Lesson From a Snake [The
Value of Goodness]
a time, King Brahmadatta of Benares had a very valuable adviser
priest. He came from a rich noble family. He was intelligent and
full of knowledge. He was generous with his wealth and knowledge,
holding nothing back. People thought of him as a kind and good person.
practicing the Five Training Steps, he trained his mind to avoid
the five unwholesome actions. He discovered that giving up each
unwholesome action made him better off in its own way:
life, since you have to kill part of yourself in order to kill
what is not given, since this makes the owner angry at you;
- Doing wrong
in sexual ways, since this leads to the pain of jealousy and
falsely, since you can't be true to yourself and false to another
at the same time;
your mind from alcohol, since then you might hurt yourself by
doing the other four.
how he lived, King Brahmadatta thought, 'This is truly a good man."
priest was curious to learn more about the value of goodness. He
thought, "The king honors and respects me more than his other
priests. But I wonder what it is about me that he really respects
most. Is it my nationality, my noble birth or family wealth? Is
it my great learning and vast knowledge? Or is it because of my
goodness? I must find the answer to this."
he decided to perform an experiment in order to answer his question.
He would pretend to be a thief!
the next day, when he was leaving the palace, he went by the royal
coin maker. He was stamping out coins from gold. The good priest,
not intending to keep it, took a coin and continued walking out
of the palace. Because the money maker admired the famous priest
highly, he remained sitting and said nothing.
the following day the make-believe thief took two gold coins. Again
the royal coin maker did not protest.
on the third day, the king's favorite priest grabbed a whole handful
of gold coins. This time the money maker didn't care about the priest's
position or reputation. He cried out, "This is the third time
you have robbed his majesty the king." Holding onto him, he
shouted, "I've caught the thief who robs the king! I've caught
the thief who robs the king! I've caught the thief who robs the
a crowd of people came running in, yelling, "Aha! You pretended
to be better than us! An example of goodness!" They slapped
him, tied his hands behind his back, and hauled him off to the king.
on their way, they happened to go by some snake charmers. They were
entertaining some bystanders from the king's court with a poisonous
cobra. They held him by the tail and neck, and coiled him around
their necks to show how brave they were.
tied up prisoner said to them, "Please be careful! Don't grab
that cobra by the tail. Don't grab him by his neck. And don't coil
that poisonous snake around your own necks. He may bite you and
bring your lives to a sudden end!"
snake charmers said, "You ignorant priest, you don't understand
about this cobra. He is well-mannered and very good indeed. He is
not bad like you! You are a thief who has stolen from the king.
Because of your wickedness and criminal behavior, you are being
carried off with your hands tied behind your back. But there's no
need to tie up a snake who is good!"
priest thought, "Even a poisonous cobra, who doesn't bite or
harm anyone, is given the name 'good'. In truth, goodness is the
quality people admire most in the world!"
they arrived at the throne room, the king asked, 'What is this,
my children?" They replied, 'This is the thief who stole from
your royal treasury." The king said. "Then punish him
according to the law."
adviser priest said, 'My lord king, I am no thief!" 'Then why
did you take gold coins from the palace?" asked the king.
priest explained, "I have done this only as an experiment,
to test why it is you honor and respect me more than others. Is
it because of my family background and wealth, or my great knowledge?
Because of those things, I was able to get away with taking one
or two gold coins. Or do you respect my goodness most of all? It
is clear that by grabbing a handful of coins I no longer had the
name 'good'. This alone turned respect into disgrace!
a poisonous cobra, who doesn't harm anyone, is called `good'. There
is no need for any other title!"
emphasize the lesson he had learned, the wise priest recited:
birth and wealth and even knowledge vast, I find, are less admired
than goodness is, by humankind."
king pardoned his most valuable adviser priest.
asked to be allowed to leave the king's service in the ordinary
world and become a forest monk. After refusing several times the
king eventually gave his permission.
priest went to the Himalayas and meditated peacefully. When he died
he was reborn in a heaven world.
moral is: People prize goodness most of all.