – snoring loudly.
After a while all the other students began carrying their
bundles of firewood back to Takkasilā. On their way they
passed the snoring sleeper. They kicked him to wake him up
and said, “Wake up! Wake up! It’s time to return to our
teacher.”
The lazy student woke up suddenly and rubbed his
eyes. Still not fully awake, he climbed up the tree. He began
breaking off branches and discovered that they were actually
still green, not dry at all. While he was breaking one of them,
it snapped back and poked him in the eye. From then on he
had to hold his eye with one hand while he finished gathering
his bundle of green wood. Then he carried it back to
Takkasilā, running to catch up. He was the last one back, and
threw his bundle on top of the rest.
Meanwhile an invitation arrived to a religious
ceremony. It was to be held the next day at a remote village.
The holy man told his 500 pupils, “This will be good training
for you. You will have to eat an early breakfast tomorrow
morning. Then go to the village for the religious service.
When you return, bring back my share of the offerings as
well as your own.”
The students awoke early the next morning. They
awakened the college cook and asked her to prepare their
breakfast porridge. She went out in the dark to the woodpile.
She picked up the top bundle of the lazy man’s green wood.
She brought it inside and tried to start her cooking fire. But
even though she blew and blew on it, she couldn’t get the fire
going. The wood was too green and damp.
When the sun came up there was still no fire for
cooking breakfast. The students said, “It’s getting to be too
late to go to the village.” So off they went to their teacher.
The teacher asked them, “Why are you still here? Why
haven’t you left yet?” They told him, “A lazy good-for-
nothing slept while we all worked. He climbed a tree and
poked himself in the eye. He gathered only green wood and
threw it on top of the woodpile. This was picked up by the
college cook. Because it was green and damp, she couldn’t
get the breakfast fire started. And now it’s too late to go to
the village.”
The world-famous teacher said, “A fool who is lazy
causes trouble for everyone. When what should be done early
is put off until later, it is soon regretted.”
After telling this story, the Buddha identified the births
in this way:
“The lazy student who hurt his eye in those days, is
today Ku umbiyaputtatissa. The other students were the
Buddha’s followers today. And their world-famous teacher
was I who have today become the Buddha.”
The moral: “‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do
today.’”