Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


7. The Story of Agastya (Dāna)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 480, Fausböll IV, 236-242; and Cariyāpiṭaka I,1)

A heroic practice of liberality is an ornament even to ascetics, how much more to householders; as is taught by the following.

In the time, when our Lord, still being a Bodhisattva, was moving on his road through Saṁsāra for the good of the world, he was born of an illustrious family of Brāhmans, which being distinguished by great purity of conduct might pass for an ornament of the earth. His birth enhanced the lustre of this family in the same way as the moon rising in autumn with full and spotless orb, beautifies the firmament.

He had in due order obtained the different sacraments ordained by the sacred texts and the tradition: jātakarma and the rest; he had studied the Vedas with their Aṅgas and the whole ritual, and the fame of his learning filled the world of men. By the large gifts which he received, begging from charitable people who were lovers of virtues, he amassed considerable wealth.

1. Like a big cloud showering over the fields, he gladdened with his wealth his relations, his friends, his clients, his guests, his teachers, in short the distressed as well as those who are to be honoured.

2. Owing to his grand munificence, the bright glory which he had obtained by his learning shone the more. So the complete beauty of the moon's full disc is still augmented with loveliness, when autumn makes it shine brightly.

Yet the Great-minded One soon understood that the state of a householder is a source of sorrow, and affords but meagre comfort; for by its close connection with wrong business, it is thronged with noxious qualities, it is the abode of carelessness (about religious duties), it is a troublesome state, being connected with occupations for gathering wealth and [47] guarding it, it affords a scope for hundreds of arrows made up of calamities and evil habits obstructive of tranquillity, and is accompanied with toil, inasmuch as it implies the necessity of accomplishing numberless tasks.

On the other hand, he became convinced that renunciation of the world brings about comfort by its freedom from those evils, that it is a state favourable to the performance of religious duties, and that it may be called the proper basis for undertaking the religions practices required for salvation.

So casting away, as if it were a straw, that great abundance of wealth which he had obtained without trouble, and which must have possessed charms for him because of the high regard which he enjoyed among the people, he gave himself up to the observance of the discipline and the self-restraint of world-renouncing ascetics. But also, after his leaving the world - owing to his celebrated fame, the remembrance of former intercourse, the respect for his virtues, and the tranquillity by which he was distinguished - the Great Being was frequented as before by people longing for salvation, whose affection he had gained by the multitude of his virtues.

Yet, disliking that contact with householders, as prejudicial to the happiness that arises from entire detachment from the world, and an obstacle to throwing away the bonds by which he had held to it, he repaired to the island of Kārā, aspiring to solitude. That island is situated in the Southern Ocean. Its outskirts are moistened by the play of the wanton waves, which moved by the wind have the blue colour of pieces of sapphire; white sand covers its ground; various trees, the branches of which are adorned with twigs, flowers and fruits, enhance its beauty; near its shore there is a lake of pure water. This lovely country he embellished with the splendour of his hermitage.

3. There he lived, manifesting the lustre of his heavy penance by the emaciation of his body, as the crescent appears in the sky, joining great loveliness to a small size. [48]

4. That this man living in the forest, absorbed in vows and penances, and whose modest actions and sensations attested his tranquillity of mind, was a Muni, even the wild quadrupeds and birds of the forest did understand, even their small intellect became aware of it, and they imitated his behaviour.

While staying in the grove of penance, the Great-minded One, being in the habit of giving, continued also honouring the guests that happened to arrive, with such roots and fruits as he had just gathered, with fresh water and such hearty and kind words of welcome and blessings as are appropriate to ascetics, and himself lived on as much of his forest-produced food as his guests had left, strictly limiting his meals to the sustenance of his body.

Now, the glory of his excessive penance having spread about, Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, touched by it, desired to prove his constancy. In that part of the forest where the Great Being dwelt, he caused to disappear successively all roots and fruits fit for the food of ascetics. But the Bodhisattva, absorbed in meditation and being accustomed to the feeling of contentment, insensible to the perplexing influence of stupefaction, and indifferent concerning his food and his body, did not direct his thoughts to the cause of that disappearance. For, if he had, he would have discovered it, owing to the transcendent power he had obtained by his penance.01 And having dressed young leaves on the fire, he accomplished with these the action of taking his meal, without any feeling of discontent, nor longing for a better meal, but calm as ever he went on living, in the same way.

5. The livelihood of those who in earnest practise continence is nowhere difficult to be obtained. Say, where are not found grass and leaves and ponds?

Yet Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, though his astonishment increased, in consequence of the Bodhisattva's behaviour in that situation, and his high opinion of his virtues grew stronger, resorted to another [49] trial. Like the wind at summertime he stripped of their leaves the whole number of trees, shrubs and grasses, that were in that grove. Then the Bodhisattva, taking such fallen leaves as were still fresh, and boiling them in water, lived on them without feeling any uneasiness; rejoiced by the happiness of meditation, he stayed there as if he had feasted upon ambrosia.

6. Modesty in the learned, disinterestedness in the wealthy, and contentment in the ascetics: each of these splendid virtues is the highest treasure of each of them. Instead of guṇasobhāvidhiḥ paraḥ I read -nidhiḥ paraḥ, comp. p. 51, of the edited text guṇābhyāsanidher udāratā.02

Now that very marvellous constancy of his contentment increased the surprise of Śakra, and as if he were angry on account of it, having assumed the shape of a Brāhman, that he might be a guest, of course, he appeared before the eyes of the Great Being, when at the time prescribed by his vow, after performing the Agnihotra-sacrifice and repeating his prayers, he was just looking about for some guest. And the Bodhisattva rejoiced went to meet him, and welcoming him and addressing kind words to him, invited him to take his meal by announcing to him that it was meal-time. Understanding by his silence that he accepted, the Great-minded One,

7. Manifesting by his expanding eyes and his blooming face the gladness he experienced in practising charity, and rejoicing his guest with gentle words both pleasant to the mind and to the ears, entertained him with the whole of his boiled leaves, which he had had so much trouble to procure, and himself was satisfied with joy alone.

And even so he entered his home of meditation, In other words, his hut. Both Pāli redactions mention here his paṇṇasālā, 'hut of leaves.’03 and passed that day and night in the very ecstacy of gladness.

Now Śakra reappeared to him in the same [50] manner the next day at the time destined for (the accomplishment of) his vow (of hospitality). So he did also on the third, fourth, and fifth day. And the other received him as his guest in the same way, and with still more joy.

8. No suffering, indeed, not even peril of life, is able to compel the virtuous to a miserable infringement of their love for giving, a love fostered by their practice of commiseration.

Then Śakra, whose mind was overcome by the utmost amazement, knowing him to be enabled by his excess of penance to get into the possession of (his own) brilliant realm of the gods, This fear of the Devas rests on the belief in the transcendent power of penance, which enables great ascetics to aspire even to that dignity. Śakra, afraid of human tapas and trying to prevent its earning by every means, is a well-known figure in Indian mythology.04 if he did but ask for it, began to feel uneasy, and fear arose within him. Having assumed the wonderful beauty of his own celestial shape, he questioned him as to the purpose for which he performed his penance.

9, 10. Say, on what hast thou set thy hopes, that they could impel thee to leave thy beloved relations, who shed tears at thy departure, thy household and possessions that had been a source of happiness to thee, and to resort to this toilsome life of penance?

For it is not for a trifling motive that the wise despise enjoyments easily obtained, and afflict their relations with grief, leaving them to go to the penance-forest destructive of pleasures.

11. If thou thinkest it may be told me, please, satisfy my curiosity. What may be the object of thy wishes, the penetration into the excellent qualities of which fascinated to this point a mind like thine?”

The Bodhisattva replied: “Hearken, sir, what I am exerting myself for.

12. Repeated births tend to great sorrow; so do calamitous old age and illnesses, those dismal [51] plagues; and the necessity of death is a disturbance to the mind. From those evils I am resolved to save the creatures.”

Then Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, understanding that it was not his own celestial splendour that was claimed by the Bodhisattva, was set at rest, and as he was very pleased with that well-said sentence, he honoured it by exclaiming “Very well!” and requested him to accept some boon.

13. “Ascetic, Kāśyapa, In the metrical part of the Pāli redaction of this story in the Jātaka, Akitti (= Agastya) is likewise called Kassapa and addressed by the name.05 for this right and well-said sentence I give thee some boon; choose then what thou desirest.”

The Bodhisattva, being not at all desirous of pleasures and rejoicings connected with existence, and thinking it painful even to ask for anything, since he had attained the state of contentment, said to Śakra:

14. “If thou wishest to give me some boon, that may please me, I ask the foremost of the Devas this boon,

15. May that fire of covetousness, which after obtaining a beloved wife, children, power, riches more abundant than had been longed for, still goes on heating the mind of men never to be satisfied - may that fire never enter my heart!”

The propensity to contentment declared by this well-turned saying delighted Śakra in a still higher degree. He praised the Bodhisattva again, saying: “Excellent, excellent!” and once more he urged him to choose some boon.

16. “Muni, also for this right and well-said sentence I offer thee gladly as a present in return a second boon.”

Then the Bodhisattva, in order to show him the difficulty of getting rid entirely of the innate evil passions, Viz. the kleśās, cp. Dharmasaṁgraha LXVII with Kenjiu Kasawara's explanatory note on p. 49 and the literature quoted there.06 preached him the Law once more under the guise of asking a boon, [52]

17. “If thou givest me some boon, thou Vāsava, abode of excellent qualities, then I ask thee another boon, and no mean one, Lord of the Devas.

18. May that fire of hatred, subdued by which the creatures come to In order to correct the fault against the metre in the first pāda of this stanza, I think one should read arthād api bhraṁśam avāpnuvanti.07 loss of wealth, loss of caste and of good reputation, as if they were vanquished by a hostile attack - may that fire be far from me!”

On hearing this, Śakra, the chief of the Devas, highly admiring him, praised him: “Excellent, excellent!” and again he said:

19. “Justly Fame, like a loving woman, attends upon those who have renounced the world. Well, accept some other boon from me for this well-said sentence.”

Then the Bodhisattva, induced by his hostility to innate evil passions to blame the intercourse with such creatures as are not free from those passions, under the guise of accepting the boon, Instead of vrati, which is here almost meaningless, Prof. Kern suggests vṛti = vara.08 said this:

20. “May I never hear a fool, nor get the sight of such a one, nor speak to such a one, nor endure the annoyance and the pain of staying with such a one! This is the boon I ask thee for.”

Śakra spoke:

21, 22. “What dost thou say? Anybody being in distress is most deserving of the commiseration of the pious. Now, foolishness being the root of calamities, is held to be the vilest condition. How is this that thou, though compassionate, abhorrest the sight of a fool, a person especially fit for commiseration?”

The Bodhisattva answered: “Because there is no help for him, sir. Do but consider this:

23. “If a fool were at any rate curable by treatment how would anybody like me be wanting in effort to bring about his good?

But such a one, thou must understand, can derive no profit at all from medical treatment. [53]

24, 25. He follows the wrong course of conduct, as if it were the right one, and desires to put also his neighbour in that way, and not having been accustomed to a decent and upright behaviour, becomes even angry when admonished for his good.

Now, then, to such a person, who burns with the infatuation of self-conceit, thinking himself wise, whose harsh anger is provoked by those who speak for his good, and whose impetuousness has not been softened because of the deficiency of his moral education - say, what means does there exist to bring profit to him?

26. For this reason, then, O most excellent of the Devas, because there is no help for him, not even in the power of the compassionate, I do not want to see a fool, since he is the most unfit object.”

On hearing this, Śakra praised him, exclaiming “Very well! very well!” and charmed by his right sayings, spoke again:

27. “The invaluable jewels of well-said sentences cannot be rewarded by any equivalent. But as a handful of flowers to worship thee, I gladly offer thee some boon for these too.”

Then the Bodhisattva, in order to show that the virtuous are welcome in every circumstance, spoke:

28. “May I see a wise man, and hear a wise man, dwell with such a one, Śakra, and converse with such a one! This boon, best of the Devas, do grant me,”

Śakra said: “Thou seemest, indeed, to be a warm partisan of the wise. Why, tell me then,

29. What have the wise done for thee? Say, Kāśyapa, what is the reason that thou showest this rather foolish greediness for the sight of a wise man?”

Then the Bodhisattva, in order to show him the magnanimity of the virtuous, spoke: “Hearken, sir, for what reason my mind longs for the sight of a wise man,

30, 31, He walks in the path of virtue himself, and brings also others into that way, and words said for his good, even if they be harsh, do not rouse his impatience.

Being adorned by uprightness and decency, [54] it is always possible to make him accept what is said for his good. For this reason my mind, adhering to virtue, is inclined to the partisan of virtue.”

Then Śakra praised him, exclaiming: “Well said! very excellent!” and with still increased satisfaction again summoned him to ask some boon.

32, 33. “Surely, thou hast already obtained everything, since thou art wholly satisfied, yet thou shouldst take some boon from me, considering it as a means of gratifying me.

For a favour offered out of reverence, from abundance of power, and with the hope of affording a benefit, becomes a cause of great pain, if not accepted.”

Then the Bodhisattva, seeing his utmost desire for doing good, and wishing to please him and to benefit him, answered so as to declare to him the superiority of the strong desire of almsgiving.

34. “May thy food, which is free from destruction and corruption, thy mind, which is lovely because of its practice of charity, and mendicants adorned by the pureness of their good conduct, be mine! This most blessed boon I ask.”

Śakra said: “Thy Reverence is a mine of jewels of well-said sentences. Further,

35. Not only will everything thou hast requested be accomplished, but on account of this well-said sentence I give thee some other boon.”

The Bodhisattva said:

36. “If thou wilt give me a boon which incloses the highest favour for me, O most excellent of all Celestials do not come to me again in this thy blazing splendour. For this boon I ask the destroyer of the Daityas.”

Upon this Śakra was somewhat irritated, and highly astonished he thus spoke to him: “Do not speak so, sir.

37. By every kind of ritual: prayers, vows, sacrifices, with penances and toilsome exertions, people on earth seek to obtain the sight of me. But thou dost not desire so. For what reason then? I came up to thee, wishing to bestow my boons on thee.”

The Bodhisattva said: “Do not yield to thy anger. I will pacify Thy Highness, king of the Devas. It is [55] not for want of courtesy that I ask so, nor is it a deed of irreverence, nor do I aim at showing lack of devotion towards Thy Majesty. Not at all, but,

38. Contemplating thy superhuman wonderful shape, which though shining gently, is still blazing with brilliancy, I fear the sight of thee, however mildly shining, lest it should cause any want of strictness in the fulfilment of my penance.”

Then Śakra bowed to him, circumambulated him from left to right, and disappeared on the spot. And lo, at daybreak the Bodhisattva perceived plenty of divine food and drink, brought thither by the power of Śakra, and many hundreds of Pratyekabuddhas called by the invitation of Śakra, also many angels (deva-putras) high-girded, ready to wait on them.

39. Supplying in this way with food and drink the wants of those most holy sages, the Muni obtained a sublime joy; and he delighted in living after the manner suitable for ascetics, in performing his boundless vow of meditation (dhyāna), and in tranquillity.

In this manner, then, a heroic practice of liberality is an ornament even in ascetics, how much more in householders. [So considering, a virtuous man must adorn himself with heroic constancy of giving.

This (story) must also be adduced, when treating of the gladness caused to a liberal and charitable man; when blaming covetousness, hatred, infatuation, and foolishness; when preaching on the Virtue of the intercourse with a pious friend, or on contentment.

Likewise in discourses on the magnanimity of the Tathāgata; “So our Lord was an inexhaustible mine of jewels of excellent sayings, when still in his former existences, how much more so was he after attaining Complete Wisdom.”]