There was once an old couple who enjoyed a comfortable life; they had their own land and house. The couple had one son who was very clever, and they loved him very much. But their son had a strange habit; he needed to eat meat every meal. If he didn’t eat meat, he would feel a horrible pain in his body and thought he would die.
The old couple needed to ensure their son ate meat every meal, so they frugally saved every penny and spent it on meat. The son quickly grew up and was now in his twenties, so the old couple needed to buy even more meat to satisfy him. The old couple also spent a lot of time and effort trying to find a cure for their son’s peculiar condition, yet their search was futile.
In the end, the old couple had to sell their house, land, and all their belongings. They only had one asset left – a donkey. Yet their son still had an unsatisfied appetite for meat. He then told his old parents:
“I have been addicted to meat for so many years. If you will let me eat the donkey, I promise you that my sickness will be cured immediately. If you don’t let me eat the donkey, I’m afraid I will die”.
The old couple was very worried and had no other choice but to say yes to their son. After all, the life of their son was more important than the life of a donkey, and if the donkey meat could cure their son, then it would be well worth the sacrifice of their last remaining asset. The old couple nodded their heads and the deal was made. Then the son added:
“There is one condition though. You two shall not eat even one morsel of the donkey; I must eat it all. If you are tempted to take even a small bite and taste it, my illness will not be cured.”
So according to their arrangement, the old couple went out and fetched the donkey straight away. First, they slaughtered the donkey, prepared it, and then cooked it up on a bed of coals.
As the donkey meat was cooking, the old couple thought about how much meat there was for one person. They agreed that their son would get bored of eating donkey meat for every meal, so they helped themselves to one leg and served their son the rest.
When their son had eaten every last sinew of meat from the donkey’s carcass, the young man began to feel ill and died; the old couple had not kept their promise.
With tears running down their cheeks, the old couple mourned the loss of their beloved son. For days and months and years, they shed tears of regret over not keeping their promise to their son. They felt as if their whole life was over.
One day, a monk visited the old couple collecting alms. Seeing their sad faces, he asked them what the problem was. The old couple told him their sad story. The monk laughed: “You two are so stupid! Are you sure it is your son that you are missing? Or your debt-collector?” the old couple were shocked and offended.
“I mean what I said. You are so foolish; you should be happy to finally get rid of your debt-collector!” the monk said. Then he pondered for a minute and added: “But it seems that you have not paid him back in full yet; you still owe him, and he will surely come back to collect the final payment.”
Hearing that their son may come back to visit them was a comforting thought for the old couple; they could have one last glimpse of their beloved boy. So they asked the monk: “What do you think we should do then?” The monk said:
“He will come back late in the night, so stuff your bed with clothes so it looks as though you are sleeping. I will meditate on the floor and you can hide behind me. Remember, no matter what happens, be very quiet or he might harm you.”
The old couple followed the monk’s instructions and padded their bed with clothes, hid behind the monk, and left the door open for their visitor.
At midnight, a shadow entered the room. As the shadow drew near the old couple, they nearly let out a scream; the shadow was indeed their son. However, their son now looked more like a demon, with a very fierce glimmer in his eyes.
In one hand, the demon was holding a lead rope pulling a 3-legged donkey. In the other hand, the demon was clutching a knife. He then stopped in front of the bedroom door and angrily tied the donkey to it. Then, with both hands free, the demon rushed to the bed where he thought the old couple were sleeping and began stabbing it wildly.
The demon swore with rage and yelled:
“I told you not to eat the donkey, but you ate it. If you had not eaten it, you could have paid off your debt, but you ate one leg. So now I have a donkey with only three legs; what good does that bring me? I can’t ride it or use it for work. It’s all your fault! If you can’t repay me with money, you will have to repay me with your life.”
The demon continued to stab and swear for a long time, then untied his donkey, and left. The old couple were very scared; after all, if it had not been for the monk’s plan, they would have been chopped to pieces by the demon as they lay sleeping.
Seeing the mess the demon had made of their bed, the old couple enlightened to the fact that the son they had so mournfully grieved was indeed their debt collector. After the old couple realised the truth of the situation, they did not feel sad over the loss of their son.