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. The Bodhisatta was good friends with the king and served as an advisor. One day his business at the palace didn’t end until after sunset and he did not want to go home to get money for the prostitute, so he went directly to her house and asked if he could pay her tomorrow. 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 as 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 had her summoned 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 following impossible things happened:

  • The Ganges River becomes calm like a lotus pond.
  • Cuckoo birds turn pearl white.
  • Apple trees bear palm fruit.
  • A winter coat is woven out of tortoise hair.
  • A sturdy tower is built of mosquito teeth.
  • A ladder that reaches to heaven is built of rabbit horns.
  • Mice climb this ladder and eat the moon.
  • Swarms of flies get drunk and reside in burning coals.
  • Donkeys get beautiful faces with bright red lips and show skill in song and dance.
  • Crows and owls secretly meet to become lovers.
  • Sun shades made of tree leaves are strong against a rushing rain.
  • Sparrows carry away the Himalaya Mountains in their beaks.
  • A boy can lift and carry 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 let her live.

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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