Atthana Jataka (#425)

temple painting of Atthana Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a wealthy merchant who for years spent one thousand coins a day on a high-class prostitute. He was a close friend and a trusted advisor to the king, and one day his business at the palace ended after sunset. He did not want to go home to get money for his prostitute, so he went directly to her house and asked if he could pay her the next day. She refused and had her maids grab him by the neck and toss him out of her house. Standing in the street, the Bodhisatta became fixated on the wickedness of women and was so angry and disgusted by the prostitute’s greed that he walked out into the forest without even returning home and became an ascetic, living in a hut and subsisting on wild roots and fruits.

The king missed his friend, and when he heard what the prostitute had done to him, he summoned her to the palace. Thinking the Bodhisatta had fled out of shame, the king ordered her to bring him back to the city. If she failed, he would execute her. She set out in a chariot and eventually found the Bodhisatta. She apologized, promised never to treat him that way again, and said she would give him all the money in her house if he returned. The Bodhisatta forgave her, but explained that he had no intention of renouncing the ascetic life. He might go back, he told her, only if any of the following impossible things happened:

  • The Ganges River became calm like a lotus pond.
  • Cuckoo birds turned pearl white.
  • Apple trees bore palm fruit.
  • A winter coat was woven out of turtle hair.
  • A sturdy tower was built of mosquito teeth.
  • A ladder that reached to heaven was built of rabbit horns.
  • Mice climbed this ladder and ate the moon.
  • Swarms of flies got drunk and resided in burning coals.
  • Donkeys got beautiful faces with bright red lips and showed skill in song and dance.
  • Crows and owls secretly met to become lovers.
  • Parasols made of tree leaves were strong against a rushing rain.
  • Sparrows carried away the Himalayas in their beaks.
  • A boy lifted and carried a fully rigged sailboat.

Returning to the city, the prostitute told the king what the Bodhisatta had said and begged for her life. The king chose to spare her.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One of the Buddha’s disciples could not overcome the attachment of being attracted to women, and the Buddha told him this story to remind him that women are ungrateful, treacherous, and untrustworthy.

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

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