Book XI. Ekādasanipāta
The Section with Eleven Verses
Ja 455 Mātiposakajātaka
The Story about (the Elephant) who Supported his Mother (11s)
Alternative Title: Mātuposakajātaka (Cst)
In the present one monk supports his parents who have fallen into poverty and have no one left at home to support them. When the Buddha finds out he tells a story about an elephant who was taken to the king, but refused to eat as he had left his mother behind. The king allowed him to return and look after her.
The Bodhisatta = the elephant who supported his mother (mātuposakanāga),
Mahāmāyā = the mother elephant (mātā hatthinī),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
Sāriputta = the elephant trainer (hatthācariya),
Devadatta = the wicked man (pāpapurisa).
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,
Past Compare: Cp. 11, Mātiposakacariya.
Keywords: Filial piety, Gratitude, Animals.
“Though far away.”
This story the Teacher told at Jetavana, about a certain monk who supported his mother. 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 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.
On this occasion also the Teacher said, addressing the monks, “Be not angry, monks, with this man; wise men there have been of old, who even when born from the womb of animals, being parted asunder from their mothers, refused for seven days to take food, pining away; and even when they were offered food fit for a king, did but reply, ‘Without my mother I will not eat;’ yet took food again when they saw the mother.” So saying, he told a story of the past.
In the past, when Brahmadatta reigned in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as an elephant in the Himālayas region. All white he was, a magnificent beast, and a herd of eighty thousand elephants surrounded him; but his mother was blind. He would give his elephants the sweet wild fruit, so sweet, to convey to her; yet to her they gave none, but themselves ate all of it. When he made enquiry, and heard news of this, said he, “I will leave the herd, and cherish my mother.” So in the night, unknown to the other elephants, taking his mother with him, he departed to Mount Caṇḍoraṇa; and there he placed his mother in a cave of the hills, nearby a lake, and cherished her.
Now a certain forester, who dwelt in Benares, lost his way; and being unable to get his bearings,
“My lord,” said the man, “I have lost my way, this seven days gone.”
Said the elephant, “Fear not, O man; for I will put you in the path of men.” Then he made the man sit on his back, and carried him out of the forest, and then returned.
This wicked man determined to go into the city, and tell the king. So he marked the trees, and marked the hills, and then made his way to Benares. At that time the king’s state elephant had just died. The king caused it to be proclaimed by beat of drum, “If any man has in any place seen an elephant fit and proper for the king’s riding, let him declare it!” Then this man came before the king, and said: “I, my lord, have seen a splendid elephant, white all over and excellent, fit for the king’s riding. I will show the way; send but with me the elephant trainers, and you shall catch him.” The king agreed, and sent with the man a forester and a great troop of followers.
The man went with him, and found the Bodhisatta feeding in the lake. When the Bodhisatta saw the forester, he thought: “This danger has doubtless come from none other than that man. But I am very strong; I can scatter even a thousand elephants; in anger I am able to destroy all the beasts that carry the army of a whole kingdom. But if I give way to anger, my virtue will be marred. So today I will not be angry, not even though pierced with knives.” With this resolve, bowing his head he remained immovable.
Down into the lotus-lake went the forester, and seeing the beauty of his points, said: “Come, my son!” Then seizing him by the trunk (and like a silver rope it was), he led him in seven days to Benares.
When the Bodhisatta’s mother found that her son came not, she thought that he must have been caught by the king’s nobles.
1. “Though far away this elephant should go,
Still olibane and kuṭaja A medicinal plant. will grow,
Grain, grass, and oleander, lilies white,
On sheltered spots the bluebells dark still blow.
2. Somewhere that royal elephant must go,
Full fed by those whose breast and body show
All gold-bedecked, that king or prince may ride
Fearless to triumph o’er the mailclad foe.”
Now the trainer, while he was yet in the way, sent on a message to tell the king. And the king caused the city to be decorated. The trainer led the Bodhisatta into a stable all adorned and decked out with festoons and with garlands, and surrounding him, with a screen of
3. “Come, take a morsel, elephant, and never pine away:
There’s many a thing to serve your king that you shall do one day.”
Hearing this, the Bodhisatta repeated the fourth verse:
4. “Nay, she by Mount Caṇḍoraṇa, poor blind and wretched one,
Beats with a foot on some tree-root, without her royal son.”
The king said the fifth verse to ask his meaning:
5. “Who is’t by Mount Caṇḍoraṇa, what blind and wretched one,
Beats with a foot on some tree-root, without her royal son?”
To which the other replied in the sixth verse:
6. “My mother by Caṇḍoraṇa, ah blind, ah wretched one!
Beats with her foot on some tree-root for lack of me, her son!”
And hearing this, the king gave him freedom, reciting the seventh verse:
7. “This mighty elephant, who feeds his mother, let go free:
And let him to his mother go, and to all his family.”
The eighth and ninth verses are those of the Buddha after Fully Awakening:
8. “The elephant from prison freed, the beast set free from chain,
With words of consolation The Commentator explains that the elephant discoursed on virtue to the king, then told him to be careful, and departed, amid the plaudits of the multitude, who threw flowers upon him. He then went home, and fed and washed his mother. To explain this, the Master repeated the two verses. went back to the hills again.
9. Then from the cool and limpid pool, where Elephants frequent,
He with his trunk drew water, and his mother all besprent.”
But the mother of the Bodhisatta thought it had begun to rain, and repeated the tenth verse, rebuking the rain:
10. “Who brings unseasonable rain – what evil deity?
For he is gone, my own, my son, who used to care for me.”
Then the Bodhisatta repeated the eleventh verse, to reassure her:
11. “Rise mother! Why should you there lie? Your own, your son has come!
Vedeha, Kāsi’s glorious king, has sent me safely home.”
And she returned thanks to the king by repeating the last verse:
12. “Long live that king! Long may he bring his realms prosperity,
Who freed that son who ever has done so great respect to me!”
The king was pleased with the Bodhisatta’s goodness; and he built a town not far from the lake, and did continual service to the Bodhisatta and to his mother. Afterwards, when his mother died, and the Bodhisatta had performed her obsequies,
When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he declared the Truths, and identified the Jātaka, now at the conclusion of the Truths the monk who supported his mother was established in the fruit of the First Path. “At that time, Ānanda was the king, the lady Mahāmāyā was the female elephant, and I was myself the elephant that fed his mother.”
last updated: November 2021