Sama Jataka (#540)

This Jataka tale illustrates the perfection of character of loving-kindness (metta).

painting of Sama Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once the son of two ascetics. The chiefs of two hunting villages, long-time friends, vowed they would marry two of their children to each other when they reached the right age. In time, one had a son and the other a daughter; and as they grew up, Dukulaka, the boy, and Parika, the girl, were not ordinary children. They refused to harm any living creatures and faithfully devoted themselves to purity. When they came of age, neither had any interest in family life; but their parents ignored their pleas and married them against their will.

Though they lived together, Dukulaka and Parika refused to act as a married couple and eventually got permission from their parents to go out and live a celibate life as ascetics in the Himalayas. As they departed the city, the throne of Indra, king of the gods, grew warm. He knew that these two people were great beings, so he built them leaf huts and provided everything they would need to ensure their life in the wilderness would be easy and comfortable. They lived in bliss on the fruits and roots they gathered in the forest, and their benevolence was so strong even animals living near them did not harm each other.

Sama with an arrow in his body

One day Indra foresaw that the pair would eventually go blind, so he revealed himself to Dukulaka and urged the couple to have a child. Dukulaka rebuked Indra and said they would never end their life of purity. But Indra said he would arrange for them to conceive simply by Dukulaka placing a finger on Parika’s navel at an auspicious time. And thus, with Indra’s help, the Bodhisatta, named Sama, was born.

The foretold tragedy struck Dukulaka and Parika when the Bodhisatta was sixteen. While returning home from collecting food, they took shelter from the rain under a tree and stood on an anthill. Sweat-infused water dripping off their bodies irritated a snake living in the anthill and it shot venom into their eyes, completely blinding both of them. (This disaster resulted from past-life karma from when Dukulaka was a doctor and Parika was his wife. He had treated a rich man’s eye disease, but the man refused to pay. At the suggestion of Parika, Dukulaka tainted some of this patient’s medicine and blinded him in one eye.)

The Bodhisatta took care of his impaired parents without hesitation. He tied up ropes around their home so they could move about on their own, but they could not walk through the forest, so he gathered all their food and water with the help of kinnaras (half-human, half-bird beings) picking fruit and deer carrying large jars on their backs.

A king who loved venison had left his kingdom in the care of his mother and went to the Himalayas to hunt deer. He passed by the riverbank where the Bodhisatta collected water, and seeing deer footprints there, he erected a blind and waited. When the Bodhisatta approached with his helper deer, the king was astonished. The king desperately wanted to know if this incredible being was a god or a naga, and was certain he could not simply walk up and ask. If he was a god he would fly up to heaven, and if he was a naga he would dive into the earth. In order to be able to talk to him, the king did the only thing he could think of—he shot the Bodhisatta with a poison arrow.

Lying on a sandbank with blood flowing out his mouth, the Bodhisatta did not rage in anger, he only gently asked aloud who his hidden attacker was and why he shot him. The king came out of his hiding place to speak with the Bodhisatta and lied that he’d had a deer in his sights, but it got spooked at seeing the Bodhisatta and fled in fright: this caused the king to misfire. The Bodhisatta replied that he knew this wasn’t true because no creature in the forest feared him. Finally succumbing to guilt, the king confessed his crime. Just before he lost consciousness, the Bodhisatta begged the king to care for his helpless parents for the rest of their lives. Regretting the evil he had done to such a righteous being, the king vowed that he would.

A goddess who had been the Bodhisatta’s mother seven lives before his present one saw the tragedy unfolding and went to save him, his parents, and the king. Speaking unseen from the sky, she implored the king to keep his promise to care for the Bodhisatta’s parents, assuring him that if he did so, he would be able to enter heaven instead of going to hell. The king, believing the Bodhisatta had already died, found his home and gently, gradually told his parents the terrible news. Though they cried in agony, they did not speak any harsh words and only showed the king kindness and reverence. They refused the king’s offer to serve as their caretaker, asking only that he take them immediately to their son’s body.

When his parents arrived at the river, they held the Bodhisatta’s body and wept. Both they and the goddess pleaded an act of truth (a solemn declaration of one’s supreme virtue followed by a request for some miraculous result) that if they had earned enough merit in past lives, then the Bodhisatta should be saved. They had, and their wish was granted. Not only were the Bodhisatta’s health and vigor fully restored, but his parents regained their sight.

Amazed by these miracles, the king sat and listened to the Bodhisatta preach to him about the importance of caring for family, fulfilling his duty to all his subjects, and following the five precepts. The king bowed down to the Bodhisatta, then returned home where he respected these lessons, becoming a righteous, generous ruler. Upon death, they were all reborn in heaven.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The parents of one of the Buddha’s disciples had been reluctant to let their son adopt a religious life, but he begged them and they agreed. After five years, he fully mastered dharma, so he went out to live alone and meditate in the forest to reach spiritual insight. But after twelve years of striving, he still had not achieved it. One day another disciple visited him at his hut and told him that his parents had fallen into ruin. With no children around to protect them, their servants and workers had stolen everything, and they were now homeless beggars clothed in rags. The son began to cry, and realizing he had labored in vain for the past twelve years, he decided to leave the sangha and return home to care for his parents.

The depressed disciple went to listen to the Buddha preach one last time before returning home. The Buddha divined this disciple’s situation and made his morning talk about the virtues of parents. Listening to the sermon, the son realized that, though it would be difficult, he could remain a disciple and still support his parents, and he resolved to do so. He took up abode near their hut, and from then on he made two daily alms rounds: one for them and a second for himself. He usually got little food for himself, and some days he got none, so he grew pale and thin.

When some other disciples learned what he was doing, they told him that sharing alms with people who are not disciples was an offense, and they reported him to the Buddha. The accused disciple was summoned back to the monastery, where he admitted sharing the alms he collected with his parents. But, to the surprise of the other disciples, the Buddha praised the caring son instead of rebuking him. He then told this story to explain that caring for others was always a good thing, and that in the past he himself had supported his needy parents in a similar way.

Dukulaka, Parika, the king, the goddess, and Indra were earlier births of Maha Kassapa, Bhadda Kapilani, Ananda, Uppalavanna, and Anuruddha, five of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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