The What-not Tree – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
Once upon a time there was a caravan leader. He went
from country to country selling various goods. His caravans
usually had at least 500 bullock carts.
On one of these trips his path led through a very thick
forest. Before entering it, he called together all the members
of the caravan. He warned them, “My friends, when you go
through this forest be careful to avoid the poisonous trees,
poisonous fruits, poisonous leaves, poisonous flowers and
even poisonous honeycombs.
“Therefore, whatever you have not eaten before –
whether a fruit, leaf, flower or anything else – must not be
eaten without asking me first.” They all said respectfully,
“Yes, sir.”
There was a village in the forest. Just outside the village
stood a tree called a ‘What-not Tree’ [Ki pakka-tree]. Its
trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits look very similar
to a mango tree. Even the color, shape, smell and taste are
almost exactly the same as a mango tree. But unlike a mango,
the What-not fruit is a deadly poison!
Some went ahead of the caravan and came upon the
What-not Tree. They were all hungry, and the What-not fruits
looked like delicious ripe mangos. Some started eating the
fruits immediately, without thinking at all. They devoured
them before anyone could say a word.
Others remembered the leader’s warning, but they
thought this was just a different variety of mango tree. They
thought they were lucky to find ripe mangos right next to a
village. So they decided to eat some of the fruits before they
were all gone.
There were also some who were wiser than the rest.
They decided it would be safer to obey the warning of the
caravan leader. Although they didn’t know it, he just
happened to be the Enlightenment Being.
When the leader arrived at the tree, the ones who had
been careful and not eaten asked, “Sir, what is this tree? Is it
safe to eat these fruits?”
After investigating thoughtfully he replied, “No, no.
This may look like a mango tree, but it isn’t. It is a poisonous
What-not Tree. Don’t even touch it!”
The ones who had already eaten the What-not fruit
were terrified. The caravan leader told them to make
themselves vomit as soon as possible. They did this, and then
were given four sweet foods to eat – raisins, cane sugar paste,
sweet yogurt and bee’s honey. In this way their taste buds
were refreshed after throwing up the poisonous What-not
fruit.
Unfortunately, the greediest and most foolish ones
could not be saved. They were the ones who had started
eating the poisonous fruits immediately, without thinking at
all. It was too late for them. The poison had already started
doing its work, and it killed them.
In the past, when caravans had come to the What-not
Tree, the people had eaten its poisonous fruits and died in
their sleep during the night. The next morning the local
villagers had come to the campsite. They had grabbed the
dead bodies by the legs, dragged them to a secret hiding
place, and buried them. Then they had taken for themselves
all the merchandise and bullock carts of the caravan.
They expected to do the same thing this time. At dawn
the next morning the villagers ran towards the What-not
Tree. They said to each other, “The bullocks will be mine!”
“I want the carts and wagons!” “I will take the loads of
merchandise!”
But when they got to the What-not Tree they saw that
most of the people in the caravan were alive and well. In
surprise, they asked them, “How did you know this was not a
mango tree?” They answered, “We did not know, but our
leader had warned us ahead of time, and when he saw it he
knew.”
Then the villagers asked the caravan leader, “Oh wise
one, how did you know this was not a mango tree?”
He replied, “I knew it for two reasons. First, this tree is
easy to climb. And second, it is right next to a village. If the
fruits on such a tree remain unpicked, they cannot be safe to
eat!”
Everyone was amazed that such lifesaving wisdom was
based on such simple common sense. The caravan continued
on its way safely.
* * *
The Buddha said:
“The members of the caravan are today the Buddha’s
followers. And the caravan leader was I who am today the
Buddha.”
The moral: “The wise are led by common sense. Fools follow
only hunger.”