T 1670B Nāgasena Bhikṣu Sūtra

Part 2: Dialogues

2.68. Doing Evil Knowingly and Unknowingly

The king asked Nāgasena again, “Who gets greater demerit, a wise person who does evil, or an ignorant person who does evil?”

Nāgasena said, “The wise who does evil obtains less demerit, but the ignorant who does evil obtains more demerit.”

“I do not think so.” said the king, “In my country, according to the law, if a minister commits offence, he will be punished gravely, but if an ignorant person commits an offence, he will be punished lightly. Thus, the wise who do evil get greater demerit, and the ignorant who do evil get less demerit.”

Nāgasena gave a simile, “Suppose, a very hot metal were lying on the ground, and one man knows that it is a hot metal, while the other man does not know. If the two men were both to take hold of the hot metal, whose hands would be burnt more?”

“The hands of the man who does not know it, would be burnt more.”

“Like this, ignorant people who do evils without knowing it will not repent it. Therefore their demerit is greater. But the wise people who do evil know that it should not be done, so they repent their offence daily. Therefore their demerit becomes less.”

“Excellent, Nāgasena.”