The Phony Holy Man – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Hypocrisy]
[Kuhaka-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was living in
Jetavana temple. The details of its narration will be told in
the fourteenth book in the Uddāla-Jātaka [No. 487].
[The Buddha told this story while living in Jetavana
temple about a monk who even though he had dedicated
himself to the Buddha’s teachings, was nevertheless
dishonest.
The monks gathered one evening in the preaching hall
were discussing this. When the Buddha entered, he asked
them what they were talking about before he came. The
Buddha then said, “Such is not so only now. This man was
deceitful before, as well.” And at the monks’ request, the
Buddha told a Jātaka story.]
Once upon a time there was a man who looked and
acted just like a holy man. He wore nothing but rags, had
long matted hair, and relied on a little village to support him.
But he was sneaky and tricky. He only pretended to give up
attachment to the everyday world. He was a phony holy man.
A wealthy man living in the village wanted to earn
merit by doing good deeds. So he had a simple little temple
built in the nearby forest for the holy man to live in. He also
fed him the finest foods from his own home.
He thought this holy man with matted hair was sincere
and good, one who would not do anything unwholesome.
Since he was afraid of bandits, he took his family fortune of
100 gold coins to the little temple. He buried it under the
ground and said to the holy man, “Venerable one, please look
after this my family fortune.”
The holy man replied, “There’s no need to worry about
such things with people like me. We holy ones have given up
attachment to the ordinary world. We have no greed or desire
to obtain the possessions of others.”
“Very well, venerable one,” said the man. He left
thinking himself very wise indeed, to trust such a good holy
man.
However, the wicked holy man thought, “Aha! This
treasure of 100 gold coins is enough for me to live on for the
rest of my life! I will never have to work or beg again!” So a
few days later he dug up the gold and secretly buried it near
the roadside.
The next day he went to the wealthy villager’s home for
lunch as usual. After eating his fill he said, “Most honorable
gentleman, I have lived here supported by you for a long
time. But holy ones who have given up the world are not
supposed to become too attached to one village or supporter.
It would make a holy man like me impure! Therefore, kindly
permit me to humbly go on my way.”
The man pleaded with him again and again not to go,
but it was useless. “Go then, venerable sir,” he agreed at last.
He went with him as far as the boundary of the village and
left him there.
After going on a short way himself, the phony holy man
thought, “I must make absolutely sure that stupid villager
does not suspect me. He trusts me so much that he will
believe anything. So I will deceive him with a clever trick!”
He stuck a blade of dry grass in his matted hair and went
back.
When he saw him returning, the wealthy villager asked,
“Venerable one, why have you come back?” He replied,
“Dear friend, this blade of grass from the thatched roof of
your house has stuck in my hair. It is most unwholesome and
impure for a holy one such as myself to ‘take what is not
given’.”
The amazed villager said, “Think nothing of it, your
reverence. Please put it down and continue on your way.
Venerable ones such as you do not even take a blade of grass
that belongs to another. How marvelous! How exalted you
are, the purest of the holy. How lucky I was to be able to
support you!” More trusting than ever, he bowed respectfully
and sent him on his way again.
It just so happened that the Enlightenment Being was
living the life of a trader at that time. He was in the midst of a
trading trip when he stopped overnight at the village. He had
overheard the entire conversation between the villager and
the ‘purest of the holy’. He thought, “That sounds ridiculous!
This man must have stolen something far more valuable than
the blade of dry grass he has made such a big show of
returning to its rightful owner.”
The trader asked the wealthy villager, “Friend, did you
perhaps give anything to this holy-looking man for
safekeeping?” “Yes, friend,” he replied, “I trusted him to
guard my family fortune of 100 gold coins.” “I advise you to
go see if they are where you left them,” said the trader.
Suddenly worried, he ran to the forest temple, dug up
the ground, and found his treasure gone. He ran back to the
trader and said, “It has been stolen!” “Friend,” he replied,
“No one but that so-called holy man could have taken it.
Let’s catch him and get your treasure back.”
They both chased after him as fast as they could. When
they caught up with him they made him tell where he had
hidden the money. They went to the hiding place by the
roadside and dug up the buried treasure.
Looking at the gleaming gold the Bodhisatta said, “You
hypocritical holy man. You spoke well those beautiful words,
admired by all, that one is not to ‘take what is not given’.
You hesitated to leave with even a blade of grass that didn’t
belong to you. But it was so easy for you to steal a hundred
gold coins!” After ridiculing the way he had acted in this
way, he advised him to change his ways for his own good.
The Buddha then identified the births, saying:
“The dishonest monk of today was the hypocritical holy
man of the past. And I who have today become the Buddha
was the trader in those days.”
The moral: “Be careful of a holy man who puts on a big
show.”