Maha-Panada Jataka (#264)

The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. Two kings, friends since they were young, had once made a pact to someday marry two of their children to each other. Because he loved his daughter Sumedha so dearly and wanted her to have the utmost happiness, when the time came for her engagement the father of the bride insisted she must be the prince’s only wife. His friend rejected this audacious proposal since a king of a realm as large and powerful as his should have at least sixteen thousand wives. But his son, Suruci, had heard about Sumedha’s great beauty and agreed to have no wives other than her. After he took the throne, King Suruci ruled righteously and lived happily.

Ten thousand years passed and Queen Sumedha had not yet born a child. This worried the subjects so much they gathered in the palace courtyard and implored the king to assemble a proper harem. But he told them he would not break the promise he had made to his wife. The queen heard what people were saying and though she appreciated her husband’s devotion, she knew they were right. So she chose four thousand concubines for him. After another ten thousand years the king still had no children, so she gathered another four thousand women. She did this four times in total, but after fifty thousand years and sixteen thousand and one wives the king still had no children.

The townsfolk gathered again and suggested the king tell his concubines to pray for a son. He took their advice, but still remained childless. Later he told his queen to pray and she agreed. As she sat meditating in her room, the Bodhisatta’s palace trembled, and when he divined her wish, he decided to give her a son. He chose a god endowed with lots of merit and, after visiting Queen Sumedha to ensure she was sufficiently virtuous, he sent him to her womb.

When their son, Maha-Panada, was born, the people rejoiced, bringing coins to the king so he would never lack anything. He was raised amidst the utmost splendor and was perfect in every way. When Maha-Panada reached age sixteen, the king decided to pass the crown to him and wanted to build a new palace for the occasion. After he sent his seers out to find the best location, the Bodhisatta’s throne grew warm. When the Bodhisatta saw the reason he sent Vissakamma, his own builder, to join them. The heavenly builder told the others to go eat breakfast, and then when he was alone struck the earth with his staff causing a massive palace to rise.

The new king’s consecration ceremony was held alongside that for his marriage and palace blessing, and no expense was spared. After seven years of feasting and celebrating, people began to grumble and wanted the festivities to end. The king told them it could not end until his son laughed. So thousands of acrobats and jugglers were brought before him – even one so clever he had himself chopped into bits and reassembled – but none could spark a laugh because he still remembered the entertainment he’d had in heaven. This made people angry so the Bodhisatta intervened again, sending down one of his divine dancers, and he put a little smile on Maha-Panada. Luckily, this was sufficient for King Suruci, and he ended the festival, which officially ended his own reign. King Maha-Panada ruled with as much wisdom, generosity, and righteousness as his father.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The Buddha decided to take an interest in Bhaddaji, the only son of a tremendously wealthy merchant, who he believed was ready for a religious conversion. The merchant had a house for each of the three seasons and moved his family between them with great spectacle every four months. And every time he moved, the town came out to watch.

After living for three months near Bhaddaji’s city, the Buddha announced to the townspeople that he and his disciples would be leaving the next day, the same day Bhaddaji would move house. The people prepared a beautiful pavilion and gave magnificent gifts as a departing ceremony for the Buddha. Since everybody went to say farewell to the Buddha, nobody came to look upon Bhaddaji’s splendor. When he heard why, Bhaddaji went to hear the Buddha’s sermon. He stood with his entourage behind the assembly and once it was done, he immediately became an arahant. The Buddha told Bhaddaji’s father he could either become a disciple or immediately enter nirvana; the father said he preferred his son to stay on Earth.

The Buddha ordained Bhaddaji and then set out on an alms pilgrimage. At one village they had to ride rafts over the Ganges River and while doing so the Buddha discussed Bhaddaji’s past life – King Maha-Panada was one of his earlier births – and said his enormous palace from that time was in the river below them. Some of the others were doubtful, so the Buddha told Bhaddaji to prove it. He lifted the palace out of the river with just one finger and held it as he floated in the sky.

Many of Bhaddaji’s family from that past time loved the palace so much they were reborn as fish, frogs, turtles, and the like so they could continue to live in it. When they started diving out of the palace, the Buddha told Bhaddaji to put it back in the river.

After reaching the other river bank, the Buddha took a seat. The disciples wanted to know more about Bhaddaji’s past life and so the Buddha told this story.

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