Chavaka Jataka (#309)

temple painting of Chavaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an untouchable. His wife was pregnant and got an insatiable craving for a mango, but it wasn’t mango season. He offered to get her some other fruit, but she insisted she must have a mango, or else she would die. The Bodhisatta loved his wife and thought hard about where he could find a mango for her. Then he remembered the special mango tree in the royal park that bore fruit year-round. The Bodhisatta snuck into the park late at night and climbed the tree, stepping branch to branch seeking a ripe fruit. Before he found one, twilight broke, and he knew that if he came down, he would be seen and arrested. So he went high up to wait out the day and go home in the dark of the next night.

During the day, the king came to study sacred texts with his chaplain under this mango tree. The king sat in a high seat and the chaplain took the seat below him. The Bodhisatta was aghast at the two wicked men—a holy teacher should always sit above his students—and this made him feel shame over his own sin. So he swung down from the tree and boldly rebuked the pair for their misdeeds. The king was extremely impressed by his knowledge and said he would have given the Bodhisatta his crown if he hadn’t been from a low caste. The best he could do was share the kingdom, the king ruling in the daytime and the Bodhisatta ruling at night, and he placed a garland of red flowers around the Bodhisatta’s neck. From then on, the king always took the lower seat when studying.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Six disobedient disciples of the Buddha known for flouting the rules were caught teaching from a low seat while their students sat above them. When the Buddha confronted them, he told them this story so they knew that he had dealt with a similar situation in the past.

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

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