Sutano Jataka (#398)

temple painting of Sutano Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a poor householder who took care of his widowed mother. The king was an avid hunter, and one time he shot at a clever deer who, upon seeing the arrow coming, fell down and feigned being wounded. When the king approached, the deer jumped up and ran away. After being mocked by his advisors, the king chased after the deer. Eventually the deer tired enough that the king caught it; then he cut it in half with his sword. Exhausted, the king took a rest under a banyan tree that was home to a goblin who had permission from the goblin king to eat any living thing that came to his tree. When the king awoke, the goblin grabbed him and said he was about to be eaten. The desperate king said that if he could go free, he would give the goblin his deer meat now and send a new person to the tree every day. The goblin agreed to the offer, but said if any day a person did not come, he would find and eat the king.

Back at the palace, one of the king’s advisors came up with a plan to send prisoners with meals to the tree, and not tell the victims what was going to happen there. The goblin got to eat both the person and the rice and was happy with the arrangement, but when the jails had been emptied, the king had to devise a new plan. By now, everybody knew what the king was doing, so to find a volunteer, he offered one thousand coins to anybody who would deliver rice to the goblin. The Bodhisatta, who barely made enough money to survive, accepted the task so he could give the money to his mother and let her live comfortably whether he outwitted the goblin or died trying.

The Bodhisatta told the king he needed to take the king’s golden slippers (so as to not stand on the goblin’s ground), umbrella (so he did not need to step into the tree’s shadow), sword (to make the goblin fearful), and golden bowl (to show the goblin respect rather than putting the rice in his own earthen bowl). The king gave them to him. Once he arrived, the Bodhisatta used the sword to push the bowl of rice into the tree’s shadow without stepping into it himself. The goblin urged the Bodhisatta to come under the tree, but he told the goblin he would be a fool to eat him because if he didn’t return home alive, nobody would ever come again and he would stop getting a delicious daily meal. The goblin realized the Bodhisatta was right and told him he could go back home.

Then the Bodhisatta, having saved the king’s life by ending the agreement, rebuked the goblin’s evil behavior and convinced him to give up murder and live a righteous life. At the Bodhisatta’s invitation, and with the king’s support, the goblin came to live in a home by the city gate where he would get the best food possible. The king sang the Bodhisatta’s praises and appointed him commander-in-chief. He also followed the Bodhisatta’s teachings and became a virtuous and generous leader.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The parents of one of the Buddha’s disciples had been reluctant to let their son adopt a religious life, but he begged them and they agreed. After five years, he fully mastered dharma, so he went out to live alone and meditate in the forest to reach spiritual insight. But after twelve years of striving, he still had not achieved it. One day another disciple visited him at his hut and told him that his parents had fallen into ruin. With no children around to protect them, their servants and workers had stolen everything, and they were now homeless beggars, clothed in rags. The son began to cry, and realizing he had labored in vain for the past twelve years, he decided to leave the sangha and return home to care for his parents.

The depressed disciple went to listen to the Buddha preach one last time before returning home. The Buddha divined this disciple’s situation and made his morning talk about the virtues of parents. Listening to the sermon, the son realized that, though it would be difficult, he could remain a disciple and still support his parents, and he resolved to do so. He took up abode near their hut, and from then on he made two daily alms rounds: one for them and a second for himself. He usually got little food for himself, and some days he got none, so he grew pale and thin.

When some other disciples learned what he was doing, they told him that sharing alms with people who are not disciples was an offense, and they reported him to the Buddha. The accused disciple was summoned back to the monastery, where he admitted sharing the alms he collected with his parents. But, to the surprise of the other disciples, the Buddha praised the caring son instead of rebuking him. He then told this story to explain that caring for others was always a good thing, and that in the past he himself had once gone to great lengths to support his mother.

The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the goblin was an earlier birth of Angulimala, a dreaded bandit who cut off a finger of each person he murdered and wore them around his neck, and who later became an enlightened disciple of the Buddha.

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