The first Jataka?

I’ve been taking the opportunity to read Bhikkhu Bodhi’s wonderful (as always!) translation of the Anguttara Nikaya. If you haven’t got it, what are you waiting for?

I noticed a little sutta in the threes, and it struck me that this humble little text is probably the best candidate for the title of the first Jataka story in Buddhism. The text is AN 3.15 Pacetana. There are no known parallels for this text, which is, however, not unusual for the Anguttara Nikaya.

What are the Jatakas?

Jatakas tell of events in the past lives of the Buddha, and sometimes of other personalities from the Buddha’s life. They are everywhere in traditional Buddhism; told in sermons, read to children at bedtime, recited in great ceremonies, depicted in artwork. Yet one of the striking things about Buddhist texts is how few there are in the early teachings. While the Pali tradition alone preserves over 500 stories canonically, and many more in later collections, only a dozen or so are found in the early Nikaya/Agamas. There is an excellent essay on the topic by TW Rhys Davids. It’s a little dated, but still well worth a read. However, Rhys Davids does not notice our current sutta.

I’m greatly struck, in fact, by how few stories there are in the Anguttara (and other Nikayas). Buddhism is one of the greatest story-telling traditions in the world, and yet the Buddha himself seems not to have told many stories at all. The vast majority of suttas are straightforward statements or dialogues on ethics, meditation, and the like. They are often illustrated with similes, and somewhat less frequently with short parables. But there is very little in the way of extended narrative; and most of the narrative that there is is by way of background, not spoken by the Buddha himself. Of course there are exceptions, like the Agganna and Cakkavattisihanada Suttas of the Digha; but few and far between. Why this is, I do not know.

The Pacetana Sutta is another exception. It is a simple story, at the end of which the Buddha identifies himself as the main character, thus qualifying it as a Jataka. While there are several other Jatakas in the early Agamas, most of them contain features that strongly suggest they are of a later date than most of the early Suttas. Alone among the Agama-Jatakas, so far as I can tell, the Pacetana contains a range of features suggesting that it is early.

The Story

Here’s a summary, from the Dictionary of Pali Proper Names. You can find the full translation here.

There was once a king called Pacetana who asked his wheelwright to make a pair of wheels for a battle which was to take place six months later. When but six days remained of this period, only one wheel had been made, but the other was finished within the stipulated time. Pacetana thought that both wheels were alike, but the wheelwright proved to him that the one he had made hurriedly was faulty in various ways, owing to the crookedness of its parts. The Buddha identified himself with the wheelwright and declared that one must be free from all crookedness in order not to fall away from the Dhamma and the Vinaya.

Why is it special?

This is one of those cases where there is not one thing that is particularly unusual. Rather, there are many little details that taken together suggest, to me, that the text is somehow distinctive, and may have originally been, or been considered as, the first Jataka story. Here’s a list of points I noticed.

  1. The king is unknown. He is not a stereotyped king, such as the Brahmadatta found in so many later Jatakas.
  2. The Buddha does not identify himself as a Bodhisatta in the past. This is a common feature of all the early Jatakas. There is no suggestion here that the Buddha in the past knew that he was destined for Awakening, or that he was engaged on a spiritual quest spanning many lives, or indeed that what he did in that life had anything to do with Awakening. In other early Jatakas, in fact, he specifically denies that the practices of those days lead to Awakening. (Bearing this in mind, I won’t refer to him as the Bodhisatta in this discussion.)
  3. While in most canonical Jatakas the Buddha identifies himself as a great king or sage of the past, here the Buddha identifies himself with a lowly chariotmaker. In many other suttas of the Anguttara, the chariotmaker is listed as a lowly, menial occupation like a scavenger, flower-collector, or rubbish-sweeper. (Ven Bodhi’s translation obscures this point somewhat; the translation uses the more distinguished “chariot-maker” here, and “cart-maker” in the other contexts; but the Pali in both cases is rathakara.)
  4. There is a distinct absence of miracles and wonderous events. Even when pressed by the king, the chariotmaker is unable to do his job well. He is clearly constrained by the usual demands of his craft, unlike the near-superhuman abilities of Bodhisattas in many other stories.
  5. The chariotmaker would seem to be engaged in wrong livelihood, or at best an ethically dubious trade: making weapons of war. There are, it is true, many Jatakas of the later periods where the Bodhisatta is depicted as breaking various precepts, but this is still noteworthy. It is also perhaps significant that the chariot, specifically the two-wheeled chariot, was the distinctive war vessel of the Aryan people and was, it seems, the decisive technological innovation that spurred their great success in spreading their culture across the world; as unstoppable as the Wheel of Dhamma itself…
  6. The moral of the story is the importance of gradual development. While not at all unusual in the Suttas, this differs from certain later trends, which emphasized an instantaneous realization.
  7. There is considerable confusion about the name, both of the king and of the sutta. Variants include Pacetana, Sacetana, Paccetana, etc.; and the sutta is sometimes called “Cakkavatti”. This is interesting, since the sutta refers to the “rolling of a wheel”, but not to the “Wheel-turning Monarch”, which is what the Cakkavatti usually refers to. The previous sutta, in fact, mentions the Wheel-turning Monarch. There seems to be some confusion; perhaps—and this is very speculative—the Pacetana Sutta was the kernel from which the idea of the Wheel-turning Monarch was derived.
  8. On the same topic, and on more solid ground, it is very striking that this sutta, which deals with “rolling forth a wheel”, is said to have been set at Benares, in the Deer Park. This is, of course, where the Buddha taught his first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the “Rolling Forth of the Wheel of the Dhamma”; and the same words are used here. While some later Suttas were taught there, it was not a very common setting. This detail is even more striking when we realize that very few of the suttas in the Anguttara have a proper setting. In almost all cases they simply have an abbreviated setting, or none at all. When the settings are included, it is usually because they have some special relevance for the teaching. So it seems certain that the setting is significant here. Probably it is meant to establish some connection with the First Sermon. And perhaps it is meant to suggest that this is the First Jataka…
  9. Not only is this the first Sutta in the Anguttara spoken by the Buddha to be given a proper setting, it is the first story told by the Buddha in the Anguttara.
  10. Unlike the later Jatakas and most of the more substantial suttas, this does not have an ABA structure. Rather, the story is told, then the moral is drawn out. Once again, in itself this is nothing spectacular, but it does suggest, however mildly, a lack of systematic revision.
  11. The king converses in quite a familiar manner with his chariotmaker. This doesn’t sound like a magnificent monarch of the Moriyan era, nor yet a legendary king of old. It sounds like a little lordling of a smallish garrison city. The preparations for war are, to say the least, perfunctory: one chariot! Of course, in some ways things are no different today: military contracts still don’t come in on time…
  12. When the wheel is rolled forth, the text speaks of giving the wheel “impetus” to roll. This is, in Pali, abhisaṅkhāra. This term is more normally found in the Pali texts in a more refined, abstract usage, where it is equivalent to cetanā, or intention; in fact, it tends to be used in somewhat technical discussions of kamma and the like. Here it appears in its simpler, older, physical meaning. I wonder whether there is any connection with the king’s name: Pacetana, the “One Whose Will is Done”, perhaps?
  13. Similarly, when describing the flaws in the wheel, the text uses terms in a physical sense that are more often found in a psychological sense in Pali: savaṅkā sadosā sakasāvā. Also kusala is found in its older sense of “skilled” rather than the more familiar ethical sense.
  14. In yet another unusual feature, when the Buddha draws out the moral of the story, he says that if “any bhikkhu or bhikkhuni” sees flaws in themselves, they should abandon them. The inclusion of bhikkhunis like this is very unusual in the Pali texts; a quick search only turns up four or five similar cases. Call me biassed, but I have a suspicion that the editors of the Pali canon, whether by accident or design, excluded the bhikkhunis by default. The Satipatthana Sutta, for example, mentions the bhikkhunis in the Sarvastivada version, not in the Pali. If this is correct, it is another sign that this sutta may be early, and has escaped significant editorial alteration.
  15. The text conforms to the “waxing syllables principle”. This means that in various lists of terms, the words with more syallables come later in the list, such as the phrase I quoted earlier: savaṅkā sadosā sakasāvā. This has been shown in detail by Mark Allon to be an outstanding stylistic feature of the early Pali texts, and an indication of their origin in oral culture.
  16. Perhaps the most significant feature of all is the text’s use of numbers. Just like the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the text is carefully built around a subtly interlocking set of numbers. Where the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta features “two extremes”, the eightfold path, and the “four noble truths”, in “three rounds” totalling “twelve aspects”, the Pacetana Sutta has the two wheels, each with three parts, each with three potential flaws. These are to be completed in 6 months, but at 6 days short of 6 months only one is done; and the second, poor quality job, is finished in 6 days. The three parts of the wheel parallel the three trainings, each of which also has three potential flaws. While the text doesn’t draw out the connection, it seems a parallel is implied thus: rim=body; spokes=speech; hub=mind. Now, the use of numbers in this way can be seen from a number of angles. But what is this text telling us at its heart: that careful craftsmanship produces a long-lasting, stable wheel. And the long-lasting and stability of the Wheel of Dhamma was indeed one of the major concerns of early Buddhists. I suspect our Sutta is suggesting to us, and perhaps to the early generations of redactors, that well-constructed, formally symmetrical texts, using such mnemonic devices as interlocking numbers to create memorable structures, are the key to preserving the Dhamma.

Kamma before the Buddha

Contrary to popular opinion, the notion of kamma is not a timeless, universal feature of Indian religions. It is a specific doctrine that explains ethical action and its consequences, and appears at a specific time and place. That time was a few generations before the Buddha; the place was the region of Mithila, in between the Sakyan republic and Vesali.

This was when the great Upanishadic sage Vajnavalkya flourished. Among many other crucial innovations in the Brahmanical teachings, he is responsible for the earliest clear statements on kamma. At that time, this teaching was an esoteric doctrine. In later years, of course, this compelling doctrine became firmly established in both Buddhism and Jainism, and due in part to their influence, became known throughout Hinduism.

The following is part of a dialogue in the Brihadarannyaka Upanishad between Vajnavalkya and King Janaka of Mithila, who is also mentioned in the Jatakas. In the opening of this dialogue (at BU 4.3.1; scroll down to ‘third brahmana’), Yajnavalkya shows his reluctance to debate the king, a sign of the esoteric nature of the teachings, as opposed to the many other public debates in this text.

FOURTH BRAHMANA

1. Yagnavalkya continued: ‘Now when that Self, having sunk into weakness, sinks, as it were, into unconsciousness, then gather those senses (pranas) around him, and he, taking with him those elements of light, descends into the heart. When that person in the eye turns away, then he ceases to know any forms.

2. ‘”He has become one,” they say, ” he does not see.” “He has become one,” they say, “he does not smell.” “He has become one,” they say, “he does not taste.” “He has become one,” they say, “he does not speak.” “He has become one,” they say, “he does not hear.” “He has become one,” they say, “he does not think.” “He has become one,” they say,” he does not touch.” “He has become one,” they say, “he does not know.” The point of his heart becomes lighted up, and by that light the Self departs, either through the eye, or through the skull, or through other places of the body. And when he thus departs, life (the chief prana) departs after him, and when life thus departs, all the other vital spirits (pranas) depart after it. He is conscious, and being conscious he follows and departs.

‘Then both his knowledge and his kamma take hold of him, and his acquaintance with former things.’

3. ‘And as a caterpillar, after having reached the end of a blade of grass, and after having made another approach (to another blade), draws itself together towards it, thus does this Self, after having thrown off this body and dispelled all ignorance, and after making another approach (to another body), draw himself together towards it.

4. ‘And as a goldsmith, taking a piece of gold, turns it into another, newer and more beautiful shape, so does this Self, after having thrown off this body and dispelled all ignorance, make unto himself another, newer and more beautiful shape, whether it be like the Fathers, or like the Gandharvas, or like the Devas, or like Pragapati, or like Brahman, or like other beings.

5. ‘That Self is indeed Brahman, consisting of knowledge, mind, life, sight, hearing, earth, water, wind, ether, light and no light, desire and no desire, anger and no anger, right or wrong, and all things. Now as a man is like this or like that, according as his kamma and according as he behaves, so will he be: a man of good kammas will become good, a man of bad kammas, bad. He becomes pure by pure kammas, bad by bad kammas.

‘And here they say that a person consists of desires. And as is his desire, so is his will; and as is his will, so is his kamma; and whatever kamma he does, that he will reap.

6. ‘And here there is this verse: “To whatever object a man’s own mind is attached, to that he goes strenuously together with his kamma; and having obtained the end (the last results) of whatever kamma he does here on earth, he returns again from that world (which is the temporary reward of his deed) to this world of kamma.”

‘So much for the man who desires. But as to the man who does not desire, who, not desiring, freed from desires, is satisfied in his desires, or desires the Self only, his vital spirits do not depart elsewhere,- being Brahman, he goes to Brahman.

7. ‘On this there is this verse:

“When all desires which once entered his heart are undone,
then does the mortal become immortal,
then he obtains Brahman.

“And as the slough of a snake lies on an ant-hill,
dead and cast away, thus lies this body;
but that disembodied immortal spirit (prana = life)
is Brahman only, is only light.”

When Ananda was a Woman

Ānanda is well known for his support for bhikkhunis, and his gentle, feminine character, which stands in contrast with the more heroic masculinity of ascetics such as Mahākassapa. His gender was, it seems, problematic for the tradition. The Mahānāradakassapa Jātaka (no. 544, 6.219-255. See also Dhammapada Commentary 1.327.) tells of the time Ānanda was born as the wise and beautiful princess Rujā. Stories of gender change, while known, are rare in Buddhism; and I know of no parallels for this wild story of sexual ambiguity.

Rujā is the faithful and honest Cordelia, who dares to speak the truth to her father the king when he had strayed from the path and there was no-one to show him the dangers of his choices. King Aṅgati ruled the kingdom of Videha from his capital Mithila for many years, until he received evil counsel from an ignorant ascetic. He fell under the view that there was no fruit or result of good or bad deeds, since there was nothing after this life. Accordingly, he neglected his former careful and charitable governance and gave himself over to the pleasures of the senses. No-one could bring him back to the path of righteousness except his only daughter, Rujā, who told her father of her own past lives and her strange kammic inheritance.

I remember seven past lives through which I have fared on, and after passing from here there will be a further seven.

In my seventh previous life I was born as the son of a smith in the city of Rājagaha in Magadha. I had a bad friend and did much evil. We went about sleeping with other men’s wives as if we were immortals. These actions remained laid up as fire covered with ashes.

By means of other kammas I was born in the land of Vaṁsa in a wealthy family of Kosambi, great and prosperous with much riches. I was their only son, and was always honored. There I followed a friend who was devoted to good works, wise and learned, and he established me in good purpose. On many nights I observed the 14th and 15th day uposatha. Those good kammas remained like a treasure hidden in water.

But the fruit of the evil deeds I had done in Magadha came around afterwards like a noxious poison.
From there, O king, I passed to the Roruva hell for a long time, where I was tormented by my kamma: when I think of it I cannot be happy. After experiencing wretched suffering there for many years I was born as a castrated goat in Bheṇṇākata. I carried the sons of the wealthy on my back and in a carriage; this was the specific result of the kamma of going after other men’s wives.

After that I took rebirth in the womb of a monkey in the wilds. On the day of my birth they took me to the leader of the herd, who cried out, ‘Bring my son!’ Grabbing me with force, he ripped off my testicles with his teeth, despite all my cries. Then I was born as a castrated ox among the Dasaṇṇas; though swift and fair, for a long time I pulled a carriage. Next I was born among the Vajjians, but was neither men nor woman, even though born in this human state, so hard to attain. All of these births were the result of my going after other men’s wives.

Then I was born as a gorgeous nymph in the Nandana Grove in Tāvatiṁsa heaven, adorned in bright colors and flashing jewels, singing and dancing in attendance on Sakka. While I was there I remembered the seven previous births, as well as the next seven. The former good deeds I did while at Kosambi have come around in their turn, and from now I will only be born as a human or deity. For seven births I shall be honored, but not until the sixth will I be free of my female gender. At that time I will be born as a supreme male deity in heaven.

In identifying Ānanda with this complex tale of moral ambiguity and gender transgression, the Buddhist tradition records its uncomfortable acceptance of the liberal tendencies that Ānanda demonstrated. The basic character is powerful and brave: she stands beside her father when all others had failed, just as Ānanda stood by the Buddha when he was attacked by the drunk elephant Nāḷāgiri, while all the arahants fled. Standing up to the patriarchy she is, or could be, a great female role model. This is undermined by her identification with Ānanda, and more so due to the dubious gender ambiguity of her past. She is not, it seems, standing up because of her true ‘feminine’ strength, but because she is, quite literally, a man trapped in a woman’s body. Her crime – or rather, the crime of the man who she once was – was adultery; that is, transgressing on another man’s property. The role of the women in the relationship is not considered.

The specific nature of the kammic reprisal is interesting: adultery is punished by gender confusion. It seems the point is that he in some way destroyed or attacked the masculinity of the husbands, which is established by their rule and control over their wives. If the women stray, this sends the message that the husband is not man enough for them. The transgressor is, accordingly, punished by having his genitals attacked, ripped off, missing, or replaced by female genitals. The severity of the punishment is gradually attenuated, until with the ripening of good kamma he takes a positive female form where he can be happy. The image of what constitutes a good female life is entirely a product of the male gaze: a happy woman, he assumes, is sexy and beautiful, dancing and singing for his pleasure. This text, unlike the early Suttas, takes it for granted that the male form is desirable and normative.

Rujā’s eloquent and moving testimony, however, is not enough to persuade her father, for as the text says, ‘while parents naturally love their children’s words, they do not thereby give up their old opinions.’ She did not give up, but made worship to the deities and begged for divine help. No less a being than the Bodhisatta in the form of a Great Brahmā answered her call. He appeared to the king in the form of an ascetic and engaged in a debate on virtue and its results.

The king, wittily enough, challenged the ascetic, saying, ‘If you are so convinced of the truth of the next life, how about you lend me $500 now, and I’ll pay you back $1000 in the next life!’ This incipient Marxist critique, however was refuted, as the ascetic said that no wise man makes a loan to an unreliable person – thus showing that ethics are just as relevant to our prosperity in this life as the beyond.

Reason was not enough, however, for this obdurate king, so the ascetic used his psychic powers to show him in detail the horrors of hells, seeing which the king broke down and begged for redemption. Thus Rujā’s quest was successful in the end, but she needed the help of the ultimate patriarchal authority to succeed.

The Tale of the Merchants at Sea

Here’s a retelling of the Samudda-vāṇija Jātaka (no. 454). It’s a great little tale, which depicts our current environmental situation with uncanny precision. It is the Buddhist version of the widespread flood myth, which probably originated in Mesopotamia perhaps 3000 BCE. The setting here, which depicts the flood as afflicting lost merchants in a far-off land, perhaps preserves a memory of the distant origins of the story.

The story is ideal for a children’s class on the environment. But I haven’t found any up-to-date translations. So I have used the old translation (which you can read here) as a basis, and modernized the language and cleaned up the narrative a little.

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, there stood near Benares a great town of carpenters, containing a thousand families. The carpenters from this town used to advertise that they would make a bed, or a chair, or a house. But after being paid an advance, they couldn’t make a single thing. So people abused those dishonest carpenters whenever they met them. They were harassed so much that they could live there no longer.

“Let’s go into some foreign land,” they said, “and find some place to live.” So to the forest they went. They cut down trees, built a mighty ship, launched her in the river, and took her away from that town. Then, together with all their families and friends, they sailed down the river to the ocean.

There they sailed at the wind’s will, until they reached an island that lay in the middle of the sea. Now in that island grew all kinds of wild plants and fruit-trees: rice, sugar-cane, banana, mango, rose-apple, jackfruit, coconut, and every other kind of delicious food.

Another man had been shipwrecked on that island before them. He lived there, eating the rice and enjoying the sugar-cane and all the rest, by which he had grown strong and sturdy. He went naked, and his hair and beard were grown long.

The carpenters thought, “If this island is haunted by demons, we shall all perish; so we will explore it.” So seven brave, strong men, armed with the five kinds of weapons, went to explore the island.

At that moment the castaway had just had breakfast, washed down with sugar-cane juice, and in high contentment was lying on his back in a lovely spot, cool in the shade on some sand which glistened like silver plate. He was thinking, “Life is good here! If I was in civilized lands, I would have to work all day for my food. Here I have all I want, provided by Nature herself!” He burst out in song, just for the joy of it.

The scouts who were exploring the isle heard his singing and said, “It seems to be the voice of a man. Let’s go and meet him.” Following the sound they came upon the man, but when they saw him naked with such long shaggy hair they were terrified.

“It’s a goblin!” they cried, and put arrow to bow ready to shoot.

When the man saw them, he called out in fear, “I am no goblin, sirs, I am a man: spare my life!”

“What!” they said. “Do men go all naked and defenceless like you?”

But it was true. He was a man, and eventually they began to talk pleasantly together. The new-comers asked how the castaway came there.

The castaway told them what had happened. “As a reward for your good deeds you have come here.” he said. “This is a first-rate island! No need to work with your hands for a living. There’s endless rice and sugar-cane, and anything else you might want, and all growing wild. We can all live here without anxiety.”

“Is there nothing else,” they asked, “to hinder our living here?”

“Only this,” he said: “the isle is haunted by spirits, who get furious when their home is polluted. So when you go to the toilet, dig a hole in the sand and hide it there. That’s the only danger, there is no other. Only always be careful on this point.”

So they all made their home on the island and lived happily, becoming strong and healthy on the plentiful diet of fruits and grains.

Now, among these thousand families there were two master workmen, one at the head of each five hundred people. And one of these was foolish and greedy of the best food, the other wise and not always worried about getting the best of everything.

Then they thought, “We have not had a party for a long time. Let’s make some toddy from the juice of the sugar-cane.” So they fermented some sugar-cane juice and made toddy, a strong liquor. They all got drunk, and sang, danced, and laughed together. But being thoughtless they relieved themselves here, there, and everywhere without hiding it, so that the island became foul and disgusting.

The spirits were enraged that these thoughtless men made their beautiful island all foul. They got together for a spirit conference to discuss the matter.

“We have cared for this island for so long,” one spirit said. “We made it beautiful, and provided it with everything that you could want. When these strangers came, we welcomed them and shared everything with them, holding nothing back.”

“All we asked,” said another spirit, “was that they respect the land and not pollute it. They knew this, but still they fouled everything.”

They sat in silence for a time. Finally, one of the spirits spoke up.

“It is too much,” he said. “We cannot endure any more. Let us call the sea and cleanse the island! Let us bring forth a flood, and wash the men back to the ocean from where they came!”

The other spirits agreed. They determined to raise up the ocean to drown the island in fifteen days time, at the full moon when their power was greatest.
But there was a good spirit among them who thought, “These people have done wrong, but they don’t deserve to die.”

So out of compassion she approached the people while they were sitting at their doors chatting pleasantly after dinner. The spirit made the whole island one blaze of light. Adorned in splendor she stayed poised in the northern sky and spoke to them.

“Carpenters!” she said. “The spirits are angry with you. Do not stay in this place! In half a month from this time, the spirits will bring up the sea and destroy you one and all. Flee now, or you will all perish!”

With this advice, she returned to her own home. All the people were terrified, and a great noise arose as they argued in confusion about what this message meant.

Meanwhile another spirit, who was cruel-hearted, wanted revenge on the people. “Perhaps they will follow her advice and escape,” he thought. “I will prevent them from leaving, and bring them all to utter destruction!”

So he approached the people just like the other spirit had done, blazing with light and standing in the southern sky.

“You have been warned of a great danger,” he said. “But that was a lie! There will be no flood. The spirits have always looked after you – we don’t wish you any harm. That other spirit is just selfish, and wants to have the island all to herself. Ignore her and her ridiculous threats. See, the sky is clear, the living is good. Stay, and enjoy the good life you have made for yourselves here. The spirits of this place will bring you all you need.”

When that spirit had left, the foolish carpenter lifted up his voice and cried, “Let all people listen to me! We have been a people lost. We were cast out of our homes, driven to wander across the wide ocean. Against all hope we found this, our new home. How can we leave now? Surely the southern spirit speaks the truth!”

And all those foolish people who only wanted to eat and drink listened to him and wished to stay.

But the wise carpenter did not agree. “We have advice from two spirits,” he said. “One speaks of danger, and begs us to flee, while the other tells us to have no fear and that we should stay. We do not know which of these is telling the truth. This shows that one should not just believe everything you hear. Considering both messages, the wise should consider carefully in their own hearts and then make a balanced decision. So let us build a great ship. If we work hard together, we can complete it before the full moon. Then, if the warning of a flood comes true, we will be saved. If there is no flood, then no harm is done. We can leave the ship and continue to live here.”

“Ridiculous!” said the foolish carpenter. “You see a crocodile in a teacup! The first god spake in anger against us, the second in affection. We know this, for the spirits have always been kind to us here. If we leave this wonderful island, where shall we go? And why should we go back to working hard like slaves, when we have all we want? But if you must go, take your tail with you! We want no ship!”

And so the foolish carpenter, with his 500 followers, went back to their drinking. They laughed and sang even louder, paying no attention to the filth that they were making.

The wise man went with his 500 and built a ship, large enough to hold them and their belongings.

On the day of the full moon, at the time of moon-rise, up from the ocean a wave arose, and it swept knee-deep over the whole island. The wise man, when he saw the rising of the wave, cast loose the ship. Those of the foolish carpenter’s party were scared, but they said to one another, “A tsunami has arisen! Never mind, it will sweep over the island, but it will be no deeper.”

But the tsunami did rise deeper. It rose waist-deep, then man-deep, even as deep as a palm-tree, and it rolled over the whole island.

The wise man, skilful and reflective, not greedy for good things, departed in safety with his 500. But the foolish, greedy carpenter, having no thought for the dangers of the future, was destroyed with all his people.