Ja 61 Asātamantajātaka
The Birth Story about the Disagreeable Charms (1s)

In the present a young monk, being driven by his desire for a young woman, is on the verge of quitting the monastic life. The Buddha tells a story of the past as an example of the wickedness of women in which an old woman was even willing to kill her dutiful son in order to gain her sensual desires.

The Bodhisatta = the teacher (ācariya),
Ānanda = his pupil (antevāsika),
Mahākassapa = the father (pitā),
Bhaddakāpilānī = the mother (mātā).

Present Source: Ja 527 Ummadantī,
Quoted at: Ja 61 Asātamanta, Ja 193 Cullapaduma.

Keywords: Lust, Wickedness, Devas, Women.

“Those known as free, worldly women.” {1.285} This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a monk overcome by passion. The Birth Story of the Present will be related in the Ummadantijātaka [Ja 527].

The story tells that one day, as he was going his rounds in Sāvatthi for alms, he saw a woman of surpassing beauty, magnificently attired, and fell in love with her, and on returning home to his monastery he was unable to divert his thoughts from her. From that time, as it were, pierced with love’s shafts and sick with desire he became as lean as a wild deer, with his veins standing out on his body, and as sallow as sallow could be. He no longer took delight in any one of the Four Postures, or found pleasure in his own thoughts, but giving up all the services due to a teacher he abandoned the use of instruction, inquiry and meditation.

His fellow-monks said: “Sir, once you were calm in mind and serene of countenance, but now it is not so. What can be the cause?” they asked. “Sirs,” he answered, “I have no pleasure in anything.” Then they bade him be happy, saying: “To be born [in the time of] a Buddha is a hard matter: so also is the hearing of the True Dhamma, and the attaining to birth as a human being. But you have attained to this, and, yearning to put an end to sorrow, you left your weeping kinsfolk and becoming a believer adopted the ascetic life. Why then do you now fall under the sway of passion? These evil passions are common to all ignorant creatures, from live worms upwards, and such of these passions as are material in their origin, they too are insipid. Desires are full of sorrow and despair: misery in this case ever increases more and more. Desire is like a skeleton or a piece of meat. Desire is like a torch made of a wisp of hay or a light from embers. Desire vanishes like a dream or a loan, or the fruit of a tree. Desire is as biting as a sharp-pointed spear, or as a serpent’s head. But you, verily, after embracing such a Buddha’s dispensation as this and becoming an ascetic, have now fallen under the sway of such harmful passions.” When by their admonitions they failed to make him grasp their teaching, they brought him before the Teacher in the Dhamma Hall. And when he said: “Why, monks, have you brought this monk here against his will?” they answered, “They tell us, he is discontent.”

But to this monk the Teacher said: “Women, monk, are lustful, profligate, vile, and degraded. Why be overcome by passion for a vile woman?” And so saying, he told this story of the past. [1.148]

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life as a brahmin in the city of Taxila in the Gandhāra country; and by the time he had grown up, such was his proficiency in the Three Vedas and all accomplishments, that his fame as a teacher spread through all the world.

In those days there was a brahmin family in Benares, unto whom a son was born; and on the day of his birth they took fire and kept it always burning, until the boy was sixteen. Then his parents told him how the fire, kindled on the day of his birth, had never been allowed to go out; and they bade their son make his choice. If his heart was set on winning entrance hereafter into the Realm of Brahma, then let him take the fire and retire with it to the forest, there to work out his desire by ceaseless worship of the Lord of Fire. But, if he preferred the joys of a home, they bade their son go to Taxila and there study under the world-famed teacher with a view to settling down to manage the property. “I should surely fail in the worship of the Fire-God,” said the young brahmin, “I’ll be a householder.” So he bade farewell to his father and mother, and, with a thousand pieces of money for the teacher’s fee, set out for Taxila. There he studied till his education was complete, and then betook himself home again.

Now his parents grew to wish him to forsake the world and to worship the Fire-God in the forest. Accordingly his mother, in her desire to dispatch him to the forest by bringing home to him the wickedness of women, was confident that his wise and learned teacher would be able to lay bare the wickedness of the sex to her son, and so she asked whether he had quite finished his education. “Oh yes,” said the youth. {1.286}

“Then of course you have not omitted the Disagreeable Charms?” “I have not learned those, mother.” “How then can you say your education is finished? Go back at once, my son, to your master, and return to us when you have learned them,” said his mother. “Very good,” said the youth, and off he started for Taxila once more.

Now his master too had a mother – an old woman of a hundred and twenty years of age – whom with his own hands he used to bathe, feed and tend. And for so doing he was scorned by his neighbours – so much so indeed that he resolved to depart to the forest and there dwell with his mother. Accordingly, in the solitude of a forest he had a hut built in a delightful spot, where water was plentiful, and after laying in a stock of ghee and rice and other provisions, he carried his mother to her new home, and there lived cherishing her old age.

Not finding his master at Taxila, the young brahmin made enquiries, and finding out what had happened, set out for the forest, and presented himself respectfully before his master. “What brings you [1.149] back so soon, my boy?” said the latter. “I do not think, sir, I learned the Disagreeable Charms when I was with you,” said the youth. “But who told you that you had to learn the Disagreeable Charms?” “My mother, master,” was the reply. Hereon the Bodhisatta reflected that there were no such texts as those, and concluded that his pupil’s mother must have wanted her son to learn how wicked women were. So he said to the youth that it was all right, and that he should in due course be taught the Charms in question.

“From today,” said he, “you shall take my place about my mother, and with your own hands wash, feed and look after her. As you rub her hands, feet, head and back, be careful to exclaim, ‘Ah, Madam! If you are so lovely now you are so old, what must you not have been in the heyday of your youth!’ And as you wash and perfume her hands and feet, burst into praise of their beauty. Further, tell me without shame or reserve every single word my mother says to you. Obey me in this, and you shall master the Disagreeable Charms; disobey me, and you shall remain ignorant of them for ever.”

Obedient to his master’s commands, the youth did all he was bidden, and so persistently praised the old woman’s beauty that she thought he had fallen in love with her; and, blind and decrepit though she was, passion was kindled within her. {1.287} So one day she broke in on his compliments by asking, “Is your desire towards me?” “It is indeed, madam,” answered the youth, “but my master is so strict.” “If you desire me,” said she, “kill my son!” “But how shall I, that have learned so much from him, how shall I, for passion’s sake, kill my master?” “Well then, if you will be faithful to me, I will kill him myself.”

(So lustful, vile, and degraded are women that, giving the rein to lust, a hag like this, and old as she was, actually thirsted for the blood of so dutiful a son!)

Now the young brahmin told all this to the Bodhisatta, who, commending him for reporting the matter, studied how much longer his mother was destined to live. Finding that her destiny was to die that very day, he said: “Come, young brahmin; I will put her to the test.” So he cut down a fig tree and hewed out of it a wooden figure about his own size, which he wrapped up, head and all, in a robe and laid upon his own bed – with a string tied to it. “Now go with an axe to my mother,” said he, “and give her this string as a clue to guide her steps.”

So away went the youth to the old woman, and said: “Madam, the master is lying down indoors on his bed; I have tied this string as a clue to guide you; take this axe and kill him, if you can.” “But you won’t forsake me, will you?” said she. “Why should I?” was his reply. So she took the axe, and, rising up with trembling limbs, groped her way along by the string, till she thought she felt her son. Then she bared the head of the figure, and – thinking to kill her son at a single blow – [1.150] brought down the axe right on the figure’s throat – only to learn by the thud that it was wood! “What are you doing, mother?” said the Bodhisatta. With a shriek that she was betrayed, the old woman fell dead to the ground. For, says tradition, it was fated that she should die at that very moment and under her own roof.

Seeing that she was dead, her son burnt her body, and, when the flames of the pile were quenched, graced her ashes with wild-flowers. Then with the young brahmin he sat at the door of the hut and said: “My son, there is no such separate passage as the ‘Disagreeable Charms.’ {1.288} It is women who are depravity incarnate. And when your mother sent you back to me to learn the Disagreeable Charms, her object was that you should learn how wicked women are. You have now witnessed with your own eyes my mother’s wickedness, and therefrom you will see how lustful and vile women are.” And with this lesson, he bade the youth depart.

Bidding farewell to his master, the young brahmin went home to his parents. Said his mother to him, “Have you now learned the Disagreeable Charms?”

“Yes, mother.”

“And what,” she asked, “is your final choice? Will you leave the world to worship the Lord of Fire, or will you choose a family life?” “Nay,” answered the young brahmin, “with my own eyes have I seen the wickedness of womankind; I will have nothing to do with family life. I will renounce the world.” And his convictions found vent in this verse:

1. Asā lokitthiyo nāma, velā tāsaṁ na vijjati,
Sārattā ca pagabbhā ca, sikhī sabbaghaso yathā,
Tā hitvā pabbajissāmi, vivekam-anubrūhayan-ti.

Those known as free, worldly women, there is no restriction for them, obsessed and arrogant, like a fire that feeds on everything. Having renounced them I go forth, nurturing solitude. {1.289}

With this invective against womankind, the young brahmin took leave of his parents, and renounced the world for the ascetic’s life – wherein winning the peace he desired, he assured himself of admittance after that life into the Realm of Brahma.

“So you see, monk,” said the Teacher, “how lustful, vile, and how much woe women bring.” And after declaring the wickedness of women, he preached the Four Truths, at the close whereof that monk won the Fruit of the First Path. Lastly, the Teacher showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “Kāpilānī Her history is given in JRAS 1893, page 786. [As Kāpilānī was well-known for her celibacy and renunciation, it seems odd indeed that she should have been cast as the mother here.] was the mother of those days, Mahākassapa was the father, Ānanda the pupil, and I myself the teacher.”