The collection of Buddhist tales known as the Jatakas contains this story which, besides teaching a profound lesson about the importance of honesty, and the value of experience, also explains the laws of economics and of karma. It demonstrates the fundamental role played by rice in southern Asia since ancient times.
A seer is a measure of quantity either as the volume of dry substances such as grains and beans, or of their weight.
In poorer areas, paddy rice planting may be repaid at a mere seer per day.
The Seer of Rice
At one time, a very long time ago, before money became a popular means of exchange, kings had to keep a minister known as The Evaluator -- we would say, Appraiser. It was his job to determine how much ought to be given in exchange for everything -- from an elephant to a measure of rice. This person also set the value of gold, jewels and other precious things.
In one Indian kingdom, the ruler was not an honest man and he went searching for someone who would price things below their true worth so that he could get bargains for himself.
When a stupid and stingy peasant was discovered one day among the people who had come to seek justice in his courtyard, the king asked him if he would like the job of appraiser.
Of course the man accepted, and the king dismissed his faithful, honest and experienced Evaluator.
Now whenever something was offered for sale to the palace, the asking price was always ridiculously low -- not because the peasant appraiser was dishonest, mind you, but because he just had no experience with those things.
One day, a dealer arrived from the lands to the west bringing with him a string of five hundred fine horses.
The new Evaluator did not take too long to come to the conclusion that the animals were worth but one measure of rice. The king ordered the dealer to be paid quickly, and had all the pretty horses installed in his stables.
The horse-dealer said nothing at the time, not wanting to endanger himself, but he set off in search of the old evaluator.
The former Evaluator listened to the tale of injustice and said, "Take a nice present to the king's new minister; something he really likes so that he will want to do and say whatever you request. Ask him if he would be so kind as to go with you to see the king when he again holds a public audience. Ask if he thinks he would be able to tell the court the value of one measure of rice."
The horse-dealer followed this advice, and the Evaluator was pleased with the present. He said. "Yes, I can do that. We can even go immediately, if you like."
So off they went together, and the king received them at once. They both bowed low in the king's presence; first the minister. Then the horse-dealer said, "Oh, King. I have learned that the value of my five hundred horses is one small measure of rice. Would the king please ask his appraiser the value of a measure of rice?"
The king turned to his minister and, accustomed as he was to the formal routine asked first about what had gone before: "Valuer, what is the worth of five hundred horses?"
"A measure of rice, Highness."
"Valuer, then what is the worth of a measure of rice?"
The peasant having learned something from his brief time in the king's service replied, "It is worth a royal city, Highness."
All the other ministers broke into laughter and clapped their hands in delight at the newcomer's statement. "What a foolish fellow!" Just think! We used to say this city was fabulous, a town beyond any price. Could there have been a mistake?"
Now the king felt shame at what he had done, and sent the new Valuer away.
That poor fellow had no idea what he had done wrong, saying, "I only tried to please the king. Now see what has happened to me."
They say that the king was shamed into paying the dealer an appropriate price for his fine animals.
Silhouette by Young, c. 1912.