Ja 191 Ruhakajātaka
The Story about (the Family Priest) Ruhaka (2s)
In the present one monk who ordains after his marriage gradually comes once again under his wife’s power. The Buddha tells a story of how a brahmin was made a fool of by his wife, who made him dress and act like a horse. When shamed in front of the king he chased her out and got a new wife.
The Bodhisatta = the king of Benares (Bārāṇasirājā),
the dissatisfied monk = (the family priest) Ruhaka,
his former wife = the brahmini (brāhmaṇī).
Present Source: Ja 423 Indriyajātaka,
Quoted at: Ja 13 Kaṇḍinajātaka, Ja 145 Rādhajātaka, Ja 191 Ruhakajātaka, Ja 318 Kaṇaverajātaka, Ja 380 Āsaṅkajātaka, Ja 523 Alambusājātaka.
Keywords: Attachment, Shame, Women.
“Even a broken bowstring.”
The Teacher told this tale while dwelling in Jetavana, concerning temptation by the wife of one’s former days. The story is that a young man of good family at Sāvatthi heard the Teacher’s preaching, and thinking it impossible to lead a holy life, perfectly complete and pure, as a householder, he determined to become an ascetic in the dispensation which leads to safety and so make an end of misery. So he gave up his house and property to his wife and children, and asked the Teacher to ordain him. The Teacher did so. As he was the junior in his going about for alms with his teachers and instructors, and as the monks were many, he got no chair either in laymen’s houses or in the refectory, but only a stool or a bench at the end of the novices, his food was tossed him hastily on a ladle, he got gruel made of broken lumps of rice, solid food stale or decaying, or sprouts dried and burnt; and this was not enough to keep him alive. He took what he had got to the wife he had left: she took his bowl, saluted him, emptied it and gave him instead well-cooked gruel and rice with sauce and curry.
The monk was captivated by the love of such flavours and could not leave his wife. She thought she would test his affection. One day she had a countryman cleansed with white clay and set down in her house with some others of his people whom she had sent for, and she gave them something to eat and drink. They sat eating and enjoying it. At the house-door she had some bullocks bound to wheels and a cart set ready. She herself sat in a back room cooking cakes. Her husband came and stood at the door. Seeing him, one old servant told his mistress that there was an elder at the door. “Salute him and bid him pass on.”
But though he did so repeatedly, he saw the monk remaining there and told his mistress. She came, and lifting up the curtain to see, she cried, “This is the father of my sons.” She came out and saluted him: taking his bowl and making him enter she gave him food: when he had eaten she saluted again and said: “Sir, you are a saint now: we have been staying in this house all this time; but there can be no proper householder’s life without a master, so we will take another house and go far into the country: be zealous in your good works, and forgive me if I am doing wrong.” For a time her husband was as if his heart would break. Then he said: “I cannot leave you, do not go, I will come back to my worldly life; send a layman’s garment to such and such a place, I will give up my bowl and robes and come back to you.” She agreed. The monk went to his monastery, and giving up his bowl and robes to his teachers and instructors he explained, in answer to their questions, that he could not leave his wife and was going back to worldly life.
Against his will they took him to the Teacher and told him that he was discontent and wished to go back to worldly life. The Teacher said: “Is this tale true?” “It is, Lord.” “Who causes you to fall back?” “My wife.”
Then the Teacher said to this monk, “That is a woman who does you harm. In former times, too, she put you to the blush before the king and his whole court, and gave you good reason to leave your home.” And he told a story of the past.
In the past, when king Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born of his chief queen. He came of age, and his father passed away; and then he became king and ruled in righteousness.
The Bodhisatta had a family priest named Ruhaka, and this Ruhaka had an old brahmin woman to wife.
The king gave the brahmin a horse fitted with all its trappings, and he mounted the horse and went to wait upon the king. As he rode along on the back of his richly caparisoned steed, the people on this side and that were loud in its praise, “See that fine horse!” they cried, “what a beauty!”
When he came home again, he went into his mansion and told his wife.
“Goodwife,” said he, “our horse is passing fine! Right and left the people are all speaking in praise of it.”
Now his wife was no better than she should be, and full of deceit; so she made reply to him thus.
“Ah, husband, you do not know wherein lies the beauty of this horse. It is all in his fine trappings. Now if you would make yourself fine like the horse, put his trappings on yourself and go down into the street, prancing along horse-fashion. Compare Pañcatantra iv. 6 (Benfey, ii. p. 307). You will see the king, and he will praise you, and all the people will praise you.”
This fool of a brahmin listened to it all, but did not know what she purposed. So he believed her, and did as she had said. All that saw him laughed aloud, “There goes a fine teacher!” said they all. And the king cried shame on him. “Why, my Teacher,” said he, “has your bile gone wrong? Are you crazy?” At this the brahmin thought that he must have behaved amiss, and he was ashamed. So he was angry with his wife, and made haste home, saying to himself, “The woman has shamed me
But the crafty woman found out that he had come home in anger; she stole a march on him, and departed by a side door, and made her way to the palace, where she stayed four or five days. When the king heard of it, he sent for his family priest, and said to him,
“My Teacher, all womankind are full of faults; you ought to forgive this lady,” and with intent to make him forgive he uttered the first verse:
1. “Even a broken bowstring can be mended and made whole:
Forgive your wife, and cherish not this anger in your soul.”
Hearing this, Ruhaka uttered the second:
2. “While there is bark Reading mudūsu, ‘fresh (bark),’ from the fibre of which bowstrings were sometimes made. and workmen too
’Tis easy to buy bowstrings new.
Another wife I will procure;
That’s enough of this one, for sure.”
So saying, he sent her away, and took him another brahmin woman to wife.
The Teacher, after finishing this discourse, declared the Truths and identified the Jātaka, at the conclusion of the Truths the tempted monk was established in the fruit of the First Path, “On that occasion the former wife was the same, Ruhaka was the tempted monk, and I was the king of Benares.”
last updated: November 2021