The Visha Tree (Jataka Tales – 11)

Once upon a time there was a caravan leader. He went from country to country selling various goods. His caravans usually had at least 500 bullock carts.

On one of these trips his path led through a very thick forest. Before entering it, he called together all the members of the caravan. He warned them, “My friends, when you go through this forest be careful to avoid the poisonous trees, poisonous fruits, poisonous leaves, poisonous flowers and even poisonous honeycombs.

“Therefore, whatever you have not eaten before – whether a fruit, leaf, flower or anything else – must not be eaten without asking me first.” They all said respectfully, “Yes, sir.”

There was a village in the forest. Just outside the village stood a tree called a ‘Visha (poison) tree’. Its trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits looked very similar to that of a mango tree. Even the colour, shape, smell and taste of it’s fruits were almost exactly the same as that of a mango. But unlike a mango, this fruit was a deadly poison!

Some went ahead of the caravan and came upon the visha tree. They were all hungry, and the visha fruits looked like delicious ripe mangoes. Some started eating the fruits immediately, without thinking at all. They devoured them before anyone could say a word.

Others remembered the leader’s warning, but they thought this was just a different variety of mango tree. They thought they were lucky to find ripe mangoes right next to a village. So they decided to eat some of the fruits before they were all gone.

There were also some who were wiser than the rest. They decided it would be safer to obey the warning of the caravan leader. Although they didn’t know it, the caravan leader just happened to be the Bodhisattva.

When the leader arrived at the tree, the ones who had been careful and not eaten asked, “Sir, what is this tree? Is it safe to eat these fruits?”

After investigating thoughtfully he replied, “No, no. This may look like a mango tree, but it isn’t. It is a poisonous visha tree. Don’t even touch it!”

The ones who had already eaten the visha fruit were terrified. The caravan leader told them to make themselves vomit as soon as possible. They did this, and then were given four sweet foods to eat – raisins, cane sugar paste, sweet yogurt and bee’s honey. In this way their taste buds were refreshed after throwing up the poisonous whatnot fruit.

Unfortunately, the greediest and most foolish ones could not be saved. They were the ones who had started eating the poisonous fruits as soon as they set their eyes on it, without thinking at all. It was too late for them. The poison had already spread to their veins, and it killed them.

In the past, when caravans had come to the visha tree, the people had eaten its poisonous fruits and died in their sleep during the night. The next morning the local villagers would come to the campsite. They grabbed the dead bodies by the legs, dragged them to a secret hiding place, and buried them. Then they took for themselves all the merchandise and bullock carts of the dead merchants.

They expected the same thing to happen this time around. At dawn the next morning the villagers approached the caravan parked near the visha tree. They said to each other, “The bullocks will be mine!” “I want the carts and wagons!” “I will take the loads of merchandise!”

But when they got to the visha tree they saw that most of the people in the caravan were alive and well. Flabbergasted, they asked the merchants, “How did you know this was not a mango tree?” They answered, “We did not know, but our leader had warned us ahead of time, and when he saw it he knew.”

Then the villagers asked the caravan leader, “Oh wise one, how did you know this was not a mango tree?”

He replied, “I knew it for two reasons. First, this tree is easy to climb. And second, it is right next to a village. If the fruits on such a tree remain unpicked, they cannot be safe to eat!”

Everyone was amazed that such lifesaving wisdom was based on such simple common sense. The caravan continued on its way safely.

The moral: The wise are led by common sense; fools follow only hunger.

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