Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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17. The Story of the Jar (Vāra)
(Compare Pāli Jātaka, No. 512, Fausböll V, pp. 11-20)

Drinking intoxicating liquors is an exceedingly bad action, attended by many evils. Having this in mind the virtuous will keep back their neighbour from that sin, how much more their own selves. This will be taught as follows.

One time the Bodhisattva, having by his excessive compassion purified his mind, always intent on bringing about the good and the happiness of others, manifesting his holy practice of good conduct by his deeds of charity, modesty, self-restraint, and the like, held the dignity of [142] Śakra, the Lord of the Devas. In this existence, though he enjoyed to his heart's content such paramount sensual pleasures as are proper to the Celestials, yet Compassionateness ruled his mind so as not to allow him to relax his exertions for the benefit of the world.

1. As a rule the creatures, drinking from the wine The juice of grapes not being among the national intoxicating liquors of India, Sanskrit has no proper word for 'wine’. For rhetorical purposes, however, it will meet no objection to use this term in a translation. Moreover, nowadays 'wine’ is signified in Sanskrit by words meaning 'strong liquor’.01 of prosperity, are not watchful, not even with respect to their own interests. He, on the contrary, was not only free from the drunkenness originating from the transcendent enjoyments which attend the sovereign rank among the Devas, but his watchfulness for the interests of others was as great as ever.

2. Being full of affection towards the creatures, as if they were his kinsmen, those poor creatures harassed by many violent calamities, he never forgot to take care of the interests of others, persisting in his strong determination and being well aware of his own (extraordinary) nature.

Now, one day the Great Being was casting His eyes over the world of men. His eye, great as His nature and mildly looking according to His friendliness, while bending down to mankind with compassion, perceived a certain king, whose name was Sarvamitra, = everyone's friend.02 who by the sin of his intercourse with wicked friends was inclined to the habit of drinking strong liquors, himself with his people, townsmen and landsmen. Now, having understood that the king saw no sin in this habit, and knowing that drinking constitutes a great sin, the Great Being, affected with great compassion entered upon this reflection: “It is a pity, indeed, how great a misery has befallen this people!

3. Drinking, like a lovely but wrong path - for it is a sweet thing at the outset - leads away from salvation such people as fail to recognise the evils which it causes. [143]

What, then, may be the proper way to act here? . . . Why, I have found it.

4. People like to imitate the behaviour of him who is the foremost among them; this is their constant nature. Accordingly, here the king alone is the person to be cured, for it is from him that originates the good as well as the evil of his people.”

Having thus made up his mind, the Great Being took on himself the majestic figure of a Brāhman. His colour shone like pure gold; he wore his hair matted and twisted up, which gave him a rather stern appearance; he had his body covered with the bark-garment and the deer-skin. The matted hair, the bark garment, and the deer-skin are the attributes of an anchorite or muni. Cp. Dhammapada, verses 393, 394.03

A jar of moderate size, filled with surā, was hanging down from his left side. In this shape, standing in the air he showed himself to king Sarvamitra, while he was sitting with his company in his audience-hall, and their conversation had turned to be such as attends drinking surā, āsava, maireya, All of them names of different kinds of spirituous liquor.04 rum, and honeyed liquor. On seeing him, the assembly, moved by surprise and veneration, rose from their seats, and reverentially folded their hands to him. After which, he began to speak in a loud voice, resembling the deep noise of a cloud big with rain:

5. “See, 't is fill'd up to its neck,
Flowers laugh around its neck;
Well 't is dress'd, a splendid jar;
Who will buy from me this jar?

6. I have here a jar adorned with this bracelet-like wide wreath of flowers, fluttering in the wind. See how proud it looks, decorated as it is by tender foliage. Which of you desires to possess it by purchase?”

Upon which, that king, whose curiosity was excited by astonishment, reverentially fixing his eyes on him and raising his folded hands, spoke these words:

7. “Like the morning-sun thou appearest to us by [144] thy lustre, like the moon by thy gracefulness, and by thy figure like some Muni. Deign to tell us, then, by what name thou art known in the world. Thy different illustrious qualities make us uncertain about thee.”

Śakra said:

8. “Afterwards you will know me, who I am, but now be intent on purchasing this jar from me - at least if you are not afraid of the sufferings in the next world or heavy calamities to be expected still in this.”

The king replied: “Verily, such an introduction to a bargain as is made by Thy Reverence, I never saw before.

9, 10. The ordinary mode of offering objects for sale among men is to extol their good qualities and conceal their faults. Surely, that manner practised by thee is becoming such men as thou, who abhor falsehood. For the virtuous will never forsake veracity, even when in distress!

11. Tell us then, Eminent One, with what this jar is filled. And what is it, that such a mighty being as thou may desire from our side by the barter?”

Śakra said: “Hear, mighty sovereign.

12. It is not filled with water, either the largess of the clouds or drawn from a holy stream; nor with fragrant honey gathered out of the filaments of flowers; nor with excellent butter; nor with milk, whose hue equals that of the moonbeams awaking the waterlilies in a cloudless night. No, this jar is filled up with mischievous liquor. Now, learn the virtue of this liquor.

13. He who drinks it will lose the control of himself, a consequence of mind-perplexing intoxication; as his mindfulness will slacken he will stumble even on plain ground; he will not make a difference between food allowed and forbidden, and will make his meals of whatever he may get. Of such a nature is the fluid within this jar. Buy it, it is for sale, that worst of jars!

14. This liquor has the power of taking away your consciousness, so as to make you lose the control of [145] your thoughts and behave like a brute beast, giving your enemies the trouble of laughing at you. Thanks to it, you may also dance in the midst of an assembly, accompanying yourself with the music of your mouth. Being of such a nature, it is worth purchasing by you, that liquor within the jar, devoid as it is of any good!

15. Even the bashful lose shame by drinking it, and will have done with the trouble and restraint of dress; unclothed like Nirgranthas The Nirgranthas are a class of monks, especially Jain monks, who wander about naked.05 they will walk boldly on the highways crowded with people. Of such a nature is the liquor contained in this jar and now offered for sale. Instead of the reading of the printed text, the fourth pāda, I suppose, should be read thus: sā paṇyatām upagatā nihitātra kumbhe.06

16. Drinking it may cause men even to lie senseless asleep on the king's roads, having their figures soiled with food ejected by their vomitings and licked from their face by bold dogs. Such is the beverage, lovely to purchase, which has been poured into this jar!

17. Even a woman enjoying it may be brought by the power of intoxication into such a state, that she would be able to fasten her parents to a tree and to disregard her husband, may he be as wealthy as Kubera. The strange examples for illustration are occasioned by the exigencies of a metrical tour de force, very skilfully executed.07 Of this kind is the merchandise which is contained within this jar!

18. That liquor, by drinking which the Vṛṣṇayas and the Andhakās were put out of their senses to this degree, that without minding It is evident that vismitabandhubhāvāḥ is a misprint for vismṛtabandhubhāvāḥ.08 their relationship they crushed down each other with their clubs, that very beverage of maddening effect is enclosed within this jar!

19. Addicted to which whole families of the highest rank and dignity, the abodes of splendour, perished, that liquor which has caused likewise the ruin of wealthy families, here in this jar it is exposed for sale. [146]

20. Here in this jar is that which makes the tongue and the feet unrestrained, and puts off every check in weeping and laughing; that by which the eyes look heavy and dull as of one possessed of a demon; that which impairing a man's mind, of necessity reduces him to an object of contempt.

21. In this jar is ready for sale that which, disturbing the senses of even aged people and making them timid to continue the road which leads to their good, induces them to talk much without purpose and rashly.

22. It is the fault of this beverage, that the old gods, having become careless, were bereaved of their splendour by the King of the Devas, and seeking for relief were drowned in the Ocean. With that drink this jar is filled. Well, take it!

23. Like an Incarnation of Curse she The word surā is feminine.09 lies within this jar, she by whose power falsehood is spoken with confidence, as if it were truth, and forbidden actions are committed with joy, as if they were prescribed. It is she who causes men to hold for good what is bad and for bad what is good.

24. Well, purchase then this madness-producing philtre, this abode of calamities, this embodied Disaster, this mother of sins, this sole and unparalleled road of sin, Kali is here used as an appellative with the general meaning it has in Pāli (see Childers’ Dict. s. v.)10 this dreadful darkness of mind.

25. Purchase from me, O king, that beverage which is able to take away a man's senses entirely, so that, without caring for his happiness or future state, he may strike his own innocent father or mother or a holy ascetic.

26. Such is this liquor, known among men by the name of surā, O you lord of men, who by your splendour equal the celestials (surās). Let him endeavour to buy it, who is no partisan of virtues. [147]

27. People, being addicted to this liquor, grow accustomed to ill-behaviour, and will consequently fall into the precipices of dreadful hells or come to the state of beasts or to the attenuated condition of pretās. Who then, forsooth, should make up his mind even to look at this liquor?

28. And, be the result of drinking intoxicating liquors ever so trifling, still that vice destroys the good conduct and the good understanding of those who pass through human existence. Moreover it leads afterwards to the residence in the tremendous hell Avīci, burning with flaming fire, or in the world of spectres, ‘The world of spectres’ = pitṛloke. In Buddhist terminology the pitaraḥ are a Synonym of pretāḥ, considered to be a class of spectres and ghosts. ‘In appearance they are extremely attenuated, like a dry leaf’. Spence Hardy, Manual, p. 48.11 or in the bodies of vile beasts.

29. In short, drinking this destroys every virtue. It deadens good conduct (śīla), forcibly kills good reputation, banishes shame, and defiles the mind. How should you allow yourself to drink intoxicating liquors henceforward, O king?”

By these persuasive words of Śakra and his strong arguments the king became aware of the sinfulness of drinking intoxicating liquors. He cast off the desire of taking them, and addressing his interlocutor said:

30. “As an affectionate father would deign to speak to his son, or a teacher to his pupil in reward for his discipline and attachment, or a Muni who knows the difference between the good and the evil modes of life, such an import is conveyed in the well-said words thou hast spoken to me out of benevolence. For this reason I will endeavour to honour thee, as is due, by a deed.

In return for thy well-said sentences Thy Reverence will at least deign to accept from us this honour.

31. I give thee five excellent villages, a hundred female slaves, five hundred cows, and these ten chariots with the best horses harnessed to them. As a speaker of wholesome words thou art a Guru to me. [148]

Or, wert thou to desire anything else to be done from my side, Thy Reverence would favour me once more by ordering so.”

Śakra replied:

32, 33. “I do not want villages or other boons. Know me to be the Lord of the Celestials, O King. But the speaker of wholesome words is to be honoured by accepting his words and acting up to them.

For this is the way which leads to glory and bliss, and after death to the many different forms of happiness. Therefore, throw off the habit of taking intoxicating drinks. Holding fast to Righteousness you shall partake of my heaven.”

After thus speaking, Śakra disappeared on the spot, and the king, with his townsmen and landsmen, desisted from the vice of drinking strong liquors.

In this manner, then, the virtuous, considering the use of intoxicating liquors an exceedingly bad action, attended by many evils, will keep back their neighbour from this sin, how much more their own selves.

[And when discoursing about the Tathāgata, this is also to be propounded: “In this manner the Lord was careful of the good of the world already in his previous existences.”]