jataka story archives
buddhist tales for young and old
[The Arrogance of Power]
Once upon a time, there was an old man who lived in Benares. He had a very good friend, who was known to be wise. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, he also had a beautiful young wife.
The old man and his young wife had a son. The man came to love his son very much. One day he thought, "I have learned that my beautiful young wife cannot always be trusted. When I die, I am sure she will marry another man, and together they will waste the wealth I have worked so hard for. Later on, there will be nothing left for my son to inherit from his mother. So I will do something to guarantee an inheritance for my deserving son. I will bury my wealth to protect it for him."
Then he called for. his most faithful servant, Nanda. Together they took all the old man's wealth deep into the forest and buried it. He said, "My dear Nanda, I know you are obedient and faithful. After I die, you must give this treasure to my son. Keep it a secret until then. When you give the treasure to him, advise him to use it wisely and generously."
Before long, the old man died. Several years later, his son completed his education. He returned home to take his place as the head of the family. His mother said, "My son, being a suspicious man, your father has hidden his wealth. I am sure that his faithful servant, Nanda, knows where it is. You should ask him to show you. Then you can get married and support the whole family."
So the son went to Nanda and asked him if he knew where his father had hidden his wealth. Nanda told him that the treasure was buried in the forest, and that he knew the exact spot.
Then the two of them took a basket and a shovel into the forest. When they arrived at the place the treasure was buried, all of a sudden Nanda became puffed up with how important he was. Although he was only a servant, he had the power of being the only one to know the secret. So he became conceited and thought he was better than the son. He said, "You son of a servant girl! Where would you inherit a treasure from?"
The patient son did not talk back to his father's servant. He suffered his abuse, even though it puzzled him. After a short time, they returned home emptyhanded.
This strange behavior was repeated two more times. The son thought, "At home, Nanda appears willing to reveal the secret of the treasure. But when we go into the forest, carrying the basket and shovel, he is no longer willing. I wonder why he changes his mind each time."
He decided to take this puzzle to his father's wise old friend. He went to him and described what had happened.
The wise old man said, "Go again with Nanda into the forest. Watch where he stands when he abuses you, which he surely will do. Then send him away saying, 'You have no right to speak to me that way. Leave me.'
"Dig up the ground on that very spot and you will find your inheritance. Nanda is a weak man. Therefore, when he comes closest to his little bit of power, he turns it into abuse."
The son followed this advice exactly. Sure enough, he found the buried treasure. As his father had hoped, he generously used the wealth for the benefit of many.
The moral is:
A little power soon goes to the head of one not used to it."