Jataka 39

Nanda Jātaka

Nanda and the Buried Gold

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University

This story is about a person whose behavior changes dramatically if they are in a certain location. This may have to do with what in feng shui is called “location energy.” We do not have that notion in the West, but it is common in Asian cultures.

Most people I know have been somewhere where they feel a very strong sense of energy. Two of which I am aware are Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained his awakening, and here in New Mexico at Chaco Canyon. These are positive location energy fields, but negative ones exist as well. You may have experienced this in a place where you felt a sudden sense of fear or dread. This may have to do with the location itself, or it may be due - at least in part - to your past karma and an experience related to that place.

I think the gold...” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a student of Sāriputta.

Tradition says that this monk was obedient and dutiful and was devoted to caring for the Elder. Now, on one occasion the Elder took leave of the Master on an alms pilgrimage, and he went to South Magadha. When he got there, the monk suddenly grew so arrogant that he would not do what the Elder told him. Moreover, if he was asked, “Sir, do this,” he argued with the Elder. The Elder could not understand what possessed him.

After making his pilgrimage, he went back again to Jetavana. The moment he got back to the monastery at Jetavana, the monk became the way he had always been.

The Elder told this to the Buddha, saying, “Sir, a student of mine in one place is like a slave bought for a hundred pieces, and in another he is so arrogant that a request to do anything makes him quarrelsome.”

The Master said, “This is not the first time, Sāriputta, that he has shown this disposition. In the past too, if he went to one place, he was like a slave bought for a hundred pieces, while in another place, he became quarrelsome and contentious.” And so, at the request of the Elder, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as a nobleman. Another nobleman, a friend of his, was an old man. He had a young wife who had borne him a son and heir. The old man thought to himself, “As soon as I am dead, this girl, being as young as she is, will marry heaven knows who, and she will spend all my money instead of handing it over to my son. It would be my best course to hide my money and bury it safely in the ground.”

So, in the company of a household slave of his named Nanda, he went to the forest and buried his riches at a certain spot. He said to the slave, “My good Nanda, show this treasure to my son after I am gone and don’t let these woods be sold.”

After giving this instruction to his slave, the old man died. In due course the son grew up and his mother said to him, “My son, your father, in the company of Nanda, buried his money. Get it back and look after the property of the family.” So one day he said to Nanda, “Friend Nanda, did my father bury any treasure?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Where is it buried?”

“In the woods, my lord.”

“Well, then, let us go there.”

He took a shovel and a basket, and going to the scene, he said to Nanda, “Well, friend Nanda, where is the money?” But by the time Nanda got to the treasure and was standing right over it, he felt so self-important that he abused his master, saying, “You servant of a slave’s son! Why should you have any money here?”

Cranky Over Money

Figure: Cranky Over Money

The young gentleman, pretending not to have heard this insolence, simply said, “Let us go then.” He took the slave back home with him, and two or three days later, he returned to the place. But again Nanda abused him, as before. Without responding, the young gentleman went back and mulled the situation over in his mind. He thought to himself, “When we start out, this slave always means to tell me where the money is. But as soon as we get there, he starts abusing me. I do not understand the reason for this. I will talk to my father’s old friend - the nobleman - about this.” So he went to the Bodhisatta and told him what had happened. Then he asked his friend what the reason was for such behavior.

The Bodhisatta said, “The spot at which Nanda abuses you, my friend, is the place where your father’s money is buried. Therefore, as soon as he starts abusing you again, say to him, ‘Who are you talking to, you slave?’ Pull him from his spot, take the spade, dig down, remove your family treasure, and make the slave carry it home for you.” And so saying, he repeated this stanza:

I think the gold and jewels lie buried

Where Nanda, low-born slave, so loudly wails!

Taking respectful leave of the Bodhisatta, the young gentleman went home. He took Nanda to the spot where the money was buried. Faithfully following the advice he had received, he took the money away and looked after the family property. He dutifully followed the Bodhisatta’s counsel, and after a life spent in charity and other good works, he passed away to fare according to his karma.

Said the Master, “In the past this man had a similar disposition.” His lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Sāriputta’s student was the Nanda of those days, and I the wise and good nobleman.”