Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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18. The Story of the Childless One (Praviveka)

The state of a householder is beset with occupations inimical to religious conduct and tranquillity. For this reason it does not please those who long only for the Self. Though the Buddhist lore denies the existence of the individual soul, the Self (ātman), Buddhist Sanskrit, as well as Pāli, often employs that name, as it is used in pagan and profane writings, in such cases as where it may suit to signify that part of the individual being, to whose profit or damage the good or evil karma will tend.01 This will be taught by the following.

One time the Bodhisattva was born in a wealthy family, noted for their virtuous mode of life and [149] good behaviour, so as to be much sought in alliance and highly esteemed by the people. That family was like a refreshing well to persons of good birth; they shared the stores of their treasuries and magazines with Śramaṇas and Brāhmans; their houses were open to friends and kinsmen; the poor and the mendicants lived by their gifts; the artisans found business and protection with them; and by their splendid riches they were permitted to bestow their favour and hospitality on the king.

Being born in this family, he grew up in course of time, and studied such branches of science as are reputed of much value in the world, while he turned his mind with no less zeal to various arts, the knowledge of which is optional. Owing to his accomplished education, his beautiful figure pleasing the eyes of men, and the knowledge of the world he displayed without infringing the precepts of the Law, he won the hearts of his fellow-citizens, who considered him like their kinsman.

1, 2. For it is not on account of their relationship that we honour our relations, nor do we consider the rest of men as strangers because they are not related to us.

No, men are considered relations or strangers, according as their virtues or vices make them meet with esteem or disregard.

But that Great Being had familiarised himself with world-renunciation.

3. He had had experience of the householder's life, and knew it to be a state not consistent with the practice of religious duties, since the pain of seeking after profit is necessarily implied by it. On the other hand, he understood the happiness of the penance-groves. So his mind became detached from the pleasures of the home-life.

So, when his father and mother had died, he was utterly alarmed in his heart, and forsaking his splendid house and estate, an amount of many hundred thousands, duly bestowed it upon his friends and kinsmen, the poor, the Śramaṇas, and the Brāhmans; after which he abandoned his home. [150]

He passed successively through villages and towns and boroughs, through kingdoms and capitals of kingdoms, and took up his abode on a certain woody plateau in the vicinity of a town. There he soon became conspicuous by his tranquillity, his conversation, and his behaviour. The calmness of his senses, the result of a long practice of meditation, was natural and sincere. His language delighted both minds and ears, and while betraying his wisdom, still was full of modesty; and his discourses being entirely free from miserable and troublesome hope for gain, were distinguished by his solid learning, by his softness in addressing the audience to whom he paid due honour, and by the skill he displayed in tracing the boundary between actions allowed and forbidden by the Law.

His behaviour, adorned with such practices as are proper to a homeless ascetic, was quite in accordance with that approved by the virtuous. And when the people who were curious about his person, became aware of how he had renounced a high rank in the world, they loved him the more for it.

4. Virtues obtain a more favourable reception, if found in persons distinguished by a high birth; in the same way as the beams shooting from the moon have more loveliness, when coming in contact with any object of excellent qualities.

Now some friend and companion of his father, having heard he had taken up his abode in that place, went up to him, moved by a great esteem for his virtues. After the usual friendly inquiries concerning his health, the visitor made himself known to the ascetic, and told him of the paternal relation. Then there ensued a conversation between them, in the course of which the said friend spoke these affectionate words: “Your Reverence is likely to have acted inconsiderately after all, renouncing the world in this age without further regard to your family and (the maintenance of) your lineage.

5. For what have you left your rich dwelling, setting your mind on the forest-life? Those who practise a virtuous life may observe this Law in their homes as well as in the wilderness.

6, 7. How, then, is it that you give yourself up to a life of pain, embracing this state of incarnate Poverty, as it were? You are sustaining yourself by alms obtained from the charity of strangers, and you are not a bit more regarded than a vagabond.

Covered with rags and devoid of relations and friends, you are hiding yourself in this abode in the midst of the forest. Even the eyes of your enemies would be filled with tears, if they were to see you in this condition.

8. Therefore, return to your paternal house. Certainly, the abundance of its estate must be known also to you. Living there, you might fulfil at the same time both your religious duties and your desire of possessing a virtuous son.

For such is the saying, indeed, you know:

9. Even to a hired labourer his home is comforting, like a well of fresh water, how much more an easily obtained luxurious residence, resplendent with wealth!”

But the Bodhisattva's mind was purified by that delicious and comforting ambrosia, the name of which is detachment. His heart clung to it, for he knew well the difference between the life of a householder and the forest-life; and the invitation to enjoy worldly pleasures had the same effect of discomfort upon him, as talking of a meal would have upon one who is satiated. So he spoke:

10. “What you said was spoken out of affection, of a truth, and on this account your words did not grieve me so much. Nevertheless, do not employ the term ‘comfort’, when speaking of one who lives in the world.

11. The householder's state is a state of great uneasiness, whether he have money or not. The rich man is vexed by the toil of guarding his wealth, and the poor one by the labour of earning it.

12. Now, since there is no comfort to be found in that state either for the rich or for the poor, it is [152] mere folly to delight in it. It must have such consequences as are the result of wickedness.

As to your statement that a householder, too, may be able to observe the precepts of the Law, certainly, this is true. But it is a very, very difficult thing, methinks. The life in the world is crowded with business quite adverse to the precepts of the Law, and implies a great amount of toil. Do but consider it well, sir.

13. The life of a householder is not suitable for one who desires nothing, nor for such a one as never speaks a falsehood, nor for him who never uses violence, nor for such a one as never injures others.

And he whose heart is attached to the ‘comfort of home-life,’ cannot but strive to put into effect the means by which this is secured.

14. If you devote yourself to the Law, you must leave your house, and inversely, how can the Law exist for him who is attached to his house? It is tranquillity from which the road of the Law derives its flavour, but the success of a householder requires him to follow the way of courageous enterprise.

15, 16. Now, as the life of a householder is reprehensible for this reason, that it is in opposition to the Law, who, then, having got the true insight of his Self, will keep to it? He, indeed, whom the prospect of pleasure has once induced to neglect the Law, will feel himself not at all restrained as to the means of procuring those pleasures.

Besides, they will certainly be followed by the loss of good reputation, by remorse and misfortune. For this reason the wise do not embrace that state, which procures pleasures to the detriment of the Law; they rather look on it as a calamity.

Further I should think, the statement that living in the world procures happiness is only supported by belief (not by evidence).

17, 18. The pain caused by earning wealth or by guarding it never ceases for the householder. He is more than anybody else exposed to murder, captivity, [153] and other calamities. Even if a king, he would not be satisfied with his riches, no more than the sea may be with showers of rain.

Why can there be happiness in that state, or how, or when, if man does not attain by it the longing for self-perfection, but on the contrary in his infatuation fancies happiness is to be obtained by attachment to sensual objects? Such a person may be compared to one who tries to heal his wounds by rubbing.

As a rule, in truth, I dare say,

19. As a rule, material prosperity makes the householder arrogant, nobility of extraction makes him proud, strength makes him insolent. His anger is roused by grief, and adversity puts him to dejection. At what time may that state offer an opportunity for tranquillity?

And for this reason it is that I would persuade Your Honour not to oppose my determination.

20. The house is the home of many and heavy sufferings. It is haunted by the serpents named arrogance, pride, and infatuation. In it the lovely happiness of tranquillity comes to ruin. Who then should choose that abode that tends to dissolution?

21. In the forest, on the other hand, that home of the nothing-desirers, the mind is calm, enjoying the happiness of detachment. Can there exist so great a contentment in Śakra's heaven?

22. Thus considering, I delight in the midst of the forests, although covered with rags and getting my livelihood through the kindheartedness of strangers. I do not long for such happiness as is tainted with unrighteousness. I abhor it like food besmeared with poison; I have got the insight of my Self.”

These persuasive words did not fail to make an impression on his paternal friend, who showed his high respect to the Great Being by entertaining him with a meal in the most distinguished manner.

In this manner, then, those who long only for the Self abandon the state of a householder, understanding [154] that it is beset with occupations inimical to religious conduct and to tranquillity.

[When treating of the virtue of detachment, this is to be propounded: “Those who have once got the taste for detachment will not go back to worldly pleasures.”]

The Pāli version of this story is not found in the Pāli Jātaka nor in the Cariyāpiṭaka. The whole tale is nothing but a plea for the virtue of world-renunciation, the naiṣkrama[ṇa], roughly dressed in the shape of a story, and may serve as a kind of introduction to the subsequent tales, where the state of an ascetic is glorified.