Ja 201 Bandhanāgārajātaka
The Story about the Prison (2s)

In the present some monks see prisoners bound tight in prison and ask the Buddha about fetters. The Buddha explains these are not the strongest fetters, that attachment to family and sense desire are even stronger, and explains that in the past some managed to break even these bonds, and tells a story about a previous life he had.

The Bodhisatta = the man who left his family and ordained (puttadāraṁ pahāya nikkhamitvā pabbajito puriso),
King Suddhodana = his father (pitā),
Mahāmāyā = the mother (mātā),
Rāhulamātā = his wife (bhariyā),
Rāhula = his son (putta).

Present and Past Compare: Dhp-a XXIV.4 Bandhanāgāra.

Keywords: Attachment, Desire.

“Not iron fetters.” {2.139} This story the Teacher told while staying in Jetavana, about the prison-house.

At the time of this story we hear that a gang of burglars, highwaymen, and murderers had been caught and brought before the king of Kosala. The king ordered them to be made fast with chains, and ropes, and fetters. Thirty country monks, desirous of seeing the Teacher, had paid him a visit and offered their salutations. Next day, as they were seeking alms, they passed the prison and noticed these rascals. In the evening, after their return from the day’s rounds, they approached the Tathāgata, “Sir,” they said, “today, as we were seeking alms, we saw in the prison-house a number of criminals bound fast in chains and fetters, being in great misery. They could not break these fetters, and run away. Is there any fetter stronger than these?”

The Teacher replied, “Monks, those are fetters, it is true; but the fetters which consist of a craving for wealth, corn, sons, wives and children are stronger than they are a hundred-fold, nay a thousand-fold. Yet even those fetters, hard to break as they are, have been broken by wise men of old, who went to the Himālayas and became ascetics.” Then he told them a story.

In the past, while Brahmadatta ruled over Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a poor man’s family. When he grew up, his father died. He earned wages, and supported his mother. His mother, much against his will, brought a wife home for him, and soon after died. Now his wife conceived. Not knowing that she had conceived, he said to her, “Wife, you must earn your living; I will renounce the world.” Then said she, “Nay, for I am with child. {2.140} Wait and see the child that is born of me, and then go and become an ascetic.” To this he agreed. So when she was delivered, he said: “Now, wife, you are safely delivered, and I must turn ascetic.” “Wait,” said she, “till the time when the child is weaned.” And after that she conceived again.

“If I agree to her request,” thought the Bodhisatta, “I shall never get away at all. I will flee without saying a word to her, and become an ascetic.” So he told her nothing, but rose up in the night, and fled away. [2.98]

The city guards seized him. “I have a mother to support,” said he, “let me go!” thus he made them let him go free, and after staying in a certain place, he passed out by the chief gate and made his way to the Himālayas, where he lived as a recluse; and caused the Super Knowledges and Attainments to spring up within him, as he dwelt in the rapture of meditation. As he dwelt there, he exulted, saying: “The bond of wife and child, the bond of passion, so hard to break, is broken!” and he uttered this exalted utterance:

1. “Not iron fetters – so the wise have told
Not ropes, or bars of wood, so fast can hold
As passion, and the love of child or wife,
Of precious gems and earrings of fine gold.

2. These heavy fetters – who is there can find
Release from such? These are the ties that bind:
These if the wise can burst, then they are free,
Leaving all love and all desire behind!” {2.141}

And the Bodhisatta, after uttering this exalted utterance, without breaking his Absorption attained to the Brahmā Realm.

When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he declared the Truths: at the conclusion of the Truths, some entered the First Path, some the Second, some the Third, and some the Fourth. “In the story, Mahāmāyā was the mother, king Suddhodana was the father, Rāhula’s mother was the wife, Rāhula himself the son, and I was the man who left his family and became an ascetic.”