Ja 467 Kāmajātaka
The Story about Desire
In the present one brahmin, after carefully tending his crops with the intention of giving a gift to the Buddha and the Saṅgha, loses all in all night’s flood. The Buddha then tells a story of the past in which a greedy king loses his chance to gain three kingdoms, before being taught the wisdom of impermanence, and putting his grief aside.
The Bodhisatta = the wise young brahmin (paṇḍitamāṇava),
the brahmin = the king (of Benares) (rājā).
Present Source: Ja 467 Kāma,
Quoted at: Ja 228 Kāmanīta.
Keywords: Attachment, Grief.
“He that desires.”
A brahmin, so they say, who dwelt at Sāvatthi, was felling trees on the bank of the Aciravatī, in order to cultivate the land. The Teacher, when he visited Sāvatthi for alms, perceiving his destiny, i.e. his capacity in the spiritual life. went out of his road to talk sweetly with him. “What are you doing, brahmin?” he asked. “O Gotama,” said the man, “I am cutting a space free for cultivation.” “Very good,” he replied, “go on with your work, brahmin.”
In the same manner the Teacher came and talked with him when the felled trunks were all away, and the man was clearing his acre, and again at plowing time, and at making the little embanked squares for water. Refer to the following passage in Vedāntaparibhāṣā: “yathā taḍāgodakaṁ kulyātmanā kedārān praviśya tadvadeva catuṣkoṇādyākāraṁ bhavati.” (For this note I am indebted to Prof. Cowell.) See also Sleeman, Rambles &c. ii. 178. Now on the day of sowing, the brahmin said: “Today, O Gotama, is my plowing festival. There was a great yearly ceremony of this kind, at which the king held the plough; see Hardy’s Manual of Buddhism, p. 150. When this corn is ripe, I will give alms in plenty to the Saṅgha, with the Buddha at their head.” The Teacher accepted his offer, and went away. On another day he came, and saw the brahmin watching the corn. “What are you doing, brahmin?” asked he. “Watching the corn, O Gotama!” “Very good, brahmin,” said the Teacher, and away he went. Then the brahmin thought: “How often Gotama the ascetic comes this way! Without doubt he wants food. Well, food I will give him.” On the day when this thought came into his mind, when he went home, there he found the Teacher come also. Thereat arose in the brahmin a wondrous great confidence.
By and by, when ripe was the corn, the brahmin resolved, tomorrow he would reap the field. But while he lay in bed, in the upper reaches of the Aciravatī the rain fell heavily; down came a flood, and carried the whole crop away to the sea, so that not one stalk was left. When the flood
In the morning the Teacher saw this brahmin overwhelmed with his woe, and he thought: “I will be the brahmin’s support.” So next day, after his alms-round in Sāvatthi, on his return from receipt of food he sent the monks back to their monastery, and himself with the junior who attended him visited the man’s house.
All the town heard how the Teacher had found such a brahmin pierced with the pangs of grief, had consoled him and established him in the Fruit of the First Path.
The monks talked of it in the Dhamma Hall, “Hear, sirs! The One with Ten Powers made friends with a brahmin, grew intimate, took his opportunity to declare the Dhamma to him, when pierced with the pangs of grief, eased him of pain, and established him in the Fruit of the First Path!” The Teacher came in, and asked, “What do you speak of, monks, as you sit here together?” They told him. He replied, “This is not the first time, monks, I have cured his grief, but I did the same long, long ago,” and with these words he told a story of the past.
In the past, Brahmadatta king of Benares had two sons. To the elder he gave the viceroyalty, the younger he made commander-in-chief. Afterwards when Brahmadatta was dead, the courtiers were for making the elder son king by the ceremonial sprinkling. But he said: “I care nought for a kingdom: let my younger brother have it.” They begged and besought him, but he would have none of it; and the younger was sprinkled to be king. The elder cared not for the viceroyalty, or any such thing; and when they begged him to remain, and feed on the fat of the land, “Nay,” said he, “I have nothing to do in this city,”
Now after a time the king’s officers came to that village, for taking a survey of the fields. Then the merchant came to the prince, and said,
The younger brother thought: “This fool once refused kingdom, and viceroyalty, and all; and now says he, I will take it by battle! If I slay him in battle, it will be my shame; what care I for being king?” So he sent a message, “I have no wish to fight: you may have the kingdom.” The other accepted it, and made his younger brother viceroy.
Thenceforward he ruled the kingdom. But so greedy was he, that one kingdom could not content him, but he craved for two kingdoms, then for three,
At that time Sakka, King of the Gods, looked abroad, “Who are they,” he thought, “carefully tend their parents? Who give alms and do good? Who are in the power of greed?” He perceived that this man was subject to greed, “That fool,” he thought, “is not satisfied with being king of Benares. Well, I will teach him a lesson.” So in the guise of a young brahmin, he stood at the door of the palace, and sent in word, that at the door stood a young man having skill in means. He was admitted, and wished victory to the king; then the king said: “Why have you come?” “Mighty king!” he answered, “I have a thing to say to you, but I desire privacy.” By power of Sakka, at that very instant the people retired. Then said the young man, “O great king! I know three cities, prosperous, thronged with men, strong in troops and horses, of these by my own power I will obtain the lordship, and deliver it to you. But you must make no delaying, and go at once.” The king being full of covetise gave his consent. (But by Sakka’s power he was prevented from asking, “Who are you? Whence come? And what are you to receive?”) So much Sakka said, and then returned to the abode of the Thirty-Three.
Then the king summoned his courtiers, and thus addressed them. The quotation of the youth’s words begins at tīni.
At that time, the Bodhisatta had returned to his parents in Benares from Taxila, after mastering all branches of learning. He hearing the news about the king, proceeded to the palace door, with intent to cure him, and sent in a message, that a young man was there ready to cure the king. The king said: “Great and most renowned physicians, known far and near, are not able to cure me: what can a young lad do? Pay his expenses, and let him depart.” The young man made answer, “I want no fee for my physic, but I will cure him; let him simply and solely pay me the price of my remedy.” When the king heard this, he agreed, and admitted him. The young man saluted the king, “Fear nothing, O king!” said he, “I will cure you; do but tell me the origin of your disorder.” The king answered in wrath, “What is that to you? Make up your medicine.” “O great king,” said he, “it is the way of physicians, first to learn whence the disease arises, then to make a remedy to suit.” “Well, well, my son,” said the king, and proceeded to tell the origin of the disease, beginning where that young man had come, and made his promise, that he would take and give to him the lordship over three cities. “Thus, my son, the disease arose from greed; now cure it if you can.” “What, O king!” said he, “can you capture those cities by grieving?” “Why no, my son.” “Since that is so, why grieve, O great king? Everything, animate or inanimate, must pass away, and leave all behind, even its own body.
1. “He that desires a thing, and then this his desire fulfilment blesses,
Sure a glad-hearted man is he, because his wish he now possesses. [Snp 4.1].
2. He that desires a thing, and then this his desire fulfilment blesses,
Desires throng on him more and more, as thirst in time of heat oppresses.
3. As in the hornéd kine, the horn with their growth larger grows:
So, in a foolish undiscerning man, that nothing knows,
While grows the man, the more and more grows thirst, and craving grows.
4. Give all the rice and corn on earth, slave-men, and kine, and horse,
’Tis not enough for one: this know, and keep a righteous course.
5. A king that should subdue the whole world wide,
The whole wide world up to the ocean bound,
With this side of the sea unsatisfied
Would crave what might beyond the sea be found.
6. Brood on desires within the heart – content will ne’er arise.
Who turns from these, and the true cure descries,
He is content, whom wisdom satisfies.
7. Best to be full of wisdom: these no lust can set afire;
Never the man with wisdom filled is slave unto desire.
8. Crush your desires, and little want, not greedy all to win:
He that is like the sea is not burnt by desire within,
But like a cobbler, cuts the shoe according to the skin.
9. For each desire that is let go a happiness is won:
He that all happiness would have, must with all lust have done.”
But as the Bodhisatta was repeating these verses, his mind being concentrated on the king’s white sunshade, there arose in him Absorption attained through focusing on the Meditation Object of white light. This is one of the ten kinds of Kasiṇa, or ways in which the devotee may develop Jhāna. See Childers, s.v. The king on his part became whole and well; he arose in joy from his seat, and addressed him thus, “When all those physicians could not heal me, a wise youth has made me whole by the medicine of his wisdom!” And he then repeated the tenth verse:
10. “Eight “Beginning with the second, those which explain the misery of desire are eight,” said the Commentator. The first verse, it will be remembered, is a quotation from Suttanipāta, and possibly may have been added later. verses have you uttered, worth a thousand pieces each:
Take, O great brahmin! Take the sum, for sweet is this your speech.”
At which the Great Being repeated the eleventh:
11. “For thousands, hundreds, million times a million, The number nahutaṁ is 1 followed by 28 ciphers. nought care I:
As the last verse I uttered, in my heart desire did die.”
More and yet more delighted, the king recited the last verse in praise of the Great Being:
12. “Wise and good is indeed this youth, all the lore of all worlds knowing:
All desire in very truth is mother of misery by his showing.”
“Great king!”said the Bodhisatta, “be circumspect, and walk in righteousness.” Thus admonishing the king, he passed through the air to the Himālayas, and living the life of a recluse, while life lasted, cultivated the Divine Abidings, and became destined for the Brahmā Realm.
This discourse ended, the Teacher said: “Thus, monks, in former days as now, I made this brahmin whole,” so saying, he identified the Jātaka, “At that time this brahmin was the king, and I was the wise young man.”
last updated: November 2021