Alambusa Jataka (#523)

temple painting of Alambusa Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who lived in the Himalayas. After a deer drank water mixed with his semen, she gave birth to his son. Though he was an old man, the Bodhisatta raised the boy, who he named Isisinga, with affection. Before he died, the Bodhisatta warned his son that there were women as beautiful as flowers, and they would cause him ruin if he couldn’t resist them.

Once Isisinga was alone, he continued to live by ascetic vows, practice mystic meditation, and subdue his senses. Isisinga was so virtuous that the home of Indra, king of the gods, shook. When he divined the reason, Indra grew worried that when Isisinga died, he would dethrone him and take over his job. So Indra ordered the most beautiful nymph in heaven, Alambusa, to seduce Isisinga and destroy his virtue. She did not want this duty, but she couldn’t defy Indra.

When she appeared before Isisinga’s hut, he lost his composure and rambled on about her unsurpassed beauty, from her feet to her hair: “. . . eyes black like gunja berries, breasts swollen like halved pumpkins, thighs tapered like an elephant’s trunk . . .” Alambusa thanked him for the compliments and pointed out that they were alone, suggesting they retire to his hut without delay. To spur Isisinga into action she playfully ran away, and he chased after her, seizing her by her hair. They embraced, and Isisinga lay enamored and in dreamlike bliss in her arms for three years.

Finally, Isisinga awoke and remembered his father’s warning about women and was dismayed that he had not followed it. Isisinga shut down his sensual desires and meditated to restore his lost virtue. Impressed by his manner and ashamed at having caused him to violate his vow, Alambusa confessed everything about Indra’s scheme to tempt him and threw herself at Isisinga’s feet, asking for forgiveness, which he granted. She soared back up to heaven. Indra rewarded her with a wish, and she used it to make Indra promise never to have her do such a deed again.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Isisinga and Alambusa were earlier births of one of the Buddha’s disciples and the disciple’s former wife. Because he was new, his food was poor (lumpy gruel with stale or rotting ingredients and dried or burnt sprouts) and he did not get enough to stay healthy. He started to return each morning to the wife he left behind, and she gave him delicious rice with sauce and curry. This made him miss his former life, and with her encouragement he decided to leave the sangha.

The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that in the past his wife had almost derailed him from the quest for salvation, but he overcame his mistake and kept his religious life. After talking to the Buddha, this disciple gained new understanding and chose to stay.

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