How good can one be
if not repaying the kindness
of those first kind to us?
A certain affluent brahmin had four sons and he had given away half of his property to the sons when they got married. Later, when his wife died, his sons came and looked after him very well. They showed their love and affection to him and promised to look after him well until his death. Anyhow, they influenced the old brahmin to give the remaining half of the property to them. The brahmin consented and distributed rest of the property to them.
Then trouble begins when he went to live with the sons. Firstly, when he was spending a few days in the eldest son’s house, the daughter-in-law was uncomfortable and scolded him: ‘Did you give any extra property to your eldest son? Don’t you know the way to the houses of your other sons?’
The old brahmin was very hurt by her remarks. He left for the second son’s house. After a few days, he got the same treatment from the second daughter-in-law. Then he proceeded to the third and the fourth respectively. The third and fourth daughters-in-law also drove him away, asking the same questions. Now he is penniless and destitute and lived on what he collected from begging. One day, he happened to go to the monastery where the Buddha was.
The Buddha recognised him and asked: ‘Why now, brahmin, are you so shabby, clad in a shabby cloak?’ ‘Here, Master Gotama, my four sons, instigated by their wives, have expelled me from the house.’ ‘Well then, brahmin, learn these verses and recite them when people have assembled in the meeting hall with your sons sitting together there.’ The Buddha taught him the following verses:
‘Those at birth I took delight,
And whose success I much desired,
Being instigated by their wives,
Chase me out as dogs chase swine.
These evil fellows are indeed mean
Although they call me “Dad, dear Dad”,
They’re demons in the guise of sons,
To abandon me when I’ve grown old.
As an old horse of no more use
Is led away from its fodder,
So the old father of those boys
Begs for alms at others’ homes.
Better for me is the staff I use
Than those disobedient sons;
For the staff drives off the wild bull
And drives away the wild dog.
In the dark it goes before me
In the deep it gives me support.
By the gracious power of the staff,
If I stumble I still stand firm.’
[Verses translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi]
The brahmin learnt the verses by heart as suggested by the Buddha and did as he was told, recited them in the assembly. At that time, there was a consensus of opinion that those who do not look after their aged parents should be put to death. The sons got frightened and felt ashamed. They quickly carried him away, bathed him and each one gave him a new suit of clothes and looked after him well. Later, the old brahmin went to see the Buddha and expressed his gratitude to him. [S.I. pp. 175 ff. and Annatarabrahmana puttassa Vatthu-Naga vagga of DhA]
The Buddha’s Technique and Practice of Counselling as Depicted in the Pali Canon