Buddha 3



Mataka-bhatta Jâtaka, Khuddaka Nikâya


This story, about food offered to the dead, was told by the Teacher when he was at Jetavana.  At that time people were killing large numbers of sheep and goats so as to offer what is called a ‘feast for the dead’, for their departed relatives.  When the monks saw people doing this, they asked the Teacher about it:  Lord, they said, these people are taking the lives of many living creatures to provide a feast for the dead.  Can there possibly be any good in that?




The Teacher replied:  No, monks, no feasts for the dead should be offered.  What good is there in destroying life?  In times past sages seated in the air preached on the evil consequences of this practice, and made all the inhabitants of Jambudvipa renounce it.  But now, on account of confusion in remembering previous existences, it has sprung up again.



And so he told this tale.



Once, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi*, there was a Brahmin, a world-famous teacher and expert in the Three Vedas, who decided to offer a feast for the dead.  Having obtained a goat for the purpose he instructed his disciples to take it to the river and there bathe it, hang a garland round its neck, give it a measure of grain to eat, deck it out, and then bring it back....      *Benares





The goat saw that this was the effect of his deeds in past lives, and, gladdened by the thought that he would now be freed from his misery, he laughed as loudly as a jar being smashed.  But then he thought how the Brahmin,  by killing him, would bring this same misery upon himself, and he felt such pity for the Brahmin that he wept with a loud voice....



Their teacher asked the goat why he had laughed and why he had wept.



The goat, by his power of remembering his previous existences, called to mind the deeds he had done, and said to the Brahmin.  In times past I was just like you, a Brahmin:  versed in the mystic texts of the Vedas.  Having decided to give a feast for the dead, I killed a goat as my offering.  For killing that one goat I have had my head cut off in five hundred births less one.  This is my five hundredth and final rebirth.  When I realized that today I will be freed from my great misery.  I laughed loudly.  But I wept when I realized ...that  by killing me you would likewise incur the misery of having your head cut off five hundred times....



So the Brahmin released the goat and allowed no one to kill it.... The moment the goat was set at liberty, it stretched out its neck and began to browse on the leaves of a bush growing near the top of a rock.  At that very instant a thunderbolt struck the rock;  a piece of the rock split off, and hit the goat on his outstretched neck, and tore off his head.  A large crowd of people gathered round.



At that time the Bodhisatva had been born as a tree-fairy in that selfsame spot.  By his supernatural power he now seated himself cross-legged in mid-air, visible to all the people.



If these beings only knew the results of evil-doing, he said to himself, perhaps they would desist from killing living creatures;  and in his sweet voice he taught them the Dharma, uttering this stanza: 

If people only realized

that this entails rebirth in sorrow,

living beings would not kill other beings, 

because the killer will suffer great  grief.



Thus the Great Being preached the Dharma, instilling the fear of hell in his hearers;  and when they heard his discourse, they were so terrified by the prospect of hell that they abstained from taking life.  And the Bodhisattva, after preaching the Dharma to the people, and establishing them in the Precepts, passed away in accordance with his karma.



The people, for their part, faithful to the teachings of the Bodhisattva, practised charity and good works, and eventually they attained the City of the Devas*.
*reborn in heaven, with the gods



Having finished this lesson, the Teacher showed the connexion, and concluded the Jâtaka by saying:  I was that tree-fairy at that time.



In the Pali Canon, in the Khuddaka Nikâya of the Sutta Pitaka, there are some 550 Jâtakas (birth stories) in which the Buddha relates incidents from some of his previous lives.

This is Jâtaka number 18.  Its didactic purpose is to expound the Buddha’s precept concerning the taking of life. 

Here it criticizes the Hindu practice of giving food offerings to the dead, and the implication is that the whole system of animal sacrifices is evil.



Kuringa-Miga Jâtaka, Khuddaka Nikaya


This story, about Devadatta, was told by the Teacher when he was at Jetavana.  The monks were assembled and seated in the dharma hall, and they were talking about Devadatta’s wickedness, saying:  Devadatta has hired bowmen, hurled a rock, and let Dhanapâlaka the elephant loose;  he is endeavouring to kill the Lord of Wisdom by every possible means.*     *see Buddhacharita 19:39, 21:37



The Teacher came in and sat down on the seat prepared for him, and asked:  What is it, monks, that you are sitting here talking about?



Lord, they answered, we were talking about the wickedness of Devadatta;  he keeps trying to kill you.



The Teacher said:  Not only now, monks, but in times past he also tried to kill me, but he was unsuccessful.



And so he told this tale.



Once, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi*, the Bodhisattva was an antelope;  he dwelt in his forest home and lived on fruit.  *Benares



At one time he was living on the fruit of a heavily-laden sepanni-tree.  A deerstalker from the village used to watch for animal tracks near fruit-trees, build himself a platform in such a tree, and wait for them to come and eat the fruit;  he would bring the deer down with a spear;  and he made his living by selling their flesh....



The Bodhisattva came out early one morning to eat the fruit of the sepanni-tree, but he was wary of approaching it....  He stood at a distance to reconnoitre.



The hunter, when he saw that the Bodhisattva was not moving closer, remained quiet but threw fruit down in front of him.



The Bodhisattva said to himself:  These pieces of fruit are coming down to meet me;  there must be a hunter up in the tree.



So he looked and looked till he spied the hunter.  Pretending not to see him, he called out:  Well,  my fine tree, you usually drop your fruit straight down to the ground, like a hanging root;  but today you have abandoned your tree-nature.  Because you have stopped behaving as a tree, I will change too and look for food beneath some other tree.



So saying he uttered this stanza: 

The antelope knows, Sepanni,

what kind of fruit you drop;

today I do not like your fruit,

and I will take my custom elsewhere.



Whereupon the hunter on his platform hurled his spear at the Bodhisattva.  And he shouted:  Get away, then.  I have missed you this time.



The Bodhisattva turned and stood calling back:  Man, you have missed me this time, but you will not miss out on the results of your actions, which will be the eight great hells and the sixteen lesser hells, and the five forms of bondage and torture.



With these words he sprang up and went his way.  The hunter climbed down and went his way.



After the Teacher had finished this discourse, in illustration of what he had said about Devadatta seeking to kill him in the past as well as the present, he made the connection and concluded the Jataka by saying:  The hunter was Devadatta, and I was the antelope.



This is Jâtaka number 21.  It deals with the question of taking life (cp. Jâtaka 18 above), not only the life of animals but of Buddhas.  It is a principle of Buddhism that the worthier the living being is, the greater the demerit is for the killer of that being.  Devadatta, a relative and a disciple, tried to cause the Buddha’s death on more than one occasion.  He was to Gotama what Judas Iscariot was to Jesus.  Devadatta, like the antelope hunter, would have to undergo severe punishment in the various hells.

Translations consulted in the preparation of the above rendering of Jâtakas 18 and 21:

T.W. Rhys Davids, Buddhist Birth Stories;  or, Jâtaka Tales  (London 1880).

E.B. Cowell, ed., The Jâtaka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, Vol 1,

translated by Robert Chalmers (Cambridge 1895)

Julius Dutoit, Jatakam, Das Buch der Erzählungen aus früheren Existenzen Buddhas, Vol.1 (Leipzig 1908).










































There was once a young Brahmin named Megha, learned and wise, ... who knew all the mantras of the Vedas by heart.  After completing his studies he came down from the Himâlayas to obtain the fee due to his teacher.  With his staff, water-pot, sunshade, sandals, and mantle, he entered many villages, towns, and cities; and each one became free of affliction and calamity through Megha's spiritual power.  As he went along he begged for money, and he was given five hundred coins.

He then decided to go to the royal city Dîpavatî, to see the city of a universal monarch. On entering he found the city was in festivity, and he wondered why....

An attractive young Brahman girl came by, carrying a jug and seven lotus flowers. When Megha asked her ... she replied with these verses:

Young man, you are clearly not a native of this place;

you must be a stranger from another city,

if you do not know that coming to this town today

is the benefactor of the world, the bringer of light.

Dîpankara, the leader of the world, who is the son

of our king Archimat, and a very famous buddha,

is on his way, and to honour him this city

is decked out in gorgeous festive attire.

When Megha offered to buy five of her lotuses with the five hundred coins, so that he could worship Dîpankara with them, she replied: You can have the five lotuses, but only if you will take me as your wife for all future time. Wherever you may be reborn, I shall be there as your wife.

To this request Megha retorted: How can I think of marriage when my heart is set on supreme enlightenment?

There will be no need to desist from your quest, she answered, because I will not hinder you.

So Megha consented.... Sublime joy and exaltation had come over his body when he heard the maiden speak of the Buddha.

The Blessed Lord had set out for Dîpavatî, accompanied by eighty thousand monks, and by King Archimat with eighty thousand of his vassals and many thousands of nobles and religious dignitaries.

Megha saw the Blessed Dîpankara coming in the distance.  The Lord's body bore the thirty-two marks of the great man, and was adorned with the eight subsidiary characteristics; he was endued with the eighteen special dharmas of a buddha; he was equipped with the ten powers of a tathâgata, and possesed of the four grounds of confidence.... He had won the stable assurance of dharma; his senses were calmed, his mind was calmed, he had attained perfect self-control and serenity... He was beautiful to look upon,... and the light shining from his body extended for a league....

Megha threw the five lotus flowers towards the Blessed Dîpankara, and they remained suspended in the air, forming a circle round the Lord's radiant head.  And likewise those thrown by the Brahmin girl and other people. This is one of the miracles that buddhas perform to make an impression on people and to make them listen to the truth....

 Thereupon Megha's body was flooded with great joy and gladness, and a sublime decision arose in his mind.  He put his water-pot aside, spread out his deer-skin cloak, threw himself down at the feet of the Blessed Dîpankara, and with his own hair he wiped the soles of the Lord's feet.

And within himself he aroused this thought: May I too at some future time become a tathâgata, with all the attributes of a perfect buddha, as the Lord Dîpankara now is.

May I too turn the wheel of the highest dharma, as the Lord Dîpankara now does.
Having crossed over, may I lead others across; liberated, may I liberate others; comforted, may I comfort others, as the Lord Dîpankara now does.
May I become like him, for the welfare and the happiness of the many, in compassion for the world, for the sake of multitudes of living beings, for their welfare and happiness, be they divine or human.

The Blessed Dîpankara, with his supreme buddha knowledge, knew that Megha was ready to turn towards enlightenment, that his past store of merit and his present vow were faultless....
So he now predicted his future enlightenment: Young Brahmin, at a future time, after an immeasurable and incalculable aeon, in the Shâkya city Kapilavastu, you shall be a tathâgata named Shâkyamuni, an arhat, a fully enlightened buddha, perfect in knowlege and conduct, a sugata, a world-knower, unsurpassed, a leader of men, a teacher of gods and humans.
Like me you will have a body adorned with the thirty-two marks of a great man.... Having won ultimate nirvana, you will help others to win it, as I do now.  You will turn the wheel of the highest dharma, and preside over a harmoniously united body of disciples; and both gods and humans will listen to you and believe.  What I am now, that you will one day become, for the welfare and happiness of the many, in compassion for the world, for the sake of multitudes of living beings, for their welfare and happiness, be they divine or human.






























This is a condensed form of the story of Megha, a young Brahmin who vows to become a buddha, and is told by the Buddha of his own time, namely Dîpankara, that he will eventually, after incalculable ages, be born as Shâkyamuni, the sage of the Shâkyas, and become a buddha.    This is the version of the tale found in the Mahâvastu  (The Great Event), a Lokottaravada work, in Sanskrit, recounting the life of the Buddha. 

In the Pali Scriptures, the story is found in verse form in the introduction to the Jâtaka  section of the Khuddaka Nikâya, and there the Brahmin is named Sumedha (see Henry Clarke Warren's Buddhism in Translations, 5-31).

The version above has been adapted from the translation of Edward Conze, in his Buddhist Scriptures, 20-23.


































Long ago in the distant past there lived a king named Maharatha, who was rich and powerful.... He had three sons, whose names were Mahapranada, Mahadeva, and Mahasattva.

One day the three princes came to a large bamboo thicket.... As they strolled about in it, they saw a tigress, surrounded by five seven-day-old cubs.  She was exhausted from hunger and thirst, and extremely weak.

On seeing her, Mahapranada exclaimed:... If the poor animal finds nothing to eat, she will either eat her own young or die of starvation.

How can this poor exhausted creature find food? Mahasattva asked.

Tigers live on fresh meat and warm blood, Mahapranada replied.

In this weak state, Mahadeva said, she cannot possibly catch any prey. And who would sacrifice himself to save her life?

Yes, self-sacrifice is very difficult, Mahapranada said.

Mahasattva replied: It is certainly difficult for people like us, who are so fond of our lives and bodies, and have so little wisdom.  But it is not at all difficult for others, who are truly human, intent on benefitting their fellow-creatures, and who are willing to sacrifice themselves.  Holy men are born of pity and compassion, and whatever bodies they get, in heaven or on earth, they will gladly give them up so that the lives of others may be saved....

And Mahasattva said to himself: The time has now come for me to sacrifice myself. I have served this foul body for too long, providing it with beds, clothes, food, drink, and conveyances. Yet it is doomed to perish.... It is better to leave this ungrateful body of my own  accord and at a good time.  It cannot last ever; it is like urine and it must pass away. Today I will use it for a sublime deed, and it will then act as a boat to ferry me across the ocean of rebirth and death.  I will renounce this vain body, a mere ulcer, tied to countless becomings, loaded with urine and excrements, as unsubstantial as foam, full of hundreds of parasites.  And in return I will gain the perfectly pure dharma-body, endowed with hundreds of virtues, replete with such qualities as trance and wisdom, immaculate, free of encumbrance, change, and pain.



This moving story is taken from the Mahâyâna sutra entitled Suvarnaprabhasa  (The Golden Splendour). In this jâtaka-tale the Buddha tells Ânanda of a previous life of his, when as a compassionate prince named Mahasattva he reaffirmed his vow to become an enlightened buddha, and sacrificed his body to provide sustenance for a starving tigress, who was unable to feed her cubs.

The question of suicide naturally arises in this connection. The Ten Precepts include a ban on taking life, and the Pâtimokkha rules forbid monks to assist anyone to take their own life. However, to offer up one's body for a noble purpose sometimes appears in the scriptures as a legitimate and even praiseworthy act. Certainly, some Buddhists (notably in Tibet) leave their dead body to be devoured by animals, as a merit-winning deed.  But here the bodhisattva takes his own life by cutting his own throat.

The version of the text given here has been made from the translation of Edward Conze in his Buddhist Scriptures (1959) 24-26.