Ja 440 Kaṇhajātaka
The Story about (the Wise Ascetic) Kaṇha (10s)

In the present the Buddha smiled upon entering a park. When asked why, he told a story of an ascetic of old and of the austere life he led, and the boons he asked for from Sakka.

The Bodhisatta = the wise ascetic Kaṇha (Kaṇhapaṇḍita),
Anuruddha = (the King of the Devas) Sakka.

Keywords: Renunciation, Aspirations.

“Behold that man.” This story the Teacher told at Kapilavatthu, in the Banyan Park, about smiling. {4.7} At that time they say that the Teacher, wandering afoot with his band of monks in the Banyan Park at evening time, at a certain spot gave a smile. The elder Ānanda said: “What can be the cause, what the reason, that the Fortunate One should smile? Not without cause do the Tathāgatas smile. I will ask him, then.” So with a gesture of obeisance he asked of this smile. Then the Teacher said to him, “In days of yore, Ānanda, there was a certain sage, named Kaṇha, who on this spot of earth lived, meditative, delighting in meditation; and by power of his virtue Sakka’s abode was shaken.” But as this speech about the smile was not quite clear, at the elder’s request he told this story of the past. [4.5]

In the past, when Brahmadatta ruled in Benares, there was a certain childless brahmin, having wealth to the amount of eighty crores, who took upon him the vows of virtue, and prayed for a son; the Bodhisatta was conceived in the womb of this brahmin’s wife, and from his black colour they gave him on his nameday the name of Kaṇhakumāra, young Blackie. At the age of sixteen years, being full of splendour, as it were an image of some precious stone, he was sent by his father to Taxila, where he learned all the liberal arts, and returned again. Then his father provided a wife suitable for him. And by and by he came in for all his parent’s property.

Now one day, after inspecting his treasure houses, as he sat on his gorgeous divan, he took in his hand a golden plate, and reading upon the golden plate these lines inscribed by his kinsmen of former days, “So much of the property gained by such a one, so much by another,” he thought: “Those who won this wealth are seen no more, but the wealth is still seen; not one of them could take it where he is gone; we cannot tie our wealth in a bundle and take it with us to the next world. Seeing that it is connected with the Five Defilements, the better part is to distribute in alms this vain wealth; seeing that this vain body is connected with much disease, to show honour and kindness to the virtuous is the better part; seeing that this transient and vain life is but transient, to strive after spiritual insight is the better part. Therefore these vain treasures I will distribute in alms, that by so doing I may gain the better part.” So he rose up from his seat, and having asked the king’s consent, he gave bounteous alms.

Up to the seventh day {4.8} seeing no diminution in his wealth, he thought: “What is wealth to me? While I am yet unmastered by old age, I will even now take the ascetic vow, I will cultivate the Super Knowledges and Attainments, I will become destined for Brahmā’s Realm!” So he caused all the doors of his dwelling to be set open, and bade them take it all as freely given; and spurning it as a thing unclean, he forsook all desire of the eyes, and amid the lamentations and tears of a great multitude, went forth from the city, even unto the Himālayas region.

There he embraced the solitary life; and seeking out for a pleasant place to dwell in, he found this place, and there he resolved to dwell; and choosing a gourd tree for his place of feeding, there he did abide, and lived at the root of that tree; lodging never within a village he became a dweller in the woods, never a hut of leaves he made, but abode at the foot of this tree, in the open air, sitting ever, or if he desired to lie, lying upon the ground, not a pestle but only teeth to grind his food with, eating only things uncooked by the fire, and never even a grain in the husk passed his lips, eating once in the day, and at one sitting. On the ground, as though he were one with i.e. he had no more feeling than these. the four elements, he lived, [4.6] taking upon him the ascetic virtues. See Childers, p. 123 a. These thirteen ascetic practices include living under a tree, living alone, living in the forest, sleeping in a sitting posture, mentioned already in the text. In that Jātaka the Bodhisatta, as we learn, had very few wants.

Thus before long he attained the Super Knowledges and Attainments, and lived in that spot in meditative Absorption. For wild fruits he went no further afield; when fruit grew upon the tree, he ate the fruit; in time of flowers, he ate flowers; when the leaves grew, he ate leaves; when leaves there were none, he ate the bark of trees. Thus in the highest contentment he lived a long time in that place. As in the morning he used to pick up the fruits of that tree, never once even did he from greediness rise up and pick fruit in any other place. In the place where he sat, he stretched out his hand, and gathered all the fruit that there was within a handsweep; these he would eat as they came, making no distinction between what was pleasing and not pleasing. As he continued to take pleasure in this, by the power of his virtue the yellowstone throne of Sakka grew hot.

(This throne, they say, grows hot when Sakka’s life draws towards its end, or when his merit is exhausted and worked out, {4.9} or when some mighty being prays, or through the efficacy of virtue in monastics or brahmins full of potency.) The following is a curious parallel to this idea about Indra’s throne: “The kings had a heritage at that time. When they did not know how to split justice properly, the judgement seat would begin to kick, and the king’s neck would take a twist when he did not do justice as he ought.” Campbell’s Popular Tales of the West Highlands, ii. p. 159.

Then Sakka thought: “Who is it would dislodge me now?” Surveying all around, he saw, living in a forest, in a certain spot, the sage Kaṇha, picking up fruit, and knew that yonder was the sage of dread austerity, all sense subdued, “To him will I go,” he thought: “I will cause him to proclaim the Dhamma in trumpet tones, and having heard the teaching that gives peace, I will satisfy him with a boon, and make his tree bear fruit unceasingly, and then I will return here.” Then by his mighty power quickly descending, and taking his stand at the root of that tree behind the sage, he said, by way of testing whether or no the sage would be angry at mention of his ugliness, the first verse:

1. “Behold that man, all black of hue, that dwells on this black spot,
Black is the meat that he does eat – my spirit likes him not!”

Dark Kaṇha heard him. “Who is it speaks to me?” by his divine insight he perceived that it was Sakka; and without turning, replied with the second verse:

2. “Though black of hue, a brahmin true at heart, O Sakka, see:
Not by skin, but if he do wrong, then black a man must be.” [4.7]

And then, after this, having explained in their several kinds and blamed the defilements which make black such beings, and praised the goodness of virtue, {4.10} he discoursed to Sakka, and it was as though he made the moon to rise in the sky. Sakka at the hearing of his discourse, charmed and delighted, offered the Great Being a boon, and repeated the third verse:

3. “Fair spoken, brahmin, nobly put, most excellently said:
Choose what you will – as bids your heart, so let your choice be made.”

Hearing this the Great Being thought thus within himself. “I know how it must be. He wished to test me, and see should I be angry at mention of my ugliness; therefore he abused the colour of my skin, my food, my place of dwelling; perceiving that I was not angry, he is pleased, and offers me a boon; no doubt he thinks that I practise this manner of life through a desire for the power of Sakka or of Brahmā; and now, to make him certain, I must choose these four boons: that I may be calm, that I may have within me no hatred or malice against my neighbour, and that I may have no greed for my neighbour’s glory or lust towards my neighbour.” Thus pondering, to resolve the doubt of Sakka, the sage uttered the fourth verse, claiming these four boons:

4. “Sakka, the lord of all the world, a choice of blessings gave.
From malice, hatred, covetise, deliverance I would have,
And to be free from every lust: these blessings four I crave.” {4.11}

Hereupon thought Sakka, “The sage Kaṇha, in choosing his boon, has chosen four most blameless blessings. Now I will ask him what is good or bad with these four things.” And he asked the question by repeating the fifth verse:

5. “In lust, in hatred, covetise, in malice, brahmin, say
What evil thing do you behold? This answer me, I pray.”

“Hear then,” replied the Great Being, and gave utterance to four verses:

6. “Because hatred, of ill-will bred, aye grows from small to great,
Is ever full of bitterness, therefore I want no hate.

7. ’Tis ever thus with wicked men: first word, then touch we see,
Next fist, then staff, and last of all the swordstroke flashing free:
Where malice is, there follows hate – no malice then for me.

8. When men make speed egged on by greed, fraud and deceit arise,
And swift pursuit of savage loot – therefore, no covetise.

9. Firm are the fetters bound by lust, that thrives abundantly
Within the heart, for bitter smart – no lusting then for me.” {4.13}

Sakka, his questions thus solved, replied, “Wise Kaṇha, by you sweetly are my questions answered, with a Buddha’s skill; well pleased [4.8] with you am I; now choose another boon,” and he repeated the tenth verse:

10. “Fair spoken, brahmin, nobly put, most excellently said:
Choose what you will – as bids your heart, so let your choice be made.”

Instantly the Bodhisatta repeated a verse:

11. “O Sakka, lord of all the world, a boon you did me cry.
Where in the woods I ever dwell, where all alone dwell I,
Grant no disease may mar my peace, or break my ecstacy.”

On hearing this, thought Sakka, “Wise Kaṇha, in choosing a boon, chooses no thing connected with food; all he chooses bears upon the ascetic life.” Delighted ever more and more, he added thereto yet another boon and recited another verse:

12. “Fair spoken, brahmin, nobly put, most excellently said:
Choose what you will – as bids your heart, so let your choice be made.”

And the Bodhisatta, in stating his boon, declared the Dhamma in the concluding verse: {4.14}

13. “O Sakka, lord of all the world, a choice you bid declare:
No creature be aught harmed for me, O Sakka, anywhere,
Neither in body nor in mind: this, Sakka, is my prayer.” These lines occur in Milinda, p. 384.

Thus the Great Being, on six occasions making choice of a boon, chose only that which pertained to the life of renunciation. Well knew he that the body is diseased, and Sakka cannot do away the disease of it; not with Sakka lies it to cleanse living beings in the Three Doors; Of body, speech, mind: the three gates through which evil enters. albeit so, he made his choice to the end that he might declare the Dhamma to him. And Sakka made that tree bear fruit perennially, and saluting him by raising joined hands to his head, Reading patiṭṭhāpetvā, and in line 12 vyādhidhammaṁ. he said: “Dwell here ever free from disease,” and went to his own place. But the Bodhisatta, never breaking his Absorption, became destined for the Brahmā Realm.

This lesson ended, the Teacher said: “This, Ānanda, is the place where I dwelt previously,” and thus identified the Jātaka, “At that time Anuruddha was Sakka, and for myself, I was Kaṇha the Wise.”