Suruci Jataka (#489)

temple painting of Suruci Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once Indra, king of the gods. Two kings, friends since they were young, had once made a pact to someday marry two of their children to each other. Because he loved his daughter Sumedha so dearly and wanted her to have the utmost happiness, when the time came for her engagement the father of the bride insisted she must be the prince’s only wife. His friend rejected this audacious proposal since a king of a realm as large and powerful as his should have at least sixteen thousand wives. But his son, Suruci, had heard about Sumedha’s great beauty and agreed to have no wives other than her. After he took the throne, King Suruci ruled righteously and they lived happily.

Ten thousand years passed and Queen Sumedha had not yet borne a child. This worried the citizens so much they gathered in the palace courtyard and implored King Suruci to assemble a proper harem. But he told them he would not break the promise he had made to his wife. The queen heard what people were saying; and though she appreciated her husband’s devotion she knew they were right. So she chose four thousand concubines for him. After another ten thousand years the king still had no children, so she gathered another four thousand women. She did this four times in total, but after fifty thousand years and sixteen thousand and one wives the king still had no children.

The townsfolk gathered again and suggested King Suruci tell his concubines to pray for a son. He took their advice, but still remained childless. Later he told Queen Sumedha to pray and she agreed. As she sat meditating in her room, the Bodhisatta’s palace trembled, and when he divined her wish, he decided to give her a son. He chose a god endowed with lots of merit and, after visiting Queen Sumedha to ensure she was sufficiently virtuous, he sent him to her womb.

When their son, Maha-Panada, was born the people rejoiced, bringing coins to the king so he would never lack anything. He was raised amidst the utmost splendor and was perfect in every way. When Prince Maha-Panada reached age sixteen, the king decided to pass the crown to him and wanted to build a new palace for the occasion. After he sent his seers out to find the best location, the Bodhisatta’s throne grew warm. When the Bodhisatta saw the reason, he sent Vissakamma, heaven’s chief builder, to join them. Vissakamma told the others to go eat breakfast, and then when he was alone struck the earth with his staff causing a massive palace to rise.

Prince Maha-Panada’s consecration ceremony was held alongside the ceremonies for his marriage and palace blessing; and no expense was spared. After seven years of feasting and celebrating, people began to grumble and wanted the festivities to end. King Suruci told them it could not end until his son laughed. So thousands of acrobats and jugglers were brought before him—even one so clever he had himself chopped into bits and reassembled—but none could spark a smile because Maha-Panada still remembered the entertainment he’d had in heaven. This made people angry so the Bodhisatta intervened again, sending down one of his divine dancers, and he put a little grin on the prince’s face. This was sufficient for King Suruci, and he ended the festival, which officially ended his own reign. King Maha-Panada ruled with as much wisdom, generosity, and righteousness as his father.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Queen Sumedha was an earlier birth of Visakha, the Buddha’s top female lay supporter. One day she invited the Buddha and some of his disciples to her home. A huge storm began the night before and caused waist-deep floods near the Buddha’s monastery. The Buddha told the disciples to get themselves drenched to the skin because it was his last world-wide storm. But he himself did not go out. Instead, he magically transported the group to her home, and he arrived completely dry. After the meal was eaten, Visakha said she hoped that for all her life she would be able to support the Buddha’s disciples as well as sick people; and the Buddhas gave her eight wishes, saying for sure she would be able.

Later the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing how great Visakha’s virtue must be in order to receive eight wishes from the Buddha. He told them this story so they knew she had received wishes from him in the past too.

Maha-Panada and Vissakamma were earlier births of Bhaddaji and Ananda, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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