Ja 71 Varaṇajātaka
The Birth Story about the Temple Tree (1s)

Alternative Title: Varuṇajātaka (Cst)

In the present one monk, who should have been striving, fell asleep and broke his thigh after falling. The Buddha tells a story of a past life in which the same person had slept his way through his work time, and on arising had hurt his eye, and brought green wood back, which hindered his companions from receiving their meal.

The Bodhisatta = the brahmin teacher (ācariyabrāhmaṇa),
the Buddha’s disciples = the brahmin’s students (sesamāṇavā),
the monk with a broken thigh = the brahmin pupil who hurt his eye (akkhibhedaṁ patto māṇavo).
Keyword: Sloth.

“One who before had duties.” [1.172] {1.316} This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about the elder named Tissa the householder’s son. Tradition says that one day thirty young gentlemen of Sāvatthi, who were all friends of one another, took perfumes and flowers and robes, and set out with a large retinue to Jetavana, in order to hear the Teacher preach.

After arriving at Jetavana, they sat awhile in the several enclosures – in the enclosure of the Ironwood trees, in the enclosure of the Sāl trees, and so forth – till at evening the Teacher passed from his fragrant sweet-smelling perfumed chamber to the Dhamma Hall and took his seat on the gorgeous Buddha-seat. Then, with their following, these young men went to the Dhamma Hall, made an offering of perfumes and flowers, bowed down at his feet – those blessed feet that were glorious as full-blown lotus-flowers, and bore imprinted on the sole the Wheel – and, taking their seats, listened to the Dhamma. Then the thought came into their minds, “Let us take the vows, so far as we understand the Dhamma preached by the Teacher.” Accordingly, when the Fortunate One left the Hall, they approached him and with due obeisance asked to be admitted to the Saṅgha; and the Teacher admitted them to the Saṅgha.

Winning the favour of their teachers and preceptors they received full ordination, and after five years’ residence with their teachers and preceptors, by which time they had got by heart the two Abstracts, [i.e both Pātimokkhas, or regulations for monks and nuns.] had come to know what was proper and what was improper, had learned the three modes of expressing thanks, and had stitched and dyed robes.

At this stage, wishing to embrace the ascetic life, they obtained the consent of their teachers and preceptors, and approached the Tathāgata. Bowing before him they took their seats, saying: “Sir, we are troubled by the round of existence, dismayed by birth, decay, disease, and death; give us a meditation theme, by thinking on which we may get free from the elements which occasion existence.” The Teacher turned over in his mind the thirty-eight themes of meditation, and therefrom selected a suitable one, which he expounded to them. And then, after getting their meditation from the Teacher, they bowed and with a ceremonious farewell passed from his presence to their cells, and after gazing on their teachers and preceptors went forth with bowl and robe to embrace the ascetic life.

Now amongst them was a monk named the elder Kuṭumbikaputtatissa [Tissa the householder’s son], a weak and irresolute man, a slave to the pleasures of taste. Thought he to himself, “I shall never be able to live in the forest, to strive with strenuous effort, and subsist on doles of food. What is the good of my going? I will turn back.” And so he gave up, and after accompanying those monks some way he turned back.

As to the other monks, they came in the course of their alms pilgrimage through Kosala to a certain border-village, {1.317} nearby which in a wooded spot they kept the Rainy-season, and by three months’ striving and wrestling got the germ of Discernment and became an Arahat, making the earth shout for joy. At the end of the Rainy-season, after celebrating the Invitation festival, they set out thence to announce to the Teacher the Attainments they had won, and, coming in due course to Jetavana, laid aside their bowls and robes, paid a visit to their teachers and preceptors, and, being anxious to see the Tathāgata, went to him and with due obeisance took their seats. The Teacher greeted them kindly and they announced to the Fortunate One the Attainments they had won, receiving praise from him. Hearing the Teacher speaking in their praise, the elder Tissa the householder’s son was filled with a desire to live the life of a recluse all by himself. Likewise, those other monks asked and received the Teacher’s permission to return to dwell in that self-same spot in the forest. And with due obeisance they went to their cells. [1.173]

Now the elder Tissa the householder’s son that very night was inflated with a yearning to begin his austerities at once, and while practising with excessive zeal and ardour the methods of a recluse and sleeping in an upright posture by the side of his plank-bed, soon after the middle watch of the night, round he turned and down he fell, breaking his thigh-bone; and severe pains set in, so that the other monks had to nurse him and were debarred from leaving.

Accordingly, when they appeared at the hour for waiting on the Buddha, he asked them whether they had not yesterday asked his leave to start today.

“Yes, sir, we did; but our friend the elder Tissa the Householder’s Son, while rehearsing the methods of a recluse with great vigour but out of season, dropped off to sleep and fell over, breaking his thigh; and that is why our departure has been thwarted.” “This is not the first time, monks,” said the Teacher, “that this man’s discontent has caused him to strive with unseasonable zeal, and thereby to delay your departure; he delayed your departure in the past also.” And hereupon, at their request, he told this story of the past.

In the past at Taxila in the kingdom of Gandhāra the Bodhisatta was a teacher of world-wide fame, with 500 young brahmins as pupils. One day these pupils set out for the forest to gather firewood for their master, and busied themselves in gathering sticks. Amongst them was a lazy fellow who came on a huge forest tree, which he imagined to be dry and rotten. So he thought that he could safely indulge in a nap first, and at the last moment climb up {1.318} and break some branches off to carry home. Accordingly, he spread out his outer robe and fell asleep, snoring loudly. All the other young brahmins were on their way home with their wood tied up in faggots, when they came upon the sleeper. Having kicked him in the back till he awoke, they left him and went their way. He sprang to his feet, and rubbed his eyes for a time. Then, still half asleep, he began to climb the tree. But one branch, which he was tugging at, snapped off short; and, as it sprang up, the end struck him in the eye. Clapping one hand over his wounded eye, he gathered green boughs with the other. Then climbing down, he corded his faggot, and after hurrying away home with it, flung his green wood on the top of the others’ faggots.

That same day it chanced that a country family invited the master to visit them on the morrow, in order that they might give him a brahmin-feast. And so the master called his pupils together, and, telling them of the journey they would have to make to the village on the morrow, said they could not go fasting. “So have some rice-gruel made early in the morning,” said he, “and eat it before starting. There you will have food given you for yourselves and a portion for me. Bring it all home with you.”

So they got up early next morning and roused a maid to get them their breakfast ready betimes. And off she went for wood to light the fire. The green wood lay on the top of the stack, and she laid her fire with it. And she blew and blew, but could not get her fire to burn, and at last the [1.174] sun got up. “It’s broad daylight now,” they said, “and it’s too late to start.” And they went off to their master.

“What, not yet on your way, my sons?” said he. “No, sir; we have not started.” “Why, pray?” “Because that lazy so-and-so, when he went wood-gathering with us, lay down to sleep under a forest tree; and, to make up for lost time, he climbed up the tree in such a hurry that he hurt his eye and brought home a lot of green wood, which he threw on the top of our faggots. So, when the maid who was to cook our rice-gruel went to the stack, she took his wood, thinking it would be dry; and no fire could she light before the sun was up. And this is what stopped our going.”

Hearing what the young brahmin had done, the master exclaimed that a fool’s doings had caused all the mischief, and repeated this verse: {1.319}

1. Yo pubbe karaṇīyāni, pacchā so kātum-icchati,
Varuṇakaṭṭhabhañjo va, sa pacchā-m-anutappatī ti.

One who before had duties, and later still desires to do them, like the one who broke off the Varuṇa branch, regrets it later.

Such was the Bodhisatta’s comment on the matter to his pupils; and at the close of a life of generosity and other good works he passed away to fare according to his deeds.

Said the Teacher, “This is not the first time, monks, that this man has thwarted you; he did the like in the past also.” His lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “The monk who has broken his thigh was the young brahmin of those days who hurt his eye; the Buddha’s followers were the rest of the young brahmins; and I myself was the brahmin their master.”