Ja 269 Sujātajātaka
The Story about (Visākhā’s Sister) Sujātā (3s)
In the present one woman is the bane of all around her, speaking harshly to all, high and low. The Buddha explains the seven different types of wives, and asks which she is, thereby getting her to reflect and change her character. He then tells a story of how a king instructed his mother by showing how all love a sweet voice, like a cuckoo’s, and none love a harsh one, like a jay’s.
The Bodhisatta = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
Sujātā = his mother (Bārāṇasirañño mātā).
Keywords: Harsh speech, Kindly speech, Women.
“Those who are dowered.” This story the Teacher told while living in Jetavana about one Sujātā, a daughter-in-law of Anāthapiṇḍika, daughter of the great merchant Dhanañjaya, and youngest sister of Visākhā.
We are told that she entered the house of Anāthapiṇḍika full of haughtiness, thinking how great a family she had come from, and she was obstinate, violent, passionate, and cruel; refused to do her part towards her new father and mother, or her husband; and went about the house with harsh words and hard blows for everyone.
One day, the Teacher and five hundred monks visited Anāthapiṇḍika’s house, and took their seats. The great merchant sat beside the Fortunate One, hearkening to his discourse. At the same time Sujātā happened to be scolding the servants.
The Teacher ceased speaking, and asked what that noise was. The merchant explained that it was his rude daughter-in-law; that she did not behave properly towards her husband or his parents, she gave no alms, and had no good points; faithless and unbelieving, she went about the house scolding day and night. The Teacher bade send for her.
The woman came, and after saluting the Teacher, she stood on one side. Then the Teacher addressed her thus:
“Sujātā, there are seven kinds of wife a man may have; of which sort are you?” She replied, “Sir, you speak too shortly for me to understand; please explain.” “Well,” said the Teacher, “listen attentively,” and he uttered the following verses:
“One is bad-hearted, nor compassionates
The good; loves others, but her lord she hates.
Destroying all that her lord’s wealth obtains, It is not clear whether vadhena kītassa is ‘the thing bought by his wealth,’ or the ‘person’; probably both.
This wife the title of Destroyer gains.
Whate’er the husband gets for her by trade,
Or skilled profession, or the farmer’s spade,
She tries to filch a little out of it.
For such a wife the title Thief is fit.
Careless of duty, lazy, passionate,
Greedy, foul-mouthed, and full of wrath and hate,
Tyrannical to all her underlings –
All this the title High and Mighty brings.
Who evermore compassionates the good,
Cares for her husband as a mother would,
Guards all the wealth her husband may obtain –
This wife the title Motherly will gain.
She who respects her husband in the way
Young sisters reverence to elders pay,
Modest, obedient to her husband’s will,
The Sisterly is this wife’s title still.
She whom her husband’s sight will always please
As friend that friend after long absence sees,
High-bred and virtuous, giving up her life
To him – this one is called the Friendly wife.
Calm when abused, afraid of violence,
No passion, full of dogged patience,
True-hearted, bending to her husband’s will,
Slave is the title given to her still.”
“These, Sujātā, are the seven wives a man may have. Three of these, the Destructive wife, the Dishonest wife, and Madam High and Mighty are reborn in hell; the other four in the Fifth Heaven.
“They who are called Destroyer in this life,
The High and Mighty, or the Thievish wife,
Being angry, wicked, disrespectful, go
Out of the body into hell below.
They who are called the Friendly in this life,
Motherly, Sisterly, or Slavish wife,
By virtue and their long self-mastery
Pass into heaven when their bodies die.”
While the Teacher was explaining these seven kinds of wives, Sujātā attained to the Fruit of the First Path; and when the Teacher asked to which class she belonged, she answered, “I am a slave, sir!” and respectfully saluting the Tathāgata, gained pardon of him.
Thus by one admonition the Teacher tamed the shrew; and after the meal, when he had declared their duties amidst the Saṅgha, he entered his scented chamber.
Now the monks gathered together in the Dhamma Hall, and sang the Teacher’s praises. “Friend, by a single admonition the Teacher has tamed a shrew, and raised her to Fruition of the First Path!” The Teacher entered, and asked what they were talking of as they sat together. They told him. Said he, “Monks, this is not the first time that I have tamed Sujātā by a single admonition.” And he proceeded to tell a story of the past.
In the past, while Brahmadatta reigned over Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as the son of his queen consort. When he grew up
His mother was a passionate woman, cruel, harsh, shrewish, ill-tongued. The son wished to admonish his mother; but he felt he must not do anything so disrespectful; so he kept on the look-out for a chance of dropping a hint.
One day he went down into the grounds, and his mother went with him.
While the Bodhisatta was walking through the park with his mother, and a company of players, a cuckoo, perched amid the thick leaves of a Sāl Shorea Robusta. tree, sang with a sweet note. All the bystanders were delighted at her voice; clasping their hands, and stretching them out, they besought her, “Oh, what a soft voice, what a kind voice, what a gentle voice! Sing away, birdie, sing away!” and there they stood, stretching their necks, eagerly listening.
The Bodhisatta, noting these two things, thought that here was a chance to drop a hint to the queen-mother. “Mother,” said he, “when they heard the jay’s cry on the road, everybody stopped their ears, and called out: ‘Don’t make that noise! Don’t make that noise!’ And stopped up their ears: for harsh sounds are liked by nobody.” And he repeated the following verses:
1. “Those who are dowered with a lovely hue,
Though ne’er so fair and beautiful to view,
Yet if they have a voice all harsh to hear
Neither in this world nor the next are dear.
2. There is a bird that you may often see;
Ill-favoured, black, and speckled though it be,
Yet its soft voice is pleasant to the ear:
How many creatures hold the cuckoo dear!
3. Therefore your voice should gentle be and sweet,
Wise-speaking, not puffed up with self-conceit.
And such a voice – how sweet the sound of it!
Explains the meaning of the holy writ.” The last verse comes from Dhp v. 363, not quoted word for word, but adapted to the context.
When the Bodhisatta had thus admonished his mother with these three verses, he won her over to his way of thinking; and ever afterwards she followed a right course of living. And he having by one word made his mother a self-denying woman afterwards passed away to fare according to his deeds.
When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he thus identified the Jātaka, “Sujātā was the mother of the king of Benares, and I was the king himself.”
last updated: November 2021