Join Demo Rinpoche for 10 monthly Sunday talks in 2023 on the Jataka Tales: Stories from Buddha’s Previous Lives, 11:00am – 12:00pm ET.
Demo Rinpoche’s introduction to the Jataka Tales
2023 JATAKA TALES SCHEDULE
January 29, 2023 – The Hermit (Generosity of Teaching)
February 5, 2023 – The Pitcher (Avoiding Intoxication)
March 5, 2023 – The Great Monkey (Benefiting Others)
April 2, 2023 – The Buffalo (Effort of Patience)
May 7, 2023 – King Maitribala (Courageous Generosity)
June 4, 2023 – The Renunciant (Avoiding Wild Behavior)
July 9, 2023 – The Preacher of Forbearance (Ignoring Harmfulness)
October 1, 2023 – Prince Vishvantara (Generosity of Total Spending)
September 10, 2023 – The Woodpecker (Restraining from Misbehavior)
November 5, 2023 – The Lotus Stalks (Collection Virtue)
Jataka Tales descriptions and the individual recording links follow. Click on the highlighted individual titles below to open and view the video recordings.
Once the Buddha was born as a Bodhisattva in a great Brahmin family. As a child he studied the scriptures and became renowned for his learning. As he grew older, he was showered with precious gifts from donors, which he freely bestowed on all whom he encountered.
But the Great One knew that the life of a householder gives no satisfaction, being filled with illusion and the distractions of safeguarding wealth. Instead, he valued the peace of a renunciate as suitable for the practice of dharma.
So it was that he cast aside his wealth and home to seek the bliss of solitude. He took up his hermitage on the island of Kara, living in the forest as an ascetic. Despite his simple life, he would honor those who happened by with roots and fruits he had gathered, leaving for himself no more than was needed to sustain life.
The spreading fame of the Bodhisattva’s perfect practice drew the attention of Shakra, king of the gods. To test the Bodhisattva’s fortitude, Shakra caused the edible roots and fruits of the forest to disappear.
The Bodhisattva gave no thought to why they had vanished. His mind was focused on meditation. Always content, he showed indifference to such things. Instead, he boiled young leaves for his meals and carried on calmly with his practice.
Amazed at the Bodhisattva’s contentment, Shakra tested him further by stripping away the leaves of the forest as if by a powerful summer wind. Still calm, the Bodhisattva gathered the fallen leaves for his meals and carried on as before.
With that, Shakra appeared before the Bodhisattva in the form of an angry Brahmin. Joyful at the opportunity to honor a guest, the Bodhisattva offered the Brahmin the boiled leaves he had gathered with difficulty. As for himself, the joy of giving was sufficient.
Shakra appeared again each day for the next five days. Each time, the Bodhisattva greeted him with greater joy at being able to offer his meager gatherings, for the contentment of good people increases with the practice of compassion rather than declines with distress.
Shakra became worried that the power of the Bodhisattva’s practice might gain him sovereignty over the gods. So Shakra asked the Bodhisattva, “What do you hope to gain by your austerities?”
The Bodhisattva replied, “It is painful to be born again and again, only to suffer sickness, old age and the constant fear of death. I have resolved to free people from these agonies.”
Relieved that the Bodhisattva did not wish to become king of the gods, Shakra said, “These words are well said. I will grant you any boon you desire.”
“Very well. May the fire of greed never touch my heart,” the Bodhisattva answered.
“Excellent,” cried Shakra. “For this, I will grant you another boon.”
In the guise of a second request, the Bodhisattva said, “May the consuming fire of hatred remain far from me.”
“Excellent,” Shakra cried once more. “Accept another boon.”
“May I never have to see or hear a fool. Keep them away from me,” the Bodhisattva said.
Shakra was surprised at this. “Those in distress are particularly deserving of good people’s sympathy. And foolishness is the worst of all conditions. How can you who are so compassionate not wish even to see one?”
“If it were possible to cure a fool, the compassionate would rush to do so. But a fool chooses the wrong ways even when the right ones are made clear. A fool grows angry when told something for his own good. He is consumed with pride that he is learned. He is harsh to those who are kind. He is violent to those who are peaceful. What good can be done for such a one? Because there is none, even the compassionate avoid the foolish.”
At this Shakra granted another boon. The Bodhisattva chose to associate with the wise because the wise tread the path of virtue and lead others to it.
Again, Shakra granted a boon. “Please do me the kindness of accepting it,” he said.
“May I be granted your inexhaustible source of food, your mind intent on charity and your supplicants of pure character,” the Bodhisattva replied.
“You are an ocean of well-said words,” Shakra said. “I grant you one more boon.”
“Do not come to me again in you blazing splendor,” the Bodhisattva answered. “That is my final request.”
“How is this? I have come here to grant you favor. Where others plead to see me, you turn me away.”
“Do not be angry,” the Bodhisattva replied. “I fear I may lose sight of my practice in the face of your blazing splendor.”
At that, Shakra saluted the humble hermit and departed, after restoring the bounty of the forest.
Courage in renunciation is the ornament of hermits, how much more that of householders?
In one of his previous lives the Buddha was born as Shakra, the king of the gods. With a mind purified with compassion, his every action was for the benefit of living beings. Although he was entitled to all the pleasures enjoyed by the gods, he never veered from his intention to cherish and help all beings.
One day, while gazing on the world with love and compassion, Shakra took notice of a king named Sarvamitra whose name means “Friend of All”. This king was in the habit of keeping company with non-virtuous people. By spending his time with these disreputable folk, he had developed a powerful addiction to alcohol.
Shakra clearly saw the path to ruin that the king was treading, for the happiness or misery of the people result from the good or evil example of a king. To save the king from this downward course, Shakra took the form of a majestic brahmin.
In this form, Shakra appeared before the king while he was arguing with his companions about the virtue of this or that liquor. In the form of a brahmin, Shakra shone like pure gold. But his expression was stern and he wore an ascetic’s austere clothing. At his side was a pitcher of wine.
The king and his companions were filled with astonishment and rose in veneration at the noble being’s appearance.
In a deep and thunderous voice, Shakra said, “Behold this marvelous pitcher, adorned with floral wreaths. Who will buy this splendid gem?”
The king responded, “From your appearance, you are clearly one of the holy sages. Please grace us with your name.”
“You will know who I am in due time,” Shakra replied. “First buy this pitcher, if you are not afraid of the sufferings of the next world or calamities to come in this.”
“Noble one,” said the king, “Your manner of selling is somewhat unusual. People usually proclaim the virtues of their wares and conceal their faults. You seem to have no hesitation with the truth. Pray tell us what your pitcher contains.”
“This pitcher does not contain pure water from fresh mountain streams or sacred rivers,” Shakra replied. “Nor does it hold excellent ghee, sweet honey or nourishing milk. This pitcher is filled with misfortune for those who fall prey to its spell. Listen and I shall tell you of its many ‘virtues’.”
“Drink from this pitcher and you will surrender all self-control. Your memory will become clouded. You will stumble on smooth ground. You will become confused and dull-witted, and act without heed. What will you offer for this marvelous jug?”
“You will become like an animal, an embarrassment to your friends and a laughingstock to your enemies as you mumble and dance in their midst. Buy this splendid pitcher and partake of its qualities.”
“Drink and become senseless. Lie covered in vomit while dogs lick your face. What pleasure can be found in this wonderful jug!”
“Buy this jug and become a slave to anger. Drink from it to destroy the Lord of Wealth. Pour your life down the drain and drink your precious mind away. Lose your position. Abandon your dignity. Be caste from you home. Wash away your virtue. Become the subject of contempt. All this can be yours if you purchase this jar.”
“Speak falsehood for truth. Lose sense of right and wrong. Leave undone what should be done. Here in this vessel are curses incarnate. Here is contained the mother of sin and folly, evil and pain. Here is born madness and a dreadful darkness of mind. All this I offer to you, great King, should you care to buy.”
“Whoever drinks from this becomes accustomed to wrongdoing by slowly destroying good conduct and understanding. Even a little goes a long way in this by killing good reputation and banishing shame. Knowing all this, great King, do you still wish to drink?”
With this, Shakra had persuaded the king to abandon his ways.
“Your wise words and a kind concern have brought me great benefit, O Sage, said the king. “Please allow me to reward you with wealth from my kingdom and whatever else you desire.”
Shakra replied, “I have no need or desire for the things you offer. Know me for who I am—Shakra, King of the Gods. I desire nothing but that you follow the teachings of the wise. That way alone leads to glory and renown in this life and happiness in the next.”
Intoxication is the source of many ills. Knowing this, the virtuous attempt to influence others against it—even more so do they deter themselves.
2022 SERIES: To review the Jataka Tales click the individual sessions below.
January 9, 2022 – The Merchant Prince
February 6, 2022 – Suparaga The Navigator
March 6, 2022 – The Great Ape
April 3, 2022 – The Unconquerable One
May 1, 2022 – The Fish
June 5, 2022 – The Sharabha Deer
July 10, 2022 – The Hare
August 7, 2022 – The Fledgling Quail
September 11, 2022 – The Ruru Deer
October 2, 2022 – The Prince from the Iron Horse
THE MERCHANT PRINCE – January 9, 2022 (Generosity That Can’t Be Taken Over by Demons)
In one of his previous lives, the Buddha was born as a princely merchant. His vast wealth was matched by his boundless generosity. His unquestioning charity was known far and wide. No supplicant who approached had any thought of being turned away.
One evening, a Pratyeka Buddha appeared at the prince’s gate in the form of a beggar. His aim was to increase the prince’s store of virtue by accepting alms from him.
Incensed at seeing this, the evil Mara set out to block this virtuous opportunity for the prince. Mara created an abyss of hellish flames between the prince’s gate and the medicant, filled with tortured beings writhing in agony.
Unaware of this, the prince asked his wife to supply the beggar with whatever he needed. When the prince’s wife approached the gate, she turned and ran from the terrifying hell that Mara had created. Shaking with fear, she told the prince what she had seen.
The prince realized that such a manifestation could only be the work of Mara. Undaunted, the prince approached the gate, unwilling to give up the opportunity to practice generosity no matter the cost.
This was too much for the wily Mara. He suddenly appeared in godly splendor and spoke mildly to the prince. “This hell is for those who wish to give away their wealth because of their addiction to charity and praise from supplicants. Virtue, wealth and pleasure are the three goals of human endeavor. Of these, wealth is the requirement of the other two. Destroying wealth is the same as destroying virtue. Those who engage in destroying wealth are doomed to eons of suffering. Those receiving alms are free from blame and destined for heaven. This hell has appeared because you are about to succumb to your addiction to charity and its praise from the unwitting.”
Knowing Mara’s devious nature, the prince replied with courtesy. “I appreciate your concern for my wellbeing. Like an illness, it is better to receive treatment at its first appearance. Unfortunately, by now my addiction to charity is beyond cure. You say wealth is the basis for virtue and charity is sinful. Sadly, my small human mind cannot grasp such profound teachings. And when you say the generous are doomed to hell while the recipients of charity are destined for heaven, it only strengthens my addiction to give more. For in my foolishness, I only seek the welfare of others and nothing for myself.”
Frustrated, Mara replied, “Fine. Do as you wish. You’ll find out for yourself whether my words are true.”
With that, the prince stepped forward into the hell before him. By the power of his merit, a lotus flower rose up in seeming mockery of Mara and carried the prince to the other side of the abyss, where he was able to present his offerings to the Pratyeka Buddha. Seeing his failure to destroy the prince’s virtue, Mara vanished along with his apparition of hell.
The good disregard dangers in wishing to give for charity. Fear cannot dissuade them from virtue. Who then should not give when it is safe to do so?
SUPARAGA THE NAVIGATOR – February 6, 2022 (The Power of a Virtuous Friend)
Great intelligence and ability are in the nature of Bodhisattvas, based on their store of merit from previous lives. At one of his former lives, the Buddha was a skilled navigator of ships named Suparaga. He understood the movements of the stars, the currents of the ocean and the patterns of the winds. With these skills, he brought ships safely to their destination time and again.
Even in his old age, mariners would seek Suparaga’s aid for a successful voyage. At this time, the crew of a foreign merchant ship approached him. With great respect, they requested that Suparaga accompany them on their voyage home.
Suparaga replied, “Old age has dimmed my sight. The years have clouded my memory. Time has taken my strength so that I can no longer perform the simplest shipboard tasks. How can I possibly be of use to you?”
The crew replied, “None of that matters. We seek only the blessings of your presence during our voyage.”
Out of compassion for the needs of the crew, Suparaga agreed to accompany them on their voyage, despite his age.
And so they set sail and entered the limitless waters of the ocean. Now far from land, a howling gale arose, churning the sea into a terrifying maelstrom, as if the ocean itself were angry with the sailors. Their fear at their peril shook faith of the crew. Suparaga himself remained calm.
“A storm at sea should come as no surprise to a sailor,” said Suparaga. “But you should not despair, for difficulties are overcome by effort, not dejection. Steadfast perseverance is how the intelligent achieve their goals. Let everyone man his station and apply his skill.”
The calm of the Bodhisattva in the face of the storm gave heart to the crew as they worked to steady the ship until the winds finally abated.
Next the ship entered a sea seemingly filled with silver-armored figures with fearsome hungry mouths leaping from the waves. Again the crew became afraid.
“These are only the fish of this region. They are no cause for fear,” said Suparaga. “But they are a sign that the storm has carried us too far. We should try to turn about.”
However, the ship was now in a fast-flowing current. Despite their efforts, the crew could not change course.
The ship soon entered a foam-filled sea the sailors had never seen. They questioned Suparaga.
“This is the Sea of Milk,” he answered. “We have come too far. Best to turn back.”
Again, the currents proved too strong and the ship was carried onward. Each time the ship entered a strange new sea, the sailors’ fear arose and they implored Suparaga for help. Each time he answered that they had gone too far and they should try to turn about.
But despite their efforts, the winds and currents carried them on. At last they came to a sea shaken by a deafening roar. Looking ahead, they saw the whirling water pouring into a great abyss.
“What sea is this?” cried the terrified crew.
“Alas,” said Suparaga. “This is the Mouth of the Mare, from which no one returns.”
Overcome by fear, some wept, some prayed, other wailed in despair at their fate. Seeing hope vanishing, some pleaded with Supraga.
“Your great compassion has never failed in helping others. Now this sea wishes to devour us. But even it cannot disobey your command. Please use your power to save us.”
The great being was filled with compassion at their plight.
“Take courage,” he said to the crew.
Then placing his cloak on one shoulder and with his right knee bent, he paid homage to the Tatagatas.
“I cannot recall a single instance in this life where I have harmed a living being. By the power of this truth and the strength of my store of merit, may this ship be safely turned from the abyss.”
So great was the power of Suparaga’s truth and so great was the splendor of his merit that the wind and sea abated. Seeing their chance, the crew rejoiced and turned the ship from the cataract.
Now the wind and currents favored the ship as it sailed swiftly homeward.
Suparaga addressed the crew, “To steady the ship on each sea we pass, dredge up sand and stones from the bottom and store as much as the boat will hold. You will certainly profit thereby.”
They crew complied with Suparaga’s instruction, as strange as it seemed. But when they reached their home, they found the hold filled not with sand and stones but gold and precious gems.
When one dwells in the Dharma, even a word spoken in truth can dispel calamity. Those who seek refuge in the Virtuous Friend attain happiness.
THE GREAT APE – March 6, 2022 (Compassion Toward Harmful Ones)
The Buddha in a former life was a Bodhisattva who took form as a great ape. Even in that incarnation, he was fully imbued with compassion, living alone in the forest on fruit and leaves and showering benevolence on all who crossed his path.
One day a herdsman entered the forest in search of a lost cow. Wandering here and there, he soon lost his way. Hungry and exhausted, he sat down beside a tree where its sour fruit had fallen to the ground. Wishing to pluck some ripened fruit, he climbed to the tip of a branch which hung over the edge of a waterfall. In that moment the branch broke and the herdsman fell into the chasm below.
Its walls were steep. No ordinary being could find a handhold to escape. Realizing his fate, he cried out in despair.
Days went by with the herdsman living on nothing but water and fallen fruit. All the while he muttered and moaned about his plight.
Then it was that the great ape happened by. Hearing the cries and peering over the edge, the great ape was moved by pity when he saw the man.
“Who are you and how do you come to be here?” the great ape called down.
“I am a human who lost his way. Now I am trapped here with no friends or kin to rescue me,” the man replied.
“Have no fear. I will do what you kin cannot.”
After tossing some food to the man, the great ape tested his own strength by lifting a rock the same weight as the man. Satisfied that he could carry the man out of the chasm, the great ape made his way down.
“Climb on my back and hold fast while I free you and fulfill the purpose of this body. For the wise know that the true worth of a mortal frame is in helping others.”
And so the great ape carried the man out of the pit. Exhausted from his effort, the great ape wished to rest.
“This forest is the haunt of predatory beasts,” the great ape said. “Please keep watch over me while I sleep.”
“Certainly, sir,” the man replied. “Take your rest and I will stand guard.”
But when the great ape had fallen asleep, the man began to entertain wicked thoughts.
“I am weak and famished from days in that pit. How will I survive without proper nourishment? Perhaps the flesh of this ape will sustain me until I can find my way out of this forest.”
Seeing his chance while the great ape slept, the man picked up a heavy stone and hurled it at the ape’s head. But the man’s weakness made him stagger and the stone only caused a glancing blow.
Awakened and in pain, the great ape looked at the shamefaced man. Unmindful of his own injury, the Bodhisattva felt great pity for the man who committed such a terrible deed to one who had saved him.
“I rescued you from the abyss, but you have fallen into another. I am the occasion for your sin, but I am unable to cleanse it,” Bodhisattva continued. “This pains me more than the blow to my head. I will lead you from this forest. But since you cannot be trusted, do not leave my side lest some creature makes my effort fruitless by devouring you as you wander.”
Upon reaching the forest’s edge, the Bodhisattva counseled the man, “Go safely and try to avoid evil acts for they will yield a painful harvest.”
Already suffering from shame and remorse, the man was soon stricken with leprosy. So disfigured was he by the disease that he no longer looked human. People shunned and drove him off wherever he wandered.
Finally, he crossed the path of a king out hunting.
The king demanded, “What manner of being are you to be so afflicted?”
“This is the result of my treachery to a friend,” the poor man replied. “Knowing this, O king, one should follow the path of the virtuous. This is the only way to happiness.”
Thus, the noble ones are pained by the harm done to those who attempt to injure them. Consider this when speaking of the faithfulness to friends and the consequences of evil deeds.
THE UNCONQUERABLE ONE – April 3, 2022 (Unattached Generosity)
As a Bodhisattva, the Buddha was once a wealthy merchant prince. Knowing that wealth was fleeting and a source of temptation, he was joyful in bestowing it on supplicants. Because he was free from selfishness and the other vices, he was known as Avishahya or the Unconquerable One.
Shakra, the king of the gods, was amazed by Avishahya’s boundless generosity and decided to test it. Using his magical powers, Shakra caused some of Avishahya’s wealth to disappear each day. Instead of being dismayed by his mounting losses, Avishahya rushed to give more away before it vanished. Seeing this, Shakra caused Avishahya’s remaining wealth to disappear.
Avishahya awoke to find his house empty except for a sickle and a coil of rope. His calm composure left no room for dejection or despair. Unused to begging, he could not bring himself to ask others for help. The realization of how difficult it must be for those forced into begging only increased his compassion for those in that state. Instead, with the sickle and rope he took up work as a grass cutter, selling what he could to provide alms for those less fortunate.
Shakra saw that even in great poverty Avishahya remained steadfast in his generosity. Thus Shakra appeared to Avishahya and said, “You have lost your wealth not because of thieves or calamity, but because of your excessive charity. For your own good you must subdue your addiction to generosity.”
To this Avishahya replied, “Thank you for your kind advice, but my heart has grown used to the joys of giving. Please forgive me, but at this point I am too weak to change my ways.”
Shakra responded, “One such as you can easily regain his wealth with little effort. Then you will be able to share it now and then without giving it all away. No one will blame you for showing such reasonable restraint.”
“O Lord of the Gods,” Avishahya replied, “Surely you know that the span of life is as uncertain as the duration of wealth. That being so, how can I waste even a moment not devoted to generosity? When a cart first makes a path in the ground, a second can more easily follow. I have long traveled this road of charity and I will not shift to an uncertain path. Should I once more gain wealth, it will surely benefit more mendicants. But even now in this lowly condition, I will give what I can. May I never be parted from the practice of charity.”
Seeing Avishahya’s unconquerable generosity, Shakra said, “I can no more shake your resolve for charity than the wind can shake a mighty mountain peak. By hiding your wealth, I have only spread your fame. Now go forth and rain down your gifts on all who require them. By my favor, your wealth shall never again diminish.”
Neither hope for riches nor concern for their loss can turn the virtuous from generosity.
THE FISH – May 1, 2022 (The Power of Prayer)
Through long practice, good or harmful actions become second nature until they are effortless. Thus, through the patient practice of virtue, the Bodhisattva becomes intent on acting solely for the benefit of others.
As a Bodhisattva, the Buddha was once born as the king of fishes in a beautiful lake. As the king of fishes, the Bodhisattva cared for his subjects as if they were his own offspring, attending to their every need. Through skillful means, he taught them kindness and restraint so that they lived together in harmony in the waters of the lake.
But it so happened that one day Parganya, the god of rain, failed to provide the rain needed to replenish the lake. Instead the sun beat down and the dry wind blew until the lake was no more than a stagnant pond.
Flocks of birds began to line the shore, eager for the moment when the gasping fish would be exposed to their hungry beaks.
The distress of the fish troubled the heart of the Bodhisattva. He thought, “What can I do? These poor fish are trapped and will soon be at the mercy of the plundering birds.”
Considering long and hard, the Bodhisattva saw one hope for his suffering subjects. Gazing up at the sky, he uttered this prayer, “ I cannot recall even a single instance where I have harmed another living being, even when I was in great distress. By the power of this truth, may the gods fill this lake with rain.”
By the power of the truth, by the store of the Bodhisattva’s merit and by the favor of the gods, nagas and yakshas, clouds began to gather from all directions. The sky grew dark, shielding the lake from the beating sun. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. Streams of clear rain began to fall. Water from the hillsides rushed into the lake, scaring off the waiting birds while bringing joy and hope to the beleaguered fish.
The Bodhisattva continued his plea, “Roar, Parganya. Pour down your life-giving waters.”
Hearing this cry, Shakra, the Lord of the Gods, was astonished. He appeared before the Bodhisattva and said, “O Lord of the Fishes, through the power of your truth and your untold merit, you have caused the skies to open. I would be to blame if I did not support the noble deeds of one whose sole concern is the benefit of others. I am a friend to the virtuous and by my power, from now on, this lake shall never again be visited by drought.”
Those who practice good conduct will be successful and thrive even in this world—and more so the next.
THE SHARABHA DEER – June 5, 2022 (Tolerance of Harm)
In a previous life, the Buddha was born as a Bodhisattva in the form of a Sharabha Deer. This sharabha was magnificent in all respects, swift, vigorous, graceful and elegant. He lived happily in the deep forest, far from human habitation, content to subsist on leaves and grass, with nothing but kindness toward the other creatures of the forest.
Although he had the shape of a forest animal, his mind was as steadfast as any human, with the sympathy of a sage toward all living beings. Thus he was content to live as if a yogi in peaceful solitude.
One day, however, the king who ruled that region entered the forest in a hunt. Riding a swift horse, and drunk with the excitement of the hunt, he was soon separated from his retinue.
Suddenly the king spotted the magnificent sharabha. He immediately decided to kill the deer. Stringing his bow with a deadly arrow, he spurred his horse in pursuit.
Seeing the king and recognizing his intentions, the Bodhisattva took flight. Not because he was powerless against such an assailant, but because he wished to avoid all forms of violence.
Speeding from his pursuer, the sharabha leapt easily over a deep chasm. But racing after him, the king’s horse stopped short at the edge of the cliff, throwing the king into the abyss below. The king’s attention was fixed on his prey. He had not noticed the danger ahead. And now he lay at the bottom of the steep ravine with no hope of climbing out.
No longer hearing the hoofbeats behind him, the Bodhisattva at first thought that the king had abandoned the chase. But looking back and seeing the riderless horse at the edge of the cliff, the Great Being realized what had befallen the king. Upon this realization, the Bodhisattva at once felt compassion for the one who has sought his life.
The Bodhisattva thought, “Until moments ago, the king had been graced with all the trappings of royalty. Now he could lie injured, unconscious or in great pain. Common people are used to suffering. But when a prince encounters calamity, they are plunged into despair. He is certainly trapped and in distress. It would be wrong to abandon him.”
Approaching the edge of the precipice, the Bodhisattva found the king covered in dust and racked with pain. No longer did he think of the king as an enemy but was instead moved to tears by the sight of the king’s suffering.
With kind words, he addressed the king, “Great King, I hope your pain is not too great. I am but a simple forest creature. Please place your trust in me and I will come to your rescue.”
This speech from the sharabha touched the king greatly. Shame filled his heart as he thought, “How could he show mercy to me, who moments before desired only to kill him? How could I have acted so wrongly to such an innocent one? It is I who am the brute. Surely he should be honored by my accepting his offer of help.”
Addressed the sharabha, the king said, “My pain is bearable. It is nothing compared to the pain of realizing the offense I have committed against such a pure-hearted being as you. Relying on your outward form, I was blind to your true nature. Please forgive me.”
Happy at the king’s acceptance of help, the Bodhisattva prepared himself for the rescue, testing his strength by carrying a stone with the weight of man. Confident that he could perform the task, he gracefully descended into the ravine.
Addressing the king, he said, “Forgive me for the necessity of touching your noble person in order to bring joy to myself by bringing you happiness. Please climb on my back and hold tight.”
With strength and agility, the sharabha swiftly carried the king to the top of the cliff.
Reuniting the king with his horse, the sharabha told the king the way back to the capital. With joy in his heart, the sharabha turned back toward the forest.
But the king, overcome with gratitude, embraced the sharabha, saying, “My life is yours. Please return with me to the capital. How can I leave you here at the mercy of hunters, exposed to the elements?”
The Bodhisattva replied, “Your offer is suitable for one such as yourself. But please don’t think I could be happy in your palace. The pleasure of humans are one thing, but those of us forest creatures are another. However, if you wish to do something for me, refrain from hunting from now on. The poor creatures of the forest, their minds dull and heavy, deserve your pity, not your arrows. All creatures desire happiness and freedom from suffering. Knowing this, how can you do to others what would cause unhappiness to you? Harmful actions lead to suffering. Virtuous actions bring dignity. Be generous. Increase your merit. Seek guidance from the wise. Cultivate right action. Treat all creatures as you would yourself be treated. This way you will achieve fame and happiness.”
The king thanked the Bodhisattva for his words and watched with respect as he sped away to his home in the forest.
Thus the compassionate show pity even to those who wish to harm them and never abandon their desire to help even wrong doers in distress, regardless of their evil intentions.
THE HARE – July 10, 2022 (Generosity in the Lower Realms)
It is in the nature of great beings to give whatever they can.
In a previous life, the Buddha was born as a bodhisattva in the form of a hare. He lived in a peaceful forest laden with flowers and fruit and a carpet of soft grass. He was known to all the forest creatures for his kind and gentle nature. Even the fearsome animals respected him. His virtues of generosity and wisdom won him three special friends who reverently welcomed his teachings on the dharma. They were an otter, a jackal and a monkey.
One evening, the Bodhisattva’s friends gathered for his teaching on the meaning of the Poshada festival which took place on the day of the full moon that month. One of the instructions for the feast day was to honor any guest with special and lawfully obtained food before eating anything oneself.
The hare continued his teachings, saying, “Life is as fleeting as lightning. All meetings end with separation. Fame becomes obscurity. Therefore, strive to increase merit through generosity and good conduct. For meritorious actions are the powerful support for beings in this cyclic existence. Those who do not possess merit are pursued by endless misfortune.”
The friends took the Bodhisattva’s words to heart and departed for their homes. As they left the Bodhisattva was troubled by the thought, “My friends will no doubt be able to provide for a guest tomorrow. But what do I have to offer besides the blades of grass I cut off with my teeth? They are far too bitter for a noble guest. What is the point if the arrival of a guest brings not joy but sorrow?”
It was then that the Bodhisattva realized that he had an excellent means to honor a guest. “I can use my own body. It belongs to no one else. And I will not harm anyone by offering it.” With that recognition, the hare was joyful and content to wait until morning.
At this great being’s thought, the powers of earth and sky manifested their pleasure. The mountains trembled. The wind blew scented fragrance. The ocean shook its waves. The air was filled with the sound of heavenly drums.
Shakra, the Lord of the Gods, took notice of this remarkable display and was filled with wonder and curiosity. He decided to test the truth of the hare’s intentions by assuming the form of a wandering brahmin who had lost his way in the forest.
The morning of the feast day was blazingly hot. The brahmin began to weep and wail, “Help me. I am lost and without friends. I am tired and hungry and parched with thirst. I cannot tell the right path from the wrong. Will someone help me?”
Hearing the brahmin’s cries, the Bodhisattva and his friends rushed to his aid. “Do not think you are lost. We are your friends whom you can regards as if we were your own disciples. Please accept our hospitality.”
Taking the traveler’s silence for acceptance, the otter ran off and quickly returned with seven fish he had found motionless on the ground, perhaps left by a forgetful fisherman. The jackal brought a lizard and a pot of curd left behind by someone. The monkey brought ripe mangos. Finally, the hare approached.
“I am but a hare from the forest. I have no beans or sesame seeds or grains of rice to offer. My wealth is limited to my body. Please accept it, as it is all I possess.”
Shakra replied, “How can someone such as I kill any living being, especially one who has shown such kindness toward me?”
The hare responded, “As a brahmin you are inclined toward compassion. But for the sake of doing me this favor, would you wait while I find some means of honoring you?”
Understanding the Bodhisattva’s intention, Shakra manifested a heap of burning coals.
Seeing the way to realize his aim, the hare addressed Shakra, “Here is the means to fulfill my hopes of making good use of this body. Such an opportunity is not easily found. Let it not be wasted. It depends on you.”
With that, the hare leapt into the flames. Shakra marveled at the sight. Flowers rained down from the heavens. Shakra resumed his own form. With his own hands he lifted up the hare and displayed him to the gods saying, “Behold and rejoice at the deeds of this Great Being. At a time when most people cannot offer even faded flowers without misgiving, this one gave up his own body without hesitation. Such is the mind practiced in virtue.”
To honor the Great Being, Shakra placed the image of the leaping hare atop his own palace. So that all beings should know and be inspired, he also placed the image of the hare on the face of the full moon. Even today, that moon is known as Marked with the Hare.
Soon after, the otter, the jackal and the monkey, due to their closeness to the Bodhisattva, were all reborn in the realm of the gods.
Great Beings, even in the form of animals, practice giving in whatever way they can. Should not human beings also follow this path?
THE FLEDGLING QUAIL – August 7, 2022 (Power of True Speech)
In a previous life as a Bodhisattva, the Buddha was born as a quail in a sturdy nest built by his parents amidst the vines of a thicket.
Even in this early stage of life, the Bodhisattva was aware of right and wrong. He did not want to eat the living creatures his parents brought back to the nest. Instead, he subsisted on grass, seeds and berries. This coarse diet did not allow his wings develop like those of his siblings. Instead, his body remained weak and unable to fly.
This is the way of the world according to the scriptures: Those who avoid deciding what is right are like the shameless crow who, eating everything, has an easy life that is full of sin. The modest who strive for purity and righteousness lead more difficult lives.
So it was that one day a great forest fire arose near the quails’ nest. Propelled by the winds, it consumed all in its path. Terrified creatures fled helter-skelter to escape its flames. As the fire grew closer, the sibling quail and their parents flew off in terror with no concern for one another, leaving the Bodhisattva quail behind.
Knowing his own strengths, the Bodhisattva was not disturbed. As the flames closed in, the Bodhisattva humbly addressed the fire: “My feet are not strong enough to deserve the name. My wings are unable to fly. My parents have gone. I have nothing worth offering a guest such as you. Therefore, fire, turn back.”
As soon as the Bodhisattva spoke these words—purified by the truth—the fire subsided. Though the wind still raged, the fire’s progress stopped as if blocked by a mighty river.
To this day, any fire reaching that famous spot in the Himalayas will lose its force like a ferocious serpent charmed by a spell.
Just as the sea cannot transgress its natural bounds or the virtuous ignore the Dharma, words purified by the truth cannot be overcome even by fire. Knowing this, the wise never abandon their devotion to true speech.
THE RURU DEER – September 11, 2022 (Voluntarily Engaging in Trouble)
The Ruru Deer
To the virtuous, no suffering exists but that of others.
In a previous incarnation, the Buddha took birth as a Bodhisattva in the form of a Ruru Deer. As a deer, the Bodhisattva was the most magnificent of creatures, with splendid antlers, a coat that glowed like gold, and spots that glimmered like precious gems. Knowing his body to be a much desirable object for hunters and being aware of the pitiless nature of man, he lived in the deep forest far from human habitation.
With his keen intelligence, he was able to avoid the hunters’ snares and traps and poisoned bait. Moreover, he warned the animals who followed him to do likewise. He was like a revered teacher to them. For it is said when beauty and wisdom are combined with right action, who would not follow such a one?
So it was that one day the Great Being heard the plaintive cries of a man who had fallen into a nearby river, now raging from recent downpours.
“Save me, kind people. I cannot find a foothold to escape this torrent. Come quickly or I am lost.”
This piteous plea moved the heart of the Bodhisattva. “Do not be afraid,” he replied as he rushed to the banks of the torrent. These were the words he had used over countless lifetimes to dispel the fear, misery and dejection of others.
Without a thought for his own life, the Great Being plunged into the river like a fearless warrior facing down the enemy.
“Hold onto me,” he told the drowning man. Despite the force of the powerful current, the Bodhisattva’s willpower sustained his strength. His joy at saving the man overcame all weariness. Helping the man recover with his own enthusiasm, the Bodhisattva showed him the way out of the forest.
As they were about to part, the grateful man said, “No friend from childhood or kinsman would have done what you have done for me. This life of mine, therefore, is yours. Command me as you see fit.”
The Great Being replied, “Gratitude is no surprise in a good person. It is but part of their nature. But seeing the corruptness of this world, even gratitude must now be considered a great virtue. Because desire rules the hearts of many, they would view my body as a trophy due to their lack of mercy and self-restraint. Therefor I ask you to tell no one of your rescue by me. In this way, you will guard your merits as well as mine. For betrayal of a friend can never lead to happiness. Do not be angry at what I say. We forest animals are unskilled in the deceitful politeness of men.”
The man promised to honor the Bodhisattva’s request, and after bowing to the Great Being and circumambulating him, then set out for his home.
At that time there lived in that country a queen who had prophetic dreams. Whatever extraordinary dream she dreamt came true. In her dream one night saw a ruru-deer shining like a heap of jewels, standing on a throne and surrounded by the king and his assembly, preaching the Dharma in a clear human voice.
When she awoke, she went to tell her king about her wonderful dream, adding this request: “My lord, please try to find that deer. Its beauty will make your palace shine with the splendor like the heaven’s deer constellation.”
The king, who trusted her dreams, readily complied, partly to honor her and partly because he desired that jewel-like deer for himself.
Accordingly, he ordered his huntsmen to search for the deer and had this proclamation made in his capital day after day: “There exists a golden-skinned deer, spotted with various colors shining like hundreds of jewels. Whosoever can reveal the whereabout of this deer shall have a rich village and ten lovely women.”
The man who had been rescued by the Bodhisattva heard that proclamation again and again. He was poor and his family was in need. At the same time, he remembered his promise to the one who had saved him. Over and over he struggled with these two thoughts: “Shall I regard Virtue or Wealth? Shall I keep my promise to my benefactor rather than the duty of sustaining my family?”
Eventually desire won, as he explained to himself, “Once I have great wealth, I will be able to enjoy the pleasures of this world, and by entertaining my kinsmen and friends, guests and mendicants, I will also have happiness in the next.”
Having come to this conclusion, he went to the king.
“Your Majesty, I know that excellent deer and his dwelling-place. Tell me to whom I should reveal him.”
On hearing this, the king rejoiced. “Show him to me, my friend.” And putting on his hunting clothes the king left his capital, accompanied by a large force.
The man led the king to the riverside while the hunters encircled the forest.
“Here is the precious deer, Your Majesty.”
As the man pointed, his hand fell off, as if it had been cut off with a sword.
Charmed by the beauty of the deer, the king failed to notice the strange occurrence. Instead, he immediately took aim with a deadly arrow.
The Bodhisattva, on hearing the noise of people on every side, knew there was no escape.
Seeing the king was ready to shoot, the Bodhisattva spoke to him.
“Stop a moment, mighty prince. First please satisfy my curiosity and tell me who led you to me.”
The king, marveling at this address in a human voice, pointed to the man with his arrow.
“This man has disclosed you to me.”
The Bodhisattva spoke disapprovingly. “This is sad. It is better is it to take a log out of the water than to save an ungrateful person. This is how he repays efforts made on his behalf. How is it that he did not see that he destroyed his own happiness at the same time?”
The king grew curious about this reproach.
“I hear your harsh words without catching their meaning. Who are you speaking about?”
The Bodhisattva replied: “I did not speak harshly because I wish to blame but so that he will not do it again. To speak harshly to someone who has made a mistake is like pouring salt on a wound. Who would do it willingly? But if there is an illness, it must be treated at its root. I recused this man out of pity, but because of his betrayal I am now in danger.”
The king looked sternly at the man. “Is this true?”
The man, trembling and pale with fear, answered, “It is true.”
Drawing on his bowstring, the king, took aim at the man. “What is the point of letting a person like this live?”
“Stop, great king,” the Bodhisattva cried with a heart choking with compassion. “Do not slay one who is already dead. His greed has killed him, both to his reputation in this world and with the destruction of his virtue for the next. This is how men are affected when their minds cannot endure suffering. This is a time for pity, not anger. Whatever he was promised, let him have it. I myself bow to your command if I can be of any use to you.”
This mercy and sincere desire to reward even the man who had ill-treated him amazed the king. And so the king brought the Bodhisattva to the capital and placed him on his throne to teach him and his court.
Addressing the assembly the Bodhisattva said, “Dharma has many aspects, but in essence it is based on compassion. If one has the same compassion for others as one has for oneself, how could they be swayed by harmful thoughts much less engage in harmful actions? Compassion gives rise to the other virtues and leads to happiness. No anger can arise while the mind remains calm. In brief, compassion is dharma. Therefor treat others with compassion as you would toward yourself.”
In this manner, then, for the virtuous no suffering exists but that of others. It is this they cannot bear, not their own suffering.
THE PRINCE FROM THE IRON HOUSE – October 2, 2022 (Enthusiasm for Morality)
One time when the Buddha was still a bodhisattva, he was born into a royal family distinguished for both its modesty and its splendor. Their prosperity was secured by the affection of their subjects. So it was no surprise that there was great rejoicing when this royal prince was born. The king, too, was pleased, and showered gifts upon his subjects. The city was full of celebration as on a major holiday.
Now it so happened that every son born to this king thus far had died soon after birth. These untimely deaths were blamed on evil spirits. To protect his new son, the king built a house entirely of iron, with walls encrusted with gold and precious gems. Rites and ceremonies were performed to ward off evil in the manner set forth in the ancient texts.
The young prince grew strong, free from the workings of demons. He received teachings and initiations from renowned masters. He studied the many branches of science. His kind nature pleased all, inspiring love from the people. Thus, the prince enjoyed happiness as the result of his merits.
During one yearly festival, the prince expressed the wish to view the beautiful decorations throughout the capital. With the king’s permission, the prince mounted the royal chariot and set forth with a host of armed attendants.
All along the way, the prince was met with smiling faces and words of praise. Despite the beautiful spectacle, it only served to remind the prince of his former lives.
Overwhelmed with sadness, the prince lamented, “How dissatisfying is the transient nature of the world. Soon the beauty of this festival will be no more than a fleeting memory. In their joy, people think they have nothing to fear. Yet everywhere lurk three unconquerable enemies: sickness, old age and death, who stand ready to send unfortunate being to the difficult world hereafter.”
“Clouds pour torrents of rain but soon dissolve. Rivers rage over their banks and uproot mighty trees yet in drought become a trickle. The wind howls over mountaintops but dies into stillness. Fires consume all in their path until nothing is left but ashes. What union does not end in separation? What prosperity is not liable to ruin? People rejoice in such things only because they do not see that change is the nature of the world.”
With such thoughts, the prince was overtaken with the wish for salvation.
Returning to the palace, he begged the king for permission to go to the forest as a renunciate. The king, who dearly loved his son, was struck to the heart by this request.
“Why do you wish to leave? Who has displeased you? Is it something I have done? Please tell me and I shall correct it at once.”
“What wrong can you do who loves me so? It is the relentless peril of death that compels me. From the moment of conception, we begin a ceaseless march toward death. No skill or strength can stop it. That is why I wish to lead a virtuous life in the forest.
“Proud princes with vast armies cannot defeat death. Kings may punish offenders, but they fail to punish the greatest offender of all. Mighty elephants cannot push back death. Skilled archers cannot strike it. Lions, tigers and other fierce beasts all become death’s prey. Even demons and the gods in their realms cannot prevail against this foe.”
“If this is so,” the king asked, “then what assurance against death do you gain by virtuous living in the forest?”
“It is true. Death comes for everyone,” replied the prince. “But it causes no remorse in the virtuous. At home, one is subject to desire, attachment, and the other delusions. It is easier to practice virtue in the forest. Virtue guards man. Not wealth or power. Virtue brings true happiness, not impermanent possessions. Death only gladdens the virtuous because they do not fear what will follow. Thus, good and evil are clearly distinguished by their results.”
At these words, the king granted his permission. Casting aside his royal inheritance as if it were a mere straw in the wind, the prince proceeded to the forest where he achieved immeasurable levels of meditation and used them for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Those who realize the weariness of existence are deterred by nothing on their path to enlightenment.
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2021 SERIES: To review the Jataka Tales click the individual sessions below.
January 10 – The Starving Tiger
January 17 – King of the Gods
January 24 – A Question of Anger
February 14 – The Beggar Wants An Eye
February 21 – The Brahmin Student
April 18 – The Two Swans
April 25 – Just a Bit of Gruel
May 9 – The Enchantress
May 16 – Mahabodhi the Renunciant
May 23 – Prince Sutasoma
THE STARVING TIGER – January 10, 2021
Born in a past life as a brahmin in a wealthy family, the Buddha chose to renounce a life of privilege. He became beloved teacher, living a simple life in a forest retreat. One day, he was walking with a disciple up a mountain path to find a suitable place to practice. As they passed a ravine, they heard the anguished roar of a tiger.
Far below, they saw a weak and starving mother tiger who had just given birth. Crazed with hunger, she was eyeing her tiny cubs as food. Her desperate hunger was about to overcome her natural love and care for her offspring.
Quickly, the Buddha sent his student off in search of something to feed the tiger. The Wise One knew, however, that food was scarce and that feeding the flesh of one helpless animal to another would only prolong the cycle of suffering. Instead, he acknowledged the benefit of using his own body to prevent the tiger from devouring her young ones. With that thought, he cast himself off the cliff into the ravine below.
“Two things alone cause people to ignore the suffering of others: attachment to pleasure and the inability to give aid. But if I cannot feel pleasure while another being suffers, and if I have the power to help, how can I ignore them?”
KING OF THE GODS – January 17, 2021
As a result of countless good deeds, the Buddha was once born as Shakara, King of the Gods. His splendor and goodness shone to the very edges of the universe. That same splendor gave rise to consuming jealousy in the hearts of demons everywhere. Driven by spite, the demons amassed an army to overthrow the king.
Foreseeing the suffering the demons could bring, the king had no choice but to defend helpless beings by leading an army of the gods against the demon horde. The thunderous battle shook the heavens. The demons began to gain against the gods who seeing this, turned and fled the battlefield, leaving only King Shakara and his faithful charioteer.
Fearing all was lost, the charioteer turned the chariot and began to retreat. Along its path lay a tree that held a nest of fledging eagles too young yet to fly.
“Stop and turn back so I might save them,” Shakara commanded.
“But my lord, turning back now we will surely be overrun by the demons,” the charioteer pleaded.
“Better to be struck down by demon blows than live in infamy by abandoning helpless beings. Turn back,” the king once more commanded.
Seeing the king of the gods suddenly turn back and face them, the demons were filled with fear. In terror and confusion, they stumbled over each other as they turned and fled at the sight of such bravery.
Shakara returned in victory to his capitol to the chagrin of the embarrassed gods.
Dharma protects those who practice it.
A QUESTION OF ANGER – January 24, 2021
The Buddha was once born into a prosperous and noble brahmin family. As a Boddhisatva for numerous lifetimes, he had become accustomed to wisdom and renunciation. He therefore did not enjoy the life of a householder.
He decided to set such a life aside and become a renunciate in the forest. His wife, who loved him very much, was determined to accompany him on this path. He tried to dissuade her, telling her of the difficulties faced by a homeless ascetic. But she could not be turned aside and so went with him as they wandered off into the lonely forest, like two geese that pair for life.
One day, a local king happened upon them in their forest abode. Struck by the wife’s radiant beauty, the king was determined to have her for his own. But the king was fearful of the power of an ascetic’s curse. He thought to test the Boddhisatva to see if his fears were grounded. If he were a true renunciate, he would show no sign of anger or attachment. If he did show such signs, there would be no powers to fear.
“What would you do if someone tried to carry off your wife from this lonely place?” the king asked.
The Boddhisatva replied, “If anyone were to act against me here, he will never escape me while I live.”
The king thought that if this ascetic shows such attachment and hostility, he surely cannot have the magic powers of a true renunciate. And so the king ordered his men to carry off the wife. At this, the Boddhisatva showed not the slightest sign of distress.
“You claimed to vanquish whoever acted against you, yet here you sit without lifting a finger,” said the king.
“The one who acted against me here has not escaped me,” replied the Boddhisatva. “Listen, great king. There is as demon that causes untold harm wherever it finds refuge. Its name is anger. It is the enemy within who turns men to evil. Knowing this who would not vow to vanquish it. This I have done. Can you say the same?”
Hearing the words of the Boddhisatva, the king’s mind was pacified. He fell at the great man’s feet and begged forgiveness. With a word, the wife was returned and the king became the Bodhisattva’s servant.
THE BEGGAR WANTS AN EYE – February 14, 2021
At this time, the Buddha was a wealthy and benevolent king. His generosity knew no bounds. Likewise, his joy in giving was without limit. Day after day, supplicants would line up before him bearing requests. None were denied. Gold, silver, precious gems, all walked away with whatever they asked for.
One day, a poor blind beggar appeared in front of the king.
“What do you wish for?” the king asked.
“One of your eyes, sire,” the beggar replied.
The king was overjoyed at being able to give something seen as far more precious than gold and jewels. To the beggar’s request he said, “I will give you both my eyes so that people may see and be amazed.”
The king’s ministers begged the king to reconsider.
“My only concern is to be of help to people,” replied the king. “The trouble this poor man took to reach me should not go to waste.”
With that, the king instructed his doctors to remove his eyes and give them to the beggar. To the wonder of all, the beggar’s sight was restored through the king’s eyes.
This beggar, of course, was no ordinary being, but one sent to test the limits of the king’s generosity. Having excelled beyond expectation, the king thereafter was bestowed with the divine power of limitless vision, to better see and attend to the needs of living beings.
“There is no better means for advancement than charity born of compassion for others. Therefore, make your wealth meaningful by using it for the benefit of others.”
THE BRAHMIN STUDENT – February 21, 2021
In one of his past lives, the Buddha was the diligent student of a pious and learned teacher. At one point, the teacher wished to test the character of his students. He spoke to them about his hardships due to poverty. At first, they gathered more food for him. But he told them that only wealth can truly relieve the pains of poverty.
As brahmin students, they had no means of gathering wealth except through gifts. But the people of their area were not that charitable. Their teacher told them there were other ways of gathering wealth. One such method is theft. “But since you wish to preserve your reputations,” told them, “You must do it when no one can see.”
All agreed to become thieves out of respect for their teacher. All except the diligent student.
“Why do you stand aside,” the teacher asked. “Is it for lack of devotion to me?”
“I am truly devoted,” the student replied. “But what you ask is impossible. No one can act sinfully without being observed. Even when no one else is there, I am always there to observe my own actions, whether right or wrong. Thus, how can I preserve my own reputation knowing I have done wrong?”
The teacher was delighted by the student’s words. “Well done. Well done,” he said. “The foolish may forsake the path, telling themselves it is for need or duty. But the virtuous will not stray even in distress.”
THE TWO SWANS – April 18, 2021
In one of his lifetimes, the Buddha was a king of the swans. The commander of the swan king’s army was the Buddha’s disciple Ananda in a former birth. Together, they were devoted to the betterment of their subjects.
The fame of these two great swans reached the ear of King Brahmadatta in Varanasi. He ordered his ministers to find a way he could observe these noble birds. To that end, they constructed splendid lake in a beautiful wooded region and proclaimed it a sanctuary for all birds who chose to rest there.
When the flock of swans learned of this, they urged their king to allow them to visit. But the king’s commander was wary.
“Birds and beasts say what is in their hearts, my king,” said the commander. “Man alone is capable of the opposite. The lake they created is but a pleasant entertainment. We have all we need here. Why should we risk falling prey to deceit?”
But the other swans persisted and so the king agreed to lead his subjects to the new lake.
When the Varanasi king learned the two great swans were now at his lake, he ordered a clever fowler to catch them and bring them to his palace. And so the fowler sets his traps. In no time, the king of swans was snared by the foot. Seeing this, all the other swans flew off in fear. All except the swan that was Ananda.
“Why did you not leave?” the swan king asked him.
“I will not die just because I stay here,” he answered. “Nor will I escape old age and death if I flee. If I were to leave you just to save my own life, how could I live with the shame of abandoning my true companion?”
The fowler approached the two swans and was astonished to see one remain while the other was trapped.
The swan that was Ananda spoke to the trapper. “Free my king and take me instead,” he said.
“You would willingly give yourself up for your friend even though you are free?” asked the fowler. With that, the hunter’s hardened heart was melted. “Noble birds, you are no ordinary beings. Despite my king’s orders, I can no longer hold you captive.”
And so the fowler released the king of swans, who now spoke.
“Take us free and unbound to your king. No doubt he will be pleased and reward your new-found virtue.”
On seeing the noble swans, the Varanasi king realized at once that they were no ordinary beings and with reverence requested teachings before they departed for their home. From time to time thereafter, the swan king and his commander returned to instruct the Varanasi king on the virtuous path.
JUST A BIT OF GRUEL – April 25, 2021
While he was a Boddhisatva, the Buddha became a king of Koshala, known for his virtue and generosity.
One day the king suddenly remembered his previous birth. From that moment, his magnificent gifts of charity increased manyfold. His good conduct was ceaseless. He tirelessly taught his people the power of good works. While performing his virtuous deeds, the king would often times recite a verse that ended with:
All this glory is the fruit
of just a bit of gruel.
All his subjects were consumed with curiosity about the verse but were reluctant to ask. Finally, the queen herself begged the king for an explanation.
With a gentle smile, the king replied, “In my former birth I was a poor laborer. Though subject to fatigue and insults from the wealthy I served, I persevered to support my family. One day as I was setting out to work, four begging monks appeared at my door. With a heart full of faith, I offered them a bit of gruel, which was all we had in our meager home. It is because of that simple gesture that I was reborn as a king. Having seen the immense results of even a simple act of heartfelt generosity, who would not dedicate himself to charity and good conduct?”
THE ENCHANTRESS – May 9, 2021
Once the Buddha in a previous life was a king of the Shibis who devoted himself to the welfare of his subjects like a parent to his children.
There was in his kingdom a young woman of enchanting beauty. All who saw her could not turn their gaze away. For that reason, they called her the Enchantress.
Her father wished to have her marry the king. So the king sent his ministers to determine if she was suitable to become his queen.
The ministers were so struck with desire on seeing her that they feared their king would lose all interest in his royal duties once he fell under her spell. They reported to the king that she was unsuitable and the king lost interest. The girl’s father married her to a royal minister named Abhiparaga instead.
But the enchantress was angry at the king for thinking her unsuitable. She was determined to see if he could withstand her beauty. So during a festival, she managed to stand on a rooftop as the king’s procession passed. The moment the king gazed on her, he was overwhelmed with desire.
Back in his palace, the king could think of nothing but the woman he had seen. On learning she was the wife of another man, he became despondent. He lost interest in his responsibilities. He could no longer smile. Word of this soon reached the woman’s husband, Abhiparaga.
Abhiparaga was devoted to his king and could not bear his sadness. He secretly went to the king and offered to give up his wife to him.
Hearing this, the king hung his head in shame.
“This cannot be,” the king said. “How can I expect to lead my people if I cannot even rule myself. It is foolish to indulge in evil deeds which have consequences in both this world and the next. Even if no one knew, to sin in secret is like drinking poison and expecting to stay healthy.”
“But all I wish for is your happiness, my lord,” said Abhiparaga.
“I agree that you want to help me,” the king replied. “But where is happiness if not in following the dharma?”
MAHABODHI THE RENUNCIANT – May 16, 2021
While still a Boddhisatva, the Buddha was a wandering renunciate named Mahabodhi.
One day Mahabodhi arrived in the realm of a certain king. The ruler requested teachings from Mahabodhi, having heard of his virtues. Every day, the king would listen to Mahabodhi’s words on wisdom and compassion. The king’s ministers grew jealous but they could not outshine Mahabodhi in debate.
So the ministers began to sow doubt in the king’s mind, saying that Mahabodhi could be a spy sent by a rival king to undermine his rule. Little by little, the king began to waver in his devotion to Mahabodhi.
Mahabodhi saw this and decided to leave the kingdom. As the king was challenging Mahabodhi’s decision, the king’s pet dog appeared and began to growl at Mahabodhi.
“A dog reflects the feelings of its master,” Mahabodhi responded. “Once it was happy to see me. Now in growling, your dog betrays your feelings. Thus it is time for me to leave.”
Now that Mahabodhi was gone, the king’s ministers began to sway him with various false doctrines.
One minister denied the reality of cause and effect. Another claimed that the eternal lord Ishwara was the creator of all. A third claimed all that occurs is the unchangeable result of past actions. A fourth claimed there were no past or future lives and one should simply devote oneself to pleasure. The fifth told the king that in ruling, the end justified the means, no matter how cruel or unjust.
Through his clairvoyant powers, Mahabodhi saw that the king was being led astray from the dharma. Using his magical powers, Mahabodhi created a monkey-skin cloak and went to the king.
The king and his ministers were shocked to see Mahabodhi wearing the skin of an animal.
“How did you come by this?” the king asked.
“A monkey entered my hermitage so I killed it and took this skin as my robe,” Mahabodhi answered.
The ministers at once began to mock Mahabodhi as a fake for preaching compassion yet proudly claiming he killed a monkey for the sake of a robe.
“Beware,” Mahabodhi told the ministers. “To criticize another in words that harm your own doctrine is like committing suicide to spite your enemy.”
One by one Mahabodhi challenged the ministers.
To the minister who denied the reality of cause and effect, he said, “How can death of the monkey be my fault, if there is no cause and effect?”
To the one who claimed that the eternal lord Ishwara was the creator of all he said, “If you claim Ishwara is the cause of all, then how can I be to blame for his creations and destructions?”
To the third who denied karma and the fixed nature of past actions he said, “If all actions are fixed, then how can you say I am responsible for the monkey’s death, since his fate was fixed from the beginning?”
To the fourth who claimed there were no past or future lives and one should devote oneself to pleasure he said, “Why are you so anxious to blame me if there is no world after this one? Why should one bother to shun evil if there are no consequences to fear?”
For the fifth minister who told the king that the end justified the means, no matter how cruel or unjust, he said, “How can you blame me if you say anything can be done for the sake of material gain?”
Thus were the king’s ministers defeated and the king returned to the righteous path.
PRINCE SUTASOMA – May 23, 2021
When the Buddha was still a Boddhisatva, he was born as a prince named Sutasoma. One day while strolling through a wooded park, he came upon a brahmin teacher of sacred verses. The prince asked the teacher to recite some verses, for which he would honor him with gifts that would demonstrate his respect.
Before the brahmin could begin, a frightening roar shattered the peace of the park. It was the man-eating monster known as Saudasa.
The compassionate Prince Sutasoma decided to cure Saudasa of his lust for blood. Sutasoma calmly walked toward the source of the sound. There he found the fierce Saudasa.
“What is the point of devouring poor humans?” Sutasoma asked.
Angered by this challenge, Saudasa picked up the prince and carried him off to his bone-littered cave. Now trapped in the cave, the prince began to cry.
Saudasa laughed when he saw the prince’s tears.
“So you are weak and fearful for your life just like all the rest,” Saudasa said.
“Not at all,” answered the prince. “Death cannot be outrun forever, no matter the effort. What is the use of fear in that case? I am sad because I was unable to honor the brahmin teacher and hear his verses before you carried me off. Allow me to go back and honor him and receive his verses and I promise to return when you can do with me what you will.”
“Why would you keep such a promise?” Saudasa asked.
“You have been deluded to so long that you cannot recognize truth,” the prince replied. “For the virtuous, truth is the true wealth. Knowing this, how could they abandon it for the poverty of lies and deceit?”
Saudasa was set back by this. He decided to see if the prince would live up to his words.
Prince Sutasoma returned to the palace and summoned the brahmin teacher. After listening to the teacher’s four verses, the prince rewarded him with gold. Then, true to his word, he set out for Saudasa’s cave.
When the prince returned, Saudasa was struck by his courage. “Let me hear those verses you seem to hold more dearly than your life,” Saudasa said.
“What good would it do in your present state?” the prince replied. “You have forsaken the noble path and devoted yourself to the way of demons.”
Saudasa was stung by these words. “Kings hunt deer in their royal parks for pleasure. Why condemn me for my sport?”
“Both are wrong,” the prince said calmly. “You asked me for the verses that I hold more dearly than my life. Such verses are suitable only if the listener himself is suitable. He must be humble and attentive. His mind must be open and his heart full of desire for the truth. He must listen with respect like someone who is ill listens to a doctor. How can you, who have been a powerless slave to your wickedness, achieve even the least of these unless you willingly seek the cure?”
The prince’s words at last touched Saudasa’s long-hardened heart. With that Saudasa vowed to give up his evil ways and entered the righteous path as follower of the dharma.