Parable of the Rich Man and His Poor Son

Suppose there lived a man [in a certain country]. When he was a little boy, he ran away from his father. [The boy] lived in another country for a long time, say, for ten, twenty or fifty years. As time passed by, he became poorer. He wandered about all directions, seeking food and clothing.

“While wandering here and there, he happened to walk towards his home country. At that time his father stayed in a city [of that country]. He had been vainly looking for his son ever since. He was now very rich. He had innumerable treasures. His storehouses were filled with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, coral, amber and crystal. He had many servants, clerks, and secretaries. He also had countless elephants, horses, carts, cows, and sheep. He invested his money in all the other countries, and earned interest. He dealt with many merchants and customers.

“The poor son, having wandered from town to town, from country to country, from village to village, came to the city where his father was living. The father had been thinking of him for more than fifty years since he had lost him, but never told others [that he had a missing son]. He was alone, pining for his son. He thought, ‘I am old and decrepit. I have many treasures. My storehouses are filled with gold, silver, and other treasures. But I have no son [other than the missing one]. When I die, my treasures will be scattered and lost. I have no one to transfer my treasures to. Therefore, I am always yearning for my son.’ The father thought again, ‘If I can find my son and give him my treasures, I shall be happy and peaceful, and have nothing more to worry about.’

World-Honored One! At that time the poor son, who had worked at various places as a day worker, happened to come to the house of his father. Standing by the gate of the house, he saw his father in the distance. His father was sitting on a lion-like seat, householders surrounded him respectfully. He was adorned with a necklace of pearls worth ten million. The secretaries and servants were standing on either side of him, holding insect-sweepers made of white hairs. Above him was a jeweled awning, from which streamers of flowers were hanging down. Perfume was sprayed and beautiful flowers were strewn on the ground. He was exhibiting treasures and engaging in trade. Adorned with these various things, he looked extraordinarily powerful and virtuous.

“Seeing the exceedingly powerful father, the poor son was frightened. He regretted that he had come there. He thought, ‘Is he a king or someone like a king? This is not the place where I can get something by labor. I had better go to a village of the poor, where I can work to get food and clothing easily. If I stay here any longer, I shall be forced to work.’

“Having thought this, the poor son ran away. The rich man, who was sitting on the lion-like seat, recognized him at first sight as his son. He was delighted. He thought, ‘Now I have found the person to whom I can transfer my treasures and storehouses. I have been thinking of my son all this time, but I have had no way to find him. Now he has come by himself all of a sudden. This is just what I wanted. I am old, but not too old to lose any attachment [to my treasures].’

“He immediately dfspatched a man standing beside him to quickly bring back the _Roor son. The messenger ran up to the poor son and caught him. The poor son was frightened. He cried, ‘You Devil! I have done nothing wrong. Why do you catch me?’

“The messenger pulled him by force. The poor son thought, ‘I am caught though I am not guilty. I shall be killed.’ More and more frightened, the poor son fainted and fell to the ground. Seeing all this in the distance, the father said to the messenger, ‘I do not want him any more. Do not bring him forcibly! Pour cold water on his face and bring him to himself! Do not talk with him any more!’

“The father said this because he had realized that his son was too base and mean to meet a noble man [like his father]. He knew that the man was his son, but expediently refrained from telling to son. The son was brought to himself.] The messenger said to him, ‘Now you are released. You can go anywhere you like.’ “The poor son had the greatest joy that he had ever had. He stood up and went to a village of the poor to get food and clothing. Thereupon the rich man thought of an expedient to persuade his son to come to him. He [wished to] dispatch messengers in secret. He said to two men looking worn-out, powerless and virtueless, ‘Go and gently tell the poor man that he will be employed here for a double day’s pay. If he agrees with you, bring him here and have him work. If he asks you what work he should do, tell him that he should clear dirt and that you two also will work with him.’

“The two messengers looked for the poor son. Having found him, they told him what they had been ordered to tell. The poor son [came back with them,] drew his pay in advance, and cleared dirt with them. Seeing him, the father had compassion towards him, and wondered [why he was so base and mean]. Some days later he saw his son in the distance from the window. The son was weak, thin, worn-out, and defiled with dirt and dust. The father took off his necklace, his garment of thin and soft cloth, and other ornaments. He put on tattered and dirty clothing, smeared himself with dust, and carried a dirt-utensil in his right hand. He looked fearful. He [came to the workers and] said, ‘Work hard! Do not be lazy!’

“With this expedient the father came to his son. He said to him, ‘Man! Stay here and work! Do not go anywhere else! I will pay you more. Do not hesitate to take trays, rice, flour, salt and vinegar as much as you need! You can have an old servant if you want to. Make yourself at home! I feel like your father. Do not worry any more! I am old, and you are young. When you work, you do not deceive [the other workers]. You are not lazy. You do not get angry [ with the other workers], or reproach them. You are not like the other workers who do these evil things. From now on I will treat you as my son.’

“The rich man gave him a name and called him son. The poor son was glad to be treated kindly, but still thought that he was a twenty years. After that the father and son trusted each other. Now the son felt no hesitation in entering the house of his father, but still lodged in his old place.

“World-Honored One! Now the rich man became ill. He knew that he would die soon. He said to the poor son, ‘I have a great deal of gold, silver, and other treasures. My storehouses are filled with them. You know the amounts of them. You know what to take, and what to give. This is what I have in mind. Know this! You are not different from me in all this. Be careful lest the treasures be lost!’

“Thereupon the poor son obeyed his order. He took custody of the storehouses of gold, silver, and other treasures, but did not wish to take anything worth even a meal from them. He still stayed in his old lodging. He could not yet give up the thought that he was base and mean.

“After a while the father noticed that his son had become more at ease and peaceful, that he wanted to improve himself, and that he felt ashamed of the thought that he was base and mean. The time of the death of the father drew near. The father told his son to call in his relatives, the king, ministers, k$atriyas, and householders. When they allassembled, he said to them, ‘Gentlemen, know this! This is my son, my real son. He ran away from me when I lived in a certain city, and wandered with hardships for more than fifty years. His name is so-and-so; mine, so-and-so. When I was in that city, I anxiously looked for him. I happened to find him [years ago]. This is my son. I am his father. All my treasures are his. He knows what has been taken in and what has been paid out.’

“World-Honored One! At that time the poor son was very glad to hear these words of his father. He had the greatest joy that he had ever had. He thought, ‘I never dreamed of having this store of treasures myself. It has come to me unexpectedly.’

And in gathas:

Suppose there lived a boy.
He was young and ignorant.
He ran away from his father
And went to a remote country.
He wandered from country to country
For more than fifty years.

The father anxiously sought him
In all directions.
Finally tiring of looking for him,
He settled in a certain city.

He built a house,
And enjoyed satisfaction
Of the five desires.
He was very rich.
He had a great deal of gold, silver,
Shell, agate, pearl and lapis lazuli;
And many elephants, horses,
Cows, sheep,
Palanquins, carts,
Farmers and attendants.
He invested his money in all the other countries,
And earned interest.
Merchants and customers
Were seen everywhere [around him].

Thousands of billions of people
Surrounded him respectfully.
He was favored by the king,
And respected
By the ministers,
And by the powerful families.

Many people came to see him
For various purposes.
Because he was rich,
He was very powerful.
As he became older,
He thought more of his son.
He thought from morning till night:
“I shall die before long.
It is more than fifty years
Since my ignorant son left me
What shall I do
With the things in the store-houses?”

At that time the poor son
Wandered from village to village,
From country to country,
Seeking food and clothing.
Sometimes he got what he wanted,
At other times he could not.
Getting thinner from hunger,
He had scabs and itches on his skin.
Wandering from one place to another,
He came to the city of his father.
Employed at places from day to day,
He came to the house of his father.

At that time the rich man was sitting
On the lion-like seat
Under the great awning of treasures
Inside the gate of the house.
Many attendants were surrounding him.
Many people were on his guard.

Some of his attendants were counting
Gold, silver, and other treasures.
Some were keeping accounts;
Others, writing notes and bills.

Seeing his father noble and honorable,
The poor son thought:
“Is he a king,
Or someone like a king?”

Frightened and scared,
He wondered:
“Why did I come here?”
He thought:
“If I stay here any longer,
I shall be forced to work.”

Having thought this, he ran away.
He asked someone
For the way to a village of the poor
In order to get a job.

From his lion-like seat,
The rich man saw the poor son in the distance,
And recognized him as his son.
But he did not tell this to the others.

He immediately dispatched a messenger
To chase, catch, and bring him back.
The poor son cried out with fright,
And fell to the ground in agony, thinking:
“He caught me.
I shall be killed.
What use was it coming here
For food and clothing?”

The rich man thought:
“He is ignorant, narrow-minded, and mean.
If I tell him that I am his father,
He will not believe me.”

He thought of an expedient.
He called
Some squint-eyed, short, ugly, powerless and virtueless men,
And said to them:
“Go and tell him:
‘You will be employed
To clear away dirt and dust.
You can get a double day’s pay.”‘

Hearing this from them,
The poor son came joyfully with them.
He cleared away dirt and dust,
And cleaned the buildings.

The rich man saw him from the window.
He thought:
“He is ignorant.
He willingly does mean work.”
Thereupon the rich man
Put on old and dirty clothes,
Picked up a dirt-utensil,
And walked towards his son.

With this expedient he came to his son,
And told him to work on, saying:
“I will pay you more.
You can use twice as much oil for your feet.
You can take food and drink as you like.
You can use more matting to warm yourself with.”

Sometimes he chided him, saying:
“Work hard!”
At other times he coaxed him, saying:
“I will treat you as my son.”

By his wisdom the rich man succeeded
In leading his son into his household.
Twenty years after that
He had his son manage his house.

The son was entrusted
With the keeping of the accounts
Of gold and silver,
And of pearl, crystal, and so on.
But he still lodged
In the hut outside the gate, thinking:
“I am poor.
None of these treasures are mine.”

Seeing the mind of his son
Becoming less mean and more noble,
The father called in
His relatives, the king, ministers,
Ksatriyas, and householders,
In order to give his treasures to his son.

He said to the great multitude:
“This is my son.
He was gone
For fifty years.
I found him
Twenty years ago.
I missed him
When I was in a certain city.
I wandered, looking for him,
And came here.
Now I will give him
All my houses and men.
He can use them
As he likes.”

The son thought:
“I was poor, base and mean.
Now I have obtained
The treasures, houses,
And all the other things
From my father.
Never before
Have I been so happy.”

On the Journey to a Place of Treasures