Ja 80 Bhīmasenajātaka
The Birth Story about (the Useless Giant) Bhīmasena (1s)

In the present a monk lies about his family, fortune and fame, until he is discovered. The Buddha tells a story of a past life, in which the same person sought to fool people into thinking he was a great hero, when in fact it was the Bodhisatta, who had been born in that life as a dwarf, who had really saved the people.

The Bodhisatta = the wise dwarf archer (culladhanuggahapaṇḍita),
the bragging monk = (the useless giant) Bhīmasena.

Present Source: Ja 80 Bhīmasena,
Quoted at: Ja 125 Kaṭāhaka, Ja 127 Kalaṇḍuka.

Keywords: Boasting, Cleverness.

“Whatever you boasted of beforehand.” This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a certain braggart among the monks. Tradition says that he used to gather round him monks of all ages, and go about deluding everyone with lying boasts about his noble descent. “Ah, monks,” he would say, “there’s no family so noble as mine, no lineage so peerless. I am a scion of the highest of princely lines; no man is my equal in birth or ancestral estate; there is absolutely no end to the gold and silver and other treasures we possess. Our very slaves and menials are fed on rice and meat-stews, and are clad in the best Benares cloth, with the choicest Benares perfumes to perfume themselves withal; while I, because I have joined the Saṅgha, {1.356} have to content myself with this vile fare and this vile garb.” But another monk, after enquiring into his family estate, exposed to the monks the emptiness of this pretension.

So the monks met in the Dhamma Hall, and talk began as to how that monk, in spite of his vows to leave worldly things and cleave only to the dispensation which leads to safety, was going about deluding the monks with his lying boasts. While the fellow’s sinfulness was being discussed, the Teacher entered and enquired what their topic was. And they told him. “This is not the first time, monks,” said the Teacher, “that he has gone about boasting; in bygone days too he went about boasting and deluding people.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a brahmin in a market-town in the north country, and when he was grown up he studied under a teacher of world-wide fame at Taxila. There he learned the Three Vedas and the Eighteen Branches of knowledge, and completed his education. And he became known as the wise Culladhanuggaha (Little Archer). Leaving Taxila, he came to the Andhra country in search of practical experience.

Now, it happened that in this birth the Bodhisatta was somewhat of a crooked little dwarf, and he thought to himself, “If I make my appearance before any king, he’s sure to ask what a dwarf like me is good for; why should I not use a tall broad fellow as my stalking-horse and earn my living in the shadow of his more imposing [1.204] personality?” So he betook himself to the weavers’ quarter, and there espying a huge weaver named Bhīmasena, saluted him, asking the man’s name. “Bhīmasena The name means “one who has or leads a terrible army;” it is the name of the second Pāṇḍava [in the Mahābhārata]. is my name,” said the weaver. “And what makes a fine big man like you work at so sorry a trade?” “Because I can’t get a living any other way.” “Weave no more, friend. The whole continent can show no such archer as I am; but kings would scorn me because I am a dwarf. And so you, friend, must be the man to vaunt your prowess with the bow, and the king will take you into his pay {1.357} and make you ply your calling regularly. Meantime I shall be behind you to perform the duties that are laid upon you, and so shall earn my living in your shadow. In this manner we shall both of us thrive and prosper. Only do as I tell you.” “Agreed,” said the other.

Accordingly, the Bodhisatta took the weaver with him to Benares, acting as a little page of the bow, and putting the other in the front; and when they were at the gates of the palace, he made him send word of his coming to the king. Being summoned into the royal presence, the pair entered together and bowing stood before the king. “What brings you here?” said the king. “I am a mighty archer,” said Bhīmasena, “there is no archer like me in the whole continent.” “What pay would you want to enter my service?” “A thousand pieces a fortnight, sire.” “What is this man of yours?” “He’s my little page, sire.” “Very well, enter my service.”

So Bhīmasena entered the king’s service; but it was the Bodhisatta who did all his work for him. Now in those days there was a tiger in a forest in Kāsi which blocked a frequented high-road and had devoured many victims. When this was reported to the king, he sent for Bhīmasena and asked whether he could catch the tiger.

“How could I call myself an archer, sire, if I couldn’t catch a tiger?” The king gave him largesse and sent him on the errand. And home to the Bodhisatta came Bhīmasena with the news. “All right,” said the Bodhisatta, “away you go, my friend.” “But are you not coming too?” “No, I won’t go; but I’ll tell you a little plan.” “Please do, my friend.” “Well don’t you be rash and approach the tiger’s lair alone. What you will do is to muster a strong band of countryfolk to march to the spot with a thousand or two thousand bows; when you know that the tiger is aroused, you bolt into the thicket and lie down flat on your face. The countryfolk will beat the tiger to death; and as soon as he is quite dead, you bite off a creeper with your teeth, and draw near to the dead tiger, trailing the creeper in your hand. At the sight of the dead body of the brute, you will burst out with: ‘Who has killed the tiger? I meant to lead it {1.358} by a creeper, like an ox, to the king, and with this intent had [1.205] just stepped into the thicket to get a creeper. I must know who killed the tiger before I could get back with my creeper.’ Then the countryfolk will be very frightened and bribe you heavily not to report them to the king; you will be credited with slaying the tiger; and the king too will give you lots of money.”

“Very good,” said Bhīmasena; and off he went and slew the tiger just as the Bodhisatta had told him. Having thus made the road safe for travellers, back he came with a large following to Benares, and said to the king, “I have killed the tiger, sire; the forest is safe for travellers now.” Well-pleased, the king loaded him with gifts.

Another day, tidings came that a certain road was infested with a buffalo, and the king sent Bhīmasena to kill it. Following the Bodhisatta’s directions, he killed the buffalo in the same way as the tiger, and returned to the king, who once more gave him lots of money. He was a great lord now. Intoxicated by his new honours, he treated the Bodhisatta with contempt, and scorned to follow his advice, saying: “I can get on without you. Do you think there’s no man but yourself?” This and many other harsh things did he say to the Bodhisatta.

Now, a few days later, a hostile king marched upon Benares and beleaguered it, sending a message to the king summoning him either to surrender his kingdom or to do battle. And the king of Benares ordered Bhīmasena out to fight him. So Bhīmasena was armed from head to foot in soldierly fashion and mounted on a war-elephant sheathed in complete armour. And the Bodhisatta, who was seriously alarmed that Bhīmasena might get killed, armed himself from head to foot also and seated himself modestly behind Bhīmasena. Surrounded by a host, the elephant passed out of the gates of the city and arrived in the forefront of the battle. At the first notes of the martial drum Bhīmasena fell quaking with fear. “If you fall off now, you’ll get killed,” said the Bodhisatta, and accordingly fastened a cord round him, which he held tight, to prevent him from falling off the elephant. But the sight of the field of battle proved too much for Bhīmasena, and the fear of death was so strong on him that he fouled the elephant’s back. “Ah,” said the Bodhisatta, “the present does not tally with the past. Then you affected the warrior; now your prowess is confined to befouling the elephant you ride on.” And so saying, he uttered this verse: {1.359}

1. Yaṁ te pavikatthitaṁ pure,
Atha te pūtisarā sajanti pacchā,
Ubhayaṁ na sameti Bhīmasena:
Yuddhakathā ca idañ-ca – te vihaññan-ti.

Whatever you boasted of beforehand, yet later you let loose a stinking mess, both are disagreeable, Bhīmasena: talk of war and now this – you are fatigued.

When the Bodhisatta had ended these taunts, he said: “But don’t you be afraid, my friend. Am not I here to protect you?” Then he made Bhīmasena get off the elephant and bade him wash himself and go home. “And now to win renown this day,” said the Bodhisatta, raising his [1.206] battle-cry as he dashed into the fight. Breaking through the king’s camp, he dragged the king out and took him alive to Benares. In great joy at his prowess, his royal master loaded him with honours, and from that day forward all Jambudīpa was loud with the fame of the wise Culladhanuggaha. To Bhīmasena he gave largesse, and sent him back to his own home; while he himself excelled in generosity and all good works, and at his death passed away to fare according to his deeds.

“Thus, monks,” said the Teacher, “this is not the first time that this monk has been a braggart; he was just the same in bygone days too.” His lesson ended, the Teacher showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “This braggart monk was the Bhīmasena of those days, and I myself the wise Culladhanuggaha.”