Brahmadatta Jataka (#323)

temple painting of Brahmadatta Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who lived alone in the Himalayas. One time he went down to a city to get salt and vinegar, and he slept in the royal park. The next morning, the king saw the Bodhisatta out collecting alms and, impressed by his demeanor, invited him into the palace for a big meal. After they talked, the king told the Bodhisatta he could stay in the park as long as he liked and all his needs would be met.

When the rainy season ended, the Bodhisatta was eager to return to the Himalayas, but he first needed to get a parasol and a pair of shoes. He planned to ask the king to provide them. Because he felt guilty asking, and because he worried that the king would feel bad if he needed to say no, he asked to talk to the king in private. The king sent his servants away, but then the Bodhisatta decided not to ask, because he did not want to risk putting a strain on their friendship. He told the king not to worry, he would take care of the matter on his own. Later, the Bodhisatta changed his mind and again asked to speak with the king; but just as before, he could not bring himself to make the request.

Twelve years later, the king thought back about the Bodhisatta’s two aborted conversations and guessed that he had grown weary of the religious life and wanted to rejoin the world of pleasure and be a king. So the king went to see the Bodhisatta and told him he could have anything he wanted, even the entire kingdom. The Bodhisatta told the king all he really wanted was a pair of single-soled shoes and a parasol made of leaves. The king was astonished that the Bodhisatta was so extremely considerate of other people’s feelings. The king begged the Bodhisatta to stay, but with his new parasol and shoes he returned home, living in bliss again.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Some of the Buddha’s disciples needed new quarters, and they were so demanding and persistent that they greatly annoyed the townspeople. Whenever they saw disciples approaching, people would go away. Because of this, Maha Kassapa, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, could not get alms when he visited the town. At mealtime, other disciples explained to him why this had happened, and he went to discuss the matter with the Buddha.

The Buddha called an assembly and criticized these thoughtless disciples. He told them this story as an example of how in the past he had been so considerate of others that he would not even ask for small, simple things in public.

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

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