Driftwood is worth more than some men. Jātaka 73: i. 322-327.

True is this saying of some men of the . This parable was related by the Teacher while he was in residence at Veḷuvana with reference to Devadatta’s going about for the purpose of killing him. For while the Congregation of Monks, sitting in the Hall of Truth, were discussing Devadatta’s wickedness, saying, “Brethren, Devadatta knows not the Teacher’s virtues, but is going about for the sole purpose of killing him,” the Teacher drew near and asked: “Monks, what is the subject that engages your attention now as you sit here all gathered together?” “Such-and-such,” was the reply. “Monks,” said the Teacher, “not only in his present state of existence has Devadatta gone about for the purpose of killing me; in a previous state of existence also he went about for the purpose of killing me in the same old way.” Then, in response to a request of the monks, he related the following of the Past:

Prince Wicked

In times past Brahmadatta ruled at Benāres. He had a son named Prince Wicked, and Prince Wicked was as tough and hard as a beaten snake. He never spoke to anybody without either reviling him or striking him. The result was that both by indoor-folk and by outdoor-folk he was disliked and detested as much as dust lodged in the or as a demon come to eat.

One day, desiring to sport in the water, he went to the riverbank with a large retinue. At that moment a great cloud arose. The directions became dark. He said to his slaves and servants: “Come, fellows! Take me and conduct me to mid-stream and bathe me and bring me back.” They led him there and took counsel together, saying: “What can the king do to us! Let’s kill this wicked fellow right here!” So they said to him: “Here you go, bird of evil omen!” So saying, they plunged him into the water, made their way out of the water again, and stood on the bank.

As the courtiers returned to the king, they reflected: “In case we are asked, ‘Where is the prince?’ we will say, ‘We have not seen the prince; it must be that upon seeing a cloud arise he plunged into the water and went on ahead of us.’ ”The king asked: “Where is my son?” “We do not know, your majesty. A cloud arose. We returned, supposing: ‘He must have gone on [7] ahead of us.’ ” The king caused the gates to be flung open, went to the river-bank, and caused them to search here and there. “Search!” said he. Nobody saw the prince.

As a matter of fact, in the darkness caused by the cloud, while the god was raining, the prince, swept along by the river, seeing a certain tree-trunk, clambered on it, and sitting astride of it, travelled along, terrified with the fear of , lamenting.

Snake, rat, , and man

Now at that time a resident of Benāres, a certain treasurer, who had buried forty crores of wealth by the river-bank, by reason of his craving for that wealth, had been reborn on top of that wealth as a snake. Yet another had buried thirty crores of wealth in that very spot, and by reason of his craving for that wealth, had been reborn on the spot as a rat. The water entered their place of abode. They went out by the very path by which the water came in, cleft the stream, and went until they reached the tree-trunk bestridden by the royal prince. Thereupon one climbed up on one end, the other on the other, and both lay down right there on top of the tree-trunk.

Moreover, on the bank of that very river there was a certain silk-cotton tree, and in it lived a certain young parrot. That tree also, its roots washed by the water, fell on top of the river. The young parrot, unable to make headway by flying while the god was raining, went and perched on one side of that very tree-trunk. Thus did those four persons travel together, swept along by the river.

The Buddha befriends animals and man

Now at that time, the Future Buddha was reborn in the kingdom of Kāsi in the of a Brahman of high station. When he reached manhood, he retired from the world and adopted the life of an ascetic, and building a leaf-hut at a certain bend in the river, took up his abode there. At midnight, as he was walking up and down, he heard the sound of the profound lamentation of that royal prince. Thought he: “It is not fitting that that man should die in sight of an ascetic like me, endowed with friendliness and compassion. I will pull him out of the water and grant him the [8] boon of life.” He calmed the man’s fears with the words, “Fear not! Fear not!” Then, cleaving the stream of water, he went and laid hold of that tree trunk by one end, and pulled it. Powerful as an elephant, endowed with mighty strength, with a single pull he reached the bank and lifting the prince in his arms, set him ashore.

Seeing the snake, the rat, and the parrot, he picked them up also, carried them to his hermitage, and lighted a fire. “The animals are weaker,” thought he. So first he warmed the bodies of the animals; then afterwards he warmed the body of the royal prince and made him well too. When he brought food also, he first gave it to those same animals, and afterwards offered fruits and other edibles to the prince. Thought the royal prince: “This false ascetic does not take it into his reckoning that I am a royal prince, but does honour to animals.” And he conceived a grudge against the Future Buddha.

A few days after that, when all four had recovered their strength and vigour and the river-freshet had ceased, the snake bowed to the ascetic and said: “Reverend Sir, it is a great service you have done me. Now I am no pauper. In such-and-such a place, I have buried forty crores of gold. If you have need of money, I can give you all that money. Come to that place and call me out, saying: ‘Longfellow!’ ” So saying, he departed. Likewise, also the rat addressed the ascetic: “Stand in such-and-such a place and call me out, saying: ‘Rat!’ ” So saying, he departed.

But when the parrot bowed to the ascetic, he said: “Reverend Sir, I have no money; but if you have need of ruddy rice, – such-and-such is my place of abode, – go there and call me out, saying: ‘Parrot!’ I’ll tell my kinsfolk, have them fetch ruddy rice by the cart-load, and give it to you. That’s what I can do!” So saying, he departed.

But that other, the man, because it was his custom to betray his friends, said not so much as a word according to custom. Thought he: “If you come to me, I’ll kill you!” But he said: “Reverend Sir, when I am established in my kingdom, be good enough to come and see me; I’ll furnish you with the Four Requisites.” So saying, he departed. And in no very long time, after he had gone, he was established in his kingdom.

Gratefulness of animals

Thought the Future Buddha: “I’ll just put them to the test!” First, he went to the snake, and standing not far off, called him out, saying: “Longfellow!” At the mere word, the snake came out, bowed to the Future Buddha, and said: “Reverend Sir, in this place, are forty crores of gold; carry them all out and take them with you!” Said the Future Buddha: “Let be as it is; if the occasion arises, I’ll think about it.” So saying, he let the snake go back.

Then he went to the rat and made a noise. The rat also behaved just as had the snake. The Future Buddha let him also go back. Then he went to the parrot and called him out, saying: “Parrot!” The parrot also, at the mere word, came down from the top of the tree, and bowing to the Future Buddha, asked: “Tell me, Reverend Sir, shall I speak to my kinsfolk and have them fetch you self-sown rice from the region of Himavat?” Said the Future Buddha: “If I have a need, I’ll think about it.” So saying, he let the parrot also go back.

Ungratefulness of man

“Now,” thought the Future Buddha, “I’ll test the king!” He went and passed the night in the king’s garden, and on the following day, having put on beautiful garments, entered the city on his round for alms. At that moment that king, that betrayer of friends, seated on the back of his gloriously adorned state elephant, accompanied by a large retinue, was making a rights circuit of the city. Seeing the Future Buddha even from afar, he thought: “Here’s that false ascetic, come to live with me and eat his fill! That he may not make known in the midst of this company the service he has rendered me, I’ll straightway have his head cut off!”

He looked at his men. Said they: “What shall we do, your majesty?” Said the king: “Here’s a false ascetic, come to ask me for something or other, I suppose. Without so much as giving that false ascetic, that bird of evil omen, a chance to look at me, take that fellow, bind his arms behind his back, conduct him out of the city, beating him at every cross-roads, cut off his head in the place of execution, and impale his body on a stake!” “Very well,” said the king’s men in assent. They bound the Great Being, guiltless as he was, and started to conduct him to the place of execution, [10] beating him at every cross-roads. The Future Buddha, wherever they beat him, uttered no lament, “Women! Men!” but unperturbed, uttered the following stanza:

True is this saying of some men of the world:
“Driftwood is worth more than some men!”

[Native gloss: A stick of wood washed up on dry land is of some use: it will cook food; it will warm those who are shivering with the cold; it will remove dangerous objects. But an ingrate is worse than useless.]

Thus, wherever they beat him, did he utter this stanza. Hearing this, wise men who stood by said: “But, monk, what is the trouble between you and our king? Have you done him some good turn?” Then the Future Buddha told them the whole story, saying: “I alone, by pulling this man out of a mighty flood, have brought upon myself. I speak as I do because I keep thinking: ‘Alas! I have not heeded the words of wise men of old!’ ”

Hearing this, Warriors and Brahmans and others, residents of the city became enraged. Said they: “This king here, this betrayer of friends, has not the slightest conception of the virtues of this embodiment of the virtues, this man who has granted him the boon of his own life! What have we to gain through him! Capture him!” And rising in all quarters, they slew him, even as he sat on the back of the elephant, by hitting him with arrows and spears and rocks and clubs. And laying hold of his feet, they dragged him and threw him back of the moat. And conferring the ceremonial sprinkling on the Future Buddha, they established him in the kingdom. The Future Buddha ruled righteously.

Again one day, desiring to test the snake, the rat, and the parrot, he went with a large retinue to the place of abode of the snake and called him out, saying: “Longfellow!” The snake came, bowed to him, and said: “Here’s your money, master; take it.” The king entrusted to his minister’s wealth amounting to forty crores of gold. Then he went to the rat and called him out, saying: “Rat!” The rat also came, and with a bow handed over to him wealth amounting to thirty crores. The king entrusted that also to his ministers. Then he went to the place of abode of the parrot and called him out, saying: “Parrot!” The parrot also came, and reverencing his feet, said: “Master, shall I fetch rice?” Said the [11] king: “When there is need of rice, you may fetch it; come, let’s go.”

With the seventy crores of gold, causing those three animals also to be carried along, he went to the city. And ascending to the grand floor of his magnificent palace, he caused that wealth to be stored and guarded. For the snake to live in, he caused a golden tube to be made; for the rat, a crystal cave; for the parrot, a golden cage. For the snake and the parrot to eat, he caused the everyday sweet parched grain to be given in a vessel of gold purified with fire; for the rat, grains of perfumed rice; he gave alms and performed the other works of merit. Thus those four persons, one and all, dwelt together in unity and all their days, and when their days have come to an end, passed away according to their deeds.

Said the Teacher: “Monks, not only in his present state of existence has Devadatta gone about for the purpose of killing me; in a previous state of existence also he went about for the purpose of killing me in the same old way.” Having related this parable, he joined the connection and identified the personages in the Birth-story as follows: “At that time King Wicked was Devadatta, the snake was Sāriputta, the rat was Moggallāna, the parrot was Ānanda, but he that gained a kingdom and became a King of Righteousness was I myself.”