Suvannahamsa Jataka (#136)

temple painting of Suvannahamsa Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a golden mallard. He could remember his previous life as a human, when he was married with three daughters, and went to check on his former family. He found that after his death they had become poor, so he told them that from time to time he would come and give them a golden feather to sell, and they would no longer need to endure the humiliation and hardship of having to work for hire.

After a while and his family again became wealthy. But, filled with greed, the widow worried he might stop helping them and planned to pluck him clean the next time he came. The daughters refused to help her, but she did it anyway. But, unbeknownst to her, if any feathers were plucked out against the Bodhisatta’s wishes, they became normal. The widow threw the Bodhisatta, now unable to fly, into a barrel and fed him. Slowly his feathers grew back, but they were white and worthless, so as soon as he was able, he flew away and never returned.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

A lay follower of the Buddha had offered his female disciples free garlic; they could come anytime and take a few handfuls. One time four disciples came but there was no garlic at the house, so the estate manager told them they could go pick some from the field. One of the women (the Bodhisatta’s widow in an earlier birth) was greedy and carried off a very large amount, which angered both the manager and the other three disciples (who were formerly the Bodhisatta’s daughters). After this, they were no longer welcome to come and get garlic.

When the Buddha heard what she had done, he rebuked her and told this story so the other disciples knew she had been greedy in the past too and it was important to be moderate in desires and be content with what you have, no matter how little it may be.

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