Ja 155 Gaggajātaka
The Story about (the Bodhisatta’s Father) Gagga (2s)
Alternative Title: Bhaggajātaka (Cst)
In the present the monks are disturbed by the superstitions of the people who cry out ‘Long life,’ when someone sneezes. The Buddha tells how this custom came to be in the olden days when a Yakkha could not eat anyone who gave this or a similar blessing upon sneezing.
The Bodhisatta = the (brahmin) son (putta),
Kassapa = the father (pitā),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
Aṅgulimāla = the Yakkha.
Present Compare: Vin Cv 5 (2.140).
Keywords: Superstition, Blessings, Devas.
“Gagga, live a hundred years.”
One day, we are told, as the Teacher sat discoursing with four persons round him, he sneezed. “Long life to the Fortunate One, long life to the Buddha!” the monks all cried aloud, and made a great to-do.
The noise interrupted the discourse. Then the Teacher said to the monks, “Why, monks, if one cry ‘Long life!’ on hearing a sneeze, does a man live or die any the more for that?” They answered, “No, no, sir.” He went on, “You should not cry ‘Long life’ for a sneeze, monks. Whosoever does so is guilty of wrong.”
It is said that at that time, when the monks sneezed, people used to call out, “Long life to you, sir!” But the monks had their scruples, and made no answer. Everybody was annoyed, and asked, “Pray, why is it that the monastics about the ascetic Son of the Sakyas make no answer, when they sneeze, and somebody or other wishes them long life?”
All this was told to the Fortunate One. He said: “Monks, common folk are superstitious. When you sneeze, and they say, ‘Long life to you, sir!’ I permit you to answer, ‘The same to you.’ ” Then the monks asked him, “Sir, when did people begin to answer ‘Long life’ by ‘The same to you’?” Said the Teacher, “That was long, long ago,” and he told them a tale of the olden time.
In the past, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came into the world as a brahmin’s son of the kingdom of Kāsi; and his father was a lawyer by calling. When the lad was sixteen years old or so, his father gave a fine jewel into his charge, and they both
Now the Yakkha that haunted the place had received it for twelve years’ service of Vessavaṇa, A monster with white skin, three legs, and eight teeth, guardian of jewels and the precious metals, and a kind of Indian Pluto. [This is an odd description indeed!] on these terms: that if any man who entered it should sneeze, and when long life was wished him, should answer, “Long life to you!” or, “The same to you!” all except these the Yakkha had a right to eat. [Additional note from vol. IV:] At a sneeze, a Hindu in the N. W. Provinces will still say, “May you live a hundred years.” North Indian Notes and Queries, iv. 388. The Yakkha lived upon the central rafter of the hut. See Eggeling, Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa vol. 2, p. 3, Sacred Books of the East, for the construction of the hut.
He determined to make the father of the Bodhisatta sneeze. Accordingly, by his magic power he raised a cloud of fine dust, which entered the man’s nostrils; and as he lay on the bench, he sneezed. The son did not cry, “Long life!” and down came the Yakkha from his perch, ready to devour his victim. But the Bodhisatta saw him descend, and then these thoughts passed through his mind. “Doubtless it is he who made my father sneeze. This must be a Yakkha that eats all who do not say ‘Long life to you.’ ” And addressing his father, he repeated the first verse as follows:
1. “Gagga, live a hundred years, aye, and twenty more, I pray!
May no Pisācas eat you up; live a hundred years, I say!”
The Yakkha thought: “This one I cannot eat, because he said ‘Long life to you.’ But I shall eat his father,” and he came close to the father. But the man divined the truth of the matter, “This must be a Yakkha,” he thought, “who eats all who do not reply, ‘Long life to you, too!’ ” and so addressing his son, he repeated the second verse:
2. “You too live a hundred years, aye, and twenty more, I pray;
May the Pisācas [Another name for the Yakkha.] eat poison; live a hundred years, I say!”
The Yakkha hearing these words, turned away, thinking: “Neither of these is for me to eat.” But the Bodhisatta put a question to him, “Come, Yakkha, how is it you eat the people who enter this building?”
“I earned the right for twelve years’ service of Vessavaṇa.” “What, are you allowed to eat everybody?”
“Yakkha,” said the lad, “you have done some wickedness in former lives, which has caused you to be born now fierce, and cruel, and a bane to others. If you do the same kind of thing now, you will pass from darkness to darkness. Therefore from this time forth abstain from such things as taking life.” With these words he humbled the Yakkha, scared him with fear of hell, established him in the Five Precepts, and made him as obedient as an errand-boy.
Next day, when the people came and saw the Yakkha, and learned how that the Bodhisatta had subdued him, they went and told the king, “My lord, some man has subdued the Yakkha, and made him as obedient as an errand-boy!” So the king sent for him, and raised him to be commander-in-chief; while he heaped honours upon the father. Having made the Yakkha a tax-gatherer, and established him in the Bodhisatta’s precepts, after giving alms and doing good he departed to swell the hosts of heaven.
When the Teacher had ended this story, which he told to explain when the custom first arose of answering ‘Long life’ by ‘The same to you,’ he identified the Jātaka, “In those days, Ānanda was the king, Kassapa the father, and I myself was the lad, his son.”
last updated: November 2021