Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


19. The Story of the Lotus-Stalks (Praviveka)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka. No. 488, Fausböll IV, 305-314; Cariyāpiṭaka III, 4)

Those who have learnt to appreciate the happiness of detachment are hostile to worldly pleasures; they will oppose them, like one opposes a deception, an injury. This will be taught as follows.

One time the Bodhisattva was born in an illustrious family of Brāhmans, far-famed for their virtues and their freedom from reprehensible vices. In this existence he had six younger brothers endowed with virtues similar to his, and who out of affection and esteem for him always imitated him; he had also a sister, who was the seventh. Having studied the Vedas with their auxiliary sciences, likewise the Upavedas, The Upavedas are the four sciences of medicine (āyurveda), military sciences (dhanurveda), music (gāndharvaveda), and mechanics (silpasāstra), which theory attaches to the Ṛg-, Yajur-, Sāma-, and Atharva-veda respectively.01 he obtained great renown on account of his learning, and high respect from the side of the people. Attending on his father and mother with the utmost piety, yea, worshipping them like deities, and instructing his brothers in different branches of science like a spiritual teacher or a father, he dwelt in the world, being [155] skilled in the art of dealing with worldly affairs, and distinguished by his good manners. In course of time his parents died, which loss deeply moved his soul. Having performed the funeral ceremonies for them, after some days spent in mourning, he assembled his brothers and thus spoke to them:

1, 2. “This is the necessary order of things in the world and a source of grief and excessive pain, that Death separates us at last from those with whom we have lived together for a time, however long. For this reason I desire to walk homeless on that laudable road to salvation, before Death, our foe, seizes me while attached to the householder's life.

Having thus resolved, I have to advise you this, one and all. Our Brāhmanical family is in the lawful possession of some wealth obtained in an honest way. With it you are able to sustain yourselves. Well, then, you must dwell here as householders in a becoming manner. Let all of you be intent on loving and respecting each other, take care not to slacken your regard of the moral precepts and the practice of a righteous behaviour, keep up the assiduous study of the Veda, be prepared to meet the wishes of your friends, your guests, and your kinsmen. In short, above all things observe Righteousness.

3. Always continuing in good behaviour, observing your daily Veda-study, and delighting in almsgiving, you must keep the householder's state (so) as it ought to be kept.

4. In this way not only will your reputation increase, not only will you extend your virtue and your wealth, the substance of welfare, but you may expect your entrance in the other life to be happy. Do not commit, therefore, any inadvertence while living the householder's life.”

But his brothers, hearing him speak of the homeless life, felt their hearts grieved with the apprehension of separation. Their faces grew wet with tears of sorrow, and respectfully bowing they spoke to him: “The wound caused by the sorrow-arrow of our father's [156] decease is not yet healed. Pray do not rub it open afresh with the salt of this new assault of grief.

5. Even now the wound is still open which was inflicted on our minds by the death of our father. Oh! you must retract your resolution, wise brother, you must not strew salt on our wound.

6. Or, if indeed you are convinced that attachment to the house is unfit, or that the happiness of the forest-life is the road to salvation, why is it that you desire to depart for the forest alone, leaving us in this house destitute of our protector?

For this reason, the state of life which is yours, that will be ours, too. We too will renounce the world.”

The Bodhisattva answered:

7. “People who have not familiarised themselves with Detachment cannot but follow after worldly desires. As a rule they look upon it as the same thing to give up the world or to fall over a precipice.

Thus considering, I restrained myself and did not exhort you to adopt the homeless life, though knowing the difference between both states. But if my choice please you too, why, let us abandon our home!” And so all seven brothers, with their sister as the eighth, gave up their wealthy estate and precious goods, took leave of their weeping friends, kinsmen and relations, and resorted to the state of homeless ascetics. And with them, out of affection also one comrade, one male, and one female servant set out for the forest.

In a certain place in the forest there was a large lake of pure, blue water. It exhibited a resplendent fiery beauty, when its lotus-beds were expanded, and offered a gay aspect, when its groups of waterlilies disclosed their calyxes; The former happened at daytime, the latter in the nights bright with moonshine. 02 swarms of bees were always humming there. On the shore of that lake they built as many huts of leaves as they numbered, one for [157] each, placing them at some distance from one another, hidden in the shadow of the trees in the midst of a lovely solitude. There they lived, devoted to their self-imposed vows and observances, and having their minds bound to meditation.

On each fifth day they were in the habit of going to the Bodhisattva in order to listen to his preaching of the Law. Then he delivered some or other edifying discourse to show them the way of tranquillity and placidity of mind. In those discourses he exhorted to meditation, asserted the sinfulness of worldly pleasures, expatiated on the sense of satisfaction which is the result of detachment, blamed hypocrisy, loquacity, idleness and other vices, and made a deep impression on his audience.

Now, their maid-servant, prompted by respect and affection, did not cease to attend upon them still in the forest. She was wont to draw eatable lotus-stalks out of the lake and to put equal shares of them upon large lotus-leaves in a clean place on the lake-shore; when she had thus prepared the meal, she would announce the time by taking two pieces of wood and clashing them against each other, after which she withdrew. Then those holy men, after performing the proper and usual prayers and libations, would come to the lake-side one after another according to their age, and each having taken successively his share of the stalks, return to his hut. There they would enjoy the meal in the prescribed manner and pass the rest of the time absorbed in meditation. By this practice they avoided seeing each other, except at preaching-time.

Such irreproachable morals, way of living, and behaviour, such love of detachment, and such proneness to meditation made them renowned everywhere. Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, having heard of their reputation, came to their abode for the purpose of trying them. Now, when he perceived their disposition to meditation, their purity from bad actions, their freedom from lusts and the constancy of their serene calmness, his high opinion of their Virtues grew [158] stronger, and he became the more anxious to try them.

8. He who lives in the depth of the forest without any desire, only intent on calmness of mind, such a man causes reverence for his virtues to arise in the hearts of the pious.

Śakra, then, the Lord of the Devas, watched the time when the maid-servant, after gathering her provision of eatable lotus-stalks, as white and tender as the teeth of a young elephant, washed them and arranged them in equal portions on lotus-leaves with the green hue of emeralds, taking care to adorn each share by adding to it some petals and filaments of the lotuses. After announcing the mealtime to the holy ascetics, as usual, by the noise of the clashing pieces of wood, she withdrew. At this moment Śakra, with the object of trying the Bodhisattva, made the very first share disappear (from the lotus-leaf).

9. When mishap arises and happiness disappears, then there is opportunity for measuring the constancy of the virtuous, as it cannot fail to start into view.

When the Bodhisattva, coming to the place of the first share of stalks, perceived that the eatable stalks were missing on his lotus-leaf, while the adornment of petals and filaments was disarranged, he thought: “Somebody has taken my share of food.” Then, without feeling agitation or anger in his heart, he went back to his hut, where he entered upon his practices of meditation, as he was wont to do. Nor did he inform the other holy ascetics of the matter, to avoid grieving them. And those again, thinking it to be a matter of course that he had taken his share of the stalks, took their portions too, as usual, successively and in due order, and ate them severally, each in his hut; after which they became absorbed in meditation. In the same manner Śakra concealed the Bodhisattva's portion of the lotus-stalks on the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth day. But the effect was the same. The Great Being remained as calm in mind as ever, and was entirely free from trouble. [159]

10. The virtuous consider the agitation of the mind, not the extinction of life, to be death. It is for this reason that the wise never become alarmed, not even when in danger of life.

In the afternoon of that (fifth) day those Ṛṣis went up to the leaf-hut of the Bodhisattva, as they were in the habit of doing, in order to listen to his preaching of the Law. On seeing him, they perceived the leanness of his body. His cheeks looked hollow, his eyes were sunken, the splendour of his face had faded, his sonorous voice had lost its full sound. Yet, however emaciated, he was lovely to behold like the crescent; for his virtues, wisdom, constancy, tranquillity had not diminished. Accordingly, after coming into his presence and paying him the usual homage, they asked him with anxious excitement the cause of that emaciation. And the Bodhisattva told them the matter as he had experienced it.

The ascetics, who could not suppose any one among themselves to have done an action so unbecoming as this, and who felt quite alarmed at his pain, expressed their sorrow by exclamations, and kept their eyes fixed on the ground for shame. But Śakra having by his power obstructed their free movement on the ways in which they could obtain knowledge, they were unable to come to a conclusion as to the cause of the disappearance. Then the brother of the Bodhisattva, who was born next to him, showing both his alarmed mind and his guiltlessness, made this extraordinary protestation: The following set of remarkable protestations are also found in the same order and in a substantially identical form in the Pāli redaction. They are very old, and not wholly free from corruptions and misunderstandings.03

11. “May he who took thy lotus-stalks, O Brāhman, obtain a house, betokening by its rich decoration the wealth of its owner, a wife to his heart's desire, and may he be blessed with many children and grandchildren!” The Pāli redaction adds, that the audience on hearing this protestation shut their ears, saying: 'Do not speak in this manner, friend! thy curse is too tremendous’.04 [160]

The second brother said:

12. “May he who took thy lotus-stalks, O foremost Brāhman, be tainted with a strong attachment to worldliness, may he wear wreaths and garlands and sandal-powder and fine garments and ornaments, touched by his (playing) children!”

The third brother said:

13. “May he who took thy lotus-stalks even once, be a husbandman who, having obtained wealth in consequence of his husbandry and delighting in the prattle of his children, enjoys the home-life without thinking of the time when he must retire from the world!” The Sanskrit text has vayo 'py apaśyan = Pāli vayaṁ appassaṁ. I follow the explication of the Pāli commentary.05

The fourth brother spoke:

14. “May he who prompted by cupidity took thy lotus-stalks, rule the whole earth as a monarch, and be worshipped by kings attending on him in the humble attitude of slaves, lowering their trembling heads!”

The fifth brother spoke:

15. “May he be a king's family-priest in the possession of evil-charming mantras and the like, may he also be treated with distinction by his king, whosoever he be who took thy lotus-stalks!”

The sixth brother said:

16. “May he who has been eager to possess thy lotus-stalks rather than thy virtues, be a famous teacher well-versed in the Veda and largely enjoy the worship of an ascetic from the people crowding together to see him!”

The friend spoke:

17. “May he who could not subdue his greediness for thy lotus-stalks obtain from the part of the king an excellent village endowed with the four plenties (abounding in population, corn, wood and water), The said four plenties are thus explained in the commentary on the Pāli Jātaka, which proves here of essential help, since catuḥśatam of the Sanskrit text is a wrong Sanskritisation of Pāli catussadaṁ, and does not suit the context.06 and may he die without having subdued his passions!” [161]

The male-servant said:

18. “May he be the head of a village, cheerfully living with his comrades, exhilarated by the dances and chants of women, and never meet with harm from the king's side, he who destroyed his own interest for the sake of those lotus-stalks!”

The sister said:

19. “May that person Both the Sanskrit and the Pāli redaction have here the masculine pronoun demonstrative. The fault, must be a very ancient one. In the imprecation of the female servant the grammatical gender is respected by Śūra, not so in the Jātaka.07 who ventured to take the lotus-stalks of such a being as you, be a woman of resplendent beauty and figure, may a king make her his wife and put her at the head of his zenana of a thousand females!”

The maid-servant said:

20. “May she much delight in eating sweetmeats alone stealthily, disregarding the pious, and be greatly rejoiced when she gets a dainty dish, she who set her heart on thy lotus-stalks, not on thy righteousness!”

Now three inhabitants of the forest had also come to that place to hear the preaching of the Law, namely a Yakṣa, an elephant, and a monkey. They had heard the conversation and were overcome with the utmost shame and confusion. Among them, the Yakṣa attested his innocence, uttering in their presence this solemn protestation:

21. “May he who failed against thee for the sake of the lotus-stalks, have his residence in the Great Monastery, entrusted with the charge of the reparations in (the town of) Kacaṅgalā, and make one window every day!” This imprecation alludes to the story of a certain devaputra, who in the time of the Buddha Kāśyapa dwelt in the said monastery and was obliged to do the labour imposed on him, whereby he suffered much. A brief account of that tale is given in the commentary on the Pāli Jātaka, where the speaker of this stanza is called a Devatā, not a Yakṣa.08 [162]

The elephant spoke:

22. “May he come into captivity from the lovely forest into the company of men, fettered with six hundred solid chains, I suppose the author of the Sanskrit original did not understand the meaning of the text he Sanskritised. The corresponding stanza of the Pāli redaction has so bajjhatū pāsasatehi chambhī, where chambhī is explained in the commentary as signifying the six parts of the elephants body fastened by many chains (pāsasatehīti bahūhi pāsehi), viz. the four feet, the neck, and the loins.09 and suffer pain from the sharp goads of his driver, he who took thy lotus-stalks, O most excellent of Munis!

The monkey said:

23. “May he who moved by greediness took thy lotus-stalks wear a flower-garland and a tin collar rubbing his neck, and beaten with a stick pass before the face of a serpent, In other words, may he be the monkey of a serpent-charmer.10 and with a long wreath hanging from his shoulder, live in the houses (of men)!”

In reply, the Bodhisattva addressed all of them with words both persuasive and kind, indicating how deep-rooted was his dispassionateness.

24. “May he who falsely said ‘they have disappeared,’ though he had them, obtain to his heart's desire worldly pleasures and die a householder. May the same be the fate of him who suspects you of a similar action!”

Those extraordinary protestations of them, indicative of their abhorrence of the enjoyment of worldly pleasures, roused the astonishment and respect of Śakra, the Lord of the Devas. He made himself visible in his own brilliant shape, and drawing near to those Ṛṣis, said as if with resentment: “You ought not to speak so.

25. “Those enjoyments - to obtain which everybody who longs for happiness strives after to such a degree as to banish sleep from his eyes and to undertake any form of penance and toil - you censure, calling them ‘worldly pleasures!’ Why do you judge so?” [163]

The Bodhisattva spoke: “Sensual enjoyments are accompanied by endless sins, sir. Why, hear then, I will tell thee concisely, what the Munis have in view that makes them blame sensual enjoyments.

26. On account of them, men incur captivity and death, grief, fatigue, danger, in short manifold sufferings. For the sake of them, kings are eager to oppress righteousness, and consequently fall into hell after death.

27. When the ties of friendship are suddenly loosened, when men enter the road of political wisdom, that unclean path of falseness, when they lose their good reputation and hereafter come to meet with sufferings - is it not sensual enjoyments that are the cause thereof?

28. Now, since worldly pleasures in this manner tend to the destruction of all conditions of men, the highest, the middle and the lowest, both in this world and in the next, the Munis, O Śakra, who long only for the Self, keep aloof from them, as they would from angry serpents.”

Then Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, approved his words, saying, “Well spoken,” and as he was propitiated by the greatness of mind of those Ṛṣis, he confessed that he himself had committed the theft.

29, 30. “A high opinion of virtue may be tested by trial. Thus considering, I hid the lotus-stalks in order to try you. And now, how fortunate is the world in that it possesses such Munis as you, whose glory is tested by fact. And thou, here, take these lotus-stalks, as a proof of a constant holy behaviour.”

With these words he handed the stalks over to the Bodhisattva. But the Bodhisattva reproved his unbecoming and audacious way of proceeding in terms though modest, yet expressive of noble self-esteem.

31. “We are no kinsfolk of thine, nor thy comrades, nor are we thy actors or buffoons. What, then, is the reason for thy coming here, Lord of the Devas, to play with Ṛṣis in this manner?”

At these words Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, [164] hastily divested himself of his divine appearance, brilliant with his earrings, his head-ornament, and his lightning, and respectfully bowing to the Bodhisattva, spoke thus in order to appease him:

32. “O thou who art free from all selfishness, deign to forgive me the thoughtless deed I did with the aforesaid purpose; pardon it like a father, like a teacher!

33. It is proper, indeed, to those whose eyes are not yet opened to wisdom, to offend against others, be they even their equals. Likewise it is proper to (the wise) who know the Self, to pardon such offences. Also for this reason, pray do not feel anger in thy heart concerning that deed!”

Having thus appeased him, Śakra disappeared on the spot.

In this manner, then, those who have learnt to appreciate the happiness of detachment are hostile to worldly pleasures; they will oppose them like one opposes a deception, an injury. In the original some lines follow here, bracketed by the editor. No doubt, we have here an interpolation, as is also indicated by its very collocation after the ethical maxim which must be the final part of our tale. This is its translation \‘And this jātaka has thus been explained by the Lord: 34-36. \‘I, the son of Śāradvatī [viz. Śāriputra], Maudgalyāyana, Kāśyapa, Pūrṇa, Aniruddha, and Ānanda, we were the brothers of that time. Utpalāvarṇā was the sister and Kubjottarā was the maid-servant. Citra the householder was then the male slave, Sātāgirī the Yakṣa, Pārileya the elephant, Madhudātar the monkey, Kālodāyin the Śakra of that time. Retain well this jātaka thus explained.’ Almost the same verses and names are found in the conclusion of this story in the Pāli Jātaka.11