Book XV. Vīsatinipāta
The Section with Twenty Verses (497-510)
Ja 497 Mātaṅgajātaka
The Story about (the Wise Outcaste) Mātaṅga
In the present one king, finding his courtesans have gathered round an ascetic, decides to pour red ants over him. The Buddha tells a cycle of stories about an outcaste: how he gained his wife, renounced the world, instructed his son in almsgiving, tutored a vain ascetic, and how he died.
The Bodhisatta = the wise (outcaste) Mātaṅga (Mātaṅgapaṇḍita),
Udena = Maṇḍavya.
Present Compare: JA 313 Khantivādi, Ja 497 Mātaṅga,
Past Compare: Cp 17 Mātaṅgacariyā.
Keywords: Caste, Giving, Vanity, Devas.
“Whence comest you.”
One day he was in that place, and sitting under a Sāl tree in full flower, when Udena came into the park with a large number of followers. For seven days he had been drinking deep, and he wished to take his pleasure in the park. He lay down on the royal seat in the arms of one of his women, and being tired soon fell asleep. Then the women who sat singing around threw down their music instruments, and wandered about the pleasance gathering flowers and fruit. By and by they saw the elder, and came up, and saluting him sat down. The elder sat where he was and discoursed to them.
The other woman by shifting her arms awoke the king, who said: “Where are those girls gone?” She replied, “They are sitting in a ring round an ascetic.” The king grew angry, and went to the elder, abusing and reviling, “Come, I’ll have the fellow devoured by red ants!” So in a rage he caused a basket full of red ants to be broken over the elder’s body. But the elder rose up in the air, and admonished the king; then to Jetavana he went, and alighted at the gateway of the Perfumed Chamber. “Whence have you come?” asked the Tathāgata: and he told him the fact. “Bhāradvāja,” said he, “this is not the first time Udena has done this to an ascetic, but he did the same before.” Then at the elder’s request, he told a story of the past.
In the past, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Great Being was born outside the city, as an outcaste’s son, and they gave him the name of Mātaṅga, the elephant. Also a name of a man who was of the caṇḍāla caste, which was the lowest caste. Afterwards he attained wisdom, and his fame was blown abroad as the Wise Mātaṅga [Mātaṅgapaṇḍita].
Now at that time one Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā, Lit. “one who has seen good omens.” daughter of a Benares merchant, every month or
After a while he recovered consciousness, and thought: “The crowd around Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā beat me for no reason, I am an innocent man. I will not budge till I get her, not a moment before.” With this resolve, he went and lay down at the door of her father’s house. When they asked him why he lay there, his reply was, “All I want is Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā.” One day passed, then a second, a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. The resolve of the Buddhas is immovable; therefore on the seventh day they brought out the girl and gave her to him. Then she said: “Rise up, master, and let us go to your house.” But he said: “Lady, I have been well pummelled by your people, I am weak, take me up on your back and carry me.” So she did, and in full view of the citizens went forth from the city to the outcaste settlement.
There for a few days the Great Being kept her, without transgressing in any way the rules of caste. Then he thought: “Only by renouncing the world, and in no other way, shall I be able to show this lady the highest honour and give her the best gifts.”
She, when she heard of his return, came out, and began to weep, saying: “Why have you deserted me, master, and become an ascetic?” He said: “Never mind, lady, now I will make you more glorious than your former glory. Will you be able to say in the midst of the people just this, ‘My husband is not Mātaṅga, but the Mahābrahmā?’ ” “Yes, master, I can say it.” “Very well, when they ask you where is your husband, you must reply, ‘He is gone to Brahmā’s Realm’. If they ask, when he will come back, you must say, ‘In seven days he will come, breaking the moon’s disk when she is at the full.’ ” With these words, he went away to the Himālayas.
Now Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā said what she had been told here and there in Benares, amidst a great crowd. The people believed, saying: “Ah, he is Mahābrahmā, and therefore does not visit Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā, but thus and thus it will be.” On the night of full moon, at the time when the moon stands still in mid-course, the Bodhisatta assumed the appearance of Brahmā, and amidst a blaze of light which filled all the kingdom of Kāsi, and the city of Benares twelve leagues in extent, broke through the moon and came down: thrice he made circuit above the city of Benares, and received the worship of the great crowd with perfumed garlands and such like, and then turned his face towards the outcaste village.
The devotees of Brahmā gathered together, and went to the outcaste village. They covered Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā’s house with white cloths, swept the ground with four kinds of sweet smelling things, scattered flowers,
The devotees of Brahmā collected, and stood there through the whole night; in the morning they caused her to enter a golden palanquin, and taking it upon their heads, bore her into the city. A great concourse came to her, crying aloud, “The wife of Mahābrahmā!” and did worship with scented garlands and other such things; those who were allowed to lay the head on her feet and salute her gave a purse of a thousand pieces, those who might salute her within hearing gave a hundred, those who might salute her standing within her sight gave one rupee each. Thus they included in their progress the whole city of Benares, twelve leagues in extent, and received a sum of eighteen crores.
Having thus made the circuit of that city, they brought her to the centre of it, and there built a great pavilion, and set curtains about it,
In that same pavilion, Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā brought forth a son. On his name-day,
Now on one great day of festival they prepared a quantity of rice porridge, and sixteen thousand brahmins sat by the fourth embattled gateway and partook of this food, accompanied with fresh ghee of a golden yellow, a decoction of honey and lump sugar; and the prince himself, brilliantly adorned with jewels, with golden slippers upon his feet, and a staff of fine gold in his hand, was walking about and giving directions, “Ghee here, honey here.”
At that time, the wise Mātaṅga seated in his hermitage in the Himālayas, turned his thoughts to see what news there was of Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā’s son. Perceiving that he was going in the wrong way, he thought: “Today I will go, and convert the young man, and I will teach him how to give so that the gift shall bring much fruit.” He went through the air to Lake Anotatta, and there washed his mouth, and so forth; standing in the district of Manosilā, Part of the Himalaya region. he donned the pair of coloured garments, girt his girdle about him, put on the ragged robe, took his earthen bowl, and went through the air to the fourth gateway, where he alighted just by the alms-hall, and stood on one side. Maṇḍavya, looking this way and that, espied him. “Where do you come from,” cried he, “you ascetic, you misbegotten outcaste, a Yakkha and no man?” and he repeated the first verse:
1. “Whence comest you, in filthy garments dressed,
A creature vile and Yakkha-like, I vow,
A robe of refuse-rags across your breast,
Unworthy of a gift – say, who are thou?”
The Great Being listened, then with gentle heart addressed him in the words of the second verse:
2. “The food, O noble sir! Is ready set,
The people taste, and eat, and drink of it:
You know we live on what we chance to get;
Rise! Let the low-caste churl enjoy a bit.”
Then Maṇḍavya recited the third verse:
3. “For brahmins, for my blessing, by my hand
This food is got, the gift of faithful heart.
Away! What boots it in my sight to stand?
’Tis not for such as you: vile wretch, depart!”
Thereupon the Great Being repeated a verse:
4. “They sow the seed on high ground and on low,
Hoping for fruit, and on the marshy plain:
In such a faith as this your gifts bestow;
Worthy recipients so you shall obtain.”
Then Maṇḍavya repeated a verse:
5. “I know the lands wherein I mean to sow,
The proper places in this world for seed,
Brahmins highborn, that holy scriptures know:
These are good ground and fertile fields indeed.”
Then the Great Being repeated two verses:
6. “The pride of birth, o’erweening self-conceit,
Drunkenness, hatred, ignorance, and greed –
Those in whose hearts these vices find their seat –
They all are bad and barren fields for seed.
7. The pride of birth o’erweening, self-conceit,
Drunkenness, hatred, ignorance, and greed –
Those in whose hearts these vices find no seat,
They all are good and fertile fields for seed.”
These words the Great Being repeated again and again; but the other grew angry, and cried, “The fellow prates overmuch. Where are my porters gone, that they do not cast out the churl?” Then he repeated a verse:
8. “Ho Bhaṇḍakucchi, Upajjhāya ho!
And where is Upajotiya, I say?
Punish the fellow, kill the fellow, go –
And by the throat hale the vile churl away!” The last two lines occur on p. 205 (above, p. 128).
The men hearing his call, came up at a run, and saluting him, asked, “What are we to do, my lord?” “Did you ever see this base outcaste?” “No, sire, we did not know he had come in at all: some juggler he is doubtless, or cunning rogue.” “Well, why do you stand there?” “What are we to do, my lord?” “Why, strike the fellow’s mouth, break his jaw, tear his back with rods and cudgels, punish him, take the wretch by the throat, knock him down, away with him out of this place!” But the Great Being, ere they could come at him, rose up in the air, and there poised, repeated a verse:
9. “Revile a sage! To swallow blazing fire as much avails,
Or bite hard iron, or dig down a mountain with your nails.”
Having uttered these words, the Great Being rose high in the air, while the youth and the brahmins gazed at the sight.
Explaining this, the Teacher recited a verse:
10. “So spake the sage Mātaṅga, champion of truth and right,
Then in the air he rose aloft before the brahmins’ sight.”
He turned his face to the eastwards, and coming down in a certain street, with intent that his footsteps might be visible, he begged alms near the eastern gate; then, having collected a quantity of mixed victuals, he sat him down in a certain hall and began to eat. But the deities of the city came up, finding it intolerable that this king should so speak as to annoy their sage. So the eldest Yakkha among them seized hold of Maṇḍavya by the neck, and twisted it, and the others seized the other brahmins and twisted their necks. But through pity for the Bodhisatta, they did not kill Maṇḍavya, “He is his son,” they said, and only tormented him. Maṇḍavya’s head was twisted so that it looked backwards over his shoulders; hands and feet were stiff and stark; his eyes were turned up, as though he were a dead man: there he lay stark. The other brahmins turned round and round, dribbling spittle at the mouth. People went and told Diṭṭhamaṅgalikā, “Something has happened to your son, my lady!” She made all haste there, and seeing him cried, “Oh, what is this!” and recited a verse:
11. “Over the shoulder twisted stands his head;
See how he stretches out a helpless arm!
White are his eyes as though he were quite dead:
O who is it has wrought my son this harm?”
Then the bystanders repeated a verse, telling her about it:
12. “A ascetic came, in filthy garments dressed,
A creature vile and Yakkha-like to see,
With robe of refuse-rags across his breast:
The man who treated thus your son, is he.”
On hearing this, she thought: “No other has the power, the wise Mātaṅga without doubt it must be! But one who is steadfast, and full of goodwill to all creatures, will never go away and leave all these folk to torment. Now in what direction can he have gone?” which question she put in the following verse:
13. “In what direction went the wise one hence?
O noble youths, pray answer me this thing!
Come let us make atonement for the offence,
Our son to life again that we may bring.”
The young men answered her in this manner:
14. “That wise one, up into the air rose he,
Like moon in mid-career the fifteenth day:
The sage, truth-consecrated, fair to see,
Towards the east moreover bent his way.”
This answer given, she said: “I will seek my husband!” and bidding take with her pitchers of gold and cups of gold, surrounded with a company of waiting women, she went and found the place where his footsteps had touched the ground; these she followed, until she came to him sitting upon a seat, and eating his meal.
15. “Over the shoulder twisted stands his head;
See how he stretches out a helpless arm!
White are his eyes, as though he were quite dead:
O who is it has wrought my son this harm?”
The verses which follow are said by the two alternately:
16. “Yakkhas there are, whose might and power is great,
Who follow sages, beautiful to see:
They saw your son ill-minded, passionate,
And they have treated thus your son for thee.”
17. “Then it is Yakkhas who this thing have done:
Do not be angry, holy man, with me!
O monk! Full of love towards my son
Hither for refuge to your feet I flee!”
18. “Then let me tell you that my mind does hide
Nor then nor now a thought of enmity:
Your son, through fancied knowledge, drunk with pride,
Knows not the meaning of the Vedas three.”
19. “O brother! Verily a man may find
All in a trice his sense quite gone blind.
Forgive me my one error, O wise sage!
They who are wise are never fierce in rage.” These two lines occur above, p. 313 (p. 197 of this volume).
The Great Being, thus pacified by her, replied, “Well, I will give you the elixir of immortal life, to make the Yakkhas depart,” and he recited this verse:
20. “This fragment of my leavings take with you,
Let the poor fool Maṇḍavya eat a piece:
Your son shall be made whole, restored to you,
And so the Yakkhas shall their prey release.”
When she heard the words of the Great Being, she held out a golden bowl, saying: “Give me the elixir of immortality, my lord!” The Great Being dropped in it some of his rice gruel, and said: “First put half of this into your son’s mouth; the rest mix with water in a vessel, and put it in the mouths of the other brahmins: they shall all be made whole.” Then he arose and departed to Himalāya.
She carried off the pitcher upon her head, crying, “I have the elixir of immortality!” Arrived at the house, she first put some of it in her son’s mouth. The Yakkha fled away; the king got up, and brushed off the dust, asking, “What is this, mother?” “You know well enough what you have done; now see the miserable plight of your dolesmen!” When he looked at them, he was filled with remorse.
21. “You are a fool, Maṇḍavya, small of wit,
Not knowing when to do good deeds is fit:
You give to those whose sinfulness is great,
To evildoers and intemperate.
22. Garments of skin, a mass of shaggy hair,
Mouth like an ancient well with grass o’ergrown,
And see what ragged clouts the creatures wear!
But fools are saved not by such things alone.
23. When passion, hate, and ignorance, afar from men are driven,
Give to such calm and holy men: much fruit for this is given.”
Therefore from this time forward give not to wicked men like this; but whoso in this world has reached the eight Attainments, righteous ascetics and brahmins who have gained the five Super Knowledges, Paccekabuddhas, to these give your gifts. Come my son, let me give these our servants the elixir of immortality,
Then these brahmins, having been made to taste the leavings of an outcaste, were put out of caste by the other brahmins. In shame they departed from Benares, and went to the kingdom of Mejjha, where they lived with the king of that country. But Maṇḍavya remained where he was.
At that time there was a brahmin named Jātimanta, one of the ascetics, who lived nearby the city of Vettavatī on the banks of the river of that name; and he was a man mightily proud of his birth. The Great Being went there, resolved to humble the man’s pride; and he
The Great Being thought: “If I allow myself to be angry with the man, I shall not be keeping my virtue; but I will find a way to break down his pride.” On the seventh day, he prevented the sunrise. All the world was put out: they came to the ascetic Jātimanta, and asked, “Is it you, sir, who prevent the sun from rising?” He said: “That is no doing of mine; but there is an outcaste living by the riverside, and his doing it must be.” Then the people came to the Great Being, and asked him, “Is it you, sir, who keep the sun from rising?”
Having thus humbled him, the Great Being pondered, “Where now are those sixteen thousand brahmins?” He perceived they were with the king of Mejjha, and resolved to humble them; by his Supernormal Powers he alighted in the neighbourhood of the city, and bowl in hand tramped the city seeking alms. When the brahmins descried him, they said: “Let him stay here but a couple of days, and he will leave us without a refuge!” In all haste they went to the king, crying, “O mighty king, here is a juggler and mountebank come: take him prisoner!” The king was ready enough. The Great Being, with his mess of mixed victuals, was sitting beside a wall, on a
24. “So the whole nation was destroyed of Mejjha, as they say,
For glorious Mātaṅga’s death, the kingdom swept away.”
When the Teacher had ended this discourse, he said: “It is not now the first time that Udena has abused ascetics, but he did the same before.” Then he identified the Jātaka, “At that time, Udena was Maṇḍavya, and I myself was the wise Mātaṅga.”
last updated: November 2021