Ja 398 Sutanojātaka
The Story about (the Poor Man) Sutana (7s)

Alternative Title: Sutanujātaka (Cst)

In the present one monk supports his parents who have fallen into poverty and have no one left at home to support them. The Buddha tells a story of a king who, to secure his own release, sent a man to be eaten by a Yakkha every day. Eventually the Bodhisatta went and persuaded the Yakkha to give up his man-eating habit.

The Bodhisatta = the brahmin student (māṇava),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
Aṅgulimāla = the Yakkha.

Present Source: Ja 540 Sāma,
Quoted at: Ja 164 Gijjha, Ja 398 Sutano, Ja 399 Gijjha, Ja 455 Mātiposaka, Ja 484 Sālikedāra, Ja 513 Jayaddisa, Ja 532 Sonananda.

Keywords: Filial piety, Cannibalism, Virtue, Devas.

“The king has sent.” [3.201] The Teacher told this tale while dwelling in Jetavana, concerning a monk who supported his mother. The occasion will appear in the Sāmajātaka [Ja 540].

They say that there was a wealthy merchant at Sāvatthi, who was worth eighteen crores; and he had a son who was very dear and winning to his father and mother. One day the youth went upon the terrace of the house, and opened a window and looked down on the street; and when he saw the great crowd going to Jetavana with perfumes and garlands in their hands to hear the Dhamma preached, he exclaimed that he would go too.

So having ordered perfumes and garlands to be brought, he went to the monastery, and having distributed robes, medicines, drinks, etc. to the assembly and honoured the Fortunate One with perfumes and garlands, he sat down on one side. After hearing the Dhamma, and perceiving the evil consequences of desire and the blessings arising from adopting the ascetic life, when the assembly broke up he asked the Fortunate One for ordination, but he was told that the Tathāgatas do not ordain anyone who has not obtained the permission of his parents; so he went away, and lived a week without food, and having at last obtained his parents’ consent, he returned and begged for ordination. The Teacher sent a monk who ordained him; and after he was ordained he obtained great honour and gain; he won the favour of his teachers and preceptors, and having received full orders he mastered the Dhamma in five years.

Then he thought to himself, “I live here distracted – it is not suitable for me,” and he became anxious to reach the goal of spiritual insight; so having obtained instruction in meditation from his teacher, he departed to a frontier village and dwelt in the forest, and there having entered a course of insight, however much he laboured and strove for twelve years, he failed to attain any special insight.

His parents also, as time went on, became poor, for those who hired their land or carried on merchandise for them, finding out that there was no son or brother in the family to enforce the payment, seized what they could lay their hands upon and ran away as they pleased, and the servants and labourers in the house seized the gold and coin and made off therewith, so that at the end the two were reduced to an evil plight and had not even a jug for pouring water; and at last they sold their dwelling, and finding themselves homeless, and in extreme misery, they wandered begging for alms, clothed in rags and carrying potsherds in their hands.

Now at that time a monk came from Jetavana to the son’s place of abode; he performed the duties of hospitality and, as he sat quietly, he first asked whence he was come; and learning that he was come from Jetavana he asked after the health of the Teacher and the principal disciples and then asked for news of his parents, “Tell me, sir, about the welfare of such and such a merchant’s family in Sāvatthi.” “O friend, don’t ask for news of that family.” “Why not, sir?” “They say that there was one son in that family, but he has become an ascetic in this dispensation, and since he left the world that family has gone to ruin; and at the present time the two old people are reduced to a most lamentable state and beg for alms.”

When he heard the other’s words he could not remain unmoved, but began to weep with his eyes full of tears, and when the other asked him why he wept, “O sir,” he replied, “they are my own father and mother, I am their son.” “O friend, your father and mother have come to ruin through you – do you go and take care of them.” “For twelve years,” he thought to himself, “I have laboured and striven but never been able to attain the Path or the Fruit; I must be incompetent; what have I to do with the ascetic life? I will become a householder and will support my parents and give away my wealth, and will thus eventually become destined for heaven.”

So having determined he gave up his abode in the forest to the elder, and the next day departed and by successive stages reached the monastery at the back of Jetavana which is not far from Sāvatthi. There he found two roads, one leading to Jetavana, the other to Sāvatthi. As he stood there, he thought: “Shall I see my parents first or the One with Ten Powers?” Then he said to himself, “In old days I saw my parents for a long time, from henceforth I shall rarely have the chance of seeing the Buddha; I will see the Fully Awakened One today and hear the Dhamma, and then tomorrow morning I will see my parents.” So he left the road to Sāvatthi and in the evening arrived at Jetavana.

Now that very day at daybreak, the Teacher, as he looked upon the world, had seen the potentialities of this young man, and when he came to visit him he praised the virtues of parents in the Mātiposakasutta [SN 7.19]. As he stood at the end of the assembly of elders and listened, he thought: “If I become a householder I can support my parents; but the Teacher also says, ‘A son who has become an ascetic can be helpful,’ I went away before without seeing the Teacher, and I failed in such an imperfect ordination; I will now support my parents while still remaining an ascetic without becoming a householder.” So he took his ticket and his ticket-food and gruel, and felt as if he had committed a wrong deserving expulsion after a solitary abode of twelve years in the forest. In the morning he went to Sāvatthi and he thought to himself, “Shall I first get the gruel or see my parents?” He reflected that it would not be right to visit them in their poverty empty-handed; so he first got the gruel and then went to the door of their old house.

When he saw them sitting by the opposite wall after having gone their round for the alms given in broth, he stood not far from them in a sudden burst of sorrow with his eyes full of tears. They saw him but knew him not; then his mother, thinking that it was someone standing for alms, said to him, “We have nothing fit to be given to you, be pleased to pass on.” When he heard her, he repressed the grief which filled his heart and remained still standing as before with his eyes full of tears, and when he was addressed a second and a third time he still continued standing.

At last the father said to the mother, “Go to him; can this be your son?” She rose and went to him and, recognising him, fell at his feet and lamented, and the father also joined his lamentations, and there was a loud outburst of sorrow. To see his parents he could not control himself, but burst into tears; then, after yielding to his feelings, he said: “Do not grieve, I will support you,” so having comforted them and made them drink some gruel, and sit down on one side, he went again and begged for some food and gave it to them, and then went and asked for alms for himself, and having finished his meal, took up his abode at a short distance off.

From that day forward he watched over his parents in this manner; he gave them all the alms he received for himself, even those at the fortnightly distributions, and he went on separate expeditions for his own alms, and ate them; and whatever food he received as provision for the rainy season he gave to them, while he took their worn-out garments and dyed them with the doors fast closed and used them himself; but the days were few when he gained alms and there were many when he failed to win anything, and his inner and outer clothing became very rough.

As he watched over his parents he gradually grew very pale and thin and his friends and intimates said to him, “Your complexion used to be bright, but now you have become very pale – has some illness come upon you?” He replied, “No illness has come upon me, but a hindrance has befallen me,” and he told them the history. “Sir,” they replied, “the Teacher does not allow us to waste the offerings of the faithful, you do an unlawful act in giving to laymen the offerings of the faithful.” When he heard this he shrank away ashamed.

But not satisfied with this they went and told it to the Teacher, saying: “So and so, sir, has wasted the offerings of the faithful and used them to feed laymen.” The Teacher sent for the young man of family and said to him, “Is it true that you, an ascetic, take the offerings of the faithful and support laymen with them?” He confessed that it was true. Then the Teacher, wishing to praise what he had done and to declare an old action of his own, said: “When you support laymen whom do you support?” “My parents,” he answered. Then the Teacher, wishing to encourage him still more said: “Well done, well done,” three times, “You are in a path which I have traversed before you; I in old time, while going the round for alms, supported my parents.” The ascetic was encouraged thereby. At the request of the monks the Teacher, to make known his former actions, told them a story of the past. {3.325}

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in the family of a poor householder; they called his name Sutana. When he grew up he earned wages and supported his parents; when his father died, he supported his mother. The king of that day was fond of hunting. One day he went with a great retinue to a forest a league or two in extent, and made proclamation to all, “If a deer escape by any man’s post, the man is fined the value of the deer.” The ministers having made a concealed hut by the regular road gave it to the king. The deer were roused by the crying of men who had surrounded their lairs, and one antelope came to the king’s post. The king thought: “I will hit him,” and sent an arrow. The animal, who knew a trick, saw that the arrow was coming to his broadside, and wheeling round fell as if wounded by the arrow. The king thought: “I have hit him,” and rushed to seize him. The deer rose and fled like the wind. The ministers and the rest mocked the king. He pursued the deer and when it was tired he cut it in two with his sword; hanging the pieces on one stick he came as if carrying a pole and saying: “I will rest a little,” he drew near to a banyan tree by the road and lying down fell asleep.

A Yakkha called Makhādeva was reborn in that banyan, and got from Vessavaṇa King of the Yakkhas. all living things who came to it as his food. When the king rose he said: “Stay, you are my food,” and took him by the hand. “Who are you?” said the king. “I am a Yakkha born here, I get all men who come to this place as my food.” The king, taking good heart, asked, “Will you eat today only or continually?” “I will eat continually what I get.” “Then eat this deer today and let me go; from tomorrow I will send you a man with a plate of rice every day.” “Be careful then; on the day when no one is sent {3.326} I will eat you.” “I am king of Benares; there is nothing I cannot do.” The Yakkha took his promise and let him go. When the king came to the town, he told the case to a minister in attendance and asked what was to be done. [3.202]

“Was a limit of time fixed, O king?” “No.” “That was wrong when you were about it; but never mind, there are many men in the jail.” “Then do you manage this affair, and give me life.” The minister agreed, and taking a man from the jail every day sent him to the Yakkha with a plate of rice without telling him anything. The Yakkha ate both rice and man. After a time the jails became empty. The king finding no one to carry the rice shook with fear of death. The minister comforting him said: “O king, desire of wealth is stronger than desire of life; let us put a packet of a thousand pieces on an elephant’s back and make proclamation by drum, “Who will take rice and go to the Yakkha and get this wealth?” and he did so.

The Bodhisatta thought: “I get pence and halfpence for my wages and can hardly support my mother; I will get this wealth and give it her, and then go to the Yakkha; if I can get the better of him, well, and if I cannot she will live comfortably,” so he told his mother, but she said: “I have enough, dear, I don’t need wealth,” and so forbade him twice; but the third time without asking her, he said: “Sirs, bring the thousand pieces, I will take the rice.” So he gave his mother the thousand pieces and said: “Don’t fret, dear; I will overcome the Yakkha and give happiness to the people; I will come making your tearful face to laugh,” and so saluting her he went to the king with the king’s men, and saluting him stood there.

The king said: “My good man, will you take the rice?” “Yes, O king.” “What should you take with you?” {3.327} “Your golden slippers, O king.” “Why?” “O king, that Yakkha gets to eat all people standing on the ground at the foot of the tree; I will stand on slippers, not on his ground.” “Anything else?” “Your umbrella, O king.” “Why so?” “O king, the Yakkha gets to eat all people standing in the shade of his own tree; I will stand in the shade of the umbrella, not of his tree.” “Anything else?” “Your sword, O king.” “For what purpose?” “O king, even Amanussas fear those with weapons in their hands.” “Anything else?” “Your golden bowl, O king, filled with your own rice.” “Why, good man?” “It is not meet for a wise man like me to take coarse food in an earthen dish.” The king consented and sent officers to give him all he asked. The Bodhisatta said: “Fear not, O great king, I will come back today having overcome the Yakkha and caused you happiness,” and so taking the things needful and going to the place, he set men not far from the tree, put on the golden slippers, girt the sword, put the white umbrella over his head, and taking rice in a gold dish went to the Yakkha. The Yakkha watching the road saw him and thought: “This man comes not as they came on the other days, what is the reason?” The Bodhisatta drawing near the tree pushed the plate of rice in the shadow with the sword-point, and standing near the shadow spoke the first verse;

1. “The king has sent you rice prepared and seasoned well with meat;
If Makhādeva is at home, let him come forth and eat!” [3.203] {3.328}

Hearing him the Yakkha thought: “I will deceive him, and eat him when he comes into the shadow,” and so he spoke the second verse;

2. “Come inside, young man, with your seasoned food,
Both it and you, young man, to eat are good.”

Then the Bodhisatta spoke two verses;

3. “Yakkha, you’ll lose a great thing for a small,
Men fearing death will bring no food at all.

4. You’ll have good supply of cheer,
Pure and sweet and flavoured to your mind;
But a man to bring it here,
If you eat me, will be hard to find.” {3.329}

The Yakkha thought: “The young man speaks sense,” and being well disposed spoke two verses;

5. “Young Sutana, my interests are clearly as you show;
Visit your mother then in peace, you have my leave to go.

6. Take sword, and parasol, and dish, young man, and go your ways,
Visit your mother happily and bring her happy days.”

Hearing the Yakkha’s words the Bodhisatta was pleased, thinking: “My task is accomplished, the Yakkha overcome, much wealth won and the king’s word made good,” and so returning thanks to the Yakkha he spoke a final verse;

7. “With all your kith and kin, Yakkha, right happy may you be;
The king’s command has been performed, and wealth has come to me.”

So he admonished the Yakkha, saying: “Friend, you did evil deeds of old, you were cruel and harsh, you ate the flesh and blood of others and so were born as a Yakkha; from henceforth do no murder or the like,” so telling the blessings of virtue and the misery of vice, he established the Yakkha in the five precepts; then he said: “Why dwell in the forest? Come, I will settle you by the city gate and make you get the best rice.” So he went away with the Yakkha, making him take the sword and the other things, and came to Benares. They told the king that Sutana was come with the Yakkha. The king with his ministers {3.330} went out to meet the Bodhisatta, settled the Yakkha at the city gate and made him get the best rice; then he entered the town, made proclamation by drum, and calling a meeting of the townsfolk spoke the praises of the Bodhisatta and gave him the command of the army; himself was established in the Bodhisatta’s teaching, did the good works of generosity and the other virtues, and became destined for heaven.

After the lesson, the Teacher declared the Truths, and identified the Jātaka, After the Truths, the monk who supported his mother was established in the fruition of the First Path. “At that time the Yakkha was Aṅgulimāla, the king Ānanda, the youth myself.”