Ja 488 Bhisajātaka
The Story about the Lotus Stalks (Pak)

In the present one monk, after seeing a woman, becomes discontent in his monk’s life. The Buddha tells a story of a group of ascetics who were tested by Sakka who took the food of the elder away. To prove to each other they were innocent each uttered a curse upon himself, which in lay life would be considered a blessing.

The Bodhisatta = (the ascetic) Mahākañcana,
Sāriputta = his brother (bhātara),
Moggallāna = his brother (bhātara),
Puṇṇa = his brother (bhātara),
Kassapa = his brother (bhātara),
Anuruddha = his brother (bhātara),
Ānanda = his brother (bhātara),
Uppalavaṇṇā = his sister (bhaginī),
the householder Citta = the male servant (dāsa),
Khujjuttarā = the female servant (dāsī),
Sātāgira = the Yakkha,
Pārileyya = the elephant (nāga),
Madhuda = the foremost monkey (seṭṭhavānara),
Kāḷudāyi = (the King of the Devas) Sakka.

Present Source: Ja 531 Kusa,
Quoted at: Ja 444 Kaṇhadīpāyana, Ja 458 Udaya, Ja 488 Bhisa,
Past Compare: Cp 24 Bhisacariyā, Jm 19 Bisa.

Keywords: Renunciation, Desire, Devas.

“May horse and kine.” [4.192] This story the Teacher told while dwelling in Jetavana, about a discontented monk. The circumstances will appear under the Kusajātaka [Ja 531]. {4.305}

This was a tale the Teacher, while dwelling at Jetavana, told about a discontented monk. The story tells that he was of noble birth and lived at Sāvatthi, and on his heartily embracing the dispensation he adopted the ascetic life. Now one day as he was going his rounds for alms in Sāvatthi, he met a fair lady and fell in love with her at first sight. Overcome by his passion he lived an unhappy life, and letting his nails and hair grow long and wearing soiled robes, he pined away and became quite sallow, with all his veins standing out on his body. And just as in the Deva world, the Devaputtas who are destined to fall from their heavenly existence manifest five well-known signs, that is to say, their garlands wither, their robes soil, their bodies grow ill-favoured, perspiration pours from their armpits, and they no longer find pleasure in their Deva home, so too in the case of worldly monks, who fall from the Dhamma, the same five signs are to be seen: the flowers of faith wither, the robes of righteousness soil, through discontent and the effects of an evil name their persons grow ill-favoured, the sweat of corruption streams from them and they no longer delight in a life of solitude at the foot of forest trees – all these signs were to be found in him. So they brought him into the presence of the Teacher, saying: “Venerable sir, this fellow is discontented.”

Here again the Teacher asked, “Is it true, monk, that you are discontent?” “Yes, sir, it is true.” “For what cause?” “For lust’s sake, sir.” “Monk why are you discontent, after embracing such a faith as this which leads to safety; and all for lust’s sake? In days of yore, before the Buddha arose, wise men who took to the ascetic life, even they who were ordained in an outside sect, made an oath, and renounced a suggested idea connected with temptations or desires!” So saying, he told a story of the past.

In the past, when Brahmadatta was king in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as the son of a great brahmin householder who owned a fortune of eighty crores of money. The name they gave him was my lord Mahākañcana [Great Gold]. At the time when he could but just go upon his feet, another son was born to the brahmin, and they called him my lord Upakañcana [Lesser Gold]. Thus in succession seven sons came, and youngest of all came a daughter, whom they named Kañcanadevī [Lady Gold].

Mahākañcana, when he grew up, studied at Taxila all the arts and sciences, and returned home. Then his parents desired to establish him in a household of his own. “We will fetch you,” they said, “a girl from a family to be a fit match for you, and then you shall have your own household.” But he said: “Mother and father, I want no household. To me the three realms of existence Of sense, of body, without body or form (in the kāma-, rūpa-, arūpa-loka). are terrible as fires, beset with chains like a prison-house, loathsome as a dunghill. Never have I known of the deed of kind, not so much as in a dream. You have other sons, bid them be heads of families and leave me alone.” Though they begged him again and again, sent his friends to him and besought him by their lips, yet he would have none of it.

Then his friends asked him, “What do you wish, my good friend, that you care nothing for the enjoying of love and desire?” He told them how he had renounced all the world. When the parents understood this, they made the like proposal to the other sons, but none of them would hear of it; nor yet again did the lady Kañcanā.

By and by the parents died. The wise Mahākañcana did the obsequies for his parents; with the treasure of eighty crores he distributed [4.193] alms munificently to beggars and wayfaring men; then taking with him his six brothers, his sister, a servant man and handmaiden, and one companion, {4.306} he made his renunciation and retired into the region of the Himālayas. There in a delightful spot near a lotus-lake they built them a hermitage, and lived a holy life eating of the fruits and roots of the forest.

When they went into the forest, they went one by one, and if ever one of them saw a fruit or a leaf he would call the rest: there telling all they had seen and heard, they picked up what there was – it seemed like a village market. But the teacher, the ascetic Mahākañcana, thought to himself, “We have cast aside a fortune of eighty crores and taken up the ascetic life, and to go about greedily seeking for wild fruits is not seemly. From henceforth I will bring the wild fruits by myself.” Returning then to the hermitage, in the evening he gathered all together and told them his thought. “You remain here,” said he, “and practise the life of the recluse, I will fetch fruit for you.” Thereat Upakañcana and all the rest broke in, “We have become ascetics under your wing, it is you who should stay behind and practise the life of the recluse. Let our sister remain here also, and the maid be with her: we eight will take turns to fetch the fruit, but you three shall be free from taking a turn.” He agreed.

Thenceforward these eight took a turn to bring in fruit one at a time: the others each received his share of the find, and carried it off to his dwelling-place and remained in his own leaf-hut. Thus they could not be together without cause or reason. He whose turn it was would bring in the provender (there was one enclosure), and laying it on a flat stone would make eleven portions of it; then making the gong sound he would take his own portion and depart to his place of dwelling; the others coming up at the gong-sound, without hustling, but with all due ceremony and order, would take each his allotted portion of the find, then returning to his own place there would eat it, and resume his meditation and austerity. After a time they gathered lotus fibres and ate them, and there they lived, mortifying themselves with scorching heat and other kind of torments, their senses all dead, striving to focus on the Meditation Object.

By the glory of their virtue Sakka’s throne trembled. “Are these released from desire only,” said he, “or are they sages? {4.307} I will find out now.” So by his supernatural power for three days he caused the Great Being’s share to disappear. On the first day, seeing no share for him, he thought: “My share must have been forgotten.” On the second day,” There must be some fault in me: Or “it is to remind me respectfully of this that he provides no share for me.” he has not provided my share in the way of due respect.” On the third, “Why can it be they provide no share for me? If there be fault in me I will make my peace.”

So at evening he sounded upon [4.194] the gong. They all came together, and asked who had sounded the gong. “I did, my brothers.” “Why, good master?” “My brothers, who brought in the food three days ago?” One uprose, and said: “I did,” standing in all respect. “When you made the division did you set apart a share for me?” “Why yes, master, the share of the eldest.” “And who brought food yesterday?” Another rose, and said: “I did,” then stood respectfully waiting. “Did you remember me?” “I put by for you the share of the eldest.” “Today who brought the food?” Another arose, and stood respectfully waiting. “Did you remember me in making the division?” “I set aside the share of the eldest for you.”

Then he said: “Monks, this is the third day I have had no share. The first day when I saw none, I thought, ‘Doubtless he that made the division has forgotten my share.’ The second day, I thought ‘There must be some fault in me.’ But today I made up my mind, that if fault there were, I would make my peace, and therefore I summoned you by the sound of this gong. You tell me you have put aside for me these portions of the lotus fibres: I have had none of them. I must find out who has stolen and eaten these. When one has forsaken the world and all the sensual desires thereof, theft is unseemly, be it no more than a lotus-stalk.” When they heard these words, they cried out, {4.308} “Oh what a cruel deed!” and they were all much agitated.

Now the Devatā which dwelt in a tree by that hermitage, the chief tree of the forest, came out and sat down in their midst. There was likewise an elephant, which had been unable under his training to be impassible, and brake the stake he was bound to, and escaped into the woods: from time to time he used to come and salute the band of sages, and now he came also and stood on one side. A monkey also there was, that had been used to make sport with serpents, and had escaped out of the snake-charmer’s hands into the forest: he dwelt in that hermitage, and that day he also greeted the band of ascetics, and stood on one side. Sakka, resolved to test the ascetics, was there also in a shape invisible beside them. At that moment the Bodhisatta’s younger brother, the recluse Upakañcana, arose from his seat, and saluting the Bodhisatta, with a bow to the rest of the company, said as follows, “Teacher, setting aside the rest, may I clear myself from this charge?” “You may, brother.” He, standing in the midst of the sages, said: “If I ate those fibres of yours, such and such am I,” making a solemn oath in the words of the first verse:

1. “May horse and kine be his, may silver, gold,
A loving wife, these may he precious hold,
May he have sons and daughters manifold,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” The meaning is, that a man whose heart is set on these things feels pain to part with them, and is hence unfit to die from a Buddhist point of view. The verse is therefore a curse. [4.195]

On this the ascetics put their hands over their ears, crying, “No, no, sir, that oath is very heavy!” And the Bodhisatta also said: “Monk, your oath is very heavy: you did not eat the food, sit down on your pallet.” He having thus made his oath and sat down, up rose the second brother, and saluting the Great Being, recited the second verse to clear himself: {4.309}

2. “May he have sons and raiment at his will,
Garlands and sandal sweet his hands may fill,
His heart be fierce with lust and longing still,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.”

When he sat down, the others each in his turn uttered his own verse to express his feeling:

3. “May he have plenty, win both fame and land,
Sons, houses, treasures, all at his command,
The passing years may he not understand,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.”

4. “As mighty warrior chief may he be known,
As king of kings set on a glorious throne,
The earth and its four corners all his own,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.”

5. “Be he a brahmin, passion unsubdued,
With faith in stars and lucky days imbued,
Honoured with mighty monarchs’ gratitude,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.”

6. “A student in the Vedic lore deep-read,
Let all men reverence his holy head,
And of the people be he worshipped,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.”

7. “By Sakka’s Vāsava. gift a village may he hold,
Rich, choice, possessed of all the goods fourfold, The commentator explains this as: populous, rich in grain, in wood, in water. This verse is said by the friendly ascetic.
And may he die with passions uncontrolled,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” {4.310}

8. “A village chief, his comrades all around,
His joy in dances and sweet music’s sound;
May the king’s favour unto him abound:
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” Spoken by the slave man.

9. “May she be fairest of all womankind,
May the high monarch of the whole world find
Her chief among ten thousand to his mind,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” Spoken by [the sister] Kañcanā.

10. “When all the serving handmaidens do meet,
May she all unabashed sit in her seat,
Proud of her gains, and may her food be sweet.
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” Spoken by the slave girl. [4.196]

11. “The great Kajañgal cloister be his care,
And may he set the ruins in repair,
And every day make a new window there,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” Spoken by the Tree Devatā. Kajañgala, the commentator informs us, was a town where materials were hard to be got. There in Buddha Kassapa’s time a god had a hard job of it repairing the ruins of an old monastery.

12. “Fast in six hundred bonds may he be caught,
From the dear forest to a city brought,
Smitten with goads and guiding-pikes, distraught,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” Spoken by the elephant.

13. “Garland on neck, tin earring in each ear,
Bound, let him walk the highway, much in fear,
And schooled with sticks to serpent kind The monkey says this: his task was to play with a snake. See above. draw near,
Brahmin, who stole your share of food away.” {4.312}

When oath had been taken in these thirteen verses, the Great Being thought: “Perhaps they imagine I am lying myself, and saying that the food was not there when it was.” So he made oath on his part in the fourteenth verse:

14. “Who swears the food was gone, if it was not,
Let him enjoy desire and its effect,
May worldly death be at the last his lot.
The same for you, sirs, if you now suspect.”

When the sages had made their oath thus, Sakka thought to himself, “Fear nothing; I made these lotus fibres disappear in order to test these men, and they all make oath, loathing the deed as if it were a snot of spittle. Now I will ask them why they loathe lust and desire.” This question he put by questioning the Bodhisatta in the next verse, after having assumed a visible form:

15. “What in the world men go seeking here
That thing to many lovely is and dear,
Longed-for, delightful in this life: why, then,
Have saints no praise for things desired of men?”

By way of answer to this question, the Great Being recited two verses:

16. “Desires are deadly blows and chains to bind,
In these both misery and fear we find:
When tempted by desires imperial kings Lords of Beings, “an allusion to Sakka” (Commentator).
Infatuate do vile and sinful things.

17. These sinners bring forth wrong, to hell they go
At dissolution of this mortal frame. {4.313}
Because the misery of lust they know Snp 50.
Therefore saints praise not lust, but only blame.” [4.197]

When Sakka had heard the Great Being’s explanation, much moved in heart he repeated the following verse:

18. “Myself to test these sages stole away
That food, which by the lake-side I did lay.
Sages they are indeed and pure and good.
O man of holy life, behold your food!”

Hearing which the Bodhisatta recited a verse:

19. “We are no tumblers, to make sport for you,
No kinsmen nor no friends of thine are we.
Then why, O king divine, O thousand-eyed,
Think you the sages must your sport provide?”

And Sakka recited the twentieth verse, making his peace with him:

20. “You are my teacher, and my father thou,
From my offence let this protect me now.
Forgive me my one error, O wise sage!
They who are wise are never fierce in rage.” {4.314}

Then the Great Being forgave Sakka, King of the Devas, and on his own part to reconcile him with the company of sages recited another verse:

21. “Happy for holy men one night has been,
When the Lord Vāsava by us was seen.
And, sirs, be happy all in heart to see
The food once stolen now restored to me.”

Sakka saluted the company of sages, and returned to the world of gods. And they caused the Absorptions and Super Knowledges to spring up within them, and became destined for the Brahmā Realm.

When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he said: “Thus, monks, wise men of old made an oath and renounced wrong.” This said, he declared the Truths. At the conclusion of the Truths, the discontented monk was established in the fruit of the First Path. Identifying the Jātaka, he recited three verses:

22. “Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Puṇṇa, Kassapa, and I,
Anuruddha and Ānanda then the seven brothers were.

23. Uppalavaṇṇā was the sister, and Khujjuttarā the maid,
Sātāgira was the spirit, Citta householder the slave,

24. The elephant was Pārileyya, Madhuvāseṭṭha was the ape,
Kāḷudāyi then was Sakka. Now you understand the Jātaka.”