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A Lesson From a Snake

(The Value of Goodness)

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Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta of Benares had a very valuable

adviser priest. He came from a rich noble family. He was intelligent
and full of knowledge. He was generous with his wealth and
knowledge, holding nothing back. People thought of him as a kind
and good person.

By practicing the Five Training Steps, he trained his mind to avoid

the five unwholesome actions. He discovered that giving up each
unwholesome action made him better off in its own way:

• destroying life, since you have to kill part of yourself in order

to kill someone else;

• taking what is not given, since this makes the owner angry at

• doing wrong in sexual ways, since this leads to the pain of

jealousy and envy;

• speaking falsely, since you can't be true to yourself and false

to another at the same time;

• losing your mind from alcohol, since then you might hurt
yourself by doing the other four.

Seeing how he lived, King Brahmadatta thought, 'This is truly a good


The priest was curious to learn more about the value of goodness.
He thought, "The king honors and respects me more than his other
priests. But I wonder what it is about me that he really respects
most. Is it my nationality, my noble birth or family wealth? Is it my
great learning and vast knowledge? Or is it because of my goodness?
I must find the answer to this."

Therefore, he decided to perform an experiment in order to answer

his question. He would pretend to be a thief!

On the next day, when he was leaving the palace, he went by the
royal coin maker. He was stamping out coins from gold. The good
priest, not intending to keep it, took a coin and continued walking
out of the palace. Because the money maker admired the famous
priest highly, he remained sitting and said nothing.

On the following day the make-believe thief took two gold coins.
Again the royal coin maker did not protest.

Finally, on the third day, the king's favorite priest grabbed a whole
handful of gold coins. This time the money maker didn't care about
the priest's position or reputation. He cried out, "This is the third
time you have robbed his majesty the king." Holding onto him, he
shouted, "I've caught the thief who robs the king! I've caught the

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thief who robs the king! I've caught the thief who robs the king!"

Suddenly a crowd of people came running in, yelling, "Aha! You

pretended to be better than us! An example of goodness!" They
slapped him, tied his hands behind his back, and hauled him off to
the king.

But on their way, they happened to go by some snake charmers.

They were entertaining some bystanders from the king's court with a
poisonous cobra. They held him by the tail and neck, and coiled him
around their necks to show how brave they were.

The tied up prisoner said to them, "Please be careful! Don't grab that
cobra by the tail. Don't grab him by his neck. And don't coil that
poisonous snake around your own necks. He may bite you and bring
your lives to a sudden end!"

The snake charmers said, "You ignorant priest, you don't understand
about this cobra. He is well-mannered and very good indeed. He is
not bad like you! You are a thief who has stolen from the king.
Because of your wickedness and criminal behavior, you are being
carried off with your hands tied behind your back. But there's no
need to tie up a snake who is good!"

The priest thought, "Even a poisonous cobra, who doesn't bite or

harm anyone, is given the name 'good'. In truth, goodness is the
quality people admire most in the world!"

When they arrived at the throne room, the king asked, 'What is this,
my children?" They replied, 'This is the thief who stole from your
royal treasury." The king said. "Then punish him according to the

The adviser priest said, 'My lord king, I am no thief!" 'Then why did
you take gold coins from the palace?" asked the king.

The priest explained, "I have done this only as an experime nt, to
test why it is you honor and respect me more than others. Is it
because of my family background and wealth, or my great
knowledge? Because of those things, I was able to get away with
taking one or two gold coins. Or do you respect my goodness most
of all? It is clear that by grabbing a handful of coins I no longer had
the name 'good'. This alone turned respect into disgrace!

"Even a poisonous cobra, who doesn't harm anyone, is called `good'.

There is no need for any other title!"

To emphasize the lesson he had learned, the wise priest recited:

"High birth and wealth and even knowledge vast, I find, Are less
admired than goodness is, by humankind."

The king pardoned his most valuable adviser priest.

He asked to be allowed to leave the king's service in the ordinary

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world and become a forest monk. After refusing several times. the
king eventually gave his permission.

The priest went to the Himalayas and meditated peacefully. When he

died he was reborn in a heaven world.

The moral is: People prize goodness most of all.

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