Week 2: Jataka Tales (Birth Stories of the Buddha)

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Baka-Jataka. "Guile profits not..."

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

This story has one of the most elaborate frametales of any of the jataka tales you will read this week. The frametale is on this page, and then you will read the "story of the past" on the next page. The theme of this story is "the trickster tricked," which is one of my favorite kinds of stories. I think it is very satisfying to see someone who is a trickster get tricked by someone else.

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 ‘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 color 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 robe out and show it to them. And they, marking only its fine color, 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 shown 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 man from the country, so was he too in bygone times."

And so saying, he told this story of the past.

[continued on the next page...]

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did the monks give their good new cloth to the robe-maker?
  • how did the monks find out they had been tricked?
  • how did the one robe-maker trick the other one?

Source: Jataka #38. The Jataka, or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births (in six volumes). Editor: E.B. Cowell. 1895.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM