A King, named Pasenadi Kosala, went to visit the Buddha. He bowed down to the Buddha and sat to one side, as was customary. Just then a number of wandering spiritual ascetics walked past. Seeing them, the King knelt and saluted them.
He sat back to one side of the Buddha and asked:
“Blessed One, would you say that those men are on the path to wisdom?”
The Buddha replied:
“Your Majesty, as a laymen enjoying sensual pleasures, living crowded with wives and children, using expensive fabrics and sandalwood, wearing garlands, scents, and creams, handling gold and silver: it is hard for you to know whether these are wise men or on the path to wisdom.
“It’s through living together that a person’s virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who isn’t discerning.
“It’s through trading with a person that his purity may be known..
“It’s through adversity that a person’s endurance may be known…
“It’s through discussion that a person’s discernment may be known.”
The King praised the Buddha’s response and then revealed:
“These men are my spies, my scouts, returning after going out through the countryside in disguise. They go out first, and then I go. Now, when they have scrubbed off the dirt and mud, are well-bathed and well-perfumed, have trimmed their hair and beards, and have put on white clothes, they will go back to their normal lives of money and sensuality. ”
The King had tested the Buddha, but the Buddha’s wisdom had prevented him from making quick judgements and being fooled.
“Not by appearance
is a man rightly known,
nor should trust be based
on a quick glance,
— for, disguised as well-restrained,
the unrestrained go through this world.
A counterfeit earring made of clay,
a bronze coin coated in gold:
They go about in this world
hidden all around:
– This is a story from the Pali Buddhist texts, specifically the Paṭisalla Sutta.