Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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14. The Story of Supāraga (Satya)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 463; Fausböll IV, 137-143)

Even speaking the truth on the ground of Righteousness is sufficient to dispel calamity, what can be said more to assert the good results of observing the Law? Considering thus, one must observe the Law. This will be taught now.

In one of his Bodhisattva-existences, the Great Being was, it is said, an extremely clever steersman. [125] For this is the invariable nature of the Bodhisattvas, that owing to the innate acuteness of their mind, whatever branch of science or species of art they desire to know, they will in it surpass the wisest in the world.

Accordingly the High-minded One possessed every quality required in such a one. Knowing the course of the celestial luminaries, he was never at a loss with respect to the regions of the sky; being perfectly acquainted with the different prognostics, the permanent, the occasional, and the miraculous ones, he was skilled in the establishment of a given time as proper or improper; by means of manifold marks, observing the fishes, the colour of the water, the species of the ground, birds, rocks, and so on, he knew how to ascertain rightly the part of the sea; further he was vigilant, not subject to drowsiness and sleep, capable of enduring the fatigue of cold, heat, rain, and the like, careful and patient.

So being skilled in the art of taking a ship out and bringing her home, The exact meaning of the Sanskrit terms āharaṇa and apaharaṇa is doubtful, but must be something like this.01 he exercised the profession of one who conducts the merchants by sea to their destination. And as his navigation was very successful, he was named Supāraga. In the Pāli redaction he is called Suppāraka, and the seaport where he lives and from whence he undertakes his last voyage is Bharukaccha. The form Supāraga is Sanskritised wrongly, in order to fit the author's etymological fancy. See Prof. Kern's note on this passage in the various readings of his edition.02 The seaport where he lived bore the same name of Supāraga, which place is now known as Sūpāraga. Even in his old age, the sea-traders, longing for a prosperous voyage, applied to him who was well-known to be an auspicious person, and entreating him in the most respectful terms, put him on their ships.

So it once happened that merchants who trafficked with Goldland, coming from Bharukaccha, longing for a prosperous voyage, touched at the town of Supāraga and requested that Great Being to embark with them. He answered them: [126]

1. “What kind of assistance do you think to find in me? Old age, having got power over me, makes my eyesight diminish; In the Pāli redaction Suppāraka is wholly blind. This must be the better tradition on account of his never perceiving himself, but always hearing from the traders the miraculous objects which will present themselves in this voyage.03 in consequence of the many toils I have endured, my attentiveness has grown weak, and even in my bodily occupations I feel my strength almost gone.”

The merchants said: “We are well acquainted with the bodily state of Your Honour. But this being so, and taking into account your inability for labour, we will not cause hardship to you nor give any task into your charge, but we want you for some other reason.

2. The dust touched and hallowed by your lotus-like feet will be auspicious to our ship and procure her a happy course over yonder sea, even if assailed by great danger. With this in mind we have applied to you.”

The Great Being, though subject to the infirmity of old age, went on board their vessel out of compassion. His embarkment was a cause of rejoicing of all those merchants, for they thought: “Now we are assured of a very successful voyage. And so they (set off, and) in course of their voyage reached that Abode of the Snakes who constitute the host of the Demons, that Pātāla into which it is difficult to penetrate, that immense receptacle of water, the Great Ocean, which is haunted by different kinds of fishes and resounds with the murmuring of its never-quiet waves, whereas, when impelled by the power of the wind, it hurries on its billows after the whims of that element; on its bottom different sorts of ground extend, concealing manifold precious stones, and its surface is embellished by the various flower-garlands of its foam.

3. A dark-blue hue, like that of a heap of sapphires, was lying over the surface of the water, as if it were [127] sky melted by the glowing heat of the sunbeams, when they lost sight of the coastline and were running over the profound ocean which surrounded them on all sides.

After they were in the open sea, it happened in the afternoon, at the time when the sun-rays begin to lose their strength, that a great and very fearful, portentous event appeared to them.

4. On a sudden the sea took a terrible aspect. A violent gale arose, causing a fearful noise of the waters, lashing their surface so that they were covered with foam scattered by the breaking billows. The whole sea was brought in commotion up from its very bottom.

5. Shaken by the hurricane, the immense masses of water were stirred up and rolled with formidable rapidity. The Ocean assumed a dreadful appearance, like that of Earth quivering with her mountains at the time of a world-destruction.

6. Like many-headed hissing serpents, clouds of a bluish-black colour with their flame-tongues of lightnings obstructed the path of the sun, and without interruption produced the terrible noise of their thunder.

7. The sun, whose network of rays was hidden by thick clouds, gradually reached the point where it set. Then darkness availing itself of the opportunity of evening-time and growing, as it were, more concrete, enveloped all around.

8, 9. Smitten on its wave-surface by the rain-darts of the showers, the sea rose up, as if in rage, and the poor ship trembled very much, as if afraid, saddening the hearts of the occupants, who manifested their different natures according to their inherent qualities.

Some were overcome by affliction and stood speechless with terror, some behaved courageously and were busily working to avert the danger, and some were absorbed in prayers to their tutelar deities.

Now, the strong wind making the sea run high, the vessel drove along with the current. The merchants did not discover land for many days, nor did they [128] observe favourable signs of the sea. The signs they saw, being new to them, made their sadness increase, and they grew perplexed by fear and dejection. But Supāraga, the Bodhisattva, comforted them, thus speaking: “You must not wonder at the sea tossing about in a portentous state of commotion; are we not crossing the Great Ocean? There is no reasonable ground for Your Honours to indulge in affliction. Why so?

10, 11. It is not by dejection that mischief is warded off; therefore do not remain in low spirits. But it is by courage that those who are clever to do what is to be done surmount difficulties without difficulty.

Well then, shake off that sadness and dejection, set rather to work, availing yourselves of the opportunity of working. The energy of a wise man, kindled by firmness of mind, is the hand by which success is grasped in any matter.

Let each of you then be intent on performing his special duty.” And the merchants, in this way invigorated by the Great Being, longing for the sight of land and looking down into the sea, beheld beings who had the figure of men and looked as if they wore silver armour; they saw them diving up and down the water-surface. When they had well considered their figures and marks, they informed Supāraga of that phenomenon, expressing their amazement. “Verily, here we meet in the great ocean with a phenomenon unheard of before. These, in truth, are

12. Some beings not unlike warriors of the Demons, wearing silver armour, with fierce looks and ugly noses that resemble a quadruped's hoof; it seems as if they are sporting in the ocean-water, incessantly shooting and diving up and down its surface.”

Supāraga said: “These are no men nor demons, but fishes, to be sure. Do not be afraid of them. Still,

13. We are driven far off both seaports. This is the sea called Khuramālin. = wearing hoof-garlands.04 Therefore, you must try to turn back.”

But they could not veer on account of the vehemence of the high-running sea and of the strong wind, which [129] continued to blow after them and drive the ship in the same direction. And as they advanced farther into the ocean, they perceived another sea shining with the lustre of silver and looking bright with the mass of white foam on its waves. On beholding this astonishing spectacle, they said to Supāraga:

14. “What great sea is this, which is clothed, as it were, in fine white linen and veils its waters with its foam? It seems to bear on its surface fluid moonbeams, as it were, and to show all around a laughing face.”

Supāraga said: “Alas! we are penetrating too far.

15. That is the sea Dadhimālin, = wearing garlands of coagulated milk.05 called the ‘milk-ocean’. It is not wise to go farther on, at least if it is possible to turn back.”

The merchants said: “It is impossible, indeed, to reduce the speed of the ship, much less to change her course. She is being driven too swiftly by the current, and the wind blows contrary.”

Now, having crossed also that sea, the merchants perceived another sea, whose rolling waves were tinged with the splendour of gold resembling the red-brown colour of flames, and filled with amazement and curiosity they spoke about it to Supāraga.

16. “It looks now as if the high, bright waves had been tinged with the brilliant hue of the rising sun. They appear to us like a great, blazing fire. Say, what sea is this and how is it named for this reason?”

Supāraga answered:

17. “Agnimālin = wearing fire-garlands.06 is the celebrated name of this sea. It would be very prudent, indeed, if we were to turn back now.”

Thus saying the Great Being, far-seeing as he was, told them only the name of that sea, but concealed the cause of the change of colour of the water. After crossing also that sea, the merchants saw that the colour of the sea changed again; now its hue bore a resemblance to a grove of ripe kuśa-grass, and its waters were illuminated with the lustre of topazes [130] and sapphires; and prompted by curiosity they asked Supāraga:

18. “Which of the seas now appears to us? Its waters have the colour of the blades of ripe kuśa-grass. The breaking of its wind-stirred billows crowns it with a many-coloured foam-ornament, and makes it look as if it were overspread with flowers.”

Supāraga said: “Say, merchants, you should now make efforts to turn back. Surely it is not advisable to go farther.

19. This is the sea named Kuśamālin. = wearing kuśa-garlands.07 Like an elephant not heeding the goad, it drags forcibly along with its irresistible waves, and will take away our enjoyment.

And the merchants, not being able to turn the ship, however bravely they exerted themselves, crossed also that sea. Then perceiving another sea, the water of which had a greenish colour like that proceeding from the united brilliancy of emeralds and beryls, they asked Supāraga:

20. “The sea we now behold has yet another appearance. Its waters have the green shine of emeralds and resemble a splendid meadow; they are adorned with foam as lovely as waterlilies. Which sea is this again.”

Upon this the Great Being, whose heart ached as he foresaw the calamity which was about to befall the merchants, heaved a long and deep sigh, and said in a low tone:

21. “You have gone too far. It will be hard to return from hence. This sea, the Nalamālin, = wearing reed-garlands. In the Pāli redaction this sea has the appearance of an immense reed-bed or bamboo-grove (nalavanaṁ viya ca veḷuvanaṁ viya ca), and the commentator argues that those names of grasses convey also the acceptation of some precious stones. But the stones there are of a red colour.08 is well-nigh at the end of the world.”

When they heard that answer, the poor merchants were utterly afflicted. Their minds lost their energy, their limbs became powerless, and sitting down in [131] dull sadness, they did nothing but sigh. And after crossing that sea too, in the afternoon, when the Sun with his slackening circle of rays seemed to be about to enter the Ocean, a confused and tremendous noise, piercing both the ears and the hearts of the merchants, became audible. This noise rising from the sea may be compared to that of a sea swelling in rage, or of many thunderclaps together, or of bamboo-groves having caught fire and crackling.

On hearing it, they suddenly jumped from their seats, trembling with fear and highly agitated, and examining the ocean all around, perceived that immense mass of water falling down as if over some precipice or chasm. That alarming sight filled them with the utmost fear, sadness, and dejection. They went to Supāraga, saying:

22. “We hear a tremendous noise from afar, almost piercing our ears and crushing our minds, as if the Lord of the Rivers were angry, and this whole mass of ocean-water falls down, it seems, into an awful abyss. Say, then, what sea is that, and what do you think is best to be done now?”

Then the Great Being, agitated, said: “Alas! alas!” and looking down over the sea, he spoke:

23. “You have come to that dreadful place, from which no one returns, that mouth-like entrance of Death, the famous Mare-mouth.” This vaḍavāmukha is the place where, according to Hindu mythology, the submarine fire resides.09

On hearing this the poor merchants, understanding that having reached the Mare-mouth, they must give up all hope of life, were distressed by the fear of death.

24-26. Some of them wept aloud or lamented and cried out. Others did nothing at all, being torpid from anxiety. Some with sorrow-stricken minds worshipped the deities, especially the Lord of the Devas, others resorted to the Ādityas, the Rudras, the Maruts, the Vasus, and to Sāgara [the Ocean] himself.

Others again muttered various prayers, and there were those who paid in due form homage to Devī. Some again [132] went to Supāraga, and in various modes and ways lamented piteously.

27-29. “Practised in the virtue of compassionateness for others, you are in the habit of relieving from fear those who are in distress. Now the time has arrived for employing that excessive power of yours.

Resolve, then, O wise man, upon rescuing us, the distressed, the helpless, who have taken our refuge in you. The Ocean in his wrath is now about to swallow us with his Mare-mouth, like a mouthful of food.

It does not become you to neglect this poor crew perishing in the rolling waves. The great Ocean obeys your orders. Therefore, put a stop to his rage.”

But the Great Being felt his heart oppressed with great compassion and spoke thus, comforting the poor merchants: “There is still an expedient to rescue us even now. It occurs to my mind. Why, I will make use of it. But you must show courage for a moment.”

Now, when the merchants heard this, the hope that there was still some remedy, after all, revived their courage, and fixing their whole attention upon him, they became silent. But Supāraga, the Bodhisattva, after throwing his upper-garment on one shoulder and bending his right knee on the ship's deck, In the Pāli redaction the Bodhisatta orders the merchants to bathe his body with fragrant water and to clothe him with unwashed, i.e. new, garments, and to prepare a vessel filled with water, to pour out while performing his saccakiriyā.10 made his veneration to the Tathāgatas, having his whole heart absorbed by that deed of devotion; after which he thus addressed the company: “Be you, honourable sea-traders, and you, different gods, who have your dwelling in the sky, my witnesses.

30. Since I have remembrance of my Self, since the time when I have become conscious of my deeds, I do not recollect, however much I ponder, having injured in any respect any living being.

31. By the power of this Act of Truth and by the strength of my store of meritorious actions may the ship turn safely without reaching the Mare-mouth. [133]

And so great was the power of the veracity of the Great Being, so great also the splendour of his merit, In the Pāli version it is the power of the Great Being's veracity alone that causes the winds to change.11 that the current and the wind changed to the opposite direction and made the vessel go back. The merchants beholding the ship go back, exulted with the highest admiration and joy, and expressing their veneration to Supāraga by reverential bows, told him that the ship went back. Then the Great Being instructed them to be calm and to hoist the sails quickly. And being thus ordered, they who had the charge of that work, having regained by their gladness their ability and energy, did as he had said.

32. Then, resplendent with the lovely outspread wings of her white sails, and filled with the sound of her merry and laughing crew, the ship flew over the sea, like a flamingo in the pure and cloudless sky.

Now while the ship, favoured by both current and wind, returned with as much ease as the heavenly cars move through the air, and was flying, so to speak, at her will, at that time of the day, when the gathering darkness extends far and wide, and the sky, no more adorned by the dimming glow of the twilight, begins to make the ornaments of its constellations appear on the firmament, where still a faint remnant of light is left, in that moment, then, of the commencement of the rule of Night, Supāraga addressed the merchants in these terms: “Well, traders, while crossing the Nalamālin sea and the others, you must draw up sand and stones from the bottom of the seas and charge your ship with as much as she can contain. By this practice she will keep her sides firm, if assailed by a violent hurricane; besides, that sand and gravel being pronounced to be auspicious, will doubtless tend to your profit and gain.” And the merchants, being shown the fit places all along by the deities, who did so out of affection and veneration for Supāraga, drew up from thence what they meant to be sand and stones, and loaded their ship with that [134] burden. But, in fact, that sand and those stones were beryls and other jewels. And in that one night's course they reached Bharukaccha. According to the Pāli story, they had spent a four months’ voyage before they reached the Mare-mouth.12

33. At day-break they beheld with gladness their ship filled with treasures: silver, gold, sapphires, beryls, and at the same time they saw that they had arrived in their country; and exulting with joy they praised their saviour.

In this manner even speaking the truth on the ground of Righteousness is sufficient to dispel calamity, what can be said more to assert the good results of observing the Law? Thus considering, one must observe the Law.

[Likewise, when discoursing on the assistance of a virtuous friend, it is to be said: “In this way those who rest on a virtuous friend attain happiness.”]