Gamani-Canda Jataka (#257)

temple painting of Gamani-Canda Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a king. His father died when he was just seven years old, and the royal advisors doubted he was ready to ascend the throne at such a young age. So they tested him by dressing up a monkey in the clothes of three people: a diviner of auspicious building sites, a judge, and a man who respected his father and mother. Since all three times the Bodhisatta recognized that it was a monkey standing before him, not a man, the advisors considered him wise enough to be king and gave him the crown. He ruled with righteousness and wisdom for his entire reign. One notable example of this is the time he cleverly resolved fourteen problems at the same time.

One of his father’s servants, Gamani, being quite old, had retired after the previous king’s death and moved to a village to become a farmer. Soon after, he suffered an incredible string of bad luck. Gamani borrowed a pair of oxen from a friend, and after plowing his field all day he fed them grass and returned them to their stall. Gamani saw the friend and his wife eating dinner, and since they did not invite him into their home, he left without talking to them. That night someone stole the oxen, and the owner, seeing an opportunity to make money, accused Gamani of not returning them. The man demanded they let the king judge their case, and together they walked to the palace.

On the way, they passed Gamani’s friend’s house, and he went inside to get something to eat. His friend wasn’t there, but his pregnant wife offered to cook him a meal. When she climbed a ladder to get some grain, she fell down and miscarried. Just then, the friend came in and thought Gamani had struck her, so he also wanted to make a claim in front of the king and joined them on the way to the palace.

As the men walked, a horse started following them. Its keeper told Gamani to throw a rock at it to make it stop. He did, and it broke the horse’s foot. So now a third man joined the others.

Fearing his fate, Gamani tried to kill himself by jumping off a cliff. He landed on a basket weaver, killing him but saving himself. The dead man’s son became his fourth captor, and the five of them walked together to the palace.

Although he had no more unfortunate incidents along the way, as people heard that Gamani was going to see the king, he got ten requests—from a village headman, a prostitute, a young woman, a snake, a deer, a partridge, a tree fairy, a naga, a group of ascetics, and some brahmin-priest students—to ask the king to explain the causes of their problems. Gamani promised each that he would.

When Gamani was finally brought into the court, the Bodhisatta remembered him fondly and the two discussed what he had been doing since he left the palace. Then it came time for the charges to be heard, and the owner of the oxen made his case first. When Gamani gave his side of the story, the Bodhisatta asked the owner to swear he was telling the truth about not seeing the oxen enter their stall that evening, and he reluctantly admitted he actually had seen them going in. The Bodhisatta faulted Gamani for not announcing himself when returning the oxen and the owner for lying, so he gave them both punishments: Gamani would pay twenty-four coins, and the owner would have his eyes gouged out by Gamani. The man fell at Gamani’s feet and begged forgiveness, telling him to keep the coins he owed and giving him some more before running away.

Next, the Bodhisatta heard about the miscarriage, and Gamani explained that she had fallen, he had not hit her. The Bodhisatta ruled that Gamani had indeed caused the miscarriage, albeit unintentionally, and his friend deserved a son. So he ordered Gamani to take his friend’s wife to live at his house until she gave birth to a boy, which he would then give to his friend. The friend fell at Gamani’s feet and begged him not to break up his family, and also gave him some money before taking off.

The horsekeeper at first claimed he did not tell Gamani to throw the rock, but under pressure from the Bodhisatta he admitted that he had. Gamani was ordered to pay him one thousand coins for a new horse and could rip out the man’s tongue as a penalty for lying to the king. The man refused to take the one thousand coins, gave Gamani some money, and departed.

Finally, Gamani was ordered to have the basket weaver’s son and mother move into his house so he could serve as a replacement for the deceased father. But the son did not want his home broken up, so he gave Gamani some money and left.

And thus, through the favor of the Bodhisatta, Gamani was not only given freedom, but had earned some money.

Gamani then told the Bodhisatta about the questions he’d been asked as he walked to the palace, and he answered them with wisdom equal to a Buddha.

  • The brahmin-priest students used to remember the passages they were studying with ease, but lately their minds were like leaky jars and they wanted to know what had happened. The Bodhisatta said it was because in the past a rooster woke them regularly before sunrise to study, but their new rooster did not keep regular time, throwing off their schedule.
  • The ascetics wanted to know why the fruits where they lived were no longer sweet and delicious. The Bodhisatta said it was because they had gotten lazy in their duties, such as having just some of them go out on the morning alms rounds and sharing the food rather than all going out together.
  • The naga asked why the water in his pool changed from being crystal clear to dirty. The Bodhisatta said it was because the naga chiefs had become quarrelsome.
  • The tree fairy used to be richly honored and wondered why she no longer got donations. The Bodhisatta said it was because she stopped protecting men who passed through that stretch of forest.
  • The partridge could only sing beautifully at the foot of a particular anthill and wondered why. The Bodhisatta said there was a pot of treasure buried below it, and Gamani should dig it up and keep it.
  • The deer did not know why it could only eat grass underneath a particular tree. The Bodhisatta answered that there was a large honeycomb in the tree dripping honey onto the grass below. Gamani should take it down and send the best honey to the palace and keep the rest.
  • The snake lived in an anthill and didn’t understand why when going out to eat, it could only just squeeze out of the entrance, but when returning full from a meal, it came in easily without touching the sides. The Bodhisatta said there was a pot of treasure buried there, and the snake was greedy in keeping it, so leaving was difficult because it worried the treasure would be taken. Gamani should dig up the treasure and keep it.
  • The young woman didn’t understand why she couldn’t live contently with either her husband or her family. The Bodhisatta said it was because her lover lived between her house and her parents’ house, and when she was at either of them, she thought of him and wanted to stay there for a few days. The Bodhisatta added that she should dwell at her husband’s house, and if she did not heed this advice he would arrest and execute her.
  • The prostitute wondered why she no longer made much money from her trade. The Bodhisatta said she used to stay with one man until he had gotten his money’s worth, but men stopped favoring her when she started switching from one man to the next too quickly.
  • The village headman wanted to know what caused him to go from being rich, respected, and healthy to poor, miserable, and jaundiced. The Bodhisatta answered that he used to deal proper justice to people, but now he took bribes and his judgments were unfair.

His advice complete, the Bodhisatta gave Gamani valuable presents and made him the leader of his village. Then Gamani returned home, stopping along the way to share the Bodhisatta’s advice and collect the treasure and honey.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One time the Buddha heard some of his disciples praising his extraordinary wisdom. He told them this story so they knew that he had also been wise in the past.

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

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