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 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, his family became wealthy again. But the widow worried that the Bodhisatta might stop helping them, and she planned to pluck him clean the next time he came. Disgusted by her greed, the daughters refused to help their mother, though she did it anyway. But, unbeknownst to her, if any feathers were plucked against the Bodhisatta’s wishes, they became normal. The widow threw the now featherless and flightless Bodhisatta 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 pick some from the field. One of the women (the Bodhisatta’s widow in an earlier birth) was greedy and carried off a big load, which angered both the manager and the other three disciples (who had been the Bodhisatta’s daughters in earlier births). After this, they were no longer welcome to come and get garlic.

When the Buddha heard what this disciple had done, he rebuked her and told this story so the other disciples knew she had also been greedy in the past, and to teach them that 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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