The Mystery of the Missing Necklace – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Mahāsāra-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while living in Jetavana
monastery with regard to the venerable Ānanda.
At one time, the wives of King Pasenadi of Kosala
asked the king for someone to preach the Buddha’s doctrine
[Dhamma] to them in the harem. The king consented.
When the king went to the Buddha, he heard the praises
of a lay brother named Chattapā i, who was seated at the
Buddha’s feet at the time. On another day, when the king
happened to see Chattapā i on his way to Jetavanārāma, he
summoned him and asked him whether he would agree to
preach the Dhamma to his harem. But Chattapā i responded
that such was the prerogative of the monks.
Recognizing the force of this remark, the king called his
wives together, told them of his intention to ask the Buddha
to send one of his disciples to instruct them and asked them
whom they would prefer. The ladies chose the venerable
Ānanda.
King Pasenadi then went to the Buddha and relayed his
wives’ wishes. And the Buddha consented to Ānanda
becoming their teacher. The Buddha having so consented,
Ānanda then began to regularly instruct the king’s wives.
One day when Ānanda went to the palace to instruct the
ladies, he found them troubled and dejected. He learned
from them that the jewel from the king’s turban was missing,
and everyone was being considered a suspect by the king’s
ministers. Ānanda thereupon went to the king and suggested
that there was a way to find the jewel without worrying
everyone. Ānanda suggested that the king call together
everyone he suspected and give them each a wisp of straw or
a lump of clay, telling them to put it in such-and-such a place
the next day at daybreak. The person who took the jewel
would put it in the straw or clay, and so bring it back. If it is
brought back the first day, well and good. If not, the same
thing ought to be done a second and third day. In this way, a
large number of people will escape worry, and the king will
get his jewel back.
When the elder Ānanda came again on the third day,
and the jewel had still not been brought back, he suggested
that a large water pot filled with water be placed in the corner
of the courtyard with a screen put before it. The king was to
give an order that all who frequent the area, men and women
alike, are to remove their outer garments and one-by-one
wash their hands behind the screen, coming back only
afterwards. This the king did.
The thief, seeing that Ānanda was not letting things
rest, decided then to give up the jewel. He hid the jewel on
his person, and going behind the screen, dropped it in the
water. When everyone was gone, the pot was emptied, and
the jewel was found.
The story of how Ānanda’s cleverness had recovered
the jewel spread about. And one evening, the monks in the
preaching hall were discussing it. When the Buddha entered
and found out what it was they were discussing, he said, “Not
only today, but also in the past, the wise through their
cleverness have recovered what was stolen, showing that it
had fallen into the hands of an animal, and in so doing saved
a lot of trouble.” And the Buddha told this story of the past:
[Chapter 1. One Crime Leads to Another]
Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta was ruling in
Benares in northern India. After completing his education,
the Enlightenment Being became one of his ministers.
One day the king went on an outing to his pleasure
garden. A big crowd from the court went with him. They
visited many parts of the lovely park. Near a cool forest they
came upon a beautiful clear pond. The king decided to go for
a swim. So he dove into the water. Then he invited all the
ladies of his harem to join him in the refreshing pond.
Laughing together, the harem women took off all their
ornaments and jewelry – from their heads, necks, ears, wrists,
fingers, waists, ankles and toes. Along with their outer
clothing, they handed all these over to their servant girls for
safekeeping. Then they jumped into the pond with King
Brahmadatta.
The king had given one of his favorite queens a very
valuable pearl necklace. She was so fond of it that she called
it by a pet name, ‘Most Precious’ [Mahāsāra].
It just so happened that a curious she-monkey had been
watching all this from a branch of a nearby tree. Peering
between the green leaves, she had paid very close attention.
When she had caught sight of the Most Precious pearl
necklace, her eyes had nearly popped out of her head!
Imagining how grand she would look wearing the
queen’s beautiful necklace, she patiently watched the servant
girl who was guarding it. In the beginning the girl watched
very carefully. But the heat of the day soon made her drowsy.
When the she-monkey saw her start to snooze, she swung
down from the tree as fast as the wind. In a flash she grabbed
the necklace called Most Precious, put it around her neck,
and ran back up the tree.
Afraid that the other monkeys would see it, the little
thief hid the gleaming pearl necklace in a hollow of the tree.
Then she sat guarding her loot, remaining silent and
pretending to be as innocent as a nun!
In a minute or two the servant girl awoke from her
accidental nap. Frightened, she immediately looked over the
queen’s possessions. When she saw the necklace was missing
she yelled out in terror, “Help! Help! Some man has taken
the queen’s pearl necklace, the one called Most Precious!”
After running to her side, security guards went and
reported the theft to the king. He ordered them to stop at
nothing, and to catch the thief immediately. Frightened of the
king’s wrath, the guards began dashing madly around the
pleasure garden searching for the thief.
At that very moment there happened to be a poor man
walking just outside the garden. He was on his way back to
his far-off home village after paying his meager taxes to the
royal treasury. The commotion from inside the park scared
him and he started running away.
Unfortunately, the security guards saw him running and
said to each other, “That must be the thief!” They rushed
through the garden gate and after a short chase easily
captured the innocent man. They began beating him as they
shouted, “You no good thief! Confess that you robbed the
queen’s pearl necklace, the one she calls Most Precious.”
The poor man thought, “If I say I didn’t take it, these
men will beat me to death for sure. But if I confess, they will
have to take me to the king.” So he said, “Yes, I admit it, I
took the necklace.” Hearing this the security guards
handcuffed him and hauled him off to the king.
After being told of the man’s confession, the king asked
him, “Where is the Most Precious necklace now? What have
you done with it?”
Being a somewhat clever fellow, the prisoner replied,
“My lord king, I am a very poor man indeed. I have never in
my life owned anything at all valuable, not a Most Precious
bed or a Most Precious chair – and certainly not a Most
Precious pearl necklace. It was your majesty’s own Chief
Financial Adviser who made me steal this Most Precious. I
gave it to him. He alone knows where it is now.”
King Brahmadatta summoned his Chief Financial
Adviser and asked, “Did you take Most Precious from this
man’s hands?” “Yes my lord,” said he. “Where is it now?”
asked the king. “I gave it to the Royal Teacher Priest.”
The Royal Teacher Priest was called for and asked
about the stolen necklace. He claimed, “I gave it to the
Official Court Musician.”
He in turn was summoned and questioned. He
answered, “I gave Most Precious to a high-class prostitute.”
When she was identified and brought to the king, he
demanded to know what she had done with the queen’s pearl
necklace. But she alone replied, “Your majesty, I don’t know
anything about a pearl necklace!”
As the sun began to set, the king said, “Let us continue
this investigation tomorrow.” He handed the five suspects
over to his ministers and returned to his palace for the night.
[Chapter 2. The Mystery Is Solved]
Meanwhile, the royal minister who happened to be the
Enlightenment Being had seen and heard all that had taken
place in the pleasure garden. He realized that the mystery
could be solved only by careful examination. Jumping to
conclusions could lead to the wrong answers. So he started
examining and analyzing the situation in his mind.
He thought, “The necklace was lost inside the pleasure
garden. But the poor villager was captured outside the
pleasure garden. The gates had strong guards standing watch.
Therefore, the villager could not have come in to steal the
necklace. Likewise, no one from inside the garden could have
gotten out through the guarded gates with the stolen
necklace. So it can be seen that none of these people could
have gotten away with Most Precious, either from inside or
outside!
“What a mystery! The poor man who was first accused
must have said he gave it to the Chief Financial Adviser just
to save himself. The Chief Financial Adviser must have
thought it would go easier for him if the Royal Teacher Priest
were involved. The priest must have blamed the Official
Court Musician so that music would make their time in the
palace dungeon pass more pleasantly. And the Official Court
Musician probably thought that being with the high-class
prostitute would take away the misery of prison life. So he
said he gave the necklace to her.
“After examining carefully, it is easy to see that all five
suspects must be innocent. But the garden is full of monkeys
who are known to cause mischief. No doubt some she-
monkey thought Most Precious would set her above the rest,
and the necklace is still in her hands.”
So he went to the king and said, “Your excellency, if
you hand over the suspects to me, I will do the investigation
for you.” “By all means, my wise minister,” said the king,
“examine into it yourself.”
The minister called for his servant boys. He told them
to keep the five suspects together in one place. They were to
hide nearby, listen to all that was said, and then report back
to him.
When the five prisoners thought they were alone they
began talking freely to each other. First the Chief Financial
Adviser said to the poor villager, “You little crook! We never
saw each other before. So when did you give the stolen Most
Precious to me?”
He replied, “My lord sir, most exalted adviser to the
great king, I have never had anything of any value
whatsoever, not even a broken down bed or chair. I certainly
have not seen any such Most Precious necklace! I don’t know
what you people are talking about. Being scared to death by
the king’s guards, I only mentioned you in the hope that one
as important as you could free us both. Please, my lord, don’t
be angry at me.”
The Royal Teacher Priest said to the Chief Financial
Adviser, “You see, this man admits he has not given it to
you, so how could you have given it to me?” He replied, “We
are both in high positions. I thought that if we got together
and backed each other up, we could settle this matter.”
The Official Court Musician asked, “Oh Royal Teacher
Priest, when did you give the queen’s pearl necklace to me?”
“I thought that if you were imprisoned with me,” said the
priest, “your music would make it much more pleasant.
That’s why I lied.”
Then the woman said to the Official Court Musician,
“You miserable crook! When did I come to you? When did
you come to me? We have never met each other before. So
when could you possibly have given me the stolen Most
Precious?” He said to her, “Oh dear young lady, please don’t
be angry with me. I only accused you so that when we five
are imprisoned together, your being with us will make us all
happy.”
Not being either a poor frightened stranger or a slippery
government official, the high-class prostitute was the only
one who had told the truth. So there was no one to accuse her
of shifting the blame.
Of course the wise minister’s servants had been
eavesdropping on the entire conversation. When they
reported it all back to him, he realized his suspicion was
confirmed – some she-monkey must have taken the necklace.
So he thought, “I must come up with a plan to get it back.”
First he had a bunch of cheap imitation jewel ornaments
made. Then he had several she-monkeys captured in the royal
pleasure garden. He had them decorated with the imitation
ornaments – necklaces on their necks, and bracelets on their
wrists and ankles. Then they were released in the garden. The
minister ordered his servants to watch all the she-monkeys
carefully. When they saw anyone with the missing pearl
necklace, they were to scare her into dropping it.
The she-monkey who had taken Most Precious was still
guarding it in the hollow of the tree. The other she-monkeys
strutted back and forth saying, “See how fine we look. We
have these beautiful necklaces and bracelets.” She couldn’t
stand seeing and hearing this. She thought, “Those are
nothing but worthless imitations.” To show them all up, she
put on her own neck the Most Precious necklace of real
pearls.
Immediately the servants frightened her into dropping
it. They took it to their master, the wise minister. He took it
to the king and said, “Your majesty, here is the pearl
necklace, the one called Most Precious. None of the five who
admitted to the crime was really a thief. It was taken instead
by a greedy little she-monkey living in your pleasure
garden.”
The amazed king asked, “How did you find out it was
taken by a she-monkey? And how did you get it back?” The
minister told the whole story.
The king said, “You were certainly the right one for the
job. In times of need, it is the wise who are appreciated
most.” Then he rewarded him by showering him with wealth,
like a heavy rain of the seven valuables – gold, silver, pearls,
jewels, lapis lazuli, diamonds and coral.
* * *
The story having been told, the Buddha identified the
births:
“Ānanda was the king in those days. And I who am
today the Buddha was the wise minister.”
The moral: “Theft from greed, lies from fear, truth from
examining.”