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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014
Greed and the gold beneath the grime
Renuka Narayanan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, August 31, 2013
First Published: 23:07 IST(31/8/2013)
Last Updated: 23:10 IST(31/8/2013)

With the rupee clattering to the floor, it's nice to remember the jataka that helps us reach a quality of inner life that does not depend on retail therapy, though it is super-soothing to walk into a bookshop or a supermarket and not have to pay upfront.


Indeed, swiping plastic is like what the former memsahib in the bar at the London Hilton told CR Mandy (editor of ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’ for twelve years in the 1940s and '50s): “Dear India! Wasn't it lovely signing chits for all those drinks? It did not matter if you had any money or not” (from ‘Sahibs Who Loved India’ compiled and edited by Khushwant Singh, Penguin 2008).

Eons before those happy hours, there was once a rich merchant family in a city in the Gangetic Plain, whose fortunes became greatly reduced and all the men of the family died. Only an old grandmother and a little granddaughter were left and they earned their living by hiring themselves out as domestic workers.

At that time the Bodhisattva was a trader who sometimes worked in that city with another trader who was secretly less scrupulous. Their agreement was to divide the town into territories and enter each other’s area only after the other had left it. One day the greedy trader came down the former fine family’s street carrying his wares, including trinkets.

The little granddaughter suddenly longed for an ornament and begged her grandmother to trade something. A grimy old bowl lay in a corner with other household bric-a-brac, which the old lady offered to the trader for a modest bead necklace. One discreet scratch with a needle and the greedy trader knew that he held a bowl of solid gold. Plotting instantly to get it for free, he threw it back saying that it was too worthless to trade.

The old lady withdrew abashed, little realizing that it was the old breakfast bowl of the head of their family that had been put away after his death and had become unrecognizably dirty.

As you already guessed, the good trader came by later, gave them a fair deal and went away with a clear conscience and many blessings, while the greedy trader collapsed and died of fury when he found out.

The good trader was the Buddha and the greedy one was his cousin Devadatta and that was the beginning of Devadatta’s grudge through many lives, carrying horrible baggage and never at peace.

— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture


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