Susima Jataka (#163)

temple painting of Susima Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a royal chaplain’s son. For seven generations his family had managed the king’s elephant festival, and this made them very wealthy. When the Bodhisatta was sixteen years old, before he had studied elephant lore or the three Vedas, his father died. With the time for the festival coming soon, some brahmin priests, greedy for money, convinced the king that the Bodhisatta was not prepared to lead it, so they must take over the job. Soon after, the Bodhisatta’s mother heard the festival was happening in just four days and she wept and wailed. The only qualified teacher lived in Taxila, two thousand leagues away, so she was convinced that her family would lose their occupation and become poor. But the Bodhisatta was determined, and the next morning he set out early, making the long journey to Taxila in a single day.

The Bodhisatta found the master teacher and explained his urgent predicament, saying that he must learn everything in just one day. The master agreed to start teaching him immediately, and after one day and one night, the Bodhisatta had learned everything by heart. The Bodhisatta advised the master about a few ways that he could teach better, then he rushed back home.

The next morning, one hundred elephants were dressed in gold trim and the excited brahmins stood in the palace courtyard wearing their gala dress. When the king arrived in all his splendor, the Bodhisatta approached him and asked if he was really giving his ancestral right away to the other brahmins. When the king said he had no choice because he had been told the Bodhisatta did not have the required knowledge, the Bodhisatta proclaimed that nobody in all of India knew the three Vedas and elephant lore better than he; and he challenged anyone there to prove him wrong. The Bodhisatta spoke with such confidence that nobody challenged him, and so that morning he conducted the ceremony.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The citizens of a city collected items to donate for alms. Some people wanted to donate to heretical teachers, but the majority wanted to donate to the Buddha, and so they did. That evening the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing how great he was because he got the offering instead of the heretics. The Buddha told them this story so they knew that it was not the first time followers of heretics had tried unsuccessfully to take what was rightfully his.

The king and the teacher were earlier births of Ananda and Sariputta, two of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the Bodhisatta’s father and mother were earlier births of the Buddha’s father and birth mother.

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