A TAILOR who used to make robes for the brotherhood was wont to cheat his customers, and thus prided himself on being smarter than other men. But once, on entering upon an important business transaction with a stranger, he met his master in the way of cheating, and suffered a heavy loss.
The Blessed One said: “This is not an isolated incident in the greedy tailor’s fate; in other incarnations he suffered similar losses, and by trying to dupe others ultimately ruined himself. This same greedy character lived many generations ago as a crane near a pond, and when the dry season set in he said to the fishes with a bland voice: care you not anxious for your future welfare. There is at present very little water and still less food in this pond. What will you do should the whole pond become dry, in this drought?’ ‘Yes, indeed’ said the fishes what should we do?’ Replied the crane: ‘I know a fine, large lake, which never becomes dry. Would you not like me to carry you there in my beak?’ When the fishes began to distrust the honesty of the crane, he proposed to have one of them sent over to the lake to see it; and a big carp at last decided to take the risk for the sake of the others, and the crane carried him to a beautiful lake and brought him back in safety. Then all doubt vanished, and the fishes gained confidence in the crane, and now the crane took them one by one out of the pond and devoured them on a big varana-tree.
“There was also a lobster in the pond, and when the crane wanted to eat him too, he said: ‘I have taken all the fishes away and put them in a fine, large lake. Come along. I shall take thee, too!’ ‘But how wilt thou hold me to carry me along?’ asked the lobster. ‘I shall take hold of thee with my beak, said the crane. ‘Thou wilt let me fall if thou carry me like that. I will not go with thee!’ replied the lobster. ‘Thou needst not fear,’ rejoined the crane; ‘I shall hold thee quite tight all the way.’
“Then said the lobster to himself: ‘If this crane once gets hold of a fish, he will certainly never let him go in a lake! Now if he should really put me into the lake it would be splendid; but if he does not, then I will cut his throat and kill him!’ So he said to the crane: ‘Look here, friend, thou wilt not be able to hold me tight enough; but we lobsters have a famous grip. If thou wilt let me catch hold of thee round the neck with my claws, I shall be glad to go with thee.’
“The crane did not see that the lobster was trying to outwit him, and agreed. So the lobster caught hold of his neck with his claws as securely as with a pair of blacksmith’s pincers, and called out: ‘Ready, ready, go!’ crane took him and showed him the lake, and then turned off toward the varana-tree. ‘My dear uncle!’ cried the lobster, “The lake lies that way, but thou art taking me this other way.’ Answered the crane: ‘Thinkest so? Am I thy dear uncle? Thou meanest me to understand, I suppose, that I am thy slave, who has to lift thee up and carry thee about with him, where thou pleasest! Now cast thine eye upon that heap of fish-bones at the root of yonder varana-tree. Just as I have eaten those fish, every one of them, just so will I devour thee also!’
“‘Ah! those fishes got eaten through their own stupidity, answered the lobster, ‘but I am not going to let thee kill me. On the contrary, it is thou that I am going to destroy. For thou, in thy folly, hast not seen that I have outwitted thee. If we die, we both die together; for I will cut off this head of thine and cast it to the ground!’ So saying, he gave the crane’s neck a pinch with his claws as with a vise.
“Then gasping, and with tears trickling from his eyes, and trembling with the fear of death, the crane besought the lobster, saying: ‘O, my Lord! Indeed I did not intend to eat thee. Grant me my life!’ ‘Very well! fly down and put me into the lake,’ replied the lobster. And the crane turned round and stepped down into the lake, to place the lobster on the mud at its edge. Then the lobster cut the crane’s neck through as clean as one would cut a lotus-stalk with a hunting-knife, and then entered the water!”
When the Teacher had finished this discourse, he added: “Not now only was this man outwitted in this way, but in other existences, too, by his own intrigues.”
From : BUDDHA, THE GOSPEL
By Paul Carus
Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company,
at Sacred Texts