Abbhantara Jataka (#281)

temple painting of Abbhantara Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who had many followers studying with him in the Himalayas. One time they all went down from the mountains to get salt and seasoning, and took up residence in a park near the king’s palace. The Bodhisatta and his band of ascetics were all so wise and virtuous that when Indra, king of the gods, became aware of them he got jealous and wanted them to feel distressed. Indra set his plan in motion by sneaking into the queen’s bedchamber at night and telling her that if she ate a “middle mango” she would conceive a son who would grow up to be a universal monarch. The next morning, the queen pretended to be ill. When the king came to see her, she told him of her craving for a middle mango. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew she would die if she did not get one.

The king also had no idea what a middle mango was, so he gathered his advisors and asked them about it. They told him simply to pick a mango growing between two others, and the king sent some men to his park to do it. But Indra had all the mangoes there disappear and made the men report that the Bodhisatta’s group had eaten them. The king ordered his men to beat the Bodhisatta and the other ascetics and evict them from the park. Indra’s plan had worked, and he felt relaxed again. But the queen still longed for a middle mango.

The king called upon his chaplains and they told him they knew of middle mangoes only from ancient stories, which said they grew on Golden Mountain deep in the Himalayas in the realm of Vessavana, the guardian god of the north, where humans are forbidden. But parrots could travel there, they said. So the king told his favorite pet parrot, who was fed sweet grains from a golden plate and who loved the king very much, what he needed to do, and the grateful bird promised to do it. When he reached the Himalayas, he asked many other parrots where middle mangoes grew, but nobody knew. Eventually, once he was deep into the seventh range, he met some parrots who knew of Golden Mountain’s middle mangoes, but there was no way to reach the tree: it was covered with seven iron nets and guarded by billions of goblins.

But the parrot was determined to go, and he asked for directions. Once he got there, the parrot waited until the dead of night, when the goblins were sleeping, to sneak in and grab a fruit. But as he approached, he rattled a net and the goblins awoke and seized him. As they discussed various ways to kill him, the parrot explained that just as they were loyal to their master, he was loyal to his, and he had no regrets about giving his life in service to his king. Doing so meant he would be reborn in heaven. This display of dedication pleased the goblins, and they spared the parrot’s life because he was righteous.

Grateful, but still committed to his mission, the parrot asked the goblins to give him a fruit from their tree. But they couldn’t. Every fruit was marked, and if any went missing, they would be killed. But they told the parrot about an ascetic living further up the mountain who got a regular gift of four middle mangoes from Vessavana. So the parrot went and told the ascetic about the queen’s desire, and he offered two mangoes, one for the parrot to eat and one, tied around the parrot’s neck, to take back to the palace. The parrot returned, and the queen’s craving was, at last, satisfied—though she did not get pregnant, because Indra had lied.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The queen was an earlier birth of the Buddha’s wife, who had become a disciple. One day she got terrible stomach pains from gas. It was a common affliction for her and was cured by mango juice with sugar, but since she now lived on alms, she did not know how to get this. Her son Rahula, a novice disciple, said he would help her. He told Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples (the ascetic with the middle mangoes was an earlier birth of him), about his mother’s illness and what she needed to cure it, and Sariputta said he would get it for her.

The next day, Sariputta went to the palace to explain his need, and the king himself crushed and sweetened some mangoes for her. Once she drank the juice, her pain went away. From then on, the king sent mango juice to her every day.

When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing his wife’s stomach problem, he told them this story so they knew that she’d been in a similar situation in the past, and that Sariputta had resolved it then too.

The parrot was an earlier birth of Ananda, another of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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