Ja 248 Kiṁsukopamajātaka
The Story about the Flame of the Forest (2s)

In the present four monks become Arahats, but along different paths, and wonder how all paths lead to the same destination. The Buddha then tells a story about people who see a tree at different times, and describe it very differently, but it is the same tree.

The Bodhisatta = the king of Benares (Bārāṇasirājā).

Keywords: Variety, Perspective.

“All have seen.” {2.265} This story the Teacher told while staying at Jetavana, on the Discourse about the Flame of the Forest. Kiṁsuka = Butea Frondosa [In the original it was often translated as the Judas tree, here I have preferred the more neutral Flame of the Forest. Also see Kiṁsukopamasutta, SN 35.245.]

Four monks, approaching the Tathāgata, asked him to explain the means by which Absorption may be induced. This he explained. This done, they dispersed to the several places where they spent their nights and days. One of them, having learned the Six Sense Spheres, became a saint; another did so after learning the Five Elements of Being, the third after learning the Four Principal Elements, the fourth after learning the Eighteen Constituents of Being. Each of them recounted to the Teacher the particular excellence which he had attained. A thought came into the mind of one of them; and he asked the Teacher, “There is only one Nibbāna for all these modes of meditation; how is it that all of them lead to becoming an Arahat?” Then the Teacher asked, “Is not this like the people who saw the Flame of the Forest?” As they requested him to tell them about it, he repeated a tale of bygone days.

In the past Brahmadatta the king of Benares had four sons. One day they sent for the charioteer, and said to him, “We want to see a Flame of the Forest; show us one!” [2.185]

“Very well, I will,” the charioteer replied. But he did not show it to them all together. He took the eldest at once to the forest in the chariot, and showed him the tree at the time when the buds were just sprouting from the stem. To the second he showed it when the leaves were green, to the third at the time of blossoming, and to the fourth when it was bearing fruit.

After this it happened that the four brothers were sitting together, and someone asked, “What sort of a tree is the Flame of the Forest?” Then the first brother answered,

“Like a burnt stump!” And the second cried, “Like a banyan tree!” And the third, “Like a piece of meat!” It has pink flowers. And the fourth said: “Like the acacia!”

They were vexed at each other’s answers, and ran to find their father. “My lord,” they asked, “what sort of a tree is the Flame of the Forest?”

“What did you say to that?” he asked. They told him the manner of their answers.

Said the king, “All four of you have seen the tree. Only when the charioteer showed you the tree, you did not ask him ‘What is the tree like at such a time?’ {2.266} or ‘at such another time?’ You made no distinctions, and that is the reason of your mistake.” And he repeated the first verse:

1. “All have seen the Flaming tree
What is your perplexity?
No one asked the charioteer
What its form the livelong year!”

The Teacher, having explained the matter, then addressed the monks, “Now as the four brothers, because they did not make a distinction and ask, fell in doubt about the tree, so you have fallen in doubt about what is right,” and, becoming Perfectly Awakened, he uttered the second verse:

2. “Who know the right with some deficiency
Feel doubt, like those four brothers with the tree.”

When this discourse was ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka, “At that time I was the king of Benares.”