Demons in the Desert
[The Correct Way of Thinking]
Buddhist Tales for Young and Old, volume 1, Prince Goodspeaker, Stories 1-50
Once upon a time there were two merchants, who were friends. Both of them were getting ready for business trips to sell their merchandise, so they had to decide whether to travel together. They agreed that, since each had about 500 carts, and that they were both going to the same place along the same road, it would be too crowded to go at the same time.
One decided that it would be much better to go first. He thought, “The road will not be rutted by the carts, the bullocks will be able to choose the best of all the grass, we will find the best fruits and vegetables to eat, my people will appreciate my leadership and, in the end, I will be able to bargain for the best prices."
The other merchant considered carefully and realized there were advantages to going second. He thought, “My friend’s carts will level the ground so we won’t have to do any road work, his bullocks will eat the old rough grass and new tender shoots will spring up for mine to eat. In the same way, they will pick the old fruits and vegetables and fresh ones will grow for us to enjoy. I won’t have to waste my time bargaining when I can take the price already set and make my profit." So he agreed to let his friend go first. This friend was sure he’d fooled him and gotten the best of him – so he set out first on the journey.
The merchant who went first had a troublesome time of it. They came to a wilderness called the ‘Waterless Desert’, which the local people said was haunted by demons. When the caravan reached the middle of it, they met a large group coming from the opposite direction. They had carts that were mud smeared and dripping with water. They had lotuses and water lilies in their hands and in the carts. The head man, who had a know-it-all attitude, said to the merchant, “Why are you carrying these heavy loads of water? In a short time you will reach that oasis on the horizon with plenty of water to drink and dates to eat. Your bullocks are tired from pulling those heavy carts filled with extra water – so throw away the water and be kind to your overworked animals!"
Even though the local people had warned them, the merchant did not realize that these were not real people, but demons in disguise. They were even in danger of being eaten by them. Being confident that they were helpful people, he followed their advice and had all his water emptied onto the ground.
As they continued on their way they found no oasis or any water at all. Some realized they’d been fooled by beings that might have been demons, and started to grumble and accuse the merchant. At the end of the day, all the people were tired out. The bullocks were too weak from lack of water to pull their heavy carts. All the people and animals lay down in a haphazard manner and fell into a deep sleep. Lo and behold, during the night the demons came in their true frightening forms and gobbled up all the weak defenseless beings. When they were done there were only bones lying scattered around — not one human or animal was left alive.
After several months, the second merchant began his journey along the same way. When he arrived at the wilderness, he assembled all his people and advised them — “This is called the ‘Waterless Desert’ and I have heard that it is haunted by demons and ghosts. Therefore we should be careful. Since there may be poison plants and foul water, don’t drink any local water without asking me." In this way they started into the desert.
After getting about halfway through, in the same way as with the first caravan, they were met by the water soaked demons in disguise. They told them the oasis was near and they should throw away their water. But the wise merchant saw through them right away. He knew it didn’t make sense to have an oasis in a place called ‘Waterless Desert’. And besides, these people had bulging red eyes and an aggressive and pushy attitude, so he suspected they might be demons. He told them to leave them alone saying, “We are business men who don’t throw away good water before we know where the next is coming from."
Then seeing that his own people had doubts, the merchant said to them, “Don’t believe these people, who may be demons, until we actually find water. The oasis they point to may be just an illusion or a mirage. Have you ever heard of water in this ‘Waterless Desert’? Do you feel any rain-wind or see any storm clouds?" They all said, “No", and he continued, “If we believe these strangers and throw away our water, then later we may not have any to drink or cook with – then we will be weak and thirsty and it would be easy for demons to come and rob us, or even eat us up! Therefore, until we really find water, do not waste even a drop!"
The caravan continued on its way. That evening it reached the place where the first caravan’s people and bullocks had been killed and eaten by the demons. They found the carts and human and animal bones lying all around. They recognized that the fully loaded carts and the scattered bones belonged to the former caravan. The wise merchant told certain people to stand watch around the camp during the night.
The next morning the people ate breakfast, and fed their bullocks well. They added to their goods the most valuable things left from the first caravan. So they finished their journey very successfully, and returned home safely so that they and their families could enjoy their profits.
The moral is: One must always be wise enough not to be fooled by tricky talk and false appearances.
1. Demons in the Desert [The Correct Way of Thinking]
INTERPRETER’S INTRODUCTION – BUDDHIST TALES FOR YOUNG AND OLD, VOLUME 1, STORIES 1-5
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