Business in Benares

Chapter 3 from "Karma" by Paul Carus.

To corner the market of the necessities of life is not a modern invention. The Old Testament contains the story of Joseph, the poor Hebrew youth who became minister of state, and succeeded with unscrupulous but clever business tricks in cornering the wheat market, so as to force the starved people to sell all their property, their privileges, and even their lives, to Pharoh. And we read in the Jakata Tales that one of the royal treasurers of Kasi, which is the old name of Baranasi, made his first great success in life by cornering the grass market of the metropolis on the day of the arrival of a horse dealer with five hundred horses.

When Pandu the jeweller arrived at Baranasi it so happened that a bold speculator had brought about a corner in rice, and Mallika, a rich banker and business friend of Pandu, was in great distress. On meeting the jeweller he said: "I am a ruined man and can do no business with you unless I can buy a cart of the best rice for the king's table. I have a rival banker in Baranasi who, learning that I had made a contract with the royal treasurer to deliver the rice to-morrow morning, and being desirous to bring about my destruction, has bought up all the rice in Baranasi. The royal treasurer must have received a bribe. for he will not release me from my contract, and to-morrow I shall be a ruined man unless Krishna will send an angel from heaven to help me."

While Mallika was still lamenting the poverty to which his rival would reduce him, Pandu missed his purse. Searching his carriage without being able to find it, he suspected his slave Mahaduta; and calling the police, accused him of theft, and had him bound and cruelly tortured to extort a confession.

The slave in his agonies cried: "I am innocent, let me go, for I cannot stand this pain; I am quite innocent, at least of this crime, and suffer now for other sins. Oh that I could beg the farmer's pardon whom, for the sake of my master, I wronged without any cause! This torture, I believe, is a punishment for my rudeness."

While the officer was still applying the lash to the back of the slave, the farmer arrived at the inn and, to the great astonishment of all concerned, delivered the purse. The slave was at once released from the hands of his torturer. But being dissatisfied with his master, he secretly left and joined a band of robbers in the mountains, who made him their chief on account of his great strength and courage.

When Mallika heard that the farmer had the best rice to sell, fit for delivery to the royal table, he at once bought the entire cartload for treble the price that the farmer had ever received. Pandu, however, glad at heart to have his money restored, rewarded the honest finder, and hastened at once to the vihara to receive further explanation from Narada, the samana.

Narada said: "I might give you an explanation, but knowing that you are unable to understand a spiritual truth I prefer to remain silent. Yet I shall give some advice: Treat every man whom you meet as your own self; serve him as you would demand to be served yourself; for our Karma travels; it walks apace though, and the journey is often long. But be it good or evil, finally it will come home to us. Therefore it is said:

'Slowly but surely deeds
Home to the doer creep.
Of kindness sow thy seeds,
and bliss as harvest reap.'"

"Give me, O samana, the explanation," said the jeweller, "and I shall thereby be better able to follow your advice."

The samana said: "Listen then, I will give you the key to the mystery. If you do not understand it have faith in what I say. Self is an illusion, and he whose mind is bent upon following self, follows a will-o'-the-wisp which leads him into the quagmire of sin. The illusion of self is like dust in your eye that blinds your site and prevents you from recognising the close relations that obtain between yourself and your fellows, which are even closer than the relations that obtain among the various organs of your body. You must learn to trace the identity of your self in the souls of other beings. Ignorance is the source of sin. There are few who know the truth. Let this motto be your talisman:

'Who injureth others
Himself hurteth sore;
Who other assisteth
Himself helpeth more.
Let th' illusion of self
From your mind disappear,
And you'll find the way sure;
The Path will be clear.'

"To him whose vision is dimmed by dust of the world, the spiritual life appears to be cut up into innumerable selves. Thus he will be puzzled in many ways concerning the nature of rebirth, and will be incapable of understanding the import of an all-comprehensive loving-kindness toward all living beings."

The jeweller replied: "Your words, O venerable sir, have a deep significance and I shall bear them in mind. I extended a small kindness which caused me no expense whatever, to a poor samana on my way to Baranasi, and lo! how propitious has been the result! I am deeply in your debt, for without you I should not only have lost my purse, but would have been prevented from doing business in Baranasi which greatly increases my wealth, while if it had been left undone it might have reduced me to a state of wretched poverty. In addition, your thoughtfulness and the arrival of the farmer's rice-cart preserved the prosperity of my friend Mallika, the banker. If all men saw the truth of your maxims, how much better the world would be! Evils would be lessened, and the public welfare enhanced."

The samana replied: "Among all the religions there is none like that of the Buddha. It is glorious in the beginning, glorious in the middle, and glorious in the end. It is glorious in the letter and glorious in the spirit. It is the religion of loving-kindness that rids man of the narrowness of egotism and elevates him above his petty self to the bliss of enlightenment which manifests itself in righteousness."

Pandu nodded assent and said: "As I am anxious to let the truth of the Buddha be understood, I shall found a vihara at my native place, Kaushambi, and invite you to visit me, so that I may dedicate the place to the brotherhood of Buddha's disciples."

Chapter Four

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