Asatamanta Jataka (#61)

painting of Asatamanta Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a teacher. When a wealthy family’s son reached age sixteen, they told him it was time to choose his path in life: renounce the world and worship the fire god as an ascetic so as to enter heaven, or study and work for the family business. The son knew that his parents preferred he take the religious path, but he chose a home life and so he went off to Taxila to study with the Bodhisatta.

His parents desire that he worship the fire god never faded. When his studies were complete and he returned home, his mother schemed to change his mind. She knew that if he truly understood the utter wickedness of women, he would switch paths; and she knew that the Bodhisatta could teach this fact better than she and her husband could. She asked her son if he had learned the Anguish Texts. He had not, and his mother insisted he had not properly completed his education and must return to Taxila.

The son found the Bodhisatta at his remote forest home and explained that his mother had sent him back to learn the Anguish Texts. As there were no such texts, the Bodhisatta understood she had sent him back to learn the truth about women. Without revealing the actual intent, the Bodhisatta agreed to teach him these texts, and the lessons began with caring for the Bodhisatta’s blind and decrepit one-hundred-twenty-year-old mother. Not only did he need to wash and feed her, but praise her beauty and report to him how she responded. The student obeyed, and soon, because he cared for her so well, she thought he had fallen in love with her, and passion rose in her heart. One day she told the student she was in love with him and he should kill the Bodhisatta so they could be together. The student told her that he would never do such a thing, so she said she would do it herself.

As instructed, the student told his master what she had said. In his wisdom, the Bodhisatta was able to divine that his mother would die that day, so he told his student they were going to put her through a test. He cut down a fig tree, carved a human figure, put it in his bed, and tied a string so his mother could find it. The Bodhisatta told his student to give his mother an axe and the end of the string and tell her now was a good time to kill him. She went to the bedroom and swung the axe down on the throat, realizing by the resulting thud what had happened. She shrieked from betrayal and died instantly, as was her fate.

The Bodhisatta gave his mother a respectful cremation and then told his student that the real reason his mother had sent him back to Taxila was to see that women are vile creatures. The lesson learned, the son rejected family life to live in the forest as a fire-worshipping ascetic.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One of the Buddha’s disciples, while out on a morning alms round, saw a woman so beautiful he fell in love at first sight. After returning to the monastery, he became depressed and ill and could no longer concentrate on his studies or meditation. The Buddha told this story to remind him that women are vile and only bring misery.

The student and his mother and father were earlier births of Ananda, Bhadda Kapilani, and Maha Kassapa, three of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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