Buddhist Tales for Young and Old

The Phoney Holy Man (Hypocrisy)

Once upon a time there was a man who looked and acted just like a holy man. He wore nothing but rags, had long matted hair, and relied on a little village to support him. But he was sneaky and tricky. He only pretended to give up attachment to the everyday world. He was a phoney holy man.

A wealthy man living in the village wanted to earn merit by doing good deeds. So he had a simple little temple built in the nearby forest for the holy man to live in. He also fed him the finest foods from his own home.

He thought this holy man with matted hair was sincere and good, one who would not do anything unwholesome. Since he was afraid of bandits, he took his family fortune of 100 gold coins to the little temple. He buried it under the ground and said to the holy man, “Venerable one, please look after this my family fortune.”

The holy man replied, “There’s no need to worry about such things with people like me. We holy ones have given up attachment to the ordinary world. We have no greed or desire to obtain the possessions of others.”

“Very well, venerable one,” said the man. He left thinking himself very wise indeed, to trust such a good holy man.

However, the wicked holy man thought, “Aha! This treasure of 100 gold coins is enough for me to live on for the rest of my life! I will never have to work or beg again!” So a few days later he dug up the gold and secretly buried it near the roadside.

The next day he went to the wealthy villager’s home for lunch as usual. After eating his fill he said, “Most honourable gentleman, I have lived here supported by you for a long time. But holy ones who have given up the world are not supposed to become too attached to one village or supporter. It would make a holy man like me impure! Therefore, kindly permit me to humbly go on my way.”

The man pleaded with him again and again not to go, but it was useless. “Go then, venerable sir,” he agreed at last. He went with him as far as the boundary of the village and left him there.

After going on a short way himself, the phoney holy man thought, “I must make absolutely sure that stupid villager does not suspect me. He trusts me so much that he will believe anything. So I will deceive him with a clever trick!” He stuck a blade of dry grass in his matted hair and went back.

When he saw him returning, the wealthy villager asked, “Venerable one, why have you come back?” He replied, “Dear friend, this blade of grass from the thatched roof of your house has stuck in my hair. It is most unwholesome and impure for a holy one such as myself to ‘take what is not given’.”

The Phoney Holy Man (Hypocrisy)

The amazed villager said, “Think nothing of it, your reverence. Please put it down and continue on your way. Venerable ones such as you do not even take a blade of grass that belongs to another. How marvellous! How exalted you are, the purest of the holy. How lucky I was to be able to support you!” More trusting than ever, he bowed respectfully and sent him on his way again.

It just so happened that the Enlightenment Being was living the life of a trader at that time. He was in the midst of a trading trip when he stopped overnight at the village. He had overheard the entire conversation between the villager and the ‘purest of the holy’. He thought, “That sounds ridiculous! This man must have stolen something far more valuable than the blade of dry grass he has made such a big show of returning to its rightful owner.”

The trader asked the wealthy villager, “Friend, did you perhaps give anything to this holy looking man for safekeeping?” “Yes friend,” he replied, “I trusted him to guard my family fortune of 100 gold coins.” “I advise you to go see if they are where you left them,” said the trader.

Suddenly worried, he ran to the forest temple, dug up the ground, and found his treasure gone. He ran back to the trader and said, “It has been stolen!” “Friend,” he replied, “No one but that so-called holy man could have taken it. Let’s catch him and get your treasure back.”

They both chased after him as fast as they could. When they caught up with him they made him tell where he had hidden the money. They went to the hiding place by the roadside and dug up the buried treasure.

Looking at the gleaming gold the Bodhisatta said, “You hypocritical holy man. You spoke well those beautiful words, admired by all, that one is not to ‘take what is not given’. You hesitated to leave with even a blade of grass that didn’t belong to you. But it was so easy for you to steal a hundred gold coins!” After ridiculing the way he had acted in this way, he advised him to change his ways for his own good.

The moral is: Be careful of a holy man who puts on a big show.