Ja 163 Susīmajātaka
The Story about (King) Susīma (2s)

In the present laymen decide on giving a gift to the Buddha, and the heretics, although they do not like it, cannot prevent it. The Buddha tells a story of how, in ancient times, a youth had learned the Vedas and elephant lore in one night, so as to be able to fulfil his duties, and sustain his family’s income, which the brahmins tried to take from them.

The Bodhisatta = the young brahmin (māṇava),
Sāriputta = the world-famous teacher (disāpāmokkho ācariyo),
Ānanda = king Susīma (Susīmo rājā),
King Suddhodana = the father (pitā),
Mahāmāyā = the mother (mātā).

Keywords: Deserving of gifts, Quick wit.

“Five score black elephants.” This story the Teacher told at Jetavana, about arbitrary giving of alms.

We hear that at Sāvatthi, a family used sometimes to give alms to the Buddha and his disciples, sometimes they used to give to the heretics, or else the givers would form themselves into companies, or again the people of one street would club together, or the whole of the inhabitants would collect voluntary offerings, and present them.

On this occasion all the inhabitants had made such a collection of all necessaries; but counsels were divided, some demanding that this be given to the heretics, some speaking for those who followed the Buddha. Each party stuck to their point, the disciples of the heretics voting for the heretics, and the disciples of Buddha for Buddha’s company. Then it was proposed to divide upon the question, and accordingly they divided; those who were for the Buddha were in the majority.

So their plan was followed, and the disciples of the heretics could not prevent the gifts being offered to the Buddha and his followers.

The citizens gave invitation to the Buddha’s company; for seven days they set rich offerings before them, and on the seventh gave over all the articles they had collected. The Teacher returned thanks, {2.46} after which he instructed a host of people in the fruition of the Paths. Next he returned to Jetavana; and when his followers had done their duties, he delivered a Sugata’s discourse standing before his scented chamber, into which he then retired.

At evening time the monks talked the matter over together in the Dhamma Hall, “Friend, how the heretics’ disciples tried to prevent this from coming to the saints! Yet they couldn’t do it; all the collection of articles was laid before the saints’ own feet. Ah, how great is the Buddha’s power!” “What is this you are talking about now together?” asked the Teacher, coming in. They told him. “Monks,” said he, “this is not the first time that the disciples of the heretics have tried to thwart an offering which should have been made to me. They did the same before; but always these articles have been finally laid at my feet.” So saying, he told them a tale of long ago. [2.32]

In the past there lived in Benares a king Susīma; and the Bodhisatta was the son of his family priest’s lady. When he was sixteen years old, his father died. The father while he lived was Teacher of the Ceremonies in the king’s elephant festivals. He alone had right to all the trappings and appointments of the elephants which came into the place of festival. By this means he gained as much as ten millions at each festival.

At the time of our story the season for an elephant festival came round. And the brahmins all flocked to the king, with these words, “O great king! The season for an elephant festival has come, and a festival should be made. But this your family priest’s son is very young; he knows neither the three Vedas nor the lore of elephants. An elephant trainer’s manual, the hastisūtram or hastiśikṣā, cf. Mallinātha, Raghuvaṁsa, vi. 27. Shall we conduct the ceremony?” To this the king consented.

Off went the brahmins delighted. “Aha,” they said, “we have barred this lad from performing the festival. We shall do it ourselves, and keep the gains!”

But the Bodhisatta’s mother heard that in four days there was to be an elephant festival. {2.47} “For seven generations,” thought she, “we have managed the elephant festivals from father to son. The old custom will pass from us, and our wealth will all melt away!” She wept and wailed. “Why are you weeping?” asked her son. She told him. Said he, “Well, mother, shall I conduct the festival?” “What, you, sonny? You don’t know the three Vedas or the elephant lore; how can you do it?” “When are they going to have the festival, mother?” “Four days from now, my son.” “Where can I find teachers who know the three Vedas by heart, and all the elephant lore?” “Just such a famous teacher, my son, lives in Taxila, in the realm of Gandhāra, two thousand leagues away.” “Mother,” says he, “our hereditary right we shall not lose. One day will take me to Taxila; one night will be enough to teach me the three Vedas and the elephant lore; on the morrow I will journey home; and on the fourth day I will manage the elephant festival. Weep no more!” With these words he comforted his mother.

Early next morning he broke his fast, and set out all alone for Taxila, which he reached in a single day. Then seeking out the teacher, he greeted him and sat on one side. “Where have you come from?” the teacher asked. “From Benares, Teacher.” “To what end?” “To learn from you the three Vedas and the elephant lore.” “Certainly, my son, you shall learn it.” [2.33]

“But, sir,” said our Bodhisatta, “my case is urgent.” Then he recounted the whole matter, adding, “In a single day I have traversed a journey of two thousand leagues. Give me your time for this one night only. Three days from now there is to be an elephant festival; I will learn the whole after one lesson.”

The Teacher consented. Then the lad washed his master’s feet, and laid before him a fee of a thousand pieces of money; {2.48} he sat down on one side, and learned his lesson by heart; even as the day broke, he finished the three Vedas and the elephant lore. “Is there any more, sir?” asked he. “No, my son, you have it all.” “Sir,” he went on, “in this book such a verse comes in too late, such another has gone astray in the reading. This is the way to teach your pupils for the future,” and then he corrected his teacher’s knowledge for him.

After an early meal he took his leave, and in a single day he was back again in Benares, and greeting his mother. “Have you learned your lesson, my boy?” said she. He answered, yes; and she was delighted to hear it.

Next day, the festival of the elephants was prepared. A hundred elephants were set in array, with golden trappings, golden flags, all covered with a network of fine gold; and all the palace courtyard was decked out. There stood the brahmins, in all their fine gala dress, thinking to themselves, “Now we shall do the ceremony, we shall do it!” Presently came the king, in all his splendour, and with him the ornaments and other things that were used.

The Bodhisatta, apparelled like a prince, at the head of his suite, approached the king with these words.

“Is it really true, O great king, that you are going to rob me of my right? Are you going to give other brahmins the managing of this ceremony? Have you said that you mean to give them the various ornaments and vessels that are used?” and he repeated the first verse as follows:

1. “Five score black elephants, with tusks all white
Are thine, in gold caparison bedight.
‘To you, and you I give them’ – do you say,
Remembering my old ancestral right?” {2.49}

King Susīma, thus addressed, then repeated the second verse:

2. “Five score black elephants, with tusks all white,
Are mine, in gold caparison bedight.
‘To you, and you I give them’ – so I say,
My lad, remembering your ancestral right.”

Then a thought struck the Bodhisatta; and he said: “Sire, if you do remember my ancient right and your ancient custom, why do you neglect me and make others the masters of your festival?” “Why, I [2.34] was told that you did not know the three Vedas or the elephant lore, and that is why I have caused the festival to be managed by others.” “Very well, sire. If there is one amongst all these brahmins who can recite a portion of the Vedas or the elephant lore against me, let him stand forward! Not in all Jambudīpa is there one save me who knows the three Vedas and the elephant lore for the ordering of an elephant festival!” {2.50} Proud as a lion’s roar rang out the answer! Not a brahmin did rise and contend with him. So the Bodhisatta kept his ancestral right, and conducted the ceremony; and laden with riches, he returned to his own home.

When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he declared the Truths, and identified the Jātaka, some entered on the First Path, some on the Second, some the Third, and some the Fourth. “Mahāmāyā was at that time my mother, king Suddhodana was my father, Ānanda was king Susīma, Sāriputta the famous Teacher and I myself was the young brahmin.”