Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta of Benares had a son. He grew up to be a mean and cruel he-man – the type that’s always trying to prove he’s tougher than everyone else. He was a bully who constantly pushed people around and picked fights. Whenever he spoke to people it was with a stream of obscenities – right out of the gutter. And he was always quick to anger – just like a hissing snake that’s just been stepped on.
People inside and outside the palace ran from him as they would from a starving man-eating demon. They avoided him as they would a speck of dirt in the eye. Behind his back everyone called him the ‘Evil Prince’. In short – he was not a nice man!
One day the prince decided to go swimming. So he went down to the river with his servants and attendants. Suddenly it became almost as dark as night. A huge storm came up. Being so rough and tough, the prince was always trying to show he wasn’t scared of anything. So he yelled at his servants, “Take me into the middle of the river and bathe me. Then bring me back to shore.”
Following his orders, they took him out to midstream. Then they said, “Now is our chance! Whatever we do here, the king will never find out. So let’s kill the Evil Prince. Into the flood you go, good-for-nothing!” With that they threw him into the stormy raging river.
When they returned to the bank, the others asked where the prince was. They replied, “We don’t know. As the rain came up, he must have swum faster than us and gone back to Benares.”
When they returned to the palace, the king asked, “Where is my son?” They said, “We don’t know, your majesty. When the storm came up, we thought he went back ahead of us.” King Brahmadatta collected a search party and began looking for the prince. They searched carefully, all the way to the riverside, but couldn’t find him.
What had happened was this. In the darkness and wind and rain the prince had been swept down the flooding river. Luckily he was able to grab onto a floating dead tree trunk. Frantically he held on for dear life. As he was being swept along, the tough he-man was so afraid of drowning that he cried like a terrified helpless baby!
It just so happened that, not long before, a very rich man had died in Benares. He had buried his treasure hoard in the riverbank, along the same stretch of river. His fortune amounted to 40 million gold coins. Because of his miserly craving for riches, he was reborn as a lowly snake, slithering on his belly while still guarding his treasure.
At a nearby spot on the riverbank another rich miser had buried a treasure of 30 million gold coins. Likewise, due to his stingy clawing after wealth, he had been reborn as a water rat. He too remained to guard his buried treasure.
Lo and behold. when the storm came up, both the snake and the water rat were flooded out of their holes and washed into the raging river. In fear of drowning, they both happened to grab onto the same dead log carrying the frightened wailing prince. The snake climbed up on one end and the water rat on the other.
There also happened to be a tall cotton tree growing nearby. There was a young parrot roosting in it. When the storm-flooded river rose up, the cotton tree’s roots were washed away and it fell into the water. When he tried to fly away, the wind and rain swept the little parrot onto the same dead log with the snake, the water rat and the Evil Prince.
Now there were four on the log, floating towards a bend in the river. Nearby a holy man was living humbly in a little hut. He just happened to be the Bodhisatta – the Enlightenment Being. He had been born into a rich high class family in Kasi. When he had grown up, he had given up all his wealth and position, and had come to live by himself next to the river.
It was the middle of the night when the holy man heard the cries of panic coming from the Evil Prince. He thought, “That sounds like a frightened human being. My loving-kindness will not let me ignore him. I must save him.”
He ran down to the river and shouted. “Don’t be afraid! I will save you!” Then he jumped into the rushing torrent, grabbed the log, and used his great strength to pull it to shore.
He helped the prince step safely onto the riverbank. Noticing the snake, water rat and parrot, he took them and the man to his cozy little hut. He started up his cooking fire. Thinking of the weakness of the animals, he gently warmed them by the fire. When they were warm and dry he set them aside. Then he let the prince warm himself. The holy man brought out some fruits and nuts. Again he fed the more helpless animals first, followed by the waiting prince.
Not surprisingly this made the Evil Prince furious! He thought, “This stupid holy man doesn’t care at all for me, a great royal prince. Instead he gives higher place to these three dumb animals!” Thinking this way, he built up a vengeful hatred against the gentle Bodhisatta.
The next day the holy man dried the deadwood log in the sun. Then he chopped it up and burned it, to cook their food and keep them warm. In a few days the four who had been rescued by that same log were strong and healthy.
The snake came to the holy man to say good-bye. He coiled his body on the ground, arched himself up, and bowed his head respectfully. He said, “Venerable one, you have done a great thing for me! I am grateful to you, and I am not a poor snake. In a certain place I have a buried treasure of 40 million gold coins. And I will gladly give it to you – for all life is priceless! Whenever you are in need of money, just come down to the riverbank and call out. “Snake! Snake!”
The water rat, too, came to the holy man to say good-bye. He stood up on his hind legs and bowed his head respectfully. He said, “Venerable one, you have done a great thing for me! I am grateful to you, and I am not a poor water rat. In a certain place I have a buried treasure of 30 million gold coins. And I will gladly give it to you – for all life is priceless! Whenever you are in need of money, just come down to the riverbank and call out, “Rat! Rat!”
Such grateful generosity from a snake and a water rat! A far cry from their previous stingy human lives!
Then came the parrot to say his good-bye to the holy man. He bowed his head respectfully and said, “Venerable one, you have done a great thing for me! I am grateful to you, but I possess no silver or gold. However, I am not a poor parrot. For if you are ever in need of the finest rice, just come down to the riverbank and call out. ‘Parrot! Parrot!’ Then I will gather together all my relatives from all the forests of the Himalayas and we will bring you many cart loads of the most precious scented red rice. For all life is priceless!”
Finally the Evil Prince came to the holy man. Because his mind was filled with the poison of vengeance, he thought only about killing him if he ever saw him again. However, what he said was, “Venerable one, when I become king, please come to me and I will provide you with the Four Necessities.” He returned to Benares and soon became the new king.
In a while the holy man decided to see if the gratitude of these four was for real. First he went down to the riverbank and called out, “Snake! Snake!” At the sound of the first word, the snake came out of his home under the ground. He bowed respectfully and said, “Holy one, under this very spot are buried 40 million gold coins. Dig them up and take them with you!” “Very well,” said the holy man, “When I am in need I will come again.”
Taking leave of the snake, he walked along the riverbank and called out,’ “Rat! Rat!” The water rat appeared and all went just as it had with the snake.
Next, he called out, “Parrot! Parrot!” The parrot flew down from his treetop home, bowed respectfully and said, “Holy one, do you need red rice? I will summon my relatives and we will bring you the best rice in all the Himalayas.” The holy man replied, “Very well, when I am in need I will come again.”
Finally he set out to see the king. He walked to the royal pleasure garden and slept there overnight. In the morning, in a very humble and dignified manner, he went to collect alms food in the city of Benares.
On that same morning the ungrateful king, seated on a magnificently adorned royal elephant, was leading a vast procession around the city. When he saw the Enlightenment Being coming from a distance he thought, “Aha! This lazy homeless bum is coming to sponge off me. Before he can brag to everyone how much he did for me, I must have him beheaded!”
Then he said to his servants, “This worthless beggar must be coming to ask for something. Don’t let the good-for-nothing get near me. Arrest him immediately, tie his hands behind his back, and whip him at every street corner. Take him out of the city to the execution block and cut off his head. Then raise up his body on a sharpened stake and leave it for all to see. So much for lazy beggars!”
The king’s men followed his cruel orders. They tied up the blameless Great Being like a common criminal. They whipped him mercilessly at every street corner on the way to the execution block. But no matter how hard they whipped him, cutting into his flesh, he remained dignified. After each whipping he simply announced, for all to hear: “This proves the old saying is still true – ‘There’s more reward in pulling deadwood from a river, than in helping an ungrateful man!’”
Some of the bystanders began to wonder why he said only this at each street corner. They said to each other, “This poor man’s pain must be caused by an ungrateful man.” So they asked him, “Oh holy man, have you done some service to an ungrateful man?”
Then he told them the whole story. And in conclusion he said, “I rescued this king from a terrible flood, and in so doing I brought this pain upon myself I did not follow the saying of the wise of old, that’s why I said what I said.”
Hearing this story, the people of Benares became enraged and said to each other, ‘This good man saved the king’s life. But he is so cruel that he has no gratitude in him at all. How could such a king possibly benefit us? He can only be dangerous to us. Let’s get him!”
Their rage turned the citizens of Benares into a mob. They pelted the king with arrows, knives, clubs and stones. He died while still sitting on the royal elephant. Then they threw the dead body of the one-time Evil Prince into a ditch by the side of the road.
Afterwards they made the holy man their new king. He ruled Benares well. Then one day he decided to go see his old friends. So he rode in a large procession down to the riverbank.
He called out, “Snake! Snake!” The snake came out, offered his respect and said, “My lord, if you wish it. You are welcome to my treasure.” The king ordered his servants to dig up the 40 million gold coins.
He went to the water rat’s home and called out, “Rat! Rat!” He too appeared, offered his respect and said, “My lord, if you wish it, you are welcome to my treasure.” This time the king’s servants dug up 30 million gold coins.
Then the king called out “Parrot! Parrot!” The parrot flew to the king, bowed respectfully and said, “If you wish, my lord, I will collect the most excellent red rice for you.” But the holy man king said, “Not now my friend. When rice is needed I will request it of you. Now let us all return to the city.”
After they arrived at the royal palace in Benares, the king had the 70 million gold coins put under guard in a safe place. He had a golden bowl made for the grateful snake’s new home. He had a maze made of the finest crystals for the generous rat to live in. And the kind parrot moved into a golden cage, with a gate he could latch and unlatch from the inside.
Every day the king gave rice puffs and the sweetest bee’s honey on golden plates to the snake and the parrot. And on another golden plate he gave the most aromatic scented rice to the water rat.
The king became famous for his generosity to the poor. He and his three animal friends lived together in perfect harmony for many years. When they died, they were all reborn as they deserved.
The moral is: Gratitude is a reward, which is itself rewarded.