Ja 78 Illīsajātaka
The Birth Story about (the Selfish Wealthy Man) Illīsa (1s)
Alternative Title: Illisajātaka (Cst)
In the present a miser is converted by Ven. Moggallāna and becomes a generous man. The Buddha tells how something similar happened in a past life when a renowned miser was converted by Sakka, his former father, who had attained the position of King of the Devas by his generosity.
The Bodhisatta = the barber (kappaka),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
Moggallāna = (the King of the Devas) Sakka,
the selfish wealthy man = Illīsa, the selfish wealthy man (Illiso macchariyaseṭṭhi).
Past Compare: Ja 78 Illīsa, Ja 535 Sudhābhojana, Dhp-a IV.5 Macchariyakosiya,
Quoted at: Ja 470 Kosiya.
Keywords: Generosity, Selfishness, Devas.
“Both are lame.”
Now the day before, the Lord High Treasurer had gone his way to the palace to wait upon the king, and was on his homeward way when he saw a country-bumpkin, who was quite empty within, eating a cake stuffed with gruel. The sight awoke a craving within him! But, after arriving at his own house,
“Nothing,” said he. “Perhaps the king has been cross to you?” “No, he has not.” “Have your children or servants done anything to annoy you?” “Nothing of that kind, either.” “Well, then, have you a craving for anything?” But still not a word would he say – all because of his preposterous fear that he might waste his substance; but lay there speechless on his bed. “Speak, husband,” said the wife, “tell me what you have a craving for.” “Yes,” said he with a gulp, “I have got a craving for one thing.” “And what is that, my husband?” “I should like a stuffed cake to eat!” “Now why not have said so at once? You’re rich enough! I’ll cook cakes enough to feast the whole town of Jagghery.” “Why trouble about them? They must work to earn their own meal.” “Well then, I’ll cook only enough for our street.” “How rich you are!” “Then, I’ll cook just enough for our own household.” “How extravagant you are!” “Very good, I’ll cook only enough for our children.” “Why bother about them?” “Very good then, I’ll only provide for our two selves.” “Why should you be in it?” “Then, I’ll cook just enough for you alone,” said the wife.
“Softly,” said the Lord High Treasurer, “there are a lot of people on the watch for signs of cooking in this place. Pick out broken rice – being careful to leave the whole grain – and take a brazier and cooking-pots and just a very little milk and ghee and honey and molasses; then up with you to the seventh story of the house and do the cooking up there. There I will sit alone and undisturbed to eat.”
Obedient to his wishes, the wife had all the necessary things carried up, climbed all the way up herself, sent the servants away, and dispatched word to the Treasurer to come. Up he climbed, shutting and bolting door after door as he ascended, till at last he came to the seventh floor, the door of which he also shut fast. Then he sat down. His wife lit the fire in the brazier, put her pot on, and set about cooking the cakes.
Now in the early morning, the Teacher had said to the elder Great Moggallāna, “Moggallāna, this Miser Millionaire
Obedient to the Teacher’s bidding, the elder by his Supernormal Powers passed to the town of Jagghery, and rested in mid-air before the chamber-window, duly clad in his under and outer cloths, bright as a jewelled image. The unexpected sight of the elder made the Lord High Treasurer quake with fear. Thought he to himself, “It was to escape such visitors that I climbed up here: and now there’s one of them at the window!” And, failing to realise the comprehension of that which he must needs comprehend, he sputtered with rage, like sugar and salt thrown on the fire, as he burst out with, “What will you get, sage, by your simply standing in mid-air? Why, you may pace up and down till you’ve made a path in the pathless air – and yet you’ll still get nothing.”
The elder began to pace to and fro in his place in the air! “What will you get by pacing to and fro?” said the Treasurer! “You may sit cross-legged in meditation in the air – but still you’ll get nothing.” The elder sat down with legs crossed! Then said the Treasurer, “What will you get by sitting there? You may come and stand on the window-sill; but even that won’t get you anything!” The elder took his stand on the window-sill. “What will you get by standing on the window-sill? Why, you may belch smoke, and yet you’ll still get nothing!” said the Treasurer. Then the elder belched forth smoke till the whole palace was filled with it. The Treasurer’s eyes began to smart as though pricked with needles; and, for fear at last that his house might be set on fire, he checked himself from adding, “You won’t get anything even if you burst into flames.” Thought he to himself, “This elder is most persistent! He simply won’t go away empty-handed! I must have just one cake given him.” So he said to his wife, “My dear, cook one little cake and give it to the sage to get rid of him.”
So she mixed quite a little dough in a crock. But the dough swelled and swelled till it filled the whole crock, and grew to be a great big cake! “What a lot you must have used!” exclaimed the Treasurer at the sight. And he himself with the tip of a spoon took a very little of the dough, and put that in the oven to bake. But that tiny piece of dough grew larger than the first lump; and, one after another, every piece of dough he took became ever so big! Then he lost heart and said to his wife, “You give him a cake, dear.” But, as soon as she took one cake from the basket, at once all the other cakes stuck fast to it. So she cried out to her husband that all the cakes had stuck together, and that she could not part them.
“Oh, I’ll soon part them,” said he – but found he could not!
Then husband and wife both took hold of the mass of cakes at the corner and tried to get them apart. But tug as they might, they could make no more impression together on the mass than they did singly. Now as the Treasurer was pulling away at the cakes, he burst into a perspiration, and his craving left him. Then said he to his wife, “I don’t want the cakes;
“Lord High Treasurer,” said the elder, “the Supreme Buddha with five hundred monks sits in the monastery waiting for a meal of cakes. If such be your good pleasure, I would ask you to bring your wife and the cakes with you, and let us be going to the Teacher.” “But where, sir, is the Teacher at the present
Then the elder, keeping the top of the staircase where it was, commanded, saying: “Let the foot of the staircase be at the main-gate of Jetavana.” And so it came to pass! In this way did the elder transport the Treasurer and his wife to Jetavana quicker than they could get down the stairs.
Then husband and wife came before the Teacher and said meal-time had come. And the Teacher, passing into the Refectory, sat down on the Buddha-seat prepared for him, with the Saṅgha gathered round. Then the Lord High Treasurer poured the Water of Donation over the hands of the Saṅgha with the Buddha at its head, while his wife placed a cake in the alms-bowl of the Tathāgata. Of this he took what sufficed to support life, as also did the five hundred monks. Next the Treasurer went round offering milk mixed with ghee and honey and jagghery; and the Teacher and the Saṅgha brought their meal to a close. Lastly the Treasurer and his wife ate their fill, but still there seemed no end to the cakes. Even when all the monks and the scrap-eaters throughout the monastery had all had a share, still there was no sign of the end approaching. So they told the Teacher, saying: “Sir, the supply of cakes grows no smaller.”
“Then throw them down by the great gate of the monastery.”
So they threw them away in a cave not far from the gateway; and to this day a spot called ‘The Pancake,’ is shown at the extremity of that cave.
The Lord High Treasurer and his wife approached and stood before the Fortunate One, who returned thanks; and at the close of his words of thanks, the pair attained Fruition of the First Path. Then, taking their leave of the Teacher, the two mounted the stairs at the great gate and found themselves in their own home once more.
Next day the Perfect Buddha, returning to Jetavana after a round for alms in Sāvatthi, delivered a Sugata’s discourse to the monks before retiring to the seclusion of the Perfumed Chamber. At evening, the monks gathered together in the Dhamma Hall, and exclaimed, “How great is the power of the elder Moggallāna! In a moment he converted a miser to generosity, brought him with the cakes to Jetavana, set him before the Teacher, and established him in safety. How great is the power of the elder!” As they sat talking thus of the goodness of the elder, the Teacher entered, and, on enquiry, was told of the subject of their talk. “Monks,” said he, “a monk who is the converter of a household, should approach that household without causing it annoyance or vexation – even as the bee when it sucks the nectar from the flower; in such wise should he draw nigh to declare the excellence of the Buddha.” And in praise of the elder Moggallāna, he recited this verse [Dhp 49]:
Like bees, that harm no flower’s scent or hue
But, laden with its honey, fly away,
So, sage, within your village walk your way.
Then, to set forth still more the elder’s goodness, he said: “This is not the first time, monks, that the miserly Treasurer has been converted by Moggallāna. In other days too the elder converted him, and taught him how deeds and their effects are linked together.” So saying, he told this story of the past.
In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a Treasurer, Illīsa by name, who was worth eighty crores, and had all the defects which fall to the lot of man. He was lame and crook-backed and had a squint; he was an unconverted infidel, and a miser, never giving of his store to others, nor enjoying it himself; his house was like a pool haunted by Rakkhasas. Yet, for seven generations, his ancestors had been bountiful, giving freely of their best; but, when he became Treasurer, he broke through the traditions of his house. Burning down the alms house and driving the poor with blows from his gates, he hoarded his wealth.
One day, when he was returning from attendance on the king, he saw a yokel, who had journeyed far and was weary, seated on a bench, and filling a mug from a jar of rank spirits, and drinking it off, with a dainty morsel of stinking dried-fish as a relish. The sight made the Treasurer feel a thirst for spirits, but he thought to himself,
(What follows is to be told in the words of the former story.)
But, when she in her turn said: “Then I’ll only brew liquor enough for you,” he said: “If you make the brew in the house, there will be many on the watch; and to send out for the spirits and sit and drink it here, is out of the question.” So he produced one single penny, and sent a slave to fetch him a jar of spirits from the tavern. When the slave came back, he made him go from the town to the riverside and put the jar down in a remote thicket. “Now be off!” said he, and made the slave wait some distance off, while he filled his cup and fell to.
Now the Treasurer’s father, who for his generosity and other good works had been reborn as Sakka in the Realm of Devas, was at that moment wondering whether his bounty was still kept up or not, and became aware of the stopping of his bounty, and of his son’s behaviour. He saw how his son, breaking through the traditions of his house, had burnt the alms house to the ground, had driven the poor with blows from his gates, and how, in his miserliness, fearing to share with others, that son had stolen away to a thicket to drink by himself. Moved by the sight, Sakka cried, “I will go to him and make my son see that deeds must have their consequences; I will work his conversion, and make him charitable and worthy of rebirth in the Realm of Devas.” So he came down to earth, and once more trod the ways of men, putting on the semblance of the Treasurer Illīsa, with the latter’s lameness, and crookback, and squint. In this guise, he entered the city of Rājagaha and made his way to the
“What brings you here at this unusual hour, Lord High Treasurer?” said the king. “I am come, sire, because I have in my house eighty crores of treasure. Deign to have them carried to fill the royal treasury.” “Nay, my Lord Treasurer;
At these words, wife, children, and servants all thought: “It’s a long time since he was this way minded. He must have been drinking to be so good-natured and generous today.” And his wife said to him, “Be as bountiful as you please, my husband.” “Send for the crier,” said he, “and bid him proclaim by beat of drum all through the city that everyone who wants gold, silver, diamonds, pearls, and the like, is to come to the house of Illīsa the Treasurer.” His wife did as he bade, and a large crowd soon assembled at the door carrying baskets and sacks. Then Sakka bade the treasure-chambers be thrown open, and cried, “This is my gift to you; take what you will and go your ways.” And the crowd seized on the riches there stored, and piled them in heaps on the floor and filled the bags and vessels they had brought, and went off laden with the spoils. Among them was a countryman who yoked Illīsa’s oxen to Illīsa’s carriage, filled it with the seven things of price, and journeyed out of the city along the highroad. As he went along, he drew near the thicket, and sang the Treasurer’s praises in these words, “May you live to be a hundred, my good lord Illīsa! What you have done for me this day will enable me to live without doing another stroke of work. Whose were these oxen? Yours. Whose was this carriage? Yours. Whose the wealth in the carriage? Yours again. It was no father or mother who gave me all this; no, it came solely from you, my lord.”
These words filled the Lord High Treasurer with fear and trembling. “Why, the fellow is mentioning my name in his talk,” said he to himself. “Can the king have been distributing my wealth to the people?”
“Nay, it was not I, my Lord Treasurer,” said the king. “Did you not yourself come and declare your intention of giving your wealth away, if I would not accept it? And did you not then send the crier round and carry out your threat?” “Oh sire, indeed it was not I that came to you on such an errand. Your majesty knows how near and close I am, and how I never give away so much as the tiniest drop of oil which a blade of grass will take up. May it please your majesty to send for him who has given my substance away, and to question him on the matter.”
Then the king sent for Sakka. And so exactly alike were the two that neither the king nor his court could tell which was the real Lord High Treasurer. Said the miser Illīsa, “Who, and what, sire, is this Treasurer? I am the Treasurer.”
“Well, really I can’t say which is the real Illīsa,” said the king. “Is there anybody who can distinguish them for certain?” “Yes, sire, my wife.” So the wife was sent for and asked which of the two was her husband. And she said Sakka was her husband and went to his side.
1. Ubho khañjā, ubho kuṇī, ubho visamacakkhukā,
Ubhinnaṁ piḷakā jātā, nāhaṁ passāmi Illisan-ti.
Both are lame, both are handicapped, both of them have eyes that are crossed, warts have arisen on both, I do not see which is Illisa.
Hearing his last hope thus fail him, the Lord High Treasurer fell into a tremble; and such was his intolerable anguish at the loss of his beloved riches, that down he fell in a swoon. Thereupon Sakka put forth his transcendental powers, and, rising in the air, addressed the king thence in these words, “Not Illīsa am I, O king, but Sakka.” Then those around wiped Illīsa’s face and dashed water over him. Recovering, he rose to his feet and bowed to the ground before Sakka, King of Devas. Then said Sakka, “Illīsa, mine was the wealth, not thine; I am your father, and you are my son. In my lifetime I was bountiful toward the poor and rejoiced in doing good; wherefore, I am advanced to this high estate and am become Sakka. But you, walking not in my footsteps, are grown a niggard and a very miser; you have burnt my alms house to the ground, driven the poor from the gate, and hoarded your riches. You have no enjoyment thereof thyself, nor has any other human being;
At this threat Illīsa, quaking for his life, cried out, “Henceforth I will be bountiful.” And Sakka accepted his promise, and, still seated in mid-air, established his son in the Precepts and preached the Dhamma to him, departing thereafter to his own abode. And Illīsa was diligent in generosity and other good works, and so assured his rebirth thereafter in heaven.
“Monks,” said the Teacher, “this is not the first time that Moggallāna has converted the miserly Treasurer; in bygone days too the same man was converted by him.” His lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “This miserly Treasurer was the Illīsa of those days, Moggallāna was Sakka, King of Devas, Ānanda was the king, and I myself the barber.”
last updated: August 2023