Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births
Book 1 Ekanipāta
38. Baka Jātaka
“Guile profits not.”—This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana, about a tailoring Brother.
Tradition says that at Jetavana dwelt a Brother who was exceedingly skilful in all operations to be performed with a robe, such as cutting, joining, arranging, and stitching Because of this skill, he used to fashion robes and so got the name of ‘The Robe-tailor.’ What, you ask, did he do?—Well, he exercised his craft on old bits of cloth and turned out a nice soft robe, which, after the dyeing was done, he would enhance in colour with a wash containing flour to make a dressing, and rub it with a shell, till he had made it quite smart and attractive. Then he would lay his handiwork aside.
Being ignorant of robe-making, Brethren used to come to him with brand-new cloth, saying, “We don’t know how to make robes; you make them for us.”
“Sirs,” he would reply, “a robe takes a long time making; but I have one which is just finished. You can take that, if you will leave these cloths in exchange.” And, so saying, he would take his out and chew it them. And they, marking only its fine colour, and knowing nothing of what it was made of, thought it was a good strong one, and so handed over their brand-new cloth to the ‘Robe-maker’ and went off with the robe he gave them. When it got dirty and was being washed in hot water, it revealed its real character, and the worn patches were visible here and there. Then the owners regretted their bargain. Everywhere that Brother became well-known for cozening in this way all who came to him.
Now, there was a robe-maker in a hamlet who used to cozen everybody just as the brother did at Jetavana. This man’s friends among the Brethren said to him, “Sir, they say that at Jetavana there is a robe-maker who cozens everybody just like you.” Then the thought struck him, “Come now, let me cozen that city man!” So he made out of rags a very fine robe, which he dyed a beautiful orange. This he put on and went to Jetavana. The moment the other saw it, he coveted it, and said to its owner, “Sir, did you make that robe?” “Yes, I did, sir,” was the reply. “Let me have that robe, sir; you’ll get another in its place.” “But, sir, we village-Brethren find it hard to get the Requisites; if I give you this, what shall I have to wear myself?” “Sir, I have some brand-new cloth at my lodging; take it and make yourself a robe.” “Reverend sir, herein have I shewn my own handiwork; but, if you speak thus, what can I do? Take it.” And having cozened the other by exchanging the rag-robe for the new cloth, he went his way.
After wearing the botched robe in his turn, the Jetavana man was washing it not long afterwards in warm water, when he became aware that it was made out. of rags; and he was put to shame. The whole of the Brotherhood heard the news that the Jetavana man had been cozened by a robe-tailor from the country.
Now, one day the Brethren were seated in the Hall of Truth, discussing the news, when the Master entered and asked what they were discussing; and they told him all about it.
Said the Master, “Brethren, this is not the only occasion of the Jetavana robe-maker’s cozening tricks; in bygone times also he did just the same, and, as he has been cozened now by the roan from the country, so was he too in bygone times.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.
Once on a time the Bodhisatta came to life in a certain forest-haunt as the Tree-sprite of a tree which stood near a certain lotus-pond. In those days the water used every summer to fall very low in a certain pond, not very big,—which was plentifully stocked with fish. Catching sight of these fish, a certain crane said to himself, “I must find a way to cajole and eat these fish.” So he went and sat down in deep thought by the side of the water.
Now when the fishes caught sight of him, they said, “Of what are you thinking, my lord, as you sit there?” “I am thinking about you,” was the reply. “And what is your lordship thinking about us?” “The water in this pool being low, food scarce, and, the heat intense,—I was wondering to myself, as I sat here, what in the world you fishes would do.” “And what are we to do, my lord?” “Well, if you’ll take my advice, I will take you up one by one in my beak, and carry you all off to a fine large pool covered with the five varieties of lotuses, and there put you down.” “My lord,” said they, no crane ever took the slightest thought for fishes since the world began. Your desire is to eat us one by one.” “No; I will not eat you while you trust me,” said the crane. “If you don’t take my word that there is such a pond, send one of your number to go with me and see for himself.” Believing the crane, the fish presented to him a great big fish (blind of one eye, by the way), who they thought would be a match for the crane whether afloat or ashore; and they said, “Here’s the one to go with you.”
The crane took the fish off and put him in the pool, and after shewing him the whole extent of it, brought him back again and put him in along with the other fish in his old pond. And he held forth to them on the charms of the new pool.
After hearing this report, they grew eager to go there, and said to the crane, “Very good, my lord; please take us across.”
First of all, the crane took that big one-eyed fish again and carried him off to the edge of the pool, so that he could see the water, but actually alighted in a Varana-tree which grew on the bank. Dashing the fish down in a fork of the tree, he pecked it to death,—after which he picked him clean and let the bones fall at the foot of the tree. Then back he went and said, “I’ve thrown him in; who’s the next?” And so he took the fish one by one, and ate them all, till at last when he came back, he could not find another left. But there was still a crab remaining in the pond; so the crane, who wanted to eat him up too, said, “Mister crab, I’ve taken all those fishes away and turned them into a fine large pool covered all over with lotuses. Come along; I’ll take you too.” “How will you carry me across?” said the crab. “Why, in my beak, to be sure,” said the crane. “Ah, but you might drop me like that,” said the crab; “I won’t go with you.” “Don’t be frightened; I’ll keep tight hold of you all the way.” Thought the crab to himself, “He hasn’t put the fish in the pool. But, if he would really put me in, that would be capital. If he does not,—why, I’ll nip his head off and kill him.” So he spoke thus to the crane, “You’d never be able to hold me tight enough, friend crane; whereas we crabs have got an astonishingly tight grip. If I might take hold of your neck with my claws, I could hold it tight and then would go along with you.”
Not suspecting that the crab wanted to trick him, the crane gave his assent. With his claws the crab gripped hold of the crane’s neck as with the pincers of a smith, and said, “Now you can start.” The crane took him and shewed him the pool first, and then started off for the tree.
“The pool lies this way, nunky,” said the crab; “but you’re taking me the other way.” “Very much your nunky dear am I!” said the crane; “and very much my nephew are you! I suppose you thought me your slave to lift you up and carry you about! Just you cast your eye on that heap of bones at the foot of the tree; as I ate up all those fish, so I will eat you too.” Said the crab, “It was through their own folly that those fish were eaten by you; but I shan’t give you the chance of eating me. No; what I shall do, is to kill you. For you, fool that you were, did not see that I was tricking you. If we die, we will both die together; I’ll chop your head clean off.” And so saying he gripped the crane’s weazand with his claws, as with pincers. With his mouth wide open, and tears streaming from his eyes, the crane, trembling for his life, said, “Lord, indeed I will not eat you! Spare my life!”
“Well, then, just step down to the pool and put me in,” said the crab. Then the crane turned back and stepped down as directed to the pool, and placed the crab on the mud, at the water-edge. But the crab, before entering the water, nipped off the crane’s head as deftly as if he were cutting a lotus stalk with a knife.
The Tree-fairy who dwelt in the tree, marking this wonderful thing, made the whole forest ring with applause repeating this stanza in sweet tones—
Guile profits not your very guileful folk.
Mark what the guileful crane got from the crab!
“Brethren,” said the Master, “this is not the first time this fellow has been cozened by the robe-maker from the country; in the past he was cozened in just the same manner.” His lesson ended, he shewed the connexion, and identified the Birth, by saying, “The Jetavana robe-maker was [the crane] of those days, the robe-maker from the country was the crab, and I myself the Tree-Fairy.”