The Panchatantra – Story 17


There were in a town two merchant youths called Dushtabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi (Dharmabuddhi means ‘A man of virtuous inclinations’, and Dushtabuddhi ‘A man of wicked inclination’). They were intimate friends. Dharmabuddhi was upright, honest, and virtuous whereas Dushtabuddhi was, unknown to his friend, given to several evil ways. Desirous of earning great wealth in order to meet the multi-fold expenses of his dissipation, Dushtabuddhi suggested to Dharmabuddhi that they should both go out together to a foreign country and trade. He said to Dharmabuddhi ‘Now is the time to go and see foreign countries, and make good profit. Unless youth is spent in foreign travels, there will not be enough glowing memories in old age to look back to. There will also be nothing interesting for us to talk to our friends, unless we go abroad. Truly has it been said that the life of one who, born on this beautiful earth, has not seen the various languages, dresses, and customs and foreign countries has been lived in vain. Nor can a man be said to acquire the fullness of learning, wealth and art unless he goes from country to country with eagerness and joy. So let us go,’ Dharmabuddhi readily agreed. 

Both started on an auspicious day and reached the foreign country safe. While wandering about there Dharmabuddhi got a pot of buried treasure containing one thousand gold coins. He said to his friend, ‘We are very lucky indeed. Let us return home. The moment persons who have gone to a foreign country acquire the wealth, or the learning, or the art in quest of which they have gone there, residence in the foreign country becomes intolerable, and every kosa(Two miles) of distance from one’s own country will be felt like a hundred yojanas(A yojana is 8 miles). Dushtabuddhi readily agreed. So both returned to their native town. 

When they were approaching their town, Dushtabuddhi said to the other ‘Friend, take your half of the find. We shall soon reach home and be able to give our friends and relatives a good treat.’ Dushtabuddhi, with dishonest designs to enrich himself unjustly, said, ‘Friend, it is not safe to show all this wealth to our friends and relatives. They will ask for some of it. Besides, a wise man should not show his’ wealth, however little it may be, to anybody for even a sage will be tempted by its sight to deviate from the correct path. Just as meat is swallowed eagerly by the fish of the sea, the beasts of the land and the birds of the air, so the wealth of a rich man is swallowed readily by everybody. Furthermore, as long as we have some of this gold in common, so long will our friendship for each other wax greater. 

So, let us take a hundred coins each now and bury the remaining eight hundred with the pot in a lonely place in this forest. We can thus see whether this treasure trove will cause us luck or ill-luck(There is a superstition in India that the money of some treasure troves causes ruin and of others prosperity- There is a similar superstition that some sapphires cause ruin and others prosperity); As necessity arises, we can draw further on the remaining gold.’ Dharmabuddhi, suspecting no fraud, agreed to this. Both went to a lonely corner of the forest and buried the pot with eight hundred coins under a big tree. Then they returned to their houses. 

Dushtabuddhi soon wasted his hundred gold coins in dissipation and was in desperate need of money. He approached Dharrmabuddhi, and both went to the spot and took a hundred more coins each. These two were spent by Dushtabuddhi before the year was out. He said to himself ‘My idea in suggesting that most of the treasure should be hidden in the forest was to filch it myself after one or two transactions whereby Dharmabuddhi would be induced not to suspect me. If I wait till another transaction is over, I shall get only four hundred coins instead of the present six hundred. So I shall take the whole amount now.’ He stealthily went to the spot in the dead of night, removed the six hundred gold coins from the pot, tied up the pot as before, and covered it with earth. A month later, he went to Dharmabuddhi and said, ‘Friend, let us divide the remaining gold.’ Dharmabuddhi readily agreed. Both went to the spot and dug it up. 

When the pot was opened, it was found to be empty. Dushtabuddhi beat his own head with the empty pot(Such beating is understood in India to be a sign of utter misery and ruin, and is generally done in the presence of the person supposed to have brought them about) and said ‘Oh, Dharmabuddhi, you must have stolen the gold and covered up the vessel with earth. So, give me my half, or I shall go to the courts and file a complaint against you.’ Dharmabuddhi replied, ‘Oh wretch, don’t talk like this. I am Dharmabuddhi, a man of virtuous soul, and will never stoop to thefts like this. It has been said, “He alone knows the truth who regards another’s wife like his mother, another’s wealth like a lamp of earth, and all being equal unto himself.” 

The two hotly disputed and went to the courts and complained against each other. The judges were unable to decide the case at once as there were no witnesses on either side. They remanded both the accused for five days. On the sixth day, the case came up for hearing. The judges said that it should be decided by trial by ordeal. Dushtabuddhi said, ‘My Lords, your procedure is not proper. It has been laid down by our law-givers that cases should be decided on documents and the evidence of witnesses and that only if both these are not available should ordeals be resorted to.

‘I have got a witness, the spirit of the tree under which we buried the treasure. He will declare which one of us is guilty. So, hear his evidence and dispense with the ordeal.’ The Judges said, ‘What you say is right. We were not aware that you had a witness. It has been said by the great law-givers that ordeals should not be resorted to even if the only witness available is a man of the lowest of all outcasts. Much more will this apply when there is the spirit of the tree to give evidence. Tomorrow, both of you will go with us to the forest and we shall examine the spirit.’ The judges then released both the accused on bail after taking sureties. 

Dushtabuddhi went straight home and told his father, ‘Father, all that money is with me. One word from you will make it stay there for all time. I shall take you to that tree to-night and hide you securely in the big hole in its trunk. When the judges come and question the spirit tomorrow, you have merely to say that Dharmabuddhi Stole the gold.’ His father replied, ‘Son, we shall both be ruined by this plan which is of very faulty design, It has been said, “The wise man, when evolving a working plan to accomplish anything, carefully considers its defects also. The foolish crane had all his children eaten in his own presence because he never thought of the defects of the plan suggested to him”.’ Dushtabuddhi asked, ‘What is the story of this crane?’ Then the father narrated the following story “A remedy worse than the disease“.

‘So I say that a wise man should examine the defects of any plan before putting it into execution. This plan appears to me to be full of defects.’ ‘ Oh, no ‘ said Dushtabuddhi, ‘It is a good plan. No plan will be perfect and entirely free from defect. If you do not agree to what I say, the judges will not get any reply from the spirit of the tree and will sentence me to be executed for my shameless lie. So you must agree to my plan, father darling. Have no doubt, we shall both come off safe and prosperous from it.’ Thus cajoling him, Dushtabuddhi took him to the forest that night itself and cunningly ensconced him in the tree hole in such a way that while he would be completely invisible, his ‘voice would be clearly audible outside.

The next morning, Dushtabuddhi bathed and went to the tree. There, in the presence of the judges and Dharmabuddhi, he said in a loud voice, ‘The sun, the moon, the fire, the air, the sky, the earth, the water, the heart, death, day and night, both twilights, dharma, and the spirits of trees know every deed of man. So, oh, spirit of the tree, say which of us two is the thief.’ His father replied from the hollow in the tree, ‘Dharmabuddhi stole the gold.’ The assembled judges were surprised and overjoyed at this response by the spirit of the tree. They looked up their law books to see what punishment they should award to Dharmabuddhi. 

Dharmabuddhi thought on hearing the response from the tree, ‘How is it that the spirit of a tree speaks, a thing never heard of before ? Besides, it cannot be a real spirit as the thing spoken is false and no spirit will speak anything but the truth. There must therefore be some fraud in this. No fraud is beyond the capacity of a wise, man to discover. I am convinced that some man must have been hidden by Dushtabuddhi in the hollow of the tree. I shall make that pseudo-spirit pay heavily for this fraud. But I must proceed tactfully as these judges are credulous and have been convinced of my guilt.’ So thinking, he said to the judges, ‘My lords, it is really wonderful that this spirit of the tree knew the truth and spoke it. In a weak moment, though I had no need for the money, I came alone to this secluded place and took the gold though am called Dharmabuddhi by all people. When I was about to remove the gold from the place, I saw a dreadful snake come. I then thought, “This is really unlucky. But, after all, wealth lost once may return again, but life never. I shall come again for the gold one day when the snake is gone.” Thus thinking, I put the gold coins in the hollow of the tree, and the snake also entered to keep watch over it(Snakes are supposed to guard hidden treasures). 

Now I have to give the gold to you. I shall somehow kill the serpent in the hollow and recover and deliver the gold to you. Kindly move a little aside while I smoke out the snake.’ The judges agreed. Then Dharmabuddhi filled the the hole in the tree with a lot of dry twigs and leaves and set fire to them. Dushtabuddhi watched this with a pale distracted, and downcast face, and his heart began to tremble violently for the fate of his father in the tree and of himself when the truth came out. The fire and smoke soon spread into the hollow. In a few minutes, Dushtabuddhi’s father fell down from the hole, his body half-burnt, his eyesight gone, and himself uttering piteous cries. The judges asked him, ‘What is all this ?’ He said, ‘All this is the handiwork of Dushtabuddhi.’ and related the whole story. He then died. The judges had Dushtabuddhi hanged on the branches of that very tree and praised Dharmabuddhi very much. 

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