Pandu, a wealthy jeweler of the Brahman caste, travelled in a carriage with his slave to Benares. While proceeding on their journey the travelers overtook a samana, as the Buddhist monks were called, and the jeweler observing the venerable appearance of the holy man, thought to himself: "This samana looks noble and saintly. Companionship with good men brings luck; should he also be going to Baranasi, I will invite him to ride with me in my carriage." Having saluted the samana the jeweler asked him where is he going and after learning that the samana, whose name was Narada, also was travelling to Baranasi he asked him to accept a seat in his carriage.
"I am quite obliged to you for your kindness" Said the samana to the Brahman, "for I am quite worn out by the long journey. As I have no possessions in this world, I cannot repay you in money; but it may happen that I can reward you with some spiritual treasure out of the wealth of information I have received while following Shakyamuni, the Blessed One, the Great Buddha, the Teacher of gods and men."
They travelled together in the carriage and Pandu listened with pleasure to the instructive discourse of Narada. After about an hour’s journey, they arrived it a place where the road had been rendered impassable by a washout caused by the recent rain, and a farmers cart heavily laden with rice prevented further progress.
Devala, the owner of the cart, also was on his way to Baranasi to sell his rice, and was anxious to reach the city before the dawn of the next morning. If he was delayed a day or two longer, the rice merchants might have left town or bought all the stock they needed.
When the jeweler saw that he could not proceed on his way unless the farmer's cart was removed, he began to grow angry and ordered Mahaduta, his slave, to push the cart aside, so the jeweler could pass by. The farmer remonstrated, because, being so near the slope of the road, it would jeopardise his cargo; but the Brahman would not listen to the farmer and bade his servant overturn the rice-cart and push it aside. Mahaduta, an unusually strong man, who seemed to take delight in the injury of others, obeyed before the samana could interfere and thrown the rice on the wayside. When Pandu was about to continue his journey the samana jumped out of the carriage and said:
"Excuse me sir, for leaving you here. I am under obligations for your kindness in giving me an hours ride in your carriage. I was tired when you picked me up on the road, but now, thanks to your courtesy I am rested, and recognizing in this farmer an incarnation of one of your ancestors, I cannot repay your kindness better than by assisting him in his troubles."
The Brahman jeweler looked at the samana in amazement: "That farmer, you say, is an incarnation of one of my ancestors? That is impossible!"
"I know," replied the samana, "that you are not aware of the numerous important relations, which tie your fate to that of the farmer; but sometimes the smartest men are spiritually blind. So I regret that you harm your own interests, and I shall try to protect you against the wounds which you are about to inflict upon yourself."
The wealthy merchant was not accustomed to being reprimanded, and feeling that the words of the samana, although uttered with great kindness, contained a stinging reproach, bade his servant drive on without delay.
The samana saluted Devala, the farmer, and began to help him repair his cart and load up the rice, part of which had been thrown out. The work proceeded quickly and Devala thought:
"This samana must be a holy man; invisible devas seem to assist him. I will ask him how I deserved ill treatment at the hands of the proud Brahman."
And he said:
- "Venerable Sir, can you tell me why I suffer an injustice from a man to whom I have never done any harm?"
And the samana said: "My dear friend, you do not suffer an injustice, but only receive in your present state of existence the same treatment which you visited upon the jeweler in a former life. I should say that you would, even today, have done the same to the jeweler if he had been in your place, and you had such a strong slave at your command as he has, able to deal with you at his pleasure."
The farmer confessed that if he had had the power, he would treat another man, who had happened to impede his way, as he had been treated by the Brahman.
The rice was loaded and together they pursued their journey to Baranasi, when suddenly the horse jumped aside.
A snake, a snake!" shouted the farmer.
But the samana looked closely at the object at which the horse shuddered, jumped out of the cart, and saw that it was a purse full of gold, and the idea struck him: "This money can belong to no one but the wealthy jeweler."
Narada took the purse and said to the farmer: "Take this purse and when you come to Baranasi drive up to the inn which I shall point out to you; ask for Pandu, the Brahman, and deliver to him his gold. He will excuse himself for the rudeness with which he treated you, but tell him you have forgiven him and wish him success in all his undertakings. For, let me tell you, the more successful he is, the better you will prosper; your fate depends in many respects upon his fate. Should the jeweler demand an explanation, send him to the vihara where he will find me ready to assist him with advice in case he may feel need of it."
Meanwhile Pandu arrived at Baranasi and met Mallika, a rich banker and business friend of Pandu.
"I am a ruined man and can do no business with you unless I can buy a cart of the best rice for the king's table. I have a rival banker in Baranasi who, learning that I had made a contract with the royal treasurer to deliver the rice to-morrow morning, and being desirous to bring about my destruction, has bought up all the rice in Baranasi. The royal treasurer will not release me from my contract, and tomorrow I shall be a ruined man unless Krishna will send an angel from heaven to help me."
While Mallika was still lamenting the poverty to which his rival would reduce him, Pandu missed his purse. Searching his carriage without being able to find it, he suspected his slave Mahaduta; and calling the police, accused him of theft, and had him bound and cruelly tortured to extort a confession.
The slave in his agonies cried: "I am innocent, let me go, I cannot stand this pain; I am quite innocent, at least of this crime, and suffer now for other sins. Oh that I could beg the farmer's pardon whom, for the sake of my master, I wronged without any cause! This torture, I believe, is a punishment for my rudeness."
While the officer was still applying the lash to the back of the slave, the farmer arrived at the inn and, to the great astonishment of all concerned, delivered the purse. The slave was at once released from the hands of his torturer. But being dissatisfied with his master, he secretly left and joined a band of robbers in the mountains, who made him their chief on account of his great strength and courage.
When Mallika heard that the farmer had the best rice to sell, fit for delivery to the royal table, he at once bought the entire cartload for treble the price that the farmer had ever received. Pandu, however, glad at heart to have his money restored, rewarded the honest finder, and hastened at once to the vihara to receive further explanation from Narada, the samana.
Narada said: "I might give you an explanation, but knowing that you are unable to understand a spiritual truth I prefer to remain silent. Yet I shall give some advice: Treat every man whom you meet as your own self; serve him as you would demand to be served yourself; for our Karma travels; it walks apace though, and the journey is often long. But be it good or evil, finally it will come home to us.
'Slowly but surely deeds
Home to the doer creep.
Of kindness sow thy seeds,
and bliss as harvest reap.'"
"Give me, O samana, the explanation," said the jeweler, "and I shall thereby be better able to follow your advice."
The samana said: "Listen then, I will give you the key to the mystery. If you do not understand it have faith in what I say. Self is an illusion, and he whose mind is bent upon following self, follows a will-o'-the-wisp which leads him into the quagmire of sin. The illusion of self is like dust in your eye that blinds your site and prevents you from recognizing the close relations that obtain between yourself and your fellows, which are even closer than the relations that obtain among the various organs of your body. There are few who know the truth. Let this motto be your talisman:
'Who injureth others,
Himself hurteth sore.
Who others assisteth,
Himself helpeth more.
let th' illusion of self
From your mind disappear:
And you'll find the way sure;
The path will be clear.'
"To him whose vision is dimmed by dust of the world, the spiritual life appears to be cut up into innumerable selves. Thus he will be incapable of understanding the import of an all-comprehensive loving-kindness toward all living beings."
Pandu replied: "Your words, venerable Sir, have a deep significance and I shall bear them in mind. I extended a small kindness which caused me no expense whatever, to a poor samana on my way to Baranasi, and this is how propitious has been the result! I am deeply in your debt, without you I should not only have lost my purse, but would have been prevented from doing business in Baranasi which greatly increases my wealth, while if it had been left undone it might have reduced me to a state of wretched poverty. In addition, your thoughtfulness and the arrival of the farmer's rice-cart preserved the prosperity of my friend Mallika. If all men saw the truth of your maxims, how much better the world would be! Evils would be lessened, and the public welfare enhanced. As I am anxious to let the truth of the Buddha be understood, I shall found a vihara at my native place, Kaushambi, and invite you to visit me, so that I may dedicate the place to the brotherhood of Buddha's disciples."
Years passed on and Pandu's vihara at Kaushambi became a place in which wise samanas used to stay and it was renowned as a centre of enlightenment for the people of the town.
At that time the king of a neighboring country had heard of the beauty of Pandu's jewelry, and he sent his treasurer to order a royal diadem to be wrought in pure gold and set with the most precious stones of India.
When Pandu had finished the work, he started for the residence of the king, and as he expected to transact other profitable business, took with him a great store of gold pieces. The caravan carrying his goods was protected by a strong escort of armed men, but when they reached the mountains they were attacked by a band of robbers led by Mahaduta, who beat them and took away all the jewelry and the gold, and Pandu escaped with great difficulty. This calamity was a blow to Pandu's prosperity, and as he had suffered some other severe losses his wealth was greatly reduced.
Pandu was much distressed, but he bore his misfortunes without complaint, thinking to himself: "I have deserved these losses for the sins committed during my past existence. In my younger days I was very hard on other people; because I now reap the harvest of my evil deeds I have no reason for complaint."
As he had grown in kindness toward all beings, his misfortunes only served to purify his heart.
Again years passed on and it happened that Panthaka, a young samana and disciple of Narada, was travelling through the mountains of Kaushambi, and he fell among the robbers in the mountains. As he had nothing in his possession, the robber-chief beat him severely and let him go.
On the next morning Panthaka, while pursuing his way through the woods, heard a noise as of men quarreling and fighting, and going to the place he saw a number of robbers, all of them in a great rage, and in their midst stood Mahaduta, their chief.
Mahaduta was desperately defending himself against them, like a lion surrounded by hounds, and he slew several of his aggressors with formidable blows, but there were too many for him; at last he succumbed and fell to the ground as if dead, covered with wounds.
As soon as the robbers had left the place, the young samana approached to see whether he could be of any assistance to the wounded men. He found that all the robbers were dead, and there was but little life left in the chief. At once Panthaka went down to the little brooklet which was murmuring nearby, fetched fresh water in his bowl and brought it to the dying man.
Mahaduta opened his eyes and gnashing his teeth said: "Where are those ungrateful dogs whom I have led to victory and success? Without me as their chief they will soon perish like jackals hunted down by skillful hunters."
"Do not think of your comrades, the companions of your sinful life," said Panthaka, "but think of your own fate, and accept in the last moment the chance of salvation that is offered you. Here is water to drink, and let me dress your wounds; perhaps I may save your life."
" It is useless", replied Mahaduta, " honorable sir, I am a doomed man. The churls have wounded me unto death- the ungrateful cowards! They have dealt me the blow which I taught them."
"You reap what you have sown," continued the Samana; "had you taught your comrades acts of kindness, you would have received from them acts of kindness; but having taught them the lesson of slaughter, it is but your own deed that you are slain by their hands."
"True, very true," said the robber chief, "my fate is well deserved; but how sad is my lot, that I must rear the full harvest of all my evil deeds in future existences! Advise me, O holy sir, what I can do to lighten the sins of my life which oppress me like a great rock placed upon my breast, taking away the breath from my lungs."
Said Panthaka: "Root out your sinful desires; destroy all evil passions, and fill your heart with kindness toward all your fellow-beings.
The robber chief said: "I have done much evil and no good. How can I extricate myself from the net of sorrow which I have woven out of the evil desires of my own heart? My Karma will lead me to Hell and I shall never be able to walk in the path of salvation."
Said the samana: "Indeed your Karma will in its future incarnations reap the seeds of evil you have sown. There is no escape from the consequences of our actions. But there is no cause for despair. The man who is converted and has rooted out the illusion of self, with all its lusts and sinful desires, will be a source of blessing to himself and others. As an illustration, I will tell you the story of the great robber Kandata, who died without repentance and was reborn as a demon in Hell, where he suffered for his evil deeds the most terrible agonies and pains. He had been in Hell several kalpas and was unable to rise out of his wretched condition, when Buddha appeared upon earth and attained to the blessed state of enlightenment. At that memorable moment a ray of light fell down into hell quickening all the demons with life and hope, and the robber Kandata cried aloud: 'O blessed Buddha, have mercy upon me! I suffer greatly, and although I have done evil, I am anxious to walk in the noble path of righteousness. But I cannot extricate myself from the net of sorrow. Help me, O Lord; have mercy on me! "
"When Buddha, heard the prayer of the demon suffering in Hell, he sent down a spider on a cobweb and the spider said: "Take hold of the web and climb up.' When the spider withdrew, Kandata eagerly seized the thin thread and made great efforts to climb up. And he succeeded. The web was so strong that it held, and he ascended higher and higher. Suddenly he felt the thread trembling and shaking, for behind him some of his fellow-sufferers were beginning to climb up. Kandata became frightened. He saw the thinness of the web, and observed that it was elastic, for under the increased weight it stretched out; yet it still seemed strong enough to carry him. Kandata had heretofore only looked up; he now looked down and saw following close upon his heels, also climbing up on the cobweb a numberless mob of the denizens of Hell. 'How can this thin thread bear the weight of all?' he thought to himself, and seized with fear he shouted loudly: 'Let go the cobweb. It is mine! "
"At once the cobweb broke, and Kandata fell back into hell. The illusion of self was still upon Kandata. He did not know the miraculous power of a sincere longing to rise upwards and enter the noble path of righteousness. It is thin like a cobweb, but it will carry millions of people, and the more there are that climb it, the easier will be the efforts of every one of them. But as soon as the idea arises in a man's heart: 'This is mine; let the bliss of righteousness be mine alone, and let no one else partake of it,' the thread breaks and he will fall back into his old condition of selfhood. For selfhood is damnation, and truth is bliss. What is Hell? It is nothing but egotism, and Nirvana is a life of righteousness. "
"Let me take hold of the spider web," said the dying robber chief, when the samana had finished his story, "and I will pull myself up out of the depths of Hell."
Mahaduta lay quiet for a while to collect his thoughts, and then he continued:
"Listen honorable sir, I will make a confession: I was the servant of Pandu, the jeweller of Kaushambi, but when he unjustly had me tortured I ran away and became a chief of the robbers. Some time ago when I heard from my spies that Pandu was passing through the mountains, I succeeded in robbing him of a great part of his wealth. Will you go to him and tell him that I have forgiven him from the bottom of my heart for the injury which he unjustly inflicted on me, and ask him, too, to pardon me for having robbed him. While I stayed with him his heart was as hard as flint, and I learned to imitate the selfishness of his character. I have heard that he has become benevolent and is now pointed out as an example of goodness and justice. I do not wish to remain in his debt so long as it is still in my power to pay him. Therefore inform Pandu that I have kept the gold crown which he wrought for the king, and all his treasures, and have them hidden in a cave nearby. There were only two of the robbers under my command who knew of it, and both are now dead. Let Pandu take a number of armed men and come to the place and take back the property of which I have deprived him."
Then Mahaduta described the location of the cave and died converted in the arms of the samana.
As soon as Panthaka, the young samana, had reached Kaushambi, he went to the vihara and inquired for Pandu, he gave him a full account of his recent adventure in the forest.
Pandu set out with an escort of strong men and secured the treasures which the robber chief had concealed in the cave. Near by they found the remains of the robber chief and his slain companions, and they gathered the bodies in a heap and burned them with all honors.
Panthaka explained the significance of Karma, discoursing on the words of Buddha:
"By ourselves is evil done,
By ourselves we pain endure.
By ourselves we cease from wrong,
By ourselves become we pure.
No one saves us, but ourselves,
No one can and no one may:
We ourselves must walk the path,
Buddhas merely teach the way."
"Our Karma," the samana said, "is not the work of Ishvara, or Brahma, or Indra, or of any one of the gods. Our Karma is the product of our own actions. My action is the womb that bears me; it is the inheritance which devolves upon me; it is the curse of my misdeeds and the blessing of my righteousness. My action is the resource by which alone I can work out my salvation."
Pandu carried all his treasures back to Kaushambi, and using with discretion the wealth thus unexpectedly regained, he became richer and more powerful than he had ever been before, and when he was dying at an advanced age he had all his sons, and daughters, and grandchildren gathered round him and said unto them:
"My dear children do not blame others for your lack of success. Seek the cause of your ills in yourselves. Unless you are blinded by vanity you will discover your fault, and having discovered it you will see the way out of it. The remedy for your ills, too, lies in yourselves. Never let your mental eyes be covered by the dust of selfishness, and remember the words which have proved a talisman in my life:
'Who injureth others,
Himself hurteth sore.
Who others assisteth,
Himself helpeth more.
let th' illusion of self
From your mind disappear:
And you'll find the way sure;
The path will be clear.'
«Karma» Paul Carus