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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Dullard and the Plow-Shaft
By Vishnu Sharma (Pilpay) (c. 1000 B.C.?)
 
From the ‘Jataka,’ No. 123

“FOR universal application.”—This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana, about the Elder, Laludayi, who is said to have had a knack of always saying the wrong thing. He never knew the proper occasion for the several teachings. For instance, if it was a festival, he would croak out the gloomy text,
  “Without the walls they lurk, and where four cross-roads meet.”
If it was a funeral, he would burst out with—
  “Joy filled the hearts of gods and men,”
or with—
  “Oh, may you see a hundred, nay, a thousand such glad days!”
  1
  Now one day the brethren in the Hall of Truth commented on his singular infelicity of subject, and his knack of always saying the wrong thing. As they sat talking, the Master entered, and in answer to his question was told the subject of their talk. “Brethren,” said he, “this is not the first time that Laludayi’s folly has made him say the wrong thing. He has always been as inept as now.” So saying, he told this story of the past.  2
 
  ONCE on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Future Buddha was born into a rich brahman’s family; and when he grew up, after acquiring all the liberal arts at Takkasila, he became a world-renowned professor at Benares, with five hundred young brahmans to instruct. At the time of our story there was among the young brahmans one who always had foolish notions in his head and always said the wrong thing; he was engaged with the rest in learning the Scriptures as a pupil, but because of his folly could not master them. He was the devoted attendant of the Future Buddha, and ministered to him like a slave.  3
  Now one day after supper the Future Buddha laid himself on his bed, and there was washed and perfumed by the young brahman on hands, feet, and back. And as the youth turned to go away, the Future Buddha said to him, “Prop up the feet of my bed before you go.” And the young brahman propped up the feet of the bed on one side all right, but could not find anything to prop it up with on the other side. Accordingly he used his leg as a prop, and passed the night so. When the Future Buddha got up in the morning and saw the young brahman, he asked why he was sitting there. “Master,” said the young man, “I could not find one of the bed supports; so I’ve got my leg under to prop it up instead.”  4
  Moved at these words, the Future Buddha thought, “What devotion! And to think it should come from the veriest dullard of all my pupils. Yet how can I impart learning to him?” And the thought came to him that the best way was to question the young brahman on his return from gathering firewood and leaves, as to something he had seen or done that day; and then to ask what it was like. “For,” thought the Master, “this will lead him on to making comparisons and giving reasons, and the continuous practice of comparing and reasoning on his part will enable me to impart learning to him.”  5
  Accordingly he sent for the young man, and told him always on his return from picking up firewood and leaves, to say what he had seen or eaten or drunk. And the young man promised he would. So one day, having seen a snake when out with the other pupils picking up wood in the forest, he said, “Master, I saw a snake.”—“What did it look like?”—“Oh, like the shaft of a plow.”—“That is a very good comparison. Snakes are like the shafts of plows,” said the Future Buddha, who began to have hopes that he might at last succeed with his pupil.  6
  Another day the young brahman saw an elephant in the forest, and told his master.—“And what is an elephant like?”—“Oh, like the shaft of a plow.” His master said nothing; for he thought that as the elephant’s trunk and tusks bore a certain resemblance to the shaft of a plow, perhaps his pupil’s stupidity made him speak thus generally (though he was thinking of the trunk in particular) because of his inability to go into accurate detail.  7
  A third day he was invited to eat sugar-cane, and duly told his master.—“And what is a sugar-cane like?”—“Oh, like the shaft of a plow.”—“That is scarcely a good comparison,” thought his master, but said nothing.  8
  Another day, again, the pupils were invited to eat molasses with curds and milk, and this too was duly reported.—“And what are curds and milk like?”—“Oh, like the shaft of a plow.” Then the master thought to himself, “This young man was perfectly right in saying a snake was like the shaft of a plow; and was more or less right, though not accurate, in saying an elephant and a sugar-cane had the same similitude. But milk and curds (which are always white in color) take the shape of whatever vessel they are placed in; and here he missed the comparison entirely. This dullard will never learn.” So saying, he uttered this stanza:—
  “For universal application he
Employs a term of limited import.
Plow-shaft and curds to him alike unknown,
The fool asserts the two things are the same.”
  9
 
  His lesson ended, the Master identified the Birth by saying:—“Laludayi was the dullard of those days, and I the world-renowned professor.”  10
 
 
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