Ja 81 Surāpānajātaka
The Story about Liquor (1s)

In the present one monk, though having great powers was brought low by strong liquor. The Buddha tells how a whole group of worthy ascetics in the past had similarly lost their powers through drink.

The Bodhisatta = the teacher of a group (gaṇasatthā),
the Buddha’s disciples = the seer’s followers (isigaṇa).

Present Compare: Vin Pāc 51 (4.108).

Keywords: Intoxication, Disobedience, Devas.

“We drank, we danced.” {1.360} This story was told by the Teacher about the elder Sāgata, while he was dwelling in the Ghosita-park near Kosambī.

For, after spending the rainy season at Sāvatthi, the Teacher had come on an alms pilgrimage to a market-town named Bhaddavatikā, where cowherds and goatherds and farmers and wayfarers respectfully besought him not to go down to the Mango Ferry, “For,” they said, “in the Mango Ferry, in the locality of the naked ascetics, dwells a poisonous and deadly Nāga, known as the Nāga of the Mango Ferry, who might harm the Fortunate One.” Feigning not to hear them, though they repeated their warning thrice, the Fortunate One kept on his way.

While the Fortunate One was dwelling near Bhaddavatikā in a certain grove there, the elder Sāgata, a servant of the Buddha, who had won such Supernormal Powers as a worldling can possess, went to the locality, piled a couch of leaves at the spot where the Nāga king dwelt, and sat himself down cross-legged thereon. Being unable to conceal his evil nature, the Nāga raised a great smoke. So did the elder. Then the Nāga sent forth flames. So too did the elder. But, while the Nāga’s flames did no harm to the elder, the elder’s flames did do harm to the Nāga, and so in a short time he mastered the Nāga king and established him in the Refuges and the Precepts, after which he repaired back to the Teacher. And the Teacher, after dwelling as long as it pleased him at Bhaddavatikā, went on to Kosambī.

Now the story of the Nāga’s conversion by Sāgata, had got noised abroad all over the countryside, and the townsfolk of Kosambī went forth to meet the Fortunate One and saluted him, after which they passed to the elder Sāgata and saluting him, said: “Tell us, sir, what you lack and we will furnish it.” The elder himself remained [1.207] silent; but the followers of the Group of Six [The ‘Six’ were notorious monks who are always mentioned as defying the rules of the Saṅgha.] made answer as follows, “Sirs, to those who have renounced the world, white spirits are as rare as they are acceptable. Do you think you could get the elder some clear white spirit?” “To be sure we can,” said the townsfolk, and invited the Teacher to take his meal with them next day. Then they went back to their own town and arranged that each in his own house should offer clear white spirit to the elder, and accordingly they all laid in a store and invited the elder in and plied him with the liquor, house by house. So deep were his potations that, on his way out of town, the elder fell prostrate in the gateway and there lay hiccoughing nonsense.

On his way back from his meal in the town, the Teacher came on the elder lying in this state, and bidding the monks carry Sāgata home, {1.361} passed on his way to the park. The monks laid the elder down with his head at the Tathāgata’s feet, but he turned round so that he came to lie with his feet towards the Tathāgata. Then the Teacher asked his question, “Monks, does Sāgata show that respect towards me now that he formerly did?” “No, sir.” “Tell me, monks, who it was that mastered the Nāga king of the Mango Ferry?” “It was Sāgata, sir.” “Think you that in his present state Sāgata could master even a harmless water-snake?” “That he could not, sir.” “Well now, monks, is it proper to drink that which, when drunk, steals away a man’s senses?” “It is improper, sir.” Now, after discoursing with the monks in dispraise of the elder, the Fortunate One laid it down as a precept that the drinking of intoxicants was an offence requiring confession and absolution; after which he rose up and passed into his perfumed chamber.

Assembling together in the Dhamma Hall, the monks discussed the defilement of spirit-drinking, saying: “What a great defilement is the drinking of spirits, sirs, seeing that it has blinded to the Buddha’s excellence even one known as wise and having Supernormal Powers.” Entering the Dhamma Hall at this point, the Teacher asked what topic they were discussing; and they told him. “Monks,” said he, “this is not the first time that they who had renounced the world have lost their senses through drinking spirits; the very same thing took place in bygone days.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a northern brahmin family in Kāsi; and when he grew up, he renounced the world for the ascetic’s life. He won the Super Knowledges and Attainments, and dwelt in the enjoyment of the bliss of Absorption in the Himālayas, with five hundred pupils around him.

Once, when the rainy season had come, his pupils said to him, “Teacher, may we go to the haunts of men and bring back salt and vinegar?” “For my own part, sirs, I shall remain here; but you may go for your health’s sake, and come back when the rainy season is over.” “Very good,” they said, and taking a respectful leave of their master, came to Benares, where they took up their abode in the royal pleasure gardens.

On the morrow they went in quest of alms to a village just outside the city gates, where they had plenty to eat; and next day they made their way into the city itself. The kindly citizens gave alms to them, and the king was soon informed that five hundred ascetics from the Himālayas had [1.208] taken up their abode in the royal pleasure gardens, and that they were ascetics of great austerity, subduing the flesh, and of great virtue. Hearing this good character of them, the king went to the pleasure gardens and graciously made them welcome {1.362} to stay there for four months. They promised that they would, and thenceforth were fed in the royal palace and lodged in the pleasure gardens.

One day a drinking festival was held in the city, and the king gave the five hundred ascetics a large supply of the best spirits, knowing that such things rarely come in the way of those who renounce the world and its vanities. The ascetics drank the liquor and went back to the pleasure gardens. There, in drunken hilarity, some danced, some sang, while others, wearied of dancing and singing, kicked about their rice-hampers and other belongings – after which they lay down to sleep. When they had slept off their drunkenness and awoke to see the traces of their revelry, they wept and lamented, saying: “We have done that which we ought not to have done. We have done this evil because we are away from our master.” Forthwith, they quit the pleasure gardens and returned to the Himālayas. Laying aside their bowls and other belongings, they saluted their master and took their seats. “Well, my sons,” said he, “were you comfortable amid the haunts of men, and were you spared weary journeyings in quest of alms? Did you dwell in unity one with another?”

“Yes, master, we were comfortable; but we drank forbidden drink, so that, losing our senses and forgetting ourselves, we both danced and sang.” And by way of setting the matter forth, they composed and repeated this verse:

1. “We drank, we danced, we sang, we wept; ’twas well
That, when we drank the drink that steals away
The senses, we were not transformed to apes.”

“This is what is sure to happen to those who are not living under a master’s care,” said the Bodhisatta, rebuking those ascetics; and he exhorted them saying: “Henceforth, never do such a thing again.” Living on with Absorption unbroken, he became destined to rebirth thereafter in the Brahmā Realm. {1.363}

His lesson ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka – (and henceforth we shall omit the words ‘showed the connection’) – by saying: “My disciples were the band of ascetics of those days, and I their teacher.”