Buddhist Tales for Young and Old

Volume 2 - King Fruitful

Illisa the Cheap [Miserliness]

Once upon a time, there was a billionaire in northern India. He was an adviser to a king. Although he was very rich he was not at all good looking. He was lame due to crooked feet, and his hands were also deformed into crooked positions. His eyes were crooked too, that is to say, he was cross-eyed. And some would say he had a crooked mind as well, for he was without any religion whatsoever! You might think people would call him, ‘Illisa the Crooked’, but that was not the case.

Illisa also happened to be a miser, one who will not give anything to anybody. He would not even spend any of his wealth on his own enjoyment. Therefore, it was said that his home was like a pond possessed by demons, where no one could quench his thirst.

However, Illisa’s ancestors, going back seven generations, were the most generous of gift givers. They gave away the very best of their possessions. But when Illisa inherited the family fortune, he abandoned that great family tradition.

The family had always maintained a charity dining hall, where anyone could come for a free hot meal. Illisa burned this free food kitchen to the ground, since he wanted to be rid of the expense. Then he pushed the poor and hungry from his door, hitting them as they went. He quickly earned a reputation for hoarding all his wealth and possessions. Soon people began calling him, ‘Illisa the Cheap’.

One day when he was returning home from advising the king, Illisa saw a tired worn out villager by the side of the road. He had obviously walked a great distance. He was sitting on the ground pouring cheap wine into a cup. He was drinking it, along with some smelly dried fish.

Seeing this made Illisa thirsty for a drink of liquor. Then he thought, “I would love to have a drink! But if I do, others may want to drink with me, and that could cost me money!” For that reason alone, he suppressed his craving for alcohol.

As time passed, his craving did not disappear. Instead, fighting it and worrying constantly made him look sick. His skin turned yellow, and he became thinner and thinner until the veins stuck out from his flesh. He fought a constant battle against his thirst for liquor. He slept face down, holding onto the bed tightly while he slept.

His wife began to notice the changes in him. One day, while massaging his back to comfort him, she asked, “Are you sick, my husband?” “No,” said Illisa. Did the king get angry at you?” she asked. “No,” said he. “Have our children or the servants done anything to upset you?” asked his wife. Again he said “No.” “Do you have a strong craving for something?” she continued.

Illisa the Cheap kept silent. He was afraid that if he told her it might end up costing him money! But his wife began pleading, “Tell me, please tell me.” Finally, swallowing hard and clearing his throat, he answered, “Yes, I do have a strong craving.” “A craving for what?” she asked. “For a drink of alcoholic liquor,” he admitted at last.

“Oh, is that all!” said his wife. “Why didn’t you tell me this at first? You are not poor. You can easily afford to buy a drink for yourself and the whole city as well! Shall I brew a big batch of liquor for us all?”

Of course this was not what Illisa the Cheap wanted to hear. He blurted out. ‘Why should we give liquor to others? Let them earn their own!” Then his wife asked. “Well then, what about just for us and our neighbors?” “I didn’t know you had become so rich all of a sudden!” he shot back at her. How about just our household?” she asked. How generous you are with my money!” he replied. “All right then,” she said, “I will brew just enough liquor for you and me, my husband.” “Why should you be included? Women should not drink liquor!”

“Now I understand you perfectly well!” said Illisa’s wife. “I will make only enough liquor for you alone.” But Illisa the Cheap always thought of even the slightest chance of spending money. He said, “If you prepare liquor here, people will notice and come ask for some. Even if I buy some in a liquor store and bring it here to drink, others will find out and want some. There will be no liquor given away in this house!”

So Illisa decided to give the smallest coin he had to a servant boy, and sent him to the liquor store. When he returned, Illisa took him down to the riverside. He took the small bottle of liquor from the boy, and set him to stand watch nearby. Then Illisa the Cheap hid in the underbrush, poured some liquor into a cup, and secretly began drinking.

It just so happened that when Illisa’s father had died, he had been reborn as Sakka, King of the Heaven of 33. This was because of his lifelong generosity.

At this particular moment, Sakka was curious about whether his free food kitchen was still giving out food to all who wished it. He discovered that it no longer existed, that his son had given up the family tradition and had even kicked the hungry out onto the street! He saw his miserly son drinking by himself, hiding in the bushes, afraid he might have to share with others.

Sakka decided to change Illisa’s mind and teach him a lesson about the results of both good and bad actions. He decided to make him become generous, rather than cheap, so that he too might be reborn in a heaven world.

The King of the Heaven of 33 disguised himself so that he looked exactly like Illisa the Cheap. He too had crooked feet, crooked hands and crooked eyes. He entered the city, went to the palace, and asked for an audience with the king. The king said, “Let my adviser Illisa come in.”

He asked, “Why have you come at this untimely moment?” “My lord,” said Sakka, “I have come to give my billionaire’s wealth to you to fill up the treasury.” The king replied, “No, no. I have enough, much more than that.” The disguised Sakka said, “Then if you do not want it my lord kindly permit me to give it away as I wish.” “Do as you say,” said the king.

Sakka went to Illisa’s house. The servants greeted him as if he were indeed their master. He entered the house and sat down. He summoned the gate keeper and said, “If anybody comes here who looks like me and says, ‘This house is mine’, don’t let him in. Instead beat him on the back and kick him out!” Then he went upstairs and called for Illisa’s wife. Smiling at her he said, “My love, let us be generous!”

At first, Illisa’s wife, children and servants were surprised. They said to each other, “It was never in his mind to give anything to anybody before today. This must be because he’s been drinking alcohol and has gotten a little soft in the head!”

Illisa’s wife said, “As you wish, my lord, give away as much as you like.” Tall for the drummer,” said Sakka, “and order him to go and beat his drum in the city. Have him announce that all who desire gold, silver, pearls, jewels, lapis lazuli, diamonds and coral, are to come to the home of Illisa the billionaire.” She did as he said.

Soon a big crowd began to arrive, carrying baskets, buckets and bags. Sakka opened up the store rooms of Illisa’s wealth. He said, “I give you all these riches. Take as much as you want and go.” The people took it all outside and piled it up. They filled up their containers and carried them away.

One clever man from the countryside harnessed Illisa the Cheap’s bullocks to Illisa the Cheap’s bullock cart. Then he filled it to the brim with Illisa the Cheap’s seven treasures, and rode out of the city by the main road.

Without knowing it, he passed by the bushes where the real Illisa was still drinking liquor. He was so happy to be suddenly rich, that he shouted out as he went, “May Lord Illisa the billionaire live a hundred years! Because of you I have struck the jackpot. I won’t have to work another day in my life! These were your bullocks, your cart and your seven treasures. They were not given to me by my father and mother — but by you, Illisa the generous!”

The hidden Illisa was shocked to hear this. He thought, “This man is talking about me! Has the king taken my wealth and given it away?” Then: he jumped out from the bushes and shouted, “Hey you, what are you doing with my bullock cart?” He grabbed the reins and stopped the cart.

The villager got down and said, “What’s wrong with you? The billionaire Lord Illisa is giving his wealth to all the people of the city. What do you think you’re doing?”

As he said this he struck Illisa on the head as hard as a thunderclap and rode away on the cart filled with treasure.

Illisa the Cheap bounced to his feet and chased after the cart. He grabbed the reins again. This time the villager held onto Illisa by the hair, pulled his head down, and struck it hard with his elbow. He grabbed him by the neck, threw him to the ground, and then continued on his way.

All this rough treatment sobered up Illisa. He ran home as fast as he could. He saw the crowds of people carrying off his precious riches. He grabbed hold of them to stop them, but they just pushed him out of the way and knocked him down. Nearly fainting from his bruises, he tried to get into his home. But the gate keeper said, “Where do you think you’re going?” Beating him with a cane, he grabbed him by the neck and threw him out.

Illisa thought, “Now no one can help me but the king.” So he ran to the palace and went straight inside. He said, “My lord, why do you want my house to be looted?” The king said, “This is not my doing. I myself heard you say that if I would not accept your wealth, you would give it to all the citizens. I applaud your generosity! And did you not send a drummer into the streets to announce you were giving your wealth to any and all?”

“My lord king must be joking!” said Illisa. “I didn’t do any such thing. People don’t call me ‘Illisa the Cheap’ for nothing! I don’t give anything to anybody if I can help it! Please, lord king, summon whoever is giving my treasures away, and clear up this matter.”

After being summoned by the king, Sakka came to the palace. Illisa asked, “Who is the real billionaire, my lord king?” Neither the king nor his ministers could tell the difference between them.

The king said, “We cannot recognize which one it is. Do you know someone who can recognize you for sure?” “Yes, my lord, my wife can recognize me,” said Illisa. But when she was called for and asked to decide, she stood next to Sakka and said, “This is my husband.” When Illisa’s children and servants were summoned, they too picked Sakka.

Illisa thought, “I have a wart on my head, covered up by my hair. Only my barber knows this.” So he said to the king, “Please summon my barber. He knows me very well.”

The barber was called for and the king asked him, “Can you tell us which of these two men is Illisa the billionaire?” “I must examine their heads,” he said, “then I will determine who the real Illisa is.” “Do so,” said the king.

Immediately Sakka, King of the Heaven of 33, made a wart appear on his head. When the barber examined them he found warts on both their heads. He said, “Oh lord king, I cannot recognize which of these is Illisa. Both have crooked feet, both have crooked hands, both have crooked eyes, and both have warts on the same spots on their heads. I can’t tell the difference!”

Hearing these words, Illisa began trembling. His mind became so unbalanced from losing his last hope of regaining his wealth, that he fainted on the spot.

At that very moment, Sakka said, “I am not Illisa. I am Sakka, King of the Gods of the Heaven of 33.” As he said this, he used his super powers to rise into the air and remain suspended there.

Attendants splashed cold water on Illisa’s face and woke him from his fainting spell. He knelt down in respect before Sakka, King of Gods.

Then Sakka spoke: “This wealth came from me, Illisa, not from you. I myself, when I was your father, did many meritorious deeds. I was glad to give to the poor and needy. That is why, when I died, I was reborn as Sakka, King of Gods.

“However, you have violated our family tradition. Being a non-giver, living the life of a miser, burning my charity dining hall to the ground, and chasing the homeless beggars from your door — you have kept all the family wealth to yourself. You are so cheap that you cannot even use the wealth for your own enjoyment! It is utterly wasted and useless. The family fortune has become like a pond possessed by demons, where no one can quench his thirst. It would be better if you were dead!

“Illisa, my former son, if you change your ways you will be the one to benefit most. If you rebuild my free food kitchen and give hot meals to all who ask, you will earn both merit and peace of mind. But if you refuse to be generous, I will make all your riches disappear. And I will split your crooked skull with my divine diamond dagger!”

In fear of his own death, Illisa the Cheap promised, “I will give generously from now on, oh King of Gods.”

Sakka accepted his promise. Still floating in the air, he preached on the true value of giving. He also convinced him to practice the Five Training Steps, for the benefit of himself and others. These are to give up entirely: destroying life, taking what is not given, sexual wrongdoing, speaking falsely, and losing one’s mind from alcohol.

Then Sakka disappeared and returned to his heavenly home.

Illisa did indeed change his ways. He gave alms generously, did many other good deeds, and became much happier. When he died he was reborn in a heaven world.

The moral is: Poor indeed is the rich man who won’t part with a penny.