Amba Jataka (#474)

temple painting of Amba Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an untouchable. He knew a magic spell that gave him sweet, luscious mangoes out of season and made a good living selling them. A young man whose late father had been a royal chaplain was traveling around India and came to the Bodhisatta’s village. When he saw him selling ripe mangoes he resolved to learn the spell.

The man went to the Bodhisatta’s house, and on first sight the Bodhisatta could tell he was not a good person; however, he agreed to let him work as his servant. The man diligently cooked and cleaned, gathered wood, pounded rice, and washed the family’s feet. One night, unable to find a stool to support the Bodhisatta’s feet, he sat up all night so the Bodhisatta could rest them on his thighs. Later, when the Bodhisatta’s wife gave birth to a son, the man was very helpful.

The Bodhisatta’s wife wanted to reward the man for his excellent service and suggested giving him the magic spell. The Bodhisatta agreed and taught it to him, afterwards adding that if anyone ever asked where he learned it, he must not, out of shame, deny that it came from an untouchable. If he lied, the spell would no longer work for him. The man promised that he would never do such a thing and thanked the Bodhisatta.

The young man moved to the city and earned a good living selling delicious mangoes. One day the king was given one and loved it so much he hired the man to supply the palace with mangoes, making him very wealthy. Eventually the king asked how he found mangoes out of season and the man told of his magic spell. When the king asked to see it done, they went to the royal park and approached a mango tree. The young man stood seven feet back, spoke the spell, and threw a handful of water on the tree, causing a shower of mangoes to fall to the ground.

When the king asked what marvelous person had taught him this spell, the young man feared he would lose his prestige with the king by admitting it was an untouchable, so he lied and said he learned it from a world-renowned teacher in Taxila. And at the very moment he denied the Bodhisatta, the spell was gone.

A few days later, when the king wanted more mangoes, the young man went to the park to perform the spell, but he could not remember it. Ashamed, he told the king the planets were not properly aligned and he would bring some mangoes later. But the king, having heard nothing of the planets before, called out his lie. So the young man confessed and gave credit to the real teacher, and admitted he had been warned about such deception.

The king rebuked the despondent young man for being stupid and sinful and explained that birth status has nothing to do with such a great treasure. The king ordered him to go back to the Bodhisatta and seek his forgiveness, and to not return to the city without use of the spell.

The young man returned to the village and confessed his mistake, begging the Bodhisatta to teach him the magic spell again. But the Bodhisatta said an ungrateful fool such as he did not deserve to know the spell, and told him to never ask again. His life ruined, the young man walked into the forest and died alone.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The young man was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, declaring that he would become a Buddha himself. Devadatta’s pattern of bad behavior following this led to the earth opening and swallowing him into the depths of hell.

When the Buddha heard his disciples discussing Devadatta’s downfall, he told them this story so they knew that Devadatta had also come to ruin after deserting his teacher in the past.

The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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