Baka-Brahma Jataka (#405)

temple painting of Kesava Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who lived in a band of five hundred others in the Himalayas. Their master was an elder named Kesava, and the Bodhisatta was both his top student and a close friend. One rainy season they all went to the city to get salt and vinegar, and they stayed in the royal park being cared for by the king. When it was time to return, the king suggested that Kesava remain behind because he was very old. He agreed. All the others returned to the mountains, and the Bodhisatta became their leader.

Kesava missed the Bodhisatta and was not happy living alone in the city. Because of this, he slept poorly, which made him unable to digest his food properly, and he fell ill with dysentery. The king’s doctors looked after him with leeches, but his condition did not improve. So Kesava asked to return to the Himalayas, and the king sent one of his advisors and some foresters to accompany him. Kesava’s depression broke the moment he saw the Bodhisatta.

The Bodhisatta made him an unseasoned broth of millet, wild rice, and leaves, which immediately cleared up the dysentery. The advisor asked why he preferred such a humble food compared to the royal rice and meat he ate courtesy of the king. Kesava explained that it doesn’t matter whether food is fancy or plain, a meal served with love is always the best.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Kesava was an earlier birth of the god Baka Brahma, who had spent billions of years living in bliss in heaven. And during this time, he completely forgot that he’d had other lives in other realms. This caused him to forget that all things are impermanent and to believe that his celestial existence was eternal and unchanging, with no other salvation beyond it. When the Buddha divined Baka’s thoughts, he went to heaven to explain the truth.

At first, Baka rejected the Buddha’s message, saying heaven is the home of the wise. But the Buddha said that unlike Baka, he could remember all of his and everyone else’s past lives, and he and Baka had once lived during the same time. The Buddha told him this story about their time together as ascetics in a past life. The Buddha also said Baka had once given water to people suffering from drought, freed people who had been taken prisoner, and saved people on a boat that was being attacked by a naga. After hearing this, Baka, along with ten thousand others living in heaven with him, were freed from their attachment to the false dogma and again accepted the truth of impermanence.

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