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 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’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 that if she had a girl she could sell the ring and use the money to raise her child. But if she had a son, she should bring him to the palace after 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 was inspired to study the holy books and went to do so with a world-renowned teacher in Taxila. But while living there, he saw a group of ascetics and instead went off to study with them. He began by serving them in return for lessons, but 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 in his hometown. They all stayed in the royal park, and word spread about the wise teacher visiting. When the king heard the news, he wanted to meet him. Uddalaka told the other ascetics to help him impress the king by doing austerities, such as lying on a bed of spikes and worshipping fire.

When the king saw the ascetics’ rigorous activities and the fancy seat that Uddalaka sat on, he 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 to become soldiers if they renounced their heretical ways. They all agreed and entered royal service.

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 them discussing the dishonest disciple, he told them this story so they knew that he had also been this way in the past.

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