Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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8. The Story of Maitrībala (Dāna)

Being afflicted by the sufferings of others, the intensely compassionate do not mind their own pleasure. This will be taught as follows. [56]

At the time when the Bodhisattva, always having in view his purpose of saving the creatures, had fixed upon (the exercise of the pāramitā of) compassion, as became his high-mindedness, and was always increasing in matchless virtues - charity, humility, self-restraint, tenderness, and the like, suitable for the benefit of the world, he was, it is said, a king kind--hearted towards all creatures, named Maitrībala. This name signifies, 'he whose strength is kindness’, cp. stanza 14. The edition has here Maitrabalo, by a misprint it seems.01

1, 2. This king felt the weal and the woe of his subjects as his own, and being skilled in the art of protecting them, he handled both his sword and his law in accordance with this feeling.

Yet his sword was only an ornament to him, since the (other) kings waited for his orders, respectfully bowing their head-crests; his law, on the contrary, showed itself most openly in the measures he took for promoting the welfare of his people.

3. He dealt out punishments and rewards without infringing righteousness. In consequence of his goodness of heart and his political wisdom, he inquired into his subjects like a father.

So he ruled with righteousness, and while directing his veracity, his liberality, his tranquillity, his wisdom, and his other virtues to conduce to the welfare of others, he increased his store of exceedingly lofty actions, which are the due requisites for the attainment of Buddhahood.

Now one day, five Yakṣas, whom for some offence or other (Kubera) the Lord of the Yakṣas had exiled from his dominions, came to his realm. These goblins were Ojohāras skilled in the art of killing others. That is, vigour--bereaving spirits. It is likely, those Yakṣas were thought to possess the power of causing consumptive diseases; consumption is called in Sanskrit yakṣma or rāgayakṣma. In the Divyāvadāna (295, 6) a rākṣasa ojohāraḥ is mentioned.02 When they saw the kingdom exhibiting the aspect of the utmost prosperity, and became aware that the absence of every kind of calamity made the people [57] rejoiced, satisfied, thriving, and in the habit of having merriment and manifold festivals, the desire of taking away the vigour from the inhabitants of that region arose within them.

4. But, though they did their usual work with the greatest effort, they were still not able to take away the vigour of the inhabitants of that country.

5. The power of that king was so excessive that his very intention of shielding proved the highest protection. For this reason those Yakṣas were powerless to take away the vigour of his subjects.

And as they were not able to debilitate anyone living in that kingdom, however much they exerted themselves, they deliberated among themselves and said: “How may this be, sirs?

6. They do not possess such superiorities of learning, penance, or magic as to enable them to obstruct our power, and yet all of us are reduced to impotency, so as to bear our appellation (of Ojohāras) in vain.”

And they assumed the shape of men of the Brāhman class, and going about, they saw a certain cowherd of those who live in the forest-region, who was sitting upon a grass-plot at the foot of a shady tree. He had shoes on his feet, and on his head he wore a garland, made of flowers and opening buds of forest-trees. His stick and his hatchet he had laid on the earth on his right. He was alone and occupied with twisting a rope, diverting himself meanwhile with singing and humming.

Him they approached and imitating human voice, In the original the Yakṣas utter some inarticulate sounds before succeeding in speaking Sanskrit.03 they said to him: “Well, friend, thou who art charged with guarding the cows, how is it that staying thus alone in this lonely forest where no man is to be seen, thou are not afraid?” And he, looking at them, spoke: “Of what should I be afraid?” The Yakṣas said: “Hast thou never before heard that such goblins as Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, or Piśācas are cruel by nature? [58]

7, 8. If men are in company and endowed with learning, penance, and svastyayana-charms, Viz. spells and charms, effective of bliss and happiness and obstructive of the contrary.04 even then, be they never so brave and contemptuous of fear, they will but narrowly escape those Rākṣasas who feed on the flesh and fat of men. How, then, is it that thou art not afraid of them, thou who stayest without any comrade amidst these solitary, remote, and frightful forests?”

On hearing this, the cowherd laughed heartily, and said to them:

9, 10. “Well, the people of this country are protected by a mighty svastyayana, so that even the Lord of the Devas himself has no power over them, how much less the flesh-eating goblins.

So it happens that I wander fearless through the wilderness as if I stayed at home, at night as if it were day, and alone as if I were in a crowd.”

Upon this the Yakṣas became very curious, and said to him respectfully, as if to encourage him: “Why, you must tell us, gentle sir, you must tell us, of what kind this extraordinary svastyayana of yours is.” He answered them, laughing once more: “Hear, then, of what kind this very wonderful excellent svastyayana of ours is.

11. It is he whose broad breast is equal to a plate of the Golden Mountain (Meru), he whose face displays the lovely beauty of the spotless moon in autumn, he whose long and full arms are like golden clubs, he who has the eyes of a bull and the gait of a bull. In short it is our king.

Of this kind our excellent svastyayana is.” And after saying these words, looking with resentment and astonishment in the face of the Yakṣas, he continued:

“Ah! this is rather a wonder, is not it?

12. So renowned is the power of our king, and it has not come to your hearing! How has this happened? Or have you perhaps heard of it, but distrusting [59] the excessive marvel of that fame, not minded it?

13. I suppose, the people of the country, from whence you have come hither, are either disinclined to search after virtue or indifferent about it; it may also be that, the store of their good fortune Every one's good fortune is the result of merit, and lasts until that store of good actions is exhausted.05 being exhausted, the great renown of our king has shunned them.

At all events, for you there is still some remnant of good fortune, since you are come here from such a savage country.”

The Yakṣas said: “Gentle sir, tell us, of what nature is this power of that king, that spirits are by no means able to hurt the inhabitants of his realm?” The cowherd replied: “Our monarch has obtained this power through his high-mindedness. See, noble Brāhmans.

14. On friendliness does his strength rest, not on his motley-bannered army, which he keeps only to comply with custom. He knows no anger, nor does he speak harsh words. He protects his land in the proper manner. Righteousness is the rule of his actions, not political wisdom, that base science. His wealth serves to honour the virtuous. And endowed with those marvellous qualities, still he does not take unto himself either the wealth of the wicked, or pride.

Such and many, many more virtues are to be found in our master. For this reason no calamities have the power to hurt the inhabitants of his realm. But how little is the information you may get from me! If you are curious to learn the excellent qualities of our king, it would rather be suitable for you to enter the capital. There you will behold the people in their everyday life; you will see how firm they stand in the (moral) bounds of the āryas, loving each the peculiar duties proper to him; how merry and thriving they are, in consequence of a constant abundance of [60] food and uninterrupted welfare; how splendidly they are dressed, yet not presumptuously; how kind they are to worthy strangers who come to them as guests; how enraptured they are with the virtues of their king, the praises of whose glory they never cease to proclaim with gladness, as if they were uttering some auspicious and evil-averting charm. When beholding all this, you will obtain the standard for measuring the multitude of virtues possessed by our lord. And if you once begin to feel something like reverence for his virtues, you will witness them, for you will not fail to feel the desire for getting the sight of him.”

The Yakṣas, being already moved with anger against the king on account of his obstructing the manifestation of their power, were in no way softened by this affectionate and well-deserved eulogy of his virtues.

15. Verily, as a rule the mind of fools In the original they are not called bāla, as above, Story 7, stanza 22, but by the nearly synonymous term of manda. Still there may be a slight difference between both appellations. Bāla meant at the outset 'child, childish, ignorant'; manda, 'slow, feeble, sick, dull, lazy’. Cp. Suttanipāta, verses 666, 728, 820, and 1051.06 becomes inflamed the more by the praise of the object which has excited their fervent wrath.

Now considering that king's love of charity and wishing to do harm to him, they approached him at the time of his audience, and asked him for a meal. The king rejoiced, ordered his officers who stood in charge of such matters: “Go and quickly present the Brāhmans with a delicious meal.” The Yakṣas, however, were not ready to accept the meal served to them, though it might have suited the royal table, but spurning it, as tigers would green grass, said they did not feed on such dishes. On hearing which, the king went to them saying: “But what sort of repast will agree with your digestion, that something of the kind maybe fetched?”

The Yakṣas answered: [60]

16. “Raw human flesh, freshly cut off and still warm, and human blood, O lotus-eyed monarch, is the food and drink of Yakṣas, O you who are strict in keeping your engagements.”

After which, they reassumed their own disfigured and frightful features, exhibiting their mouths rendered ferocious by large teeth, their eyes fierce and red, flaming and squinting, their flat noses, wide-opened and misshapen. Their hair and beard had the tawny colour of flames, and their complexion was as dark as clouds big with rain. Looking at them, the king knew them to be goblins, Lit, 'to be Piśācas’, apparently a general term. The different Classes of goblins, Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, Piśācas, are often confounded; in Stanza 27 the general appellation is Rākṣasas. In Story 9, verse 66, yakṣa and piśāca are used promiscuously in the sense of 'ogre’. In the sixth story of the Pāli Jātaka (translated by Rhys Davids in his Birth Stories, p. 180) the water-sprite is sometimes called rakkhaso, sometimes yakkho.07 not men, and understood that for that reason they did not like the food and drink served by his orders.

17. And according to his compassionate nature and his pure-heartedness, the pity of the monarch towards them increased by this reflection.

Absorbed with commiseration and pitying those Yakṣas, he entered surely upon this thought:

18, 19. “For a merciful man such food and drink is not only hard to be found, but it were also to be searched for day after day. Oh, the immense grief it would cause him! A cruel man may be either able to get it for them, or not. If not able, his effort would have no other effect than that of mere destruction; if able, what can be more miserable than such a one constantly exercising that evil practice?

20. These Yakṣas, on the other hand, who live on food of that kind, with hearts wicked and pitiless, are destroying their own happiness every day. When will their sufferings ever end?

This being so, how is it possible for me to procure [62] such food for them? Not even for one single day could I injure others and destroy life.

21. Indeed, I do not remember having ever saddened the faces of those who came to me as supplicants, and bereaved them of splendour by the disappointment of their hopes, so as to make them appear like lotuses withered by the winter-wind.

But, why muse any longer? I have found what I will do

22, 23. I will give them lumps of solid and fat flesh and draughts of blood taken from my own body. What way, if not this, can be more suitable for me to supply the wants of those beggars seeking their relief from my side? For the flesh of animals who have died a natural death is cold and bloodless, and of course does not please them; and their hunger is great and attested by their afflicted figures.

On the one hand, how may I take flesh out of the body of any other living being? On the other, how may I suffer them who have resorted to me, to draw off in this manner, with countenances languishing and eyes sunken in consequence of their hunger and thirst, and still more sick with grief because of the fruitlessness of their request on which they had founded their hopes? It is, therefore, the right time to act in this way.

24. Like a malignant ulcer, this body is always sick and an abode of pain. Now I will return it that grief by availing myself of it for the accomplishment of an extraordinary performance of surpassing loveliness.”

Having so resolved, the Great-minded One, whose eyes and face received increase of splendour by the outburst of his gladness spoke thus to the Yakṣas, pointing out his body to them:

25. “If this flesh and blood, which I bear only for the good of the creatures were now to be disposed of with the object of entertaining guests, I would deem this a good fortune for myself and of great consequence. [63]

The Yakṣas, though knowing the determination of the king, could not believe it; so marvellous did it appear to them. And they said to him:

26. “After the mendicant has unveiled his suffering by wretched asking, from that very moment it is the giver alone who ought to know what should be done in the case.”

The king, understanding that they assented, was much rejoiced, and ordered his physicians to be sent for, to have his veins opened. Now the royal ministers, understanding his determination to offer his own flesh and blood, became agitated, irritated, and perplexed by it, and prompted by their affection, spoke emphatically to this purport: “We pray Your Majesty not to give way to your excessive love of charity in such a degree as to disregard the consequences of your actions, whether they are to be good or evil to your loyal and devoted subjects. Your Majesty cannot be ignorant of the nature of the evil spirits.

27. Goblins, you know, rejoice in whatsoever may tend to the mishap of your subjects, most illustrious lord. They get satisfied by a livelihood necessitating injury to others. Such is the nature of that class of beings, benevolent master.

28. You, Your Majesty, not minding your own pleasures, sustain the toilsome burden of royalty exclusively for the happiness of your people. Cease, therefore, from this determination of offering your flesh and blood; it is a wrong action.

29. These goblins have no power over your people, Your Majesty, no doubt, as long as your strength protects your subjects. So being obstructed in their cleverness in bringing about mischief they seek the calamity of the inhabitants of this country by means of an adroit scheme.

30. In fact, the Celestials are pleased with fat, suet, and the like, offered to them in the fire at sacrifices, and these goblins should not like Your Majesty's food, that is excellent and pure, being carefully prepared!

Surely, Your Royal Majesty is not obliged to [64] communicate your designs to such as we. Notwithstanding this, the attachment to our duty forbids us to show in this matter our usual obedience. Can it be called a righteous action of Your Majesty to throw your whole people into calamity for the sake of those five? Moreover, for what reason do you make us feel to this degree your want of affection? How else could it happen that our flesh and blood, which we are employing in the service of our master, have remained unnoticed by you, but you form the desire of offering your own, while our bodies are entire and available?”

Then the king spoke to those ministers:

31. “Being requested in distinct terms, how may anybody like me say I have not, when having, or I will not give, speaking falsely?

32. Since I pass for your leader in matters of righteousness, if I myself should walk in the wrong path, what would be the condition of my subjects, who are ready to follow the example of my behaviour?

33 Therefore, it is with regard to my very subjects that I will have the strength of my body taken out of it. Besides, if I were to be faint-hearted, subdued by self-love, what power should I have to promote the welfare of my people?

As to the words of love and respect which you have spoken, words full of affection and cordial sympathy, when you asked why I showed such want of affection, wishing to offer my own limbs even now, while your flesh and blood are intact and available, I will convince you by argument. Surely, do not think that by want of trust I mean to close up the path in which you could show your affection towards me, or that suspicion has created an impenetrable thicket across it. Yet

34. The proper time for friends to conceive the desire of succouring their friend is this, when his wealth has either diminished gradually, or has been destroyed by the disfavour of his destiny; but it would not befit the poor acting thus towards a wealthy man.

35 Now, my limbs are available. They are big, [65] solid, fleshy. Them I do sustain for the sake of supplicants. This being so, it would be unfit even for you to conceive such a desire.

36. I am not capable of bearing the pain of strangers, how then can you suppose I should bear your suffering? Therefore, I wish to offer my own flesh. It is I, whom they ask, not you.

Well, then, though attachment to my person gave you the courage to put obstacles in the way of my righteous behaviour, do not oppose my determination any longer. Verily, Your Lordships are not in the habit of dealing in the proper manner with my mendicants. Besides, you should also consider this.

37. He who prohibits anyone wishing for his own sake to give in charity food or the like, say, by what appellation is he to be called, a pious man or an impious one? How much less can there be any doubt about this in the case of a gift of this character?

Why then insist any longer? Do but examine the matter duly, and you will keep your thoughts from the wrong path, as befits those who occupy a ministership in my service. In fact, sympathetic words of approval would now become Your Lordships more than these anxious looks. Why do I say so?

38, 39. Beggars, wanting money and goods, objects of various employment, are to be found every day, are they not? but mendicants like these cannot be obtained even by propitiating deities.

Now considering the frailness of my body and that it is an abode of woe, it would be meanness of mind, I think, even to hesitate at the time of the appearance of such uncommon mendicants; but miserable self-love would be here the deepest darkness.

“Pray, do not withhold me, then, My Lords.”

Having so persuaded his council, he sent for the physicians, and after having five veins in his body opened by them, he spoke to the Yakṣas:

40. “Deign to assist me in this pious performance and to procure for me the highest gladness by accepting this bounty.” [66]

They assented and began to drink, intercepting with the hollow of their joint hands the king's blood, the dark colour of which resembled fragrant red sandal.

41. While allowing the nocturnal monsters to drink the blood from his wounds, the monarch shone as if his body were of gold, and he had the appearance of Mount Meru covered with rain-clouds hanging down by their weight, and tinged with the hue of the twilight.

42. In consequence of the high degree of his gladness, of his magnanimous forbearance, and also of his corporeal strength, his body did not fade, nor did his mind faint and the flowing blood did not lessen.

The Yakṣas, having quenched their intense thirst, said to the king that it was enough.

43. Considering that he had now disposed of his body, that always ungrateful object and abode of many pains, so as to turn it into a means of honouring mendicants, his satisfaction grew no less when they ceased.

Then the king, the serenity of whose countenance was enhanced by his expanding joy, took a sharp sword. It had a spotless bluish blade, not unlike a petal of the blue lotus, and a beautiful hilt shining with brilliancy by the lustre of the jewels which adorned it. With it he cut pieces of flesh out of his body and presented the Yakṣas with them.

44. And the joy he experienced by giving did not leave room for the sense of pain caused by cutting, and prevented his mind again and again from being immersed in sorrow.

45. So the pain, pushing on at each stroke of the sharp sword, but driven far back again by his gladness, was slow in penetrating his mind, as if it were tired by the trouble of being urged to and fro.

46. And he was feeling a sense of gladness alone, whilst he satisfied the nocturnal goblins with pieces of his flesh, to such an extent that the cruel hearts of those very beings unclosed themselves to softness.

47. He who, moved by love of the Law or by compassion, abandons his own dear body for the benefit of others, such a man may be able to regenerate the hearts [67] of men burnt by the fire of hatred, changing it into the gold of tenderness and faith. 'Tender-heartedness’ or 'softness of mind’ and 'faith in the Buddha’ are expressed by the one word prasāda. I have as a rule translated it according to the conception prevailing, but there is equivalence here.08

The Yakṣas, beholding the monarch, who, though intent on cutting out his own flesh, was yet as calm as ever, and exhibited an unshaken serenity of countenance and dauntless intrepidity against the pain caused by the work of his sword, became affected with the utmost tenderness and admiration.

48. “Oh, it is a wonder! oh, it is a miracle! Can it be true, or is it perhaps a phantasm?” Such thoughts arose in their ecstatic minds; and the wrath they had fostered against the king was crushed, and they began to proclaim their faith by veneration and praise of his deed.

“No more, no more, Your Majesty,” they exclaimed; “cease injuring your own body! This marvellous performance of yours, by which you win the hearts of all mendicants, has satisfied us.” So with great agitation, and respectfully bowing their heads, they bade the king stop; after which, they looked up to him with great regard, uplifting their faces moistened with tears of faithful contrition, and continued:

49. “Justly people are prompted by devoutness to proclaim everywhere your glory. Justly Śrī, disdaining the lotus-pond, loves to reside with you. Verily, if Heaven, though protected by Śakra's sovereignty, does not feel something like jealousy, when it looks down on this earth, guarded by your heroism - Heaven, forsooth, is deceived.

Why use many words? Mankind is happy, indeed, being under the protection of such a person as you; but we, we are utterly distressed at having approved of your suffering. Yet, we hope that applying to such a being as you are, may prove a means of salvation for us, be we ever so wicked as we are. Thus hoping, we put this question to you. [68]

50. What is that exceedingly marvellous rank for which you long, acting in this way without regard to your royal happiness, that beloved state which you possess at your ease?

51. Is it the sovereignty of the whole earth you covet by means of this penance, or is it the rank of Kubera or that of lndra, or entire deliverance and absorption into the Brahma?

52. Be it what it may, the goal you are striving after cannot be very far from this strong determination. If we are allowed to hear it, you would please us by telling it, sir.

The king spoke: “Hear then, for what I am exerting myself.

53-54 An illustrious high rank depends on existence, it is to be obtained by effort, and may be easily lost. It cannot give the pleasure of satisfaction, much less tend to serenity of mind. For this reason, I do not desire even the brilliancy of the Lord of the Devas, how much less, that of a king of the earth. Nor would my heart become content, if I were to succeed in destroying the suffering of myself alone. This is said in answer to the question whether he aimed at absorption into Brahma [or 'into the Brahma,’ the Sanskrit word being brahmabhūya].09

I rather regard those helpless creatures, distressed by toil and sufferings because of the violent calamities and vices to which they are liable. For their sakes, may I by means of this my meritorious action attain All-knowingness, and vanquishing the evil passions, my enemies, may I save the creatures from the Ocean of Existence, that rough sea with its billows of old age, sickness and death!”

On hearing this, the Yakṣas, the hairs on whose bodies bristled in consequence of the intense joy of faith, bowed to the king, and said: “This performance of yours is consistent with your extraordinary determination. Accordingly we venture to express our conviction concerning it: the designs of such persons as you will be accomplished after a short time. [69]

56, 57. No doubt, all your exertions tend to the salvation of all creatures; yet deign to take a special care of us, pray do not forget us at that time. Viz. 'at the time of your All-knowingness, when you will have reached Buddhahood’.10

And now forgive us what we have done from ignorance, causing you to be thus tortured: we did not understand even our own interest.

58. Further, we beg you to show us your favour by giving us some injunction which we may follow. Do it with the same confidence, as you would to your own officials.”

Upon which the king, knowing them to be converted and to have lost their hard-heartedness, spoke in this manner: “Do not be in trouble without reason. It is no torment, in fact it is a benefit you have conferred on me. Moreover,

59. The path of righteousness (dharma) being thus (difficult), how should I ever forget my companions on that road, when once I shall have attained Supreme Wisdom (bodhi)? My first teaching of the Lore of Liberation shall be to you; to you I shall impart of that ambrosia first.

60. And if you now intend to do what may be agreeable to me, you must avoid like poison these sins: doing harm to others, coveting the goods or wives of others, speaking evil, and drinking intoxicating liquors.”

The Yakṣas promised to do so, and having bowed to him and circumambulated him from left to right, disappeared on the spot.

But when the Great Being had made up his mind to give away his own flesh and blood, at that very time

61, 62. Earth trembled in many places and caused the Golden Mountain to waver, in consequence of which concussion the drums on that mountain began to sound and the trees to cast off their flowers.

These spread about in the sky, and moved by the wind appeared like a cloud; at one place, like a flight of birds, they [70] resembled a canopy; at another they bore the appearance of a well-arranged garland. They fell down together on all sides of the place where the king was.

63. The great Ocean, as if he intended to prevent the monarch, showed his excitement and agitation by the increased commotion and noise of his waves, and his figure expressed great vigour as if he were ready to march. Viz. to relieve the king. In this simile the Ocean is represented as an auxiliary prince who raises his army to the succour of his ally.11

64, 65. Then the Chief of the Devas became agitated by those phenomena: and discovering by reflection the cause of them, and being filled with apprehension at the sufferings to which the king exposed himself, hastily came to the royal residence, where he found every one perplexed with sorrow and fear, except the king.

On beholding the calmness of his countenance, though he was in so miserable a condition, Śakra was affected with the utmost amazement. He approached the monarch, and impelled by gladness and joy, he eulogised his performance in his lovely voice.

66. Oh, thou hast reached the summit of pious behaviour! oh, the loftiness of thy treasure which is the practice of virtue! oh, how charmingly clever is thy mind in showing thy favour to others! Verily, being given to thee, Earth has obtained a protector!”

After so praising him, Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, applied excellent herbs, fit to heal wounds immediately, which herbs were partly divine, partly such as are used by men. So he put a stop to his pains, and made his body as it was before. In return for which the king honoured him by kind attendance in a courteous and reverent manner. Then Śakra went back to his own abode.

In this way, then, the intensely compassionate do not mind their own pleasure, being afflicted by the [71] sufferings of others; [who, then, ought not to set aside the attachment to anything so mean as wealth? Thus ought to be said when stimulating the zeal of charitable people.

Likewise, when explaining the virtue of compassion; when glorifying the Tathāgata; also on the subject of listening with attention to the preaching of the Law.

Moreover, the words said by the Lord: “Monks, these Five have done much, indeed,” will be explained by their being connected with this story. For they were the five Yakṣas of that time. To them the Lord imparted the first of the ambrosia of the Law, just as he had promised.]

The Story of Maitrībala is not met with in the Cariyāpiṭaka nor in the five volumes of the Pāli Jatāka, which have appeared up to date; it will probably be found in the part not yet published. Something like it is told in the ninety-first pallava of Kṣemendra's Avadānakalpalatā. There a king of the Śibis gives up his flesh and blood in order to obtain a Sūkta or well-said sentence. Somendra in his introductory ślokas describes the ninety-first story thus: Svamāṁsāsṛkpradānena yaḥ Śibiḥ sūktam agrahīt (śl. 36).12 This tale, however, is not yet printed, nor may we expect it soon to be so. But in another part of that poem, already published, I have met with the story of king Maṇicūḍa, which bears in many respects a striking resemblance to ours. See 3, 56 foll.