The Brahmin Student – from Jataka Tale #12

In one of his past lives, the Buddha was the diligent student of a pious and learned teacher who wanted to test the character of his students. He told them about the hardships of poverty and that only wealth can relieve the pains of it. The teacher said one of the methods of gaining wealth was theft, but that it should be done when no one can see it.  All agreed to become thieves out of respect for the teacher. All except the one diligent student.

When teacher asked if was for a lack of devotion that he stood aside, the student replied, “I am truly devoted, but what you ask is impossible.  No one can act sinfully without being observed.  I am always there to observe my own actions, whether right or wrong.”

The teacher was delighted by the student’s words.  “Well done. Well done,” he said. “The foolish may forsake the path, telling themselves it is for need or duty. But the virtuous will never stray even in distress.”

Among the mental faculties as part of your mind, there are two roots for virtuous minds. These are in Tibetan ngo tsa she pa and trel yö pa. [The first] means your ability to feel embarrassed to do non-virtuous deeds by yourself. You are feeling hesitant to do it, not by the reason of others observing your deeds, but by knowing that it is wrong, thinking, “I should not do it. Whether someone else is watching or not.” That is called ngo tsa she pa. Then trel yö pa is very similar. Both are your mind that feels a little uncomfortable to do bad things. But this second one has different reasons. This is thinking, “It is not the right thing to do and I feel ashamed in front of my teachers, my parents” – and if you have any practice of buddhas and bodhisattva, right – because of that. If you are not that into Buddhism or you have other kinds of deities or gods in your life you feel ashamed to do bad things. Sometimes it is hard work saying that, but you feel hesitant to do negative actions, by thinking, “God is watching me” or “If I do it, it’s not the right thing.” It’s hard to explain, but you think, “If I do it, it creates a bad reputation for my family.” All these kinds of things.

So these two things are our mind’s features. We already have them. They may be in strong shape or sometimes you may have very tiny ones, but you have them. These two things, especially the first one, when you attempt any kind of non-virtuous action you are feeling sort of uncomfortable, even though nobody is with you or is watching you. You feel sort of embarrassed. That is a good feeling, it is something that we need.

– Demo Rinpoche, Jewel Heart Ann Arbor, Jataka Tales, February 21, 2021

Scroll to Top