Ja 190 Sīlānisaṁsajātaka
The Story about the Advantages of Virtue (2s)

In the present one layman, wrapped up in contemplation of the Buddha, walks across the waves of a river. The Buddha tells a story in which two people were stranded on an island, but because of the virtue of one of them he was rescued by a Devatā. He only agreed to be saved if he could share merit with his companion, and he too could come.

The Bodhisatta = the Sea Devatā (Samuddadevatā),
Sāriputta = the king of the Nāgas (Nāgarājā),

Keywords: Meditation, Sharing, Devas.

“Behold the fruit of sacrifice.” {2.111} This story the Teacher told while staying in Jetavana, about a believing layman. This was a faithful, pious soul, an elect disciple. One evening, on his way to Jetavana, he came to the bank of the river Aciravatī, when the ferrymen had pulled up their boat on the shore in order to attend service; as no boat could be seen at the landing-stage, and our friend’s mind being full of delightful thoughts of the Buddha, he walked into the river. The resemblance to St Peter on the Sea of Galilee is striking. His feet did not sink below the water. He got as far as mid-river walking as though he were on dry land; but there he noticed the waves. Then his Absorption subsided, and his feet began to sink. Again he strung himself up to high tension, and walked on over the water. So he arrived at Jetavana, greeted the Teacher, and took a seat on one side. The Teacher entered into conversation with him pleasantly. “I hope, good layman,” said he, “you had no mishap on your way.” “Oh, sir,” he replied, “on my way I was so absorbed in thoughts of the Buddha that I set foot upon the river; but I walked over it as though it had been dry ground!” “Ah, friend layman,” said the Teacher, “you are not the only one who has kept safe by remembering the virtues of the Buddha. In olden days pious laymen have been shipwrecked in mid-ocean, and saved themselves by remembering the Buddha’s virtues.” Then, at the man’s request, he told a story of the past.

In the past, in the days when Kassapa was Supreme Buddha, a disciple, who had entered on the Paths, took passage on board ship in company with a barber of some considerable property. The barber’s wife had given him in charge of our friend, to look after him for better and for worse.

A week later, the ship was wrecked in mid-ocean. These two persons [2.78] clinging to one plank were cast up on an island. There the barber killed some birds, and cooked them, offering a share of his meal to the lay brother. “No, thank you,” said he, “I have had enough.” He was thinking to himself, “In this place there is no help for us except the Three Jewels,” The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Saṅgha. For the seven precious things (or jewels), see Childers, p. 402 b. and so he pondered upon the blessings of the Three Jewels. As he pondered and pondered, a Nāga king who had been born in that isle changed his own body to the shape of a great ship. The ship was filled with the seven kinds of precious things. {2.112} A spirit of the sea was the helmsman. The three masts were made of sapphire, the anchor lakāro or laṅkūro. I do not know what the word means. Prof. Cowell suggests “anchor,” the Mod. Persian for which is langar. [CPED lists it as a sail, but this seems unlikely given the context.] of gold, the ropes of silver, and the planks were golden.

The sea-spirit stood on board, crying, “Any passengers for Jambudīpa?” The lay brother said: “Yes, that’s where we are bound for.” “In with you then – on board with you!” He went aboard, and wanted to call his friend the barber. “You may come,” says the helmsman, “but not he.” “Why not?” “He is not a man of holy life, that’s why,” said the other, “I brought this ship for you, not for him.” “Very well: the gifts I have given, the virtues I have practised, the powers I have developed – I give him the fruit of all of them!” “I thank you, master!” said the barber. “Now,” said the sea-spirit, “I can take you aboard.” So he conveyed them both overseas, and sailed upstream to Benares. There, by his power, he created a store of wealth for both of them, and spoke to them thus:

“Keep company with the wise and good. If this barber had not been in company with this pious layman, he would have perished in the midst of the deep.” Then he uttered these verses in praise of good company:

1. “Behold the fruit of sacrifice, virtue, and piety:
A serpent in ship-shape conveys the good man o’er the sea.

2. Make friendship only with the good, and keep good company;
Friends with the good, this barber could his home in safety see.” {2.113}

Thus did the spirit of the sea hold forth, poised in mid-air. Finally he went to his own abode, taking the Nāga king along with him.

The Teacher, after finishing this discourse, declared the Truths and identified the Jātaka, at the conclusion of the Truths the pious layman entered on the Fruit of the Second Path, “On that occasion the converted lay brother attained Nibbāna; Sāriputta was the Nāga king, and the sea-spirit was I myself.”