Nalinika Jataka (#526)

temple painting of Nalinika Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who lived in the Himalayas. After a deer drank water mixed with his semen, she gave birth to his son. The Bodhisatta raised the boy, named Isisinga, to follow the ascetic vows and taught him mystic meditation. He also warned him that he should be wary of women because they could cause him ruin. Isisinga subdued his senses, developed the five supernatural faculties, and was so virtuous that the home of Indra, king of the gods, shook. When he divined the reason, Indra grew worried that when Isisinga died, he would dethrone him and take over his job. So he decided to destroy Isisinga’s virtue, and he started his scheme by causing rain to cease falling. No crops grew and famine spread.

Devastated by the drought, people gathered at the palace and demanded their king bring them rain. The king made moral vows and fasted, but no rain came. One night Indra materialized in the king’s bedroom and said he could make it rain. He lied and explained that the drought was caused by an ascetic in the Himalayas who had such power that when it was going to rain he looked up at the sky in rage and stopped it. Indra told the king that if his daughter Nalinika could seduce this ascetic, she would break his virtue, and thus his power, and the rain would return. The next morning, the king summoned his advisors and his daughter and told them his plan. It was an awkward conversation, but his daughter understood the importance of the task and agreed to go.

She traveled to the Bodhisatta’s home with a group of the king’s advisors, who gave her the clothes of an ascetic; and when the Bodhisatta went out to collect wild fruit, she went alone to seduce Isisinga. Once he got over the shock of seeing her, they discussed where she was from, and he naively believed her lies about living a holy life in an idyllic mountain home. Having never left his home in the Himalayas, Isisinga was so clueless about the world he didn’t really know what a woman was, and he didn’t know that she was one. Her wiles broke his mystic meditation, and he lost his virtue with her. Knowing the Bodhisatta would give her a good beating when he returned, Nalinika made a quick exit. Indra saw that her work was done and caused rain to fall across the kingdom.

As soon as Nalinika left, Isisinga was seized by fever and retired to his hut, unable to cut wood, fetch water, or light a fire. That evening when the Bodhisatta returned, he saw that something was wrong. Isisinga told his father that a “boy” had visited and had aroused his emotions. He rambled on about how different their two bodies were—she had smooth cheeks, fragrant hair, a swollen chest, and no stalk beneath her waist—and that after her soft touch, a burning had arose, and they lay together on a bed of leaves. He begged his father to take him to the “boy’s” home immediately because if they didn’t meet again, he would surely die.

After listening to his son’s tale, the Bodhisatta explained his folly and warned him to be careful in the future. Ashamed, Isisinga apologized and set his mind back on the right path and restored his mystic insight.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Isisinga and Nalinika were earlier births of one of the Buddha’s disciples and the disciple’s former wife. This disciple began to miss his former life, and with his wife’s encouragement was considering leaving the sangha. The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that in the past his wife had almost derailed him from the quest for salvation, but he overcame his mistake and kept his religious life. After talking to the Buddha, this disciple gained new understanding and chose to stay.

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