JATAKA TALES OF THE BUDDHA
Ken & Visakha Kawasaki
Bodhi Leaves No. 135
Copyright 1995 Ken & Visakha Kawasaki
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY SRI LANKA
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DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcribed directly from BPS Pagemaker files
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//Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa//
Crossing the Wilderness
Jataka No. 1
While the Buddha was staying at Jetavana Monastery near Savatthi, the
wealthy banker, Anathapindika, went one day to pay his respects. His
servants carried masses of flowers, perfume, butter, oil, honey,
molasses, cloths, and robes. Anathapindika paid obeisance to the
Buddha, presented the offerings he had brought, and sat down
respectfully. At that time, Anathapindika was accompanied by five
hundred friends who were followers of heretical teachers. His friends
also paid their respects to the Buddha and sat close to the banker.
The Buddha's face appeared like a full moon, and his body was
surrounded by a radiant aura. Seated on the red stone seat, he was
like a young lion roaring with a clear, noble voice as he taught them
a discourse full of sweetness and beautiful to the ear.
After hearing the Buddha's teaching, the five hundred gave up their
heretical practices and took refuge in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, the
Dhamma, and the Sangha. After that, they went regularly with
Anathapindika to offer flowers and incense and to hear the teaching.
They gave liberally, kept the precepts, and faithfully observed the
Uposatha Day.[*] Soon after the Buddha left Savatthi to return to
Rajagaha, however, these men abandoned their new faith and reverted to
their previous beliefs.
[*] The Uposatha is the full, new, and half-moon days, when many
Buddhists observe the Eight Precepts.
Seven or eight months later, the Buddha returned to Jetavana.
Again, Anathapindika brought these friends to visit the Buddha. They
paid their respects, but Anathapindika explained that they had
forsaken their refuge and had resumed their original practices.
The Buddha asked, "Is it true that you have abandoned refuge in the
Triple Gem for refuge in other doctrines?" The Buddha's voice was
incredibly clear because throughout myriad aeons He had always spoken
When these men heard it, they were unable to conceal the truth.
"Yes, Blessed One," they confessed. "It is true."
"Disciples," the Buddha said "nowhere between the lowest of hells
below and the highest heaven above, nowhere in all the infinite worlds
that stretch right and left, is there the equal, much less the
superior, of a Buddha. Incalculable is the excellence which springs
from obeying the Precepts and from other virtuous conduct."
Then he declared the virtues of the Triple Gem. "By taking refuge
in the Triple Gem," He told them, "one escapes from rebirth in states
of suffering." He further explained that meditation on the Triple Gem
leads through the four stages to Enlightenment.
"In forsaking such a refuge as this," he admonished them, "you have
certainly erred. In the past, too, men who foolishly mistook what was
no refuge for a real refuge, met disaster. Actually, they fell prey to
yakkhas -- evil spirits -- in the wilderness and were utterly
destroyed. In contrast, men who clung to the truth not only survived,
but actually prospered in that same wilderness."
Anathapindika raised his clasped hands to his forehead, praised the
the Buddha, and asked him to tell that story of the past.
"In order to dispel the world's ignorance and to conquer
suffering," the Buddha proclaimed, "I practised the Ten Perfections
for countless aeons. Listen carefully, and I will speak."
Having their full attention, the Buddha made clear, as though he
were releasing the full moon from behind clouds, what rebirth had
concealed from them.
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the
Bodhisatta was born into a merchant's family and grew up to be a wise
trader. At the same time, in the same city, there was another
merchant, a very stupid fellow, with no common sense whatsoever.
One day it so happened that the two merchants each loaded five
hundred carts with costly wares of Baranasi and prepared to leave in
the same direction at exactly the same time. The wise merchant
thought, "If this silly young fool travels with me and if our thousand
carts stay together, it will be too much for the road. Finding wood
and water for the men will be difficult, and there won't be enough
grass for the oxen. Either he or I must go first."
"Look," he said to the other merchant, "the two of us can't travel
together. Would you rather go first or follow after me?"
The foolish trader thought, "There will be many advantages if I
take the lead. I'll get a road which is not yet cut up. My oxen will
have the pick of the grass. My men will get the choicest wild herbs
for curry. The water will be undisturbed. Best of all, I'll be able to
fix my own price for bartering my goods." Considering all these
advantages, he said, "I will go ahead of you, my friend."
The Bodhisatta was pleased to hear this because he saw many
advantages in following after. He reasoned, "Those carts going first
will level the road where it is rough, and I'll be able to travel
along the road they have already smoothed. Their oxen will graze off
the coarse old grass, and mine will pasture on the sweet young growth
which will spring up in its place. My men will find fresh sweet herbs
for curry where the old ones have been picked. Where there is no
water, the first caravan will have to dig to supply themselves, and
we'll be able to drink at the wells they have dug. Haggling over
prices is tiring work; he'll do the work, and I will be able to barter
my wares at prices he has already fixed."
"Very well, my friend," he said, "please go first."
"I will," said the foolish merchant, and he yoked his carts and set
out. After a while he came to the outskirts of a wilderness. He filled
all of his huge water jars with water before setting out to cross the
sixty yojanas [*] of desert which lay before him.
[*] //Yojana//: a unit of distance, about seven miles.
The yakkha who haunted that wilderness had been watching the
caravan. When it had reached the middle, he used his magic power to
conjure up a lovely carriage drawn by pure white young bulls. With a
retinue of a dozen disguised yakkhas carrying swords and shields, he
rode along in his carriage like a mighty lord. His hair and clothes
were wet, and he had a wreath of blue lotuses and white water lilies
around his head. His attendants also were dripping wet and draped in
garlands. Even the bulls' hooves and carriage wheels were muddy.
As the wind was blowing from the front, the merchant was riding at
the head of his caravan to escape the dust. The yakkha drew his
carriage beside the merchant's and greeted him kindly. The merchant
returned the greeting and moved his own carriage to one side to allow
the carts to pass while he and the yakkha chatted.
"We are on our way from Baranasi, sir," explained the merchant. "I
see that your men are all wet and muddy and that you have lotuses and
water lilies. Did it rain while you were on the road? Did you come
across pools with lotuses and water lilies?"
"What do you mean?" the yakkha exclaimed. "Over there is the
dark-green streak of a jungle. Beyond that there is plenty of water.
It is always raining there, and there are many lakes with lotuses and
water lilies." Then, pretending to be interested in the merchant's
business, he asked, "What do you have in these carts?"
"Expensive merchandise," answered the merchant.
"What is in this cart which seems so heavily laden?" the yakkha
asked as the last cart rolled by.
"That's full of water."
"You were wise to carry water with you this far, but there is no
need for it now, since water is so abundant ahead. You could travel
much faster and lighter without those heavy jars. You'd be better off
breaking them and throwing the water away. Well, good day," he said
suddenly, as he turned his carriage. "We must be on our way. We have
stopped too long already." He rode away quickly with his men. As soon
as they were out of sight, he turned and made his way back to his own
The merchant was so foolish that he followed the yakkha's advice.
He broke all the jars, without saving even a single cupful of water,
and ordered the men to drive on quickly. Of course, they did not find
any water, and they were soon exhausted from thirst. At sunset they
drew their carts into a circle and tethered the oxen to the wheels,
but there was no water for the weary animals. Without water, the men
could not cook any rice either. They sank to the ground and fell
asleep. As soon as night came, the yakkhas attacked, killing every
single man and beast. The fiends devoured the flesh, leaving only the
bones, and departed. Skeletons were strewn in every direction, but the
five hundred carts stood with their loads untouched. Thus the heedless
young merchant was the sole cause of the destruction of the entire
Allowing six weeks to pass after the foolish trader had left, the
Bodhisatta set out with his five hundred carts. When he reached the
edge of the wilderness, he filled his water jars. Then he assembled
his men and announced, "Let not so much as a handful of water be used
without my permission. Furthermore, there are poisonous plants in this
wilderness. Do not eat any leaf, flower, or fruit which you have never
eaten before, without showing it to me first." Having thus carefully
warned his men, he led the caravan into the wilderness.
When they had reached the middle of the wilderness, the yakkha
appeared on the path just as before. The merchant noticed his red eyes
and fearless manner and suspected something strange. "I know there is
no water in this desert," he said to himself. "Furthermore, this
stranger casts no shadow. He must be a yakkha. He probably tricked the
foolish merchant, but he doesn't realize how clever I am."
"Get out of here!" he shouted at the yakkha. "We are men of
business. We do not throw away our water before we see where more is
to come from!"
Without saying any more, the yakkha rode away.
As soon as the yakkhas had left, the merchant's men approached
their leader and said, "Sir, those men were wearing lotuses and water
lilies on their heads. Their clothes and hair were wringing wet. They
told us that up ahead there is a thick forest where it is always
raining. Let us throw away our water so that we can proceed quicker
with lightened carts."
The merchant ordered a halt and summoned all his men. "Has any man
among you ever heard before today," he asked, "that there was a lake
or a pool in this wilderness?"
"No, sir," they answered. "It's known as the 'Waterless Desert.' "
"We have just been told by some strangers that it is raining in the
forest just ahead. How far does a rain-wind carry?"
"A yojana, sir."
"Has any man here seen the top of even a single storm-cloud?"
"How far off can you see a flash of lightning?"
"Four or five yojanas, sir."
"Has any man here seen a flash of lightning?"
"How far off can a man hear a peal of thunder?"
"Two or three yojanas, sir."
"Has any man here heard a peal of thunder?"
"Those were not men, but yakkhas," the wise merchant told his men.
"They are hoping that we will throw away our water. Then, when we are
weak and faint, they will return to devour us. Since the young
merchant who went before us was not a man of good sense, most likely
he was fooled by them. We may expect to find his carts standing just
as they were first loaded. We will probably see them today. Press on
with all possible speed, without throwing away a drop of water!"
Just as the merchant had predicted, his caravan soon came upon the
five hundred carts with the skeletons of men and oxen strewn in every
direction. He ordered his men to arrange his carts in a fortified
circle, to take care of the oxen, and to prepare an early supper for
themselves. After the animals and men had all safely bedded down, the
merchant and his foremen, swords in hand, stood guard all through the
At daybreak the merchant replaced his own weak carts for stronger
ones and exchanged his own common goods for the most costly of the
abandoned merchandise. When he arrived at his destination, he was able
to barter his stock of wares at two or three times their value. He
returned to his own city without losing a single man out of all his
This story ended, the Buddha said, "Thus it was, laymen, that in
times past, the foolish came to utter destruction, while those who
clung to the truth escaped from the yakkhas' hands, reached their goal
in safety, and returned to their homes again.
"This clinging to the truth not only endows happiness even up to
rebirth in the Realm of Brahma,[*] but also leads ultimately to
Arahatship. Following untruth entails rebirth either in the four
states of punishment or in the lowest conditions of mankind." After
the Buddha had expounded the Four Truths, those five hundred disciples
were established in the Fruit of the First Path.
[*] The Realm of Brahma refers to the highest heavens, where beings
enjoy radiant bliss.
The Buddha concluded his lesson by identifying the Birth as
follows: "The foolish young merchant was Devadatta,[*] and his men
were Devadatta's followers. The wise merchant's men were the followers
of the Buddha, and I myself was that wise merchant."
[*] Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha. He tried to kill the
Master several times, but always failed. See Jataka No.3,
* * *
The Traders of Seriva
Jataka No. 3
So that a disheartened bhikkhu would have no regrets in the future,
the Buddha told him this story at Savatthi to encourage him to
persevere. "If you give up your practice in this sublime teaching
which leads to Nibbana," the Buddha told him, "you will suffer long,
like the trader of Seriva who lost a golden bowl worth a hundred
When asked to explain, the Buddha told this story of the distant
Five long aeons ago, the Bodhisatta was an honest trader selling fancy
goods in the kingdom of Seriva. Sometimes he travelled with another
trader from the same kingdom, a greedy fellow, who handled the same
One day the two of them crossed the Telavaha river to do business
in the bustling city of Andhapura. As usual, to avoid competing with
each other, they divided the city between them and began selling their
goods from door to door.
In that city there was a ramshackle mansion. Years before the
family had been rich merchants, but by the time of this story their
fortunes had dwindled to nothing, and all the men of the family had
died. The sole survivors were a girl and her grandmother, and these
two earned their living by working for hire.
That afternoon, while the greedy peddler was on his rounds, he came
to the door of that very house, crying, "Beads for sale! Beads for
When the young girl heard his cry, she begged, "Please buy me a
"We're very poor, dear. There's not a cent in the house and I can't
think of anything to offer in exchange."
The girl suddenly remembered an old bowl. "Look!" she cried.
"Here's an old bowl. It's of no use to us. Let's try to trade it for
What the little girl showed her grandmother was an old bowl which
had been used by the great merchant, the late head of the family. He
had always eaten his curries served from this beautiful, expensive
bowl. After his death it had been thrown among the pots and pans and
forgotten. Since it hadn't been used for a very long time, it was
completely covered with grime. The two women had no idea it was gold.
The old woman asked the trader to come in and sit down. She showed
him the bowl and said, "Sir, my granddaughter would like a trinket.
Would you be so kind as to take this bowl and give her something or
other in exchange?"
The peddler took the bowl in his hand and turned it over.
Suspecting its value, he scratched the back of it with a needle. After
just one covert look, he knew for certain the bowl was real gold.
He sat there frowning and thinking until his greed got the better
of him. At last he decided to try to get the bowl without giving the
woman anything whatever for it. Pretending to be angry, he growled,
"Why did you bring me this stupid bowl? It isn't worth half a cent!"
He threw the bowl to the floor, got up, and stalked out of the house
in apparent disgust.
Since it had been agreed between the two traders that the one might
try the streets which the other had already covered, the honest
peddler came later into that same street and appeared at the door of
the house, crying, "Beads for sale!"
Once again the young girl made the same request of her grandmother,
and the old woman replied, "My dear, the first peddler threw our bowl
on the ground and stormed out of the house. What have we got left to
"Oh, but that trader was nasty, Grandmother. This one looks and
sounds very kind. I think he will take it."
"All right, then. Call him in."
When the peddler came into the house, the two women gave him a seat
and shyly put the bowl into his hands. Immediately recognizing that
the bowl was gold, he said, "Mother, this bowl is worth a hundred
thousand pieces of silver. I'm sorry but I don't have that much
Astonished at his words, the old woman said, "Sir, another peddler
who came here a little while ago said that it was not worth half a
cent. He got angry, threw it on the floor, and went away. If it wasn't
valuable then, it must be because of your own goodness that the bowl
has turned into gold. Please take it, and just give us something or
other for it. We will be more than satisfied."
At that time the peddler had only five hundred pieces of silver and
goods worth another five hundred. He gave everything to the women,
asking only to keep his scales, his bag, and eight coins for his
return fare. Of course, they were happy to agree. After profuse thanks
on both sides, the trader hurried to the river with the golden bowl.
He gave his eight coins to the boatman and got into the boat.
Not long after he had left, the greedy peddler returned to the
house, giving the impression of having reluctantly reconsidered their
offer. He asked them to bring out their bowl, saying he would give
them something or other for it after all.
The old woman flew at him. "You scoundrel!" she cried. "You told us
that our golden bowl was not worth even half a cent. Lucky for us, an
honest trader came after you left and told us it was really worth a
hundred thousand pieces of silver. He gave us a thousand for it and
took it away, so you are too late!"
When the peddler heard this, an intense pain swept over him. "He
robbed me! He robbed me!" he cried. "He got my golden bowl worth a
hundred thousand!" He became hysterical and lost all control. Throwing
down his money and merchandise, he tore off his shirt, grabbed the
beam of his scales for a club, and ran to the riverside to catch the
By the time he got to the river, the boat was already in midstream.
He shouted for the boat to return to shore, but the honest peddler,
who had already paid, calmly told the ferryman to continue on.
The frustrated trader could only stand there on the river-bank and
watch his rival escape with the bowl. The sight so infuriated him that
a fierce hate swelled up inside him. His heart grew hot, and blood
gushed from his mouth. Finally, his heart cracked like the mud at the
bottom of a pond dried up by the sun. So intense was the unreasoning
hatred which he developed against the other trader because of the
golden bowl, that he perished then and there.
The honest trader returned to Seriva, where he lived a full life
spent in charity and other good works, and passed away to fare
according to his deserts.
When the Buddha finished this story, he identified himself as the
honest trader, and Devadatta as the greedy trader. This was the
beginning of the implacable grudge which Devadatta held against the
Bodhisatta through innumerable lives.
* * *
The Goat That Laughed and Wept
Jataka No. 18
One day, while the Buddha was staying in Jetavana, some bhikkhus asked
him if there was any benefit in sacrificing goats, sheep, and other
animals as offerings for departed relatives.
"No, bhikkhus," replied the Buddha. "No good ever comes from taking
life, not even when it is for the purpose of providing a Feast for the
Dead." Then he told this story of the past.
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, a brahmin
decided to offer a Feast for the Dead and bought a goat to sacrifice.
"My boys," he said to his students, "take this goat down to the river,
bathe it, brush it, hang a garland around its neck, give it some grain
to eat, and bring it back."
"Yes, sir," they replied and led the goat to the river.
While they were grooming it, the goat started to laugh with a sound
like a pot smashing. Then, just as strangely, it started to weep
The young students were amazed at this behavior. "Why did you
suddenly laugh," they asked the goat, "and why do you now cry so
"Repeat your question when we get back to your teacher," the goat
The students hurriedly took the goat back to their master and told
him what had happened at the river. Hearing the story, the master
himself asked the goat why it had laughed and why it had wept.
"In times past, brahmin," the goat began, "I was a brahmin who
taught the Vedas like you. I, too, sacrificed a goat as an offering
for a Feast for the Dead. Because of killing that single goat, I have
had my head cut off 499 times. I laughed aloud when I realized that
this is my last birth as an animal to be sacrificed. Today I will be
freed from my misery. On the other hand, I cried when I realized that,
because of killing me, you, too, may be doomed to lose your head five
hundred times. It was out of pity for you that I cried."
"Well, goat," said the brahmin, "in that case, I am not going to
"Brahmin!" exclaimed the goat. "Whether or not you kill me, I
cannot escape death today."
"Don't worry," the brahmin assured the goat. "I will guard you."
"You don't understand," the goat told him. "Your protection is
weak. The force of my evil deed is very strong."
The brahmin untied the goat and said to his students, "Don't allow
anyone to harm this goat." They obediently followed the animal to
After the goat was freed, it began to graze. It stretched out its
neck to reach the leaves on a bush growing near the top of a large
rock. At that very instant a lightning bolt hit the rock, breaking off
a sharp piece of stone which flew through the air and neatly cut off
the goat's head. A crowd of people gathered around the dead goat and
began to talk excitedly about the amazing accident.
A tree deva [*] had observed everything from the goat's purchase to
its dramatic death, and drawing a lesson from the incident, admonished
the crowd: "If people only knew that the penalty would be rebirth into
sorrow, they would cease from taking life. A horrible doom awaits one
who slays." With this explanation of the law of kamma the deva
instilled in his listeners the fear of hell. The people were so
frightened that they completely gave up the practice of animal
sacrifices. The deva further instructed the people in the Precepts and
urged them to do good.
[*] Devas are celestial beings, ranging from the highest gods to
simple tree spirits.
Eventually, that deva passed away to fare according to his deserts.
For several generations after that, people remained faithful to the
Precepts and spent their lives in charity and meritorious works, so
that many were reborn in the heavens.
The Buddha ended his lesson and identified the Birth by saying, "In
those days I was that deva."
* * *
The Straw Worth More Than Gold
Jataka No. 89
The Buddha told this story at Jetavana about a conniving bhikkhu, who
was the source of much trouble to other bhikkhus.
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, a shifty
ascetic with long, matted hair, lived near a certain little village.
The landowner had built a modest hermitage in the forest for him, and
daily provided him with excellent food in his own house.
The landowner had a great fear of robbers and decided that the
safest course to protect his money was to hide it in an unlikely
place. Believing the matted-haired ascetic to be a model of sainthood,
he brought a hundred pieces of gold to the hermitage, buried them
there, and asked the ascetic to keep watch over the treasure.
"There's no need to say more, sir, to a man like me who has
renounced the world. We hermits never covet what belongs to others."
"That's wonderful," said the landowner, who went off with complete
confidence in the hermit's protestations.
As soon as the landowner was out of sight, the ascetic chuckled to
himself, "Why, there's enough here to last a man his whole life!"
Allowing a few days to elapse, the hermit dug up the gold and
reburied it conveniently by the road. The following morning, after a
meal of rice and succulent curries at the landowner's house, the
ascetic said, "My good sir, I've been staying here, supported by you,
for a long time. Frankly, living so long in one place is like living
in the world, which is forbidden to ascetics like me. I really cannot
remain here any longer; the time has come for me to leave."
The landowner urged him to stay, but nothing could overcome the
"Well, then," said the landowner, "if you must go, good luck to
you." Reluctantly, he escorted the ascetic to the outskirts of the
village and returned home.
After walking a short way by himself, the ascetic thought it would
be a good thing to cajole the landowner. Sticking a straw in his
matted hair, he hurried back to the village.
"What brings you back again?" asked the surprised landowner.
"I just noticed that a straw from your roof got stuck in my hair.
We hermits must not take anything which has not been given to us, so I
have brought it back to you."
"Throw it down, sir, and go your way," said the landowner.
"Imagine!" he said to himself. "This ascetic is so honest he won't
even take a straw which does not belong to him. What a rare person!"
Thus, greatly impressed by the ascetic's honesty, the landowner bid
him farewell again.
At that time the Bodhisatta, reborn as a merchant, was travelling
to the border on business and happened to stop at that same little
village, where he witnessed the ascetic's return with the piece of
straw. Suspicion grew in his mind that the hermit must have robbed the
landowner of something. He asked the rich man whether he had deposited
anything in the ascetic's care.
"Yes," the landowner answered rather hesitantly, "a hundred pieces
"Well, why don't you just go and see if it's still safe?" the
The landowner went to the deserted hermitage, dug where he had left
his money, and found it gone. Rushing back to the merchant, he cried,
"It's not there!"
"The thief is certainly that long-haired rascal of an ascetic,"
said the merchant. "Let's catch him."
The two men ran after the rogue and quickly caught him. They kicked
him and beat him until he showed them where he had hidden the gold.
After they had gotten back the money, the merchant looked at the coins
and scornfully asked the ascetic, "Why didn't this hundred pieces of
gold trouble your conscience as much as that straw? Take care, you
hypocrite, never to play such a trick again!"
When his life ended, the merchant passed away to fare according to
When he had ended his lesson, the Buddha said, "Thus you see, monks,
that this monk was as conniving in the past as he is today." Then he
identified the Birth by saying, "This monk was the scheming ascetic of
those days, and I was the wise and good merchant."
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TITLE OF WORK: Jataka Tales of the Buddha, Part I (Bodhi Leaves #135)
AUTHOR: Ken & Visakha Kawasaki
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: c/o Buddhist Publication Society
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COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Ken & Visakha Kawasaki & Buddhist Publication Society
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1995
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