Buddhist Studies jataka tales: vol. 1
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Volume I  - Prince Goodspeaker

The God in the Banyan Tree [A Bad Promise]

In the past, and even in some places today, people have had superstitions. One such is that a large or unusual tree is inhabited by a tree god, or some kind of spirit. People think that they can make a promise to this tree god, so he will help them in some way. When they think the god has helped them, then they must keep their promise.

Once upon a time, in the city of Kasi in northern India, a man came upon a large banyan tree. He immediately thought there must be a god living there. So he made a promise to this tree god that he would perform an animal sacrifice, in return for a wish being granted.

It just so happened that his wish was fulfilled, but whether by a god or a demon or by some other means — no one knows. The man was sure the tree god had answered his prayer, so he wanted to keep his promise.

Since it was a big wish, it called for a big sacrifice. He brought many goats, mules, chickens and sheep. He collected firewood and prepared to burn the helpless animals as a sacrifice.

The spirit living in the banyan tree appeared and said, "Oh friend, you made a promise. You are now bound by that promise. You think you must keep the promise in order to be released from the bondage to it. But if you commit such terrible unwholesome acts, even though promised, the unpleasant results will put you in much greater bondage. For you will be forced to suffer those results in this life, and even by rebirths in hell worlds! The way to release yourself into future deliverance is to give up unwholesome actions, no matter what!

"And furthermore, since you think I'm a true god, what makes you think I eat meat? Haven't you heard that we gods eat better things, like 'ambrosia' or stardust or sunbeams? I have no need of meat or any other food offerings." Then he disappeared.

The foolish man understood the mistake he had made. Instead of doing unwholesome deeds that would force unhappy results on him in the future, he began to do only wholesome deeds that would benefit himself and others.

The moral is: Keeping a bad promise is worse than making it.

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