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, he 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 incredible beauty and agreed to the demand. After taking 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 was still childless.

The townsfolk gathered again and suggested King Suruci tell his concubines to pray for a son. He took their advice, but nothing changed. 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 Queen Sumedha’s wish, he confirmed she was sufficiently virtuous and decided to give her a son. He chose a god endowed with abundant merit and sent him to her womb.

When their son, Maha-Panada, was born, the people rejoiced, bringing coins to the king so the prince would never lack anything. He was raised amidst the utmost splendor and was perfect in every way. When the prince reached age sixteen, the king decided to pass the crown to him and wanted to build a new palace for the occasion. After the king sent his seers out to find the best location, the Bodhisatta’s throne grew warm. When he saw the reason, he sent Vissakamma, heaven’s chief builder, to join them. Vissakamma told the others to go eat breakfast; then when he was alone, he 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. He did the half-body dance—where only one hand, foot, eye, and tooth flick and throb about while the others stay stone still—and this put a little grin on the prince’s face. This was sufficient for King Suruci, and he closed 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 flooding near the Buddha’s monastery. The Buddha told the disciples to get themselves drenched to the skin because it was his last worldwide storm. Then 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 Buddha 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 that she had also received wishes from him in the past.

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

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