Losaka Jataka (#41)

temple painting of Losaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a teacher, famed across the land. Long before this, there was a virtuous monk in a village who was supported by a wealthy landowner. One day an arahant arrived in the village and the landowner was so impressed by his demeanor and his teaching that he asked him to stay at the local monastery so they could talk further. The village monk worried that his patron would begin supporting the arahant instead of him and schemed to make sure this did not happen.

The next morning the village monk was supposed to accompany the arahant to the landowner’s house, but he rang the gong with the back of his fingernail so it would not be heard and then went to the landowner’s house alone. He told his sponsor that the arahant didn’t wake up that morning and suggested he did not want to return because the food served the day before was not fancy enough. Assuming instead that he must have been weary from the journey, the landowner asked the village monk to take a bowl full of delicious food to the arahant. The monk, still acting with a jealous heart, discarded the food instead of delivering it. He was immediately racked with remorse, fell ill, and died soon after.

The monk suffered hundreds of thousands of years of damnation in hell before being reborn for five hundred lives as an ogre who never found enough food to eat, five hundred more lives as an eternally hungry dog, and then as a starving child named Mittavindaka in a beggar family. His mother and father, tormented by the perpetual hunger pangs that had struck them every day since the boy had been born, knew they were cursed and cast Mittavindaka out of their home.

Now homeless, Mittavindaka wandered and ended up in the city where he was taken in as a charity scholar in the Bodhisatta’s school. But he fought often with other students and was disrespectful to the Bodhisatta. Eventually he ran away to a remote village where he worked as a laborer. He married a poor women, had two children with her, and eventually the villagers hired him to teach them about the true doctrine. But hardship plagued the village: the king punished it seven times, it burned to the ground seven times, and the water dried up seven times. Eventually the villagers realized all of this misfortune began after Mittavindaka came to live there, so they beat him and drove him away.

He ended up in a haunted forest where demons ate his family. He took to wandering again and got work on a ship. On the seventh day at sea, the winds died and the ship didn’t move. The crew cast lots to see who had cursed them, and when Mittavindaka drew the lot seven times straight he was set afloat on a bamboo raft. As soon as he was overboard, the boat immediately began to sail again.

Mittavindaka’s raft drifted to an island where there were four goddesses (specifically vimana petas, deities whose blissful earthly lives are regularly interrupted by hell-like tortures) living in a crystal palace and he stayed with them for seven happy days, until they needed to leave for their penance. Next he encountered eight more such goddesses in a silver palace, then sixteen in a jewel palace, and then thirty-two in a gold palace.

Then he reached a city of ogres, and one ogress walked around in the form of a goat. Not knowing her true form, Mittavindaka grabbed her by the leg intending to eat her. In anger she hurled him across the ocean and he landed in the dry moat around the Bodhisatta’s city. The moat was home to many of the king’s goats and Mittavindaka figured if one goat could hurl him all the way here, perhaps another could hurl him back to one of the goddess’s palaces. So he grabbed a goat by the leg and when it bleated loudly the goatherders, hidden nearby waiting to catch thieves, ran out and seized him. They beat Mittavindaka and started to haul him away to the king.

The Bodhisatta saw his former student in bonds and when the goatherders explained why they had seized him, the Bodhisatta asked if he could take Mittavindaka as a slave and they agreed. The Bodhisatta asked Mittavindaka what he had been up to all these many years, and when he heard the story, he explained that had Mittavindaka been less stubborn and accepted his help many years ago he could have avoided all that misery.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

There was an elder disciple of the Buddha named Losaka Tissa who was eternally unlucky and never got enough food. On the day he was conceived, all the fishermen of his village failed to catch even a single fish. And while he was in the womb the village was destroyed by fire seven times and ravaged by the king seven times. The village’s misfortune continued until people figured out which family was the source of the curse (by dividing into two bands and seeing which group was dogged by ruin, and then dividing that group, and so on) and drove them out. After Losaka was born, his mother raised him just long enough until he could be sent out as a beggar and then she left.

One day, when Losaka was seven years old, Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, saw the dirty child picking up grains of rice tossed in the street after the pots had been washed. When he heard Losaka’s story, Sariputta invited him to become a novice. He readily agreed and later became a full disciple. But his bad luck continued and he almost never got a full helping of food on his alms rounds, receiving just enough for basic sustenance. (People were not intentionally cruel to him, but some magic power made a single ladle of rice appear to fill his alms bowl to the brim. Then seeing this, nobody else gave him any more.) And his luck didn’t change even after he became an arahant.

When it was Losaka’s last day on Earth, Sariputta sensed it and decided that he should finally get to eat a full meal. Sariputta had Losaka accompany him on the morning alms round, but due to Losaka’s bad luck, they both received nothing. So he sent Losaka back to the monastery and then collected food on his own. When Sariputta returned, he sent some food to Losaka, but the person who was supposed to deliver it forgot and ate it himself. That afternoon, Sariputta asked Losaka if he had enjoyed his meal, and Losaka said no food had arrived. But by this time it was afternoon and too late for monks to eat a meal. So Sariputta went to the palace and asked the king to fill his bowl with honey, ghee, butter, and sugar, which can be eaten by monks at any time. He returned and held the bowl himself while Losaka ate so that there could be no mishaps and Losaka ate until he was satisfied. And not long after, he passed into nirvana.

Mittavindaka was an earlier birth of Losaka Tissa and the Buddha told this story to explain to the other monks why Losaka had such incredible misfortune in his life yet was able to achieve arahantship.

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