Ja 134 Jhānasodhanajātaka
The Birth Story about the Purification of Meditation (1s)

In the present the monks are wondering at how Ven. Sāriputta can answer a question put by the Buddha that is beyond everyone else. The Buddha says that he could do this also in the past, and shows how his last words in that life had been correctly interpreted by his chief disciple.

The Bodhisatta = Mahābrahma,
Sāriputta = the elder pupil (jeṭṭhantevāsika).

Present Source: Ja 483 Sarabhamiga,
Quoted at: Ja 99 Parosahassa, Ja 101 Parosata, Ja 134 Jhānasodhana, Ja 135 Candābha,
Present Compare: Dhp-a VII.10 Aññatara-itthī,
Past Compare: Ja 99 Parosahassa, Ja 101 Parosata, Ja 134 Jhānasodhana, Ja 135 Candābha.

Keywords: Wisdom, Meditation, Devas.

“Those who are conscious.” {1.473} This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about the interpretation by Sāriputta, Captain of the Dhamma, at the gate of Saṅkassa town, of a problem tersely propounded by the Teacher. [The story is related in the Dhp-a XIV.2. I include the relevant part of the story here, slightly modified from Burlingame’s translation.]

At that time the Teacher put a question concisely to that elder. This is the full story, put briefly, of the descent from the world of gods. When the venerable Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja had by his Supernormal Powers gained the sandalwood bowl in the presence of the great merchant of Rājagaha, the Teacher forbade the monks to use their miraculous Supernormal Powers.

Then the schismatics thought: “The ascetic Gotama has forbidden the use of miraculous Supernormal Powers: now he will do no miracle himself.” Their disciples were disturbed, and said to the schismatics, “Why didn’t you take the bowl by your Supernormal Powers?” They replied, “This is no hard thing for us, friend. But we think, ‘Who will display before the laity his own fine and subtle powers for the sake of a paltry wooden bowl?’ and so we did not take it. The ascetics of the Sakya class took it, and showed their Supernormal Powers for sheer foolish greed. Do not imagine it is any trouble to us to work miracles. Suppose we leave out of consideration the disciples of Gotama the ascetic: if we like, we too will show our Supernormal Powers with the ascetic Gotama himself: if the ascetic Gotama works one miracle, we will work one twice as good.”

The monks who heard this told the Fortunate One of it, “Sir, the schismatics say they will work a miracle.” Said the Teacher, “Let them do it, monks; I will do the like.” Bimbisāra, hearing this, went and asked the Fortunate One, “Will you work a miracle, sir?” “Yes, O king.” “Was there not a command given on this matter, sir?” “The command, O king, was given to my disciples; there is no command which can rule the Buddhas. When the flowers and fruit in your park are forbidden to others, the same rule does not apply to you.” “Then where will you work this miracle, sir?” “At Sāvatthi, under Gaṇḍa’s mango tree.” “What have I to do, then?” “Nothing, sire.”

Next day, after breaking his fast, the Teacher went to seek alms. “Whither goes the Teacher?” asked the people. The monks answered to them, “At the gate of the city of Sāvatthi, beneath Gaṇḍa’s mango tree, he is to work a twofold miracle to the confounding of the schismatics.” The crowd said: “This miracle will be what they call a masterpiece; we will go see it,” leaving the doors of their houses, they went along with the Teacher. Some of the schismatics also followed the Teacher, with their disciples, “We too,” they said, “will work a miracle, in the place where the ascetic Gotama shall work his.”

By and by the Teacher arrived at Sāvatthi. The king asked him, “Is it true, sir, you are about to work a miracle, as they say?” “Yes, it is true,” he said. “When?” asked the king. “On the seventh day from now, at the full moon of the month of July.” “Shall I set up a pavilion, sir?” “Peace, great king: in the place where I shall work my miracle Sakka will set up a pavilion of jewels twelve leagues in compass.” “Shall I proclaim this thing through the city, sir?” “Proclaim it, O king.” The king sent forth the announcer of the Dhamma on an elephant richly caparisoned, to proclaim thus, “News! The Teacher is about to perform a miracle, for the confounding of the schismatics, at the Gate of Sāvatthi, under Gaṇḍa’s mango tree, seven days from now!” Each day was this proclamation made. When the schismatics heard this news, that the miracle will be done under Gaṇḍa’s mango tree, they had all the mango trees near to Sāvatthi cut down, paying the owners for them.

On the night of the full moon the announcer of the Dhamma made proclamation, “This day in the morning the miracle will take place.” By the power of the gods it was as though all Jambudīpa was at the door and heard the proclamation; whosoever had it in his heart to go, they all betook themselves to Sāvatthi: for twelve leagues the crowd extended.

Early in the morning the Teacher went on his rounds seeking alms. The king’s gardener, Gaṇḍa by name, was just taking to the king a fine ripe mango fruit; thoroughly ripe, big as a bushel, when he espied the Teacher at the city gate. “This fruit is worthy of the Tathāgata,” said he, and gave it to him. The Teacher took it, and sitting down then and there on one side, ate the fruit. When it was eaten, he said: “Ānanda, give the gardener this stone to plant here on the spot; this shall be Gaṇḍa’s mango tree.” The elder did so.

The gardener dug a hole in the earth, and planted it. On the instant the stone burst, roots sprouted forth, up sprang a red shoot tall as a plough-pole; even as the crowd stared it grew into a mango tree of a hundred cubits, with a trunk fifty cubits and branches of fifty cubits in height; at the same time flowers bloomed, fruit ripened; the tree stood filling the sky, covered with bees, laden with golden fruit; when the wind blew on it, sweet fruits fell; then the monks came up and ate of the fruit, and retired.

In the evening time the King of the Devas, reflecting, perceived that it was a task laid on him to make a pavilion of the seven precious things. So he sent the Devaputta Vissakamma, and caused him to make a pavilion of the seven precious things, twelve leagues in compass, covered all over with blue lotus. Thus the gods of ten thousand spheres were gathered together. The Teacher, for the confounding of the schismatics having performed a twofold miracle passing marvellous among his disciples, caused faith to spring up in multitudes, then arose and, sitting in the Buddha’s seat, declared the Dhamma. Twenty crores of beings drank of the waters of life. Then, meditating to see whither it was that former Buddhas went when they had done a miracle, and perceiving that it was to the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, up he rose from the Buddha’s seat, the right foot he placed on the top of Mount Yugandhara, and with his left strode to the peak of Sineru, he began the Rains Retreat under the great Coral Tree, seated upon the yellow-stone throne; for the space of three months he discoursed upon the Abhidhamma to the gods.

The people knew not the place whither the Teacher had gone; they looked, and said: “Let us go home,” and lived in that place during the rainy season. When the rainy season was near to its end, and the feast was at hand, the great elder Moggallāna went and announced it to the Fortunate One. Thereupon the Teacher asked him, “Where is Sāriputta now?” “He, sir, after the miracle which delighted him, remained with five hundred monks in the city of Saṅkassa, and is there still.” “Moggallāna, on the seventh day from now I shall descend by the gate of Saṅkassa. Let those who desire to behold the Tathāgata assemble in the city of Saṅkassa.” The elder assented, went and told the people: the whole company he transported from Sāvatthi to Saṅkassa, a distance of thirty leagues, in the twinkling of an eye.

The Rains Retreat over, and the Invitation celebrated, the Teacher told king Sakka that he was about to return to the world of men. Then Sakka sent for Vissakamma, and said to him, “Make a stairway for the One with Ten Powers to descend into the world of men.” He placed the head of the stairway upon the peak of Sineru, and the foot of it by the gate of Saṅkassa, and between he made three stairways side by side: one of gems, one of silver, and one of gold: the balustrade and cornice were of the seven things of price. The Teacher, having performed a miracle for the world’s emancipation, descended by the midmost stair made out of gems. Sakka carried the bowl and robe, Suyāma a yak’s-tail fan, Brahma Lord of all beings bore a sunshade, and the deities of the ten thousand spheres worshipped with divine garlands and perfumes. When the Teacher stood at the foot of the staircase, first elder Sāriputta gave him greeting, afterwards the rest of the company.

Amidst this assembly the Teacher thought: “Moggallāna has been shown to possess supernatural power, Upāli as one who is versed in the sacred law, but the quality of high wisdom possessed by Sāriputta has not been shown. Save and except me, no other possesses wisdom so full and complete as his; I will make known the quality of his wisdom.” First of all he asked a question which is put to ordinary persons, and the ordinary persons answered it. Then he asked a question within the scope of those of the First Path, and this they of the First Path answered, but the ordinary folk knew nought of it. In the same way he asked questions in turn within the scope of those of the Second and Third Paths, of the Arahats, of the chief disciples; and in each case those who were below each grade in turn were unable to answer, but they who were above could answer. Then he put a question within the power of Sāriputta, and this the elder could answer, but the others not so. The people asked, “Who is this elder who answered the Teacher?” They were told, it was the Captain of the Dhamma, and Sāriputta was his name. “Ah, great is his wisdom!” they said. Ever afterwards the quality of the elder’s great wisdom was known to men and to gods. Then the Teacher said to him,

“Some have probations yet to pass, and some have reached the goal:
Their different behaviours say, for you do know the whole.”

Having thus asked a question which comes within a Buddha’s scope, he added, “Here is a point put with brevity, Sāriputta; what is the meaning of the matter in all its bearings?” The elder considered the problem. He thought: “The Teacher asks of the proper behaviour with which the monks attain progress, both those who are in the lower Paths and those who are Arahats?” As to the general question, he had no doubt. But then he considered, “The proper manner of behaviour may be described in many ways of speaking according to the essential elements of being, and so forth from that beginning; now in what fashion can I hit the Teacher’s meaning?” He was doubtful about the meaning. The Teacher thought: “Sāriputta has no doubt of the general question, but doubts what particular side of it I have in view. If I give no clue, he will never be able to answer, so a clue I will give him.” This clue he gave by saying: “See here, Sāriputta: you grant this to be true?” (mentioning some point). Sāriputta granted the point.

The hint thus given, he knew that Sāriputta had taken his meaning, and would answer fully, starting from the very elements of being. Then the question stood out clear before the elder, as with a hundred hints, nay, a thousand; and he, at the Teacher’s hint given, answered the question which belonged to a Buddha’s scope.

And the following was the story of the past he then told.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a northern brahmin and completed his education at Taxila. Putting sensual desires from him and renouncing the world for the ascetic’s life, he won the five Super Knowledges and eight Attainments, and dwelt in the Himālayas, where five hundred ascetics gathered round him. One rainy season, his chief disciple went with half the ascetics to the haunts of men to get salt and vinegar. And that was the time when the Bodhisatta should die. And his disciples, wishing to know his spiritual attainment, said to him, “What excellence have you won?” the Bodhisatta, as he expired in his forest-home, exclaimed, “Neither conscious nor unconscious.” [I have filled in the lacuna with the relevant part of the story from Ja 99 Parosahassajātaka.]

And the recluses did not believe the interpretation which the Bodhisatta’s chief disciple gave of the Teacher’s words. The Bodhisatta came back from the Radiant Realm, and from mid-air recited this verse:

1. Ye saññino te pi duggatā,
Ye pi asaññino te pi duggatā,
Etaṁ ubhayaṁ vivajjaya,
Taṁ samāpattisukhaṁ anaṅgaṇan-ti.

Those who are conscious fare badly, those unconscious fare badly too, you should abandon both of these, bliss of attainment is spotless.

His lesson ended, the Bodhisatta praised his disciple and went back to the Brahma Realm. Then the rest of the recluses believed the chief disciple.

His lesson taught, the Teacher identified the Jātaka by saying: “In those days Sāriputta was the chief disciple, and I Mahābrahma.”