Ja 307 Palāsajātaka
The Story about the Flame of the Forest (4s)

In the present when Ven. Ānanda realises the Buddha is passing away he grieves as he still had not accomplished his purpose. The Buddha said he would soon succeed, and told a story of the past where a brahmin had worshipped a tree devoutly, and the Devatā of the tree had dug up a treasure for his devotee.

The Bodhisatta = the Tree Devatā (Rukkhadevatā),
Ānanda = the brahmin (brāhmaṇa).

Keywords: Devotion, Attainment, Devas.

“Why, brahmin, though.” {3.23} The Teacher, when he lay down to enter Parinbbāna, told this story of the elder Ānanda.

The venerable monk, knowing that the Teacher on this very night at eventide would pass away, said to himself, “I am still under discipline and have duties to perform, and my Teacher is certainly going to pass away, and then the service I have rendered to him for five-and-twenty years will be fruitless.” And so being overwhelmed with sorrow he leaned upon the monkey-head which formed the bolt of the garden store-room and burst into tears.

And the Teacher, missing Ānanda, asked the monks where he was, and on hearing what was the matter he sent for him and addressed him as follows, “Ānanda, you have laid up a store of merit. Continue to strive earnestly and you will soon be free from human passion. Grieve not thyself. Wherefore should the service you have rendered me prove fruitless now, seeing that your former services in the days of your sinfulness were not without their reward?” Then he told a legend of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta reigned in Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life in the form of a Flame of the Forest Devatā. Now at this time all the inhabitants of Benares were devoted to the worship of such deities, and constantly engaged in offerings and the like. [3.16]

And a certain poor brahmin thought: “I too will watch over some divinity.” So he found a big Flame of the Forest growing on high ground, and by sprinkling gravel and sweeping all round it, he kept its root smooth and free from grass. Then he presented it with a scented wreath of five sprays and lighting a lamp made an offering of flowers and perfume and incense. And after a reverential salutation he said: “Peace be with you,” and then went his way. On the next day he came quite early and asked after its welfare. Now one day it occurred to the Tree Devatā, “This brahmin is very attentive to me. I will test him and find out why he thus worships me, and grant him his desire.” So when the brahmin came and was sweeping about the root of the tree, the spirit stood near him disguised as an aged brahmin and repeated the first verse: {3.24}

1. “Why, brahmin, though thyself with reason blessed,
Have you this dull insensate tree addressed?
Vain is your prayer, your kindly greeting vain,
From this dull wood no answer will you gain.”

On hearing this the brahmin replied in a second verse:

2. “Long on this spot a famous tree has stood,
Meet dwelling-place for spirits of the wood;
With deepest awe such beings I revere,
They guard, I think, some sacred treasure here.”

The Tree Devatā on hearing these words was so pleased with the brahmin that he said: “O brahmin, I was born as the divinity of this tree. Fear not. I will grant you this treasure.” And to reassure him, by a great manifestation of divine power, he stood suspended in the air at the entrance of his celestial mansion, while he recited two more verses:

3. “O brahmin, I have marked your act of love;
A pious deed can never fruitless prove.

4. Lo! Where that fig tree casts its ample shade,
Due sacrifice and gifts of old were paid.
Beneath this fig a buried treasure lies,
The gold unearth, and claim it as your prize.” {3.25}

The spirit moreover added these words, “O brahmin, you would be weary, if you had to dig up the treasure and carry it away with you. Do you therefore go your way, and I will bring it to your house and deposit it in such and such a place. Then do you enjoy it all your life long, and give alms and keep the precepts.” And after thus admonishing the brahmin, the Tree Devatā, by an exercise of divine power, conveyed the treasure into the brahmin’s house.

The Teacher here brought his lesson to an end and identified the Jātaka, “At that time Ānanda was the brahmin, and I myself was the Tree Devatā.”