Somadatta Jataka (#211)

temple painting of Somadatta Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. His parents were poor and relied on the Bodhisatta to support them. When one of his father’s oxen died, he could no longer plow his fields, so he told the Bodhisatta to ask the king for a new ox. The Bodhisatta answered that it would be inappropriate for him to ask and told his father to do it. But the father was too bashful, he said; and with more than three people present, he couldn’t speak clearly. The Bodhisatta offered to teach his father to do it, and they practiced saying, “Long live the king! I used to have two oxen to plow fields, but one has died. Can you please give me another?” in front of tufts of grass standing in for the king and his court.

After one year of training, his father was finally ready, and the Bodhisatta took him to meet the king. After getting introduced, he said, “Long live the king! I used to have two oxen to plow fields, but one has died. Can you please take the other?” Knowing it was a mistake, the king smiled and jokingly told the Bodhisatta, “You have plenty of oxen at home, I suppose.” “If so, great king,” the Bodhisatta replied, “they are your gift!” The king appreciated this answer and gave the father sixteen oxen and a village to live in. The Bodhisatta told his father that practice is pointless for dimwitted people, and his father replied that any time any person asks for something, they are taking a risk.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The Bodhisatta’s father was an earlier birth of Laludayi, an elder disciple of the Buddha who was quite stupid and bashful, and often said one thing when he meant another. One time some of the Buddha’s disciples were discussing Laludayi, and the Buddha told them this story so they knew that he had also been incredibly bashful in the past.

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