Siri Jataka (#284)

temple painting of Siri Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who lived alone in the Himalayas. One time he went down to a city to get salt and seasoning. While out on a morning alms round, the Bodhisatta met a mahout who was very impressed by his demeanor and began supporting him with food and lodging.

During this time, a man who made a living gathering firewood lost track of time and, unable to return home before dark, was forced to sleep at a temple outside the city. During the night, a chicken high in a tree defecated on the back of another chicken. The two chickens began to argue and insult each other. The soiled chicken boasted that anyone who killed and ate him would get one thousand coins in the morning. The upper chicken continued to belittle the other, saying anyone who ate his choicest meat would become a king, eating his outer meat would make them the commander-in-chief or chief queen, and eating the meat by his bones would make them the king’s treasurer or chaplain, depending on whether they were a layman or a holy man. The wood gatherer heard all this, so he climbed up the tree and killed the magical king-making chicken.

In the morning, when the city gate was opened, the wood gatherer rushed home and told his wife the good news. She promptly cooked the chicken, but because this was such an important event for their lives, they wanted to bathe in the Ganges River before eating. They put the chicken and rice down along the riverbank while they were in the water, and the wind blew up some waves that washed their chicken away.

The platter with the magical chicken floated downriver where it was grabbed by the mahout, who was in the river bathing his elephants. Just at that time, the Bodhisatta divined what had happened and went to wait at the mahout’s house for him to return. When the mahout got home, they sat down to eat and the Bodhisatta requested to be the one to serve the meal. He gave the mahout the best meat, his wife the outer, and himself the inner. After they ate, the Bodhisatta told the astonished couple that in three days they would be king and queen.

Three days later, a neighboring king came with his army and laid siege to the city. The king told the mahout to put on the royal robes to fight while he, in disguise, went with the foot soldiers. Right away, an arrow felled the king, and he died on the spot. The mahout, meanwhile, led the soldiers to battle and killed the invading king. After performing rites for their deceased king, the advisors had to choose a successor. Seeing as the king had given the royal robes to the mahout and the mahout had proven himself brave, skilled, and wise, they made the obvious choice. His wife became his queen and the Bodhisatta his chaplain.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Anathapindika, a wealthy supporter of the Buddha known for his extreme generosity, had given away all his wealth helping the poor, and he fell into poverty. But a fairy who lived above one of his palace’s gateways had been advised by Indra, king of the gods, to take some goblins and scare some of Anathapindika’s debtors into repaying him, and to use her own supernatural powers to recover some treasure chests he had lost. Thanks to her assistance, Anathapindika became wealthy again.

A brahmin priest who was skilled at recognizing omens heard about Anathapindika’s renewal and wanted to steal his luck. The wicked priest visited him at his home, and while there, he looked around and determined that Anathapindika’s luck lay in the comb of a white rooster kept in a golden cage. Anathapindika asked the priest how he could help him, and the priest said his own rooster crowed at the wrong time, disrupting his students, so he wanted to take Anathapindika’s rooster. Anathapindika said he could have it, but at that very moment, the luck jumped to a jewel hidden in a pillow. The priest asked for that jewel too, and when Anathapindika agreed, the luck jumped to a club he used for self-defense, so the priest also asked for that. Anathapindika again gave the priest what he wanted, and then the luck jumped to Anathapindika’s wife’s head. The priest knew he could not ask for a person, so he confessed his actual goal in meeting Anathapindika and left.

Anathapindika went to tell the Buddha about his strange encounter. The Buddha told Anathapindika that while it no longer happens, in the past, luck could be passed from one person to another, and he told him this story about one such incident.

The mahout who became king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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