Mani-Kantha Jataka (#253)

temple painting of Mani-Kantha Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. He and his younger brother lived near each other in leaf huts on the banks of the Ganges River. One day a naga king took the form of a man, and while walking along the river he came to the younger brother’s hut. The two talked together and quickly became close friends, the naga returning frequently. The naga grew so fond of his new friend that one day as he left, he cast off his human form and encircled the Bodhisatta’s brother in an affectionate embrace. This terrified the brother so much that, over time, he became thin, jaundiced, and filthy.

One day, the Bodhisatta visited his brother and saw his condition. His brother explained what was happening and said he wanted the naga to stop coming around, but couldn’t tell him directly. The Bodhisatta suggested that the next time the naga arrive, he ask to have his precious jewel. Do this three times, he said, and the naga will stay away forever. When the naga next came into his hut, the Bodhisatta’s brother did as advised, and the naga left right away. The next day, the brother waited at his door and asked for the jewel as the naga approached the house; again he promptly turned around and left. And the third day the brother requested the jewel right as the naga emerged from the river. Completely fed up, the naga told the brother he was too demanding and would neither give up his jewel nor return to see him ever again.

When the Bodhisatta visited his brother again, he found him depressed at the loss of his friend and in an even more miserable condition than before. He cheered his brother up with some encouraging words.

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 even nagas, who are much wealthier than humans, get annoyed by persistent begging.

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

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