Ja 121 Kusanāḷijātaka
The Birth Story about the Grass (Devatā) (1s)

In the present Anāthapiṇḍika has a friend with an unfortunate name, whom he is loyal to anyway, as a true friend should be. The Buddha tells how in the past a lowly grass Devatā helped preserve the home of a Tree Devatā through his wisdom.

The Bodhisatta = the Grass Devatā (Kusanāḷidevatā),
Ānanda = the Tree Devatā (Rucādevatā).

Present Source: Ja 83 Kālakaṇṇi,
Quoted at: Ja 121 Kusanāḷi.

Keywords: Friends, Wisdom, Devas.

“The one the same.” {1.441} This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about Anāthapiṇḍika’s true friend. For his acquaintances and friends and relations came to him and tried hard to stop his intimacy with a certain man, saying that neither in birth nor wealth was he Anāthapiṇḍika’s equal. But the great merchant replied that friendship should not depend on equality or inequality of externals. And when he went off to his village headmany, he put this friend in charge of his wealth. Everything came to pass as in the Kālakaṇṇijātaka [Ja 83].

Tradition says that the two had made mud-pies together, and had gone to the same school; but, as years went by, the friend, whose name was Wretch [Kāḷakaṇṇī], sank into great distress and could not make a living anyhow. So he came to the rich man, who was kind to him, and paid him to look after all his property; and the poor friend was employed under Anāthapiṇḍika and did all his business for him. After he had gone up to the rich man’s it was a common thing to hear in the house, “Stand up, Wretch,” or, “Sit down, Wretch,” or, “Have your dinner, Wretch.”

One day the Treasurer’s friends and acquaintances called on him and said: “Lord Treasurer, don’t let this sort of thing go on in your house. It’s enough to scare a Yakkha to hear such ill-omened observations as – ‘Stand up, Wretch,’ or ‘Sit down, Wretch,’ or ‘Have your dinner, Wretch.’ The man is not your social equal; he’s a miserable wretch, dogged by misfortune. Why have anything to do with him?” “Not so,” replied Anāthapiṇḍika, “a name only serves to denote a man, and the wise do not measure a man by his name; nor is it proper to wax superstitious about mere sounds. Never will I throw over, for his mere name’s sake, the friend with whom I made mud-pies as a child.” And he rejected their advice.

One day the great man departed to visit a village of which he was headman, leaving the other in charge of the house. Hearing of his departure certain robbers made up their mind to break into the house; and, arming themselves to the teeth, they surrounded it in the night-time. But Wretch had a suspicion that burglars might be expected, and was sitting up for them. And when he knew that they had come, he ran about as if to rouse his people, bidding one sound the conch, another beat the drum, till he had the whole house full of noise, as though be were rousing a whole army of servants. Said the robbers, “The house is not so empty as we were told; the master must be at home.” Flinging away their stones, clubs and other weapons, away they bolted for their lives.

Next day great alarm was caused by the sight of all the discarded weapons lying round the house; and Wretch was lauded to the skies by such praises as this, “If the house had not been patrolled by one so wise as this man, the robbers would have simply walked in at their own pleasure and have plundered the house. The Treasurer owes this stroke of good luck to his staunch friend.” And the moment the merchant came back from his village they hastened to tell him the whole story. “Ah,” said he, “this is the trusty guardian of my house whom you wanted me to get rid of. If I had taken your advice and got rid of him; I should be a beggar today. It’s not the name but the heart within that makes the man.” So saying he raised his wages. And thinking that here was a good story to tell, off he went to the Teacher and gave him a complete account of it all, right through.

But, when in this case Anāthapiṇḍika related the danger his house had been in, the Teacher said: “Layman, a friend rightly so-called is never inferior. The standard is ability to befriend. A friend rightly so-called, though only equal or inferior to one’s self, should be held a superior, for all such friends fail not to grapple with trouble which befalls one’s self. It is your real friend that has now saved you your wealth. So in days gone by a like real friend saved a Devatā’s mansion.” Then at Anāthapiṇḍika’s request, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a Devatā in the king’s pleasure gardens, and dwelt in a clump of kusa grass. Now in the same grounds near the king’s seat there grew a beautiful Wishing Tree (also called the Mukkhaka) with straight stem and spreading branches, which received great favour from the king. Here dwelt one who had been a mighty king of the Devas and had been reborn a Tree Devatā. And the Bodhisatta was on terms of intimate friendship with this Tree Devatā.

Now the king’s dwelling had only one pillar to support the roof [1.268] and that pillar grew shaky. Being told of this, the king sent for carpenters and ordered them to put in a sound pillar and make it secure. So the carpenters {1.442} looked about for a tree that would do and, not finding one elsewhere, went to the pleasure gardens and saw the Mukkhaka. Then away they went back to the king. “Well,” said he, “have you found a tree that will do?” “Yes, sire,” said they, “but we don’t like to fell it.” “Why not?” said the king. Then they told him how they had in vain looked everywhere for a tree and did not dare to cut down the sacred tree. “Go and cut it down,” said he, “and make the roof secure. I will look out for another tree.”

So they went away. And they took a sacrifice to the pleasure gardens and offered it to the tree, saying among themselves that they would come and cut it down next day. Hearing their words, the Tree Devatā knew that her home would be destroyed on the morrow, and burst into tears as she clasped her children to her breast, not knowing whither to fly with them. Her friends, the spirits of the forest, came and asked what the matter was. But not one of them could devise how to stay the carpenters’ hand, and all embraced her with tears and lamentations. At this moment up came the Bodhisatta to call upon the Tree Devatā and was told the news. “Have no fear,” said the Bodhisatta cheerfully. “I will see that the tree is not cut down. Only wait and see what I will do when the carpenters come tomorrow.”

Next day when the men came, the Bodhisatta, assuming the shape of a chameleon, was at the tree before they were, and got in at the roots and worked his way up till he got out among the branches, making the tree look full of holes. Then the Bodhisatta rested among the boughs with his head rapidly moving to and fro. Up came the carpenters; and at sight of the chameleon their leader struck the tree with his hand, and exclaimed that the tree was rotten and that they didn’t look carefully before making their offerings the day before. And off he went full of scorn for the great strong tree.

In this way the Bodhisatta saved the Tree Devatā’s home. And when all her friends {1.443} and acquaintances came to see her, she joyfully sang the praises of the Bodhisatta, as the saviour of her home, saying: “Devatās of the Trees, for all our mighty power we knew not what to do; while a humble Kusa Devatā had wit to save my home for me. Truly we should choose our friends without considering whether they are superiors, equals, or inferiors, making no distinction of rank. For each according to his strength can help a friend in the hour of need.” And she repeated this verse about friendship and its duties:

1. Kare sarikkho, atha vā pi seṭṭho,
Nihīnako vā pi, kareyya mitto,
Kareyyum-ete byasane uttamatthaṁ,
Yathā ahaṁ Kusanāḷī rucāyan-ti.

The one the same, and then the one greater, and the one lower, let him make a friend, they should give utmost help to unfortunates, like I, Kusanāḷi, did to this tree. [1.269]

Thus did she teach the assembled Devas, adding these words, “Wherefore, such as would escape from an evil plight must not merely consider whether a man is an equal or a superior, but must make friends of the wise whatsoever their station in life.” And she lived her life and with the Kusa Devatā finally passed away to fare according to her deeds.

His lesson ended the Teacher identified the birth by saying: “Ānanda was then the Tree Devatā, and I the Kusa Devatā.”