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The monk and the worm of jealousy

A Jataka that seems ever-relevant to small and big situations tells the cautionary tale of a jealous monk. Renuka Narayanan writes.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2013 21:54 IST

A Jataka that seems ever-relevant to small and big situations tells the cautionary tale of a jealous monk.

He lived alone in a little vihara in a little village, supported by the village rich man who followed the Dhamma.

Life was totally secure for the monk with his belly always full, simple but cosy quarters and only respect and courtesy from all.

He slept as peacefully as a happy child and was totally free to concentrate on meditation and other monkly duties.

Into this idyll one day came an older monk, of peaceful, learned ways.

The village monk met him with due courtesy and introduced him to the village rich man, who took greatly to the visiting monk and showed him respect and hospitality.

For the first time ever, the village monk could not sleep. The worm of jealousy had entered his head and writhed and wriggled so much that it kept him wide awake with discomfort.

Taken over by jealousy, the village monk did not wake his visitor for the morning alms round (the Jataka says he scratched so softly with his nail on the visiting monk’s door that not even a mouse could have heard him) and snubbed him after that.

The visiting monk understood the agony that the village monk was going through and pitied him deeply. He began meditating until he reached higher levels of awareness and serenity.

Later that day, the village monk went to call on the rich man, who asked after the visiting monk. The village monk answered that he had knocked on the visitor’s door but had no answer.

The rich man then filled the village monk’s bowl with delicious ‘madhupayasa’ made of rice, milk, ghee, sugar and honey.

After the monk had eaten, he took away the bowl, washed it in scented water and refilled it to take back to the visiting monk.

Unwilling to share, the village monk wondered frantically how best to dispose of the evidence. Finally he saw a field that had just been burned by farmers to make the soil better.

It glowed with coals, on which the village monk poured out all the payasa so that it went up in smoke.

When he got back, he found that the visiting monk had gone away. The Jataka says it took the village monk a thousand-and-one lives after that to recover his peace of mind, which was burnt with the madhupayasa.

Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture