Ja 162 Santhavajātaka
The Story about (Good and Bad) Company (2s)

In the present the heretics practice all sorts of austerities, including worshipping the sacred fire, in hope of sanctity, but the Buddha says it is all to no effect, and tells a story of the past in which an ascetic with much trouble built a hut and worshipped the fire until one day it burnt down his dwelling, at which point he abandoned the practice and went to the Himālayas.

The Bodhisatta = the ascetic (tāpasa).

Present Source: Ja 144 Naṅguṭṭha,
Quoted at: Ja 162 Santhava.

Keywords: False asceticism.

“Nothing is worse.” This story the Teacher told while dwelling at Jetavana, about feeding the sacred fire. The circumstances are the same as those of the Naṅguṭṭhajātaka [Ja 144] related above.

This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, touching the false austerity of the Ājīvikas, or naked ascetics. Tradition tells us that behind Jetavana they used to practise false austerities. A number of the monks saw them there painfully squatting on their heels, swinging in the air like bats, reclining on thorns, scorching themselves with five fires, and so forth in their various false austerities.

The monks, on seeing those who kept up the fires, said to the Fortunate One, “Sir, here are topknot ascetics practising all sorts of false asceticism. What’s the good of it?” “There is no [2.30] good in it,” said the Teacher. “It has happened before that even wise men have imagined some good in feeding the sacred fire, but after doing this for a long time, have found out that there is no good in it, and have quenched it with water, and beat it down, beat it down with sticks, never giving it so much as a look afterwards.” Then he told them a story.

In the past, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a brahmin family. When he was about sixteen years old, his father and mother took his birth-fire Cp. vol. i. no. 61, and 144, init.; a sacred fire was also kindled at a wedding, to be used for sacrifice and constantly kept up (Manu, 3. 67). So too now, the Agni-hotṛi in Kumaon begins fire-worship from the date of his marriage. The sacred fire of the marriage altar is carried in a copper vessel to his fire-pit. It is always kept alight, and from it must be kindled his funeral pyre (North Indian Notes and Queries, iii. 284). and spoke to him thus, “Son, will you take your birth-fire into the woods, and worship the fire there; or will you learn the Three Vedas, settle down as a married man, and live in the world?” Said he, “No worldly life for me: I will worship my fire in the woodland, and go on the way to heaven.” So taking his birth-fire, he bade farewell to his parents, and entered the forest, where he lived in a hut made of branches and leaves and worshipped the fire.

One day he had been invited to some place where he received a present of rice and ghee. “This rice,” he thought: “I will offer to Mahābrahmā.” {2.44} So he took home the rice, and made the fire blaze. Then with the words, “With this rice I feed the sacred flame,” he cast it upon the fire. Scarce had this rice dropped upon it, all full of fat as it was – when a fierce flame leapt up which set his hermitage alight. Then the brahmin hurried away in terror, and sat down some distance off. “There should be no dealings with the wicked,” said he, “and so this fire has burnt the hut which I made with so much trouble!” And he repeated the first verse:

1. “Nothing is worse than evil company;
I fed my fire with plenteous rice and ghee;
And lo! the hut which gave me such ado
To build it up, my fire has burnt for me.”

“I’ve done with you now, false friend!” he added; and he poured water upon the fire, and beat it out with sticks, and then buried himself in the mountains. There he came upon a black deer licking the faces of a lion, a tiger, and a panther. This put it into his mind how there was nothing better than good friends; and therewith he repeated the second verse:

2. “Nothing is better than good company;
Kind offices of friendship here I see; {2.45}
Behold the lion, tiger, and leopard
The black deer licks the faces of all three.” [2.31]

With these reflections the Bodhisatta plunged into the depths of the mountains, and there he embraced the true ascetic life, cultivating the Super Knowledges and Attainments, until at his life’s end he passed into Brahmā’s Realm.

After delivering this discourse, the Teacher identified the Jātaka, “In those days I was the ascetic of the story.”