Sanjiva Jataka (#150)

temple painting of Sanjiva Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a teacher. One of his students, who he’d taught a spell for raising the dead to life, came across a dead tiger while he was out gathering wood in the forest with fellow students. Wanting to show off, the learned student told his companions he could bring the tiger to life again. After the others climbed a tree for safety, the student spoke his charm and hit the tiger with a piece of broken pottery. The tiger immediately lunged for the student’s throat, killing him instantly. Then the tiger suddenly dropped dead again.

The other students went back and told the Bodhisatta what had happened. He explained to them that you always bring misfortune on yourself when you help the wicked.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The student killed by the tiger was an earlier birth of King Ajatasattu, who supported Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, and took the throne by killing his virtuous father. After the earth swallowed Devadatta, sending him to hell, the king feared he would suffer the same fate, and he could not put his mind to rest. He wanted to ask for guidance from the Buddha, but was afraid to go because of what he had done. Then one night at a festival, he saw Jivaka, the Buddha’s doctor, and thought he could muster the courage to approach the Buddha if Jivaka introduced him. So he sat down amidst the group of men and asked all of them which religious teacher they respected. Jivaka praised the Buddha and urged the king to meet him. Feigning ignorance, King Ajatasattu agreed.

The king listened to the Buddha explain the path of righteousness and then, finally feeling peaceful again, returned to the palace. The Buddha, knowing everything King Ajatasattu had done, told his disciples that had the king not done such terrible things in his life he would have attained the first path of understanding, but because he followed Devadatta, he was destined to further misery.

The next day, when the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the great karmic cost of King Ajatasattu’s patricide, he told them this story so they knew that this was not the first time the king had suffered for helping the wicked.

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