Ja 346 Kesavajātaka
The Story about (the Ascetic) Kesava (4s)

In the present in imitation of Anāthapiṇḍika, the king begins a daily almsgiving to the monks. The monks, however, do not eat at the palace, but go to their supporters with the food and eat there. The Buddha tells a story of an old teacher and his favourite pupil, and how when even the best food and doctors couldn’t help the teacher in his sickness, the loving kindness of his pupil could.

The Bodhisatta = (the ascetic) Kappa,
Bakabrahmā= (the ascetic) Kesava,
Sāriputta = (the minister) Nārada,
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā).

Keywords: Loving-kindness, Affection.

“You that of late.” This story the Teacher while at Jetavana told concerning the meal of the faithful.

In the house of Anāthapiṇdika, they say, five hundred monks were constantly fed. {3.142} The house was continually like a place of refreshment for the assembly of the monks, bright with the sheen of their yellow robes and blown upon with saintly odours. So one day the king in making a solemn procession [3.94] round the city caught sight of the assembly of the monks in the Treasurer’s house, and thinking: “I too will grant a perpetual alms to the assembly of saints,” he went to the monastery and after greeting the Teacher he instituted perpetual alms for five hundred monks. Thenceforth there was a perpetual giving of alms in the king’s house, even choice food of rice with the perfume of the rain upon it, but there are none to give it with their own hands, with marks of affection and faith, but the king’s ministers dispense the food, and the monks do not care to sit down and eat it, but taking the various dainty foods, they go each to the house of his own retainers, and giving them the food, themselves eat whatever is set before them, whether coarse or dainty.

Now one day much wild fruit was brought to the king. The king said: “Give it to the Saṅgha of monks.” They went to the refectory and came and told the king, “There is not a single monk there.”

“What, is it not time yet?” said the king. “Yes it is time,” they said, “but the monks take the food in your house, and then go to the abode of their trusty servitors, and give the food to them, and themselves eat whatsoever is served up to them, whether it be coarse or dainty.”

The king said: “Our food is dainty. Why in the world do they abstain from ours and eat some other food?” And thinking: “I will inquire of the Teacher,” he went to the monastery and asked him.

The Teacher said: “The best food is that which is given in faith. Owing to the absence of those who by giving in faith establish friendly feeling, the monks take the food and eat it in some friendly place of their own. There is no flavour, sire, equal to that of faith. That which is given without faith, though it be composed of the four sweet things, is not worth so much as wild rice given with faith. Wise men of old, when sickness arose amongst them, though the king with his five families of leeches provided remedies, if the sickness were not thus assuaged, repaired to their intimate friends and by eating broth of wild rice and millet, without salt, or even leaves without salt, sprinkled with water only, were healed of their sickness.” And with these words at their request he told them a story.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a brahmin family in the kingdom of Kāsi, {3.143} and they called him young Kappa [Kappakumāra]. When he came of age, he acquired all the arts at Taxila and afterwards adopted the ascetic life. At this time an ascetic named Kesava attended by five hundred other ascetics became the teacher of a band of disciples and lived in the Himālayas. The Bodhisatta came to him and becoming the senior of the five hundred pupils, dwelt there and showed a friendly feeling and affection for Kesava. And they became very close to one another.

By and by Kesava accompanied by these ascetics went to Benares to procure salt and vinegar and lodged in the king’s garden. Next day he went into the city and came to the palace door. When the king saw the band of holy men, he invited them in and fed them in his own house, and exacting the usual promise from them, he lodged them in his garden. So when the rainy season was over, Kesava took leave of the king. The king said: “Venerable sir, you are an old man. Do you now dwell near us, and send [3.95] the young ascetics to the Himālayas.” He agreed and sent them with the head disciple to the Himālayas and himself was left quite alone. Kappa went to the Himālayas and dwelt there with the ascetics. Kesava was unhappy at being deprived of the society of Kappa, and in his desire to see him got no sleep, and in consequence of losing his sleep, his food was not properly digested. A bloody flux set in, followed by severe pains. The king with his five families of leeches watched over the ascetic, but his sickness abated not.

The ascetic asked the king, “Do you, sire, wish for me to die or to recover?” “To recover, sir,” he answered. “Then send me to the Himālayas,” he said.

“Agreed,” said the king, and sent to a minister named Nārada, and bade him go with some foresters and take the holy man to the Himālayas. Nārada took him there and returned home. But by the mere sight of Kappa, Kesava’s mental disorder ceased and his unhappiness subsided. {3.144} So Kappa gave him broth made of millet and wild rice together with leaves sprinkled with water, without salt and spices, and at that very instant the dysentery was assuaged.

The king again sent Nārada saying: “Go and learn tidings of the ascetic Kesava.” He came and finding him recovered said: “Venerable sir, the king of Benares treating you with his five families of leeches could not heal your sickness. How did Kappa treat you?” And herewith he uttered the first verse:

1. “You that of late with lord of men did dwell,
A king prepared to grant your heart’s desire,
What is the charm of Kappa’s ascetic cell
That blessed Kesava should here retire?”

Kesava on hearing this repeated the second verse:

2. “All here is charming: e’en the very trees
O Nārada, my fancy take,
And Kappa’s words that never fail to please
A grateful echo in my heart awake.”

After these words he said: “Kappa by way of pleasing me gave me to drink broth made of millet and wild rice mixed with leaves sprinkled with water, and without salt and spices, and therewith was my bodily sickness stayed and I was healed.”

Nārada, hearing this, repeated the third verse:

3. “You that but now the purest rice did eat
Boiled with a dainty flavouring of meat,
How can you relish such insipid fare
And millet and wild rice with ascetics share?” [3.96] {3.145}

On hearing this Kesava uttered the fourth verse:

4. “The food may coarse or dainty prove,
May scanty be or much abound,
Yet if the meal is blessed with faith,
Love the best sauce by far is found.”

Nārada on hearing his words returned to the king and told him, “Kesava says thus and thus.”

The Teacher, having ended his lesson, identified the Jātaka, “At that time the king was Ānanda, Nārada was Sāriputta, Kesava was Bakabrahmā, See Ja 405. [This is a little odd, as Bakabrahma plays no part in the introductory story.] Kappa was myself.”