Uddalaka Jataka (#487)

temple painting of Uddalaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a king’s chaplain. One day while out in a park he saw a slave girl and became enamored with her. They became intimate and she got pregnant. She told the Bodhisatta she wanted to name their child after his grandfather, but he said it would be wrong to give a noble name to a slave-girl’s bastard child. He told her instead to name the child Uddalaka, after the golden shower tree he was conceived under. The Bodhisatta gave the woman his signet ring and told her she could sell it and use the money to raise her child. And if she had a son she should bring him to the palace when he had grown up.

When Uddalaka came of age, he asked his mother who his father was, and she told him. Because his father was a chaplain, he decided to go study the holy books with a world-renowned teacher in Taxila. While there he saw a group of ascetics and chose to go off to study with them instead. He began by serving them in return for lessons and eventually his knowledge eclipsed them all and he became their leader and teacher.

One day Uddalaka convinced the others to leave the forest and go on an alms pilgrimage and they eventually ended up at his hometown. They all resided in the royal park and word spread about the wise teacher who was visiting. When the king heard the news he decided to go meet him. Uddalaka told the other ascetics to support him during their meeting by doing austerities, such as lying on a bed of spikes and worshiping fire, as a way to impress the king.

The king arrived, accompanied by the Bodhisatta, and seeing the ascetics’ rigorous activities and the fancy seat used by Uddalaka, said these must be supremely learned and advanced men. But the Bodhisatta told the king he was being deceived by sham tricks and a facade of grandeur. After the Bodhisatta explained proper religion, including the importance of studying the scriptures and the correct behavior of a brahmin priest, Uddalaka told the Bodhisatta he was his son, showing the signet ring as proof. The Bodhisatta asked the king to allow his son to serve as an assistant chaplain and the others as soldiers, if they agreed to renounce their ways and follow the true religion.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Uddalaka was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who claimed to dedicate himself to seeking salvation, but was known by other disciples to be dishonest. When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the dishonest disciple he told them this story so they knew this disciple had also been this way in the past.

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