Assaka Jataka (#207)

temple painting of Assaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. The queen was charming, graceful, and nearly as beautiful as a goddess, and the king loved her very much. When she died, the king became deeply depressed. He had her body washed with oil and ointment and put her under his bed, where he lay crying for seven days. He wouldn’t eat, and nobody could cheer him up.

From his abode at the foot of the Himalayas, the Bodhisatta divined what was happening and resolved to help the king, so he flew to the royal park. A young man came in and sat down to greet the Bodhisatta. They began to talk about the king and his present frailty, and the man suggested the Bodhisatta try to free him from his grief since family, friends, priests, and all others had failed. The Bodhisatta answered that if the king came to visit him, he could take him to see where his queen had been reborn into flesh again, and they could talk.

The young man went to tell the king this news, and he was overjoyed. The king went to his park and greeted the Bodhisatta, asking if what he had been told was true. The Bodhisatta assured him that it was. He explained that the queen had been so vain that she did few virtuous acts during her life and so was reborn as a dung beetle. The king was incredulous, but he followed the Bodhisatta and they encountered two dung beetles rolling a lump of cow dung. The Bodhisatta called them forward and gave the former queen the power of speech. She confirmed who she’d been before, and then expressed undying love for her present husband, saying if she could, she would kill the king and cover her dung beetle husband’s feet with the blood flowing from his throat. This encounter revived the king’s spirits, and he thanked the Bodhisatta. He returned to the palace, had his queen’s body removed, eventually remarried, and continued to rule in righteousness.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One of the Buddha’s disciples began longing for his wife from his lay life. The king and queen were earlier births of him and his wife, and the Buddha told him this story so he knew that she had previously caused him great misery, and he should not crave her now.

The young man who talked with the Bodhisatta was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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