The Buddha told this story at Jetavana Monastery about the Venerable Ananda.
One day the wives of the King of Kosala were talking together, saying, “It is very rare for a Buddha to appear in the world,” they said. “It is also rare to be born a human being. We have been born humans during a Buddha’s lifetime, but we are not free to go to the monastery to pay our respects, to hear his teaching, and to make offerings to him. We might as well be living in a cage as in this palace. Let’s ask the king to allow someone to come here to teach us the Dhamma. We should learn what we can, be charitable, and do good works. In that way we will truly benefit from living at this happy time!” They went to the king and made their request. The king listened and gave his consent.
That same morning, the king decided to enjoy himself in the royal gardens, so he gave orders that the grounds should be prepared. As the gardener was finishing, he saw the Buddha seated at the foot of a tree. He immediately went to the king and reported that everything was ready, but that the Buddha was there sitting under a tree.
“Very good,” said the king, “we will go and hear the Master.” Then he went to the garden by royal chariot.
When he got there, he found a lay disciple, Chattapani, sitting at the Buddha’s feet, listening to his words. When the king saw this lay disciple, he hesitated. Realizing, however, that this must be a virtuous man, or he would not be sitting by the Buddha for instruction, the king approached, bowed, and seated himself on one side.
Out of his profound respect for the Buddha, Chattapani neither rose to honor the king nor saluted him. This made the king very angry.
Aware of the king’s displeasure, the Buddha praised the merits of the layman, who had, in fact, entered the path of non-returning. “Sire,” the Buddha said, “this lay disciple knows by heart the scriptures that have been handed down, and he has set himself free from the bondage of passion.”
“Surely,” the king thought, “this can be no ordinary person who is being so praised by the Buddha.” He turned to Chattapani and said, “Let me know if you are in need of anything.”
“Thank you,” Chattapani replied.
The king listened to the Master’s teaching. When it was time, he rose and left ceremoniously.
A few days later, the king met Chattapani again as he was on his way to Jetavana and had him summoned. “I hear, sir, that you are a man of great learning. My wives are eager to hear the truth. I would be very glad to have you teach them.”
“It would not be proper, sire, for a layman to expound the truth in the king’s harem. That is the prerogative of the bhikkhus.”
The king immediately realized that this was correct, so he called his wives together and announced that he would ask the Buddha to appoint one of the elders to become their instructor in the Doctrine. He asked them which of the eighty chief disciples they would prefer. The women unanimously chose Ananda, the Treasurer of the Doctrine.
The king went to the Buddha, greeted him courteously, sat down, and stated his wives’ wish that Ananda might be their teacher. The Buddha assented, and the Venerable Ananda began teaching the king’s wives regularly.
One day, when Ananda arrived at the palace as usual, he found that the women, who had always before been so attentive, were all troubled and agitated. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Why do you seem anxious today?”
“Oh, venerable sir,” they replied, “the jewel from the king’s turban is missing. He has called his ministers and ordered them to apprehend the thief and to find the jewel without fail. They are interrogating and searching everybody, even all of us women. The entire court is in an uproar, and we have no idea what might happen next to any of us. That is why we are so unhappy.”
“Don’t worry,” said Ananda cheerfully, as he went to find the king.
Taking the seat which the king prepared for him, Ananda asked if it was true that his majesty had lost his jewel.
“Quite true, venerable sir,” said the king. “I have had everyone in the palace searched and questioned, but I can find no trace of the gem.”
“There is a way to find it, sire,” Ananda said, “without upsetting people unnecessarily.”
“What way is that, venerable sir?”
“By wisp-giving, sire.”
“Wisp-giving?” asked the king. “What do you mean?”
“Call everyone you suspect,” Ananda instructed, “and give him or her a wisp of straw. Say to each of them, ‘Take this and put it in a certain place before daybreak tomorrow.’ The person who took the jewel will be afraid of getting caught and will give the gem back with the straw. If it is not returned on the first day, the same thing must be done for one or two more days. You will undoubtedly get your jewel back.” With these words, the elder departed.
Following Ananda’s advice, the king distributed straw and designated the place where it was to be returned. Even though he did this for three days, the jewel was not recovered. On the third day the elder came again and asked whether the jewel had been returned.
“No, venerable sir,” replied the king, “it has not.”
“In that case, sire,” Ananda said, “have a large waterpot filled with water and placed in a secluded corner of your courtyard. Put a screen around it, and give orders that all who frequent the palace, both men and women, are to take off their outer garments and, one by one, to step behind the screen and wash their hands.” Again the king did exactly as Ananda had suggested.
“Ananda has seriously taken charge of the matter,” thought the thief. “He is not going to stop until the jewel is found. The time has come to give it up.” He concealed the jewel in his underclothes, went behind the screen, and dropped it in the water. After everyone had finished, the pot was emptied, and the jewel was found.
“Because of the Elder Ananda,” exclaimed the king joyfully, “I have gotten my jewel back!”
“Because of the Elder Ananda,” exclaimed all the residents of the palace, “we have been saved from a lot of trouble!”
The story of how his wisdom had returned the jewel spread throughout the city and reached Jetavana Monastery.
A few days later, while the bhikkhus were talking together in the Hall of Truth, one of them said, “The great wisdom of the Elder Ananda led to recovering the lost jewel and restoring calm to the palace.” While all of them were singing the praises of Ananda, the Buddha entered and asked the subject of their conversation.
“Monks,” he said after they had told him, “this is not the first time that stolen gems have been found, nor is Ananda the only one who has brought about such a discovery. In bygone days, too, the wise and good discovered stolen valuables and saved a lot of people from trouble.” Then he proceeded to tell this story of the past.
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta completed his education and became one of the king’s ministers. One day the king went with a large retinue to his pleasure garden. After walking about the woods for a while, he decided to enjoy himself in the water and sent for his harem. The women removed their jewels and outer garments, laid them in boxes for their attendants to look after, and joined the king in the royal tank. As the queen was taking off her jewels and ornaments, a female monkey that was hiding in the branches of a nearby tree watched her intently. The monkey conceived a longing to wear the queen’s pearl necklace and waited for a chance to snatch it. At first the queen’s attendant stayed alert, looking all around to protect the jewels, but after a while she began to nod. As soon as the monkey saw this, she jumped down as swift as the wind. Then just as swiftly she leaped up into the tree with the pearls around her neck. Fearing that other monkeys would see her treasure, she hid the string of pearls in a hole in the tree and sat demurely keeping guard as though nothing had happened.
By and by the girl awoke and saw that the jewels were gone. Terrified at her own negligence, she shouted, “A man has run off with the queen’s pearl necklace!”
Sentries ran up from every side and questioned her. The king ordered his guards to catch the thief, and they rushed around the pleasure garden, searching high and low. A poor timid peasant who happened to be nearby became frightened when he heard the uproar and started to run away.
“There he goes!” cried the guards. They chased the poor man, caught him, began beating him, and asked why he stole such precious jewels.
The peasant thought, “If I deny the charge, these brutes will beat me to death. I’d better say I took them.” He immediately confessed to the theft and was hauled off in chains to the king.
“Did you take those precious jewels?” asked the king.
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Where are they now?”
“Your majesty, I’m a poor man,” he explained. “I’ve never owned anything of any value, not even a bed or a chair, much less a jewel. It was the treasurer who made me take that expensive necklace. I took it and gave it to him. He knows all about it.”
The king sent for the treasurer, and asked whether the peasant had passed the necklace on to him.
Also afraid to deny the charge, the treasurer answered, “Yes, sire.”
“Where is it then?”
“I gave it to your majesty’s high priest.”
The high priest was sent for, and interrogated in the same way. He said he had given it to the chief musician, who in his turn said he had given it as a present to a courtesan. The courtesan, however, utterly denied having received it and the questioning continued until sunset.
“It’s too late now,” said the king, “we will look into this tomorrow.” He handed the suspects over to his officers and went back into the city.
The Bodhisatta began thinking, “These jewels were lost inside the grounds, but the peasant was outside. There was a strong guard at the gate. It would have been impossible for anyone inside to have gotten away with the necklace. I don’t see how a person, inside or out, could have stolen it. I don’t believe that any of these five had anything to do with it, but I understand why they falsely confessed and implicated the others. As for the necklace, these grounds are swarming with monkeys. It must have been one of the female monkeys that took it.”
Having arrived at this conclusion, the minister went to the king and requested that the suspects be handed over to him so that he could look into the matter personally.
“By all means, my wise friend,” said the king, “go ahead.”
The minister ordered his servants to take charge of the five prisoners. “Keep strict watch over them,” he said. “I want you to listen to everything they say and report it all to me.”
As the prisoners sat together, the treasurer said to the peasant, “Tell me, you wretch, where you and I have ever met before today. How could you have given me that necklace?”
“Honorable sir,” said the peasant, “I have never owned anything valuable. Even the stool and the cot I have are rickety. I said what I did because I thought that with your help I would get out of this trouble. Please don’t be angry with me, sir.”
“Well then,” the high priest indignantly asked the treasurer, “how did you pass on to me what this fellow never gave to you?”
“I said that,” explained the treasurer, “because I thought that you and I, both being high ranking officials, would be able to get out of trouble together.”
“Brahman,” the chief musician asked the high priest, “when do you think you gave the jewel to me?”
“I only said I did,” answered the chaplain, “because I thought you would help to make the time in prison pass more agreeably.”
Finally the courtesan complained, “You wretch of a musician, you have never visited me, and I have never visited you. When could you have given me the necklace?”
“Don’t be angry, my dear.” said the musician. “I just wanted you to be here to keep us company. Cheer up! Let’s all be lighthearted together for a while.”
As soon as his servants had reported this conversation to the Bodhisatta, he saw that all his suspicions were correct. He was convinced that a female monkey had taken the necklace.
“Now I must find a way to make her drop it,” he said to himself. He ordered his servants to catch some monkeys, to deck them out with strings of beads, and then to release them again in the pleasure garden. The men were to carefully watch every monkey in the grounds. As soon as they saw one wearing the missing pearl necklace, they were to frighten her into dropping it.
The monkeys strutted about with their beads strung around their necks, their wrists, and their ankles. They flaunted their splendor in front of the guilty monkey, who sat quietly guarding her treasure. At last, jealousy overcame her prudence. “Those are only beads!” she screeched, and foolishly put on her own necklace of real pearls. As soon as the servants saw this, they began making loud noises and throwing things at her. The monkey became so frightened that she dropped the necklace and scampered away. The men took it to their master.
The minister immediately took it to the king. “Here, sire,” he said, “is the queen’s necklace. The five prisoners are innocent. It was a female monkey in the pleasure garden that took it.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed the king. “But, tell me, how did you find that out? And how did you manage to get it back?”
When he had heard the whole story, the king praised his minister. “You certainly are the right man in the right place!” he proclaimed. In appreciation, the king showered the minister with immeasurable treasure.
The king continued to follow the Bodhisatta’s advice and counsel. After a long life of generosity and meritorious acts, he passed away to fare according to his deserts.
His lesson ended, the Buddha again praised Venerable Ananda’s merits, and identified the birth. “Ananda was the king of those days,” he said, “and I was his wise counselor.”