sunset

Jataka 41

Losaka Jātaka

The Story of Losaka

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


Both the story in the present and the Jātaka Tale are quite long. But as you read them, imagine that you are sitting around a campfire while someone tells the story.

There is something of mathematical interest in the story in the present, and that is how the villagers determine which family is causing their misfortune. They use a binary search, something well-known to people who work with computers. They keep diving their group in half until they know who is committing the offense.

It is also worth nothing Sāriputta’s gentle compassion for Losaka. Even though Sāriputta is one of the most prominent people in the Buddha’s Saṇgha, he acts as Losaka’s humble servant in order to make sure he has a proper meal before he dies.

Also notice the behavior of the Elder. He is content to eat good food or not to eat at all. He sees that the monk is afraid that he will upstage the monk with the nobleman, so he chooses to stay at the monastery and meditate rather than infringe on the monk’s territory. This is the behavior of an Arahat, someone who is kind and compassionate and is content to feed on the joy of meditation.


The stubborn man.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about the Elder Losaka Tissa.

“Who,” you ask, “was this Elder Losaka Tissa?” Well, his father was a fisherman in Kosala, and he was the curse of his family. When he was a monk, no one gave him alms. When his previous existence ended, he had been conceived by a certain fisherman’s wife in a fishing village of a thousand families in Kosala. And on the day he was conceived all those thousand families, with their fishing nets in hand, went fishing in the river, but they failed to catch one single fish. And that bad fortune plagued them from that day forward.

Before his birth, the village was destroyed seven times by fire, and it was attacked seven times by the King’s vengeance. So in time the people fell into a woeful existence. Reflecting that it had not always been this way, and that now they were going to rack and ruin, they concluded that someone in their village was to blame. They decided to divide into two groups. They did this, and this created two groups of five hundred families each. After that, misfortune came to the group that included the parents of the future Losaka, while the other five hundred families prospered. So the first group decided to go on dividing their group into two. They kept doing this until one family was separated from the rest. Then they knew that the cause of misfortune was in that family, and they drove them away.

It was very difficult for Losaka’s mother to earn a living, but when her time came, she gave birth to her son. (He that is born into his last life cannot be killed. For like a lamp within a jar, the flame of destiny to become an Arahat burns so brightly inside of him.) The mother took care of the child until he could run about. When he could, she put a bowl in his hands and told him to go begging. When he did this, she ran away and abandoned him.

After that, the solitary child begged for his food and slept where he could. He was unwashed and bedraggled. He made a living like a mud-eating goblin (a type of hungry ghost, beings that live one level below humans). When he was seven years old, he was picking up and eating, like a crow, lump by lump, any rice he could find outside a house where they threw away the residue from the rice pots.

One day Sāriputta, Marshall of the Faith, went into Sāvatthi on his round for alms. He saw the child and wondered what village the hapless creature came from. He was filled with love for him and called out “Come here.” The child came, bowed to the Elder, and stood before him. Then Sāriputta said, “What village do you belong to and where are your parents?”

“I am destitute, sir,” the child said, “for my parents said they were exhausted, and so they abandoned me and went away.”

“Would you like to become a monk?”

“Indeed, I should, sir. But who would take a poor wretch like me into the Saṇgha?”

“I will.”

“Then, please let me become a monk.”

The Elder gave the child a meal and took him to the monastery. He washed him with his own hands. He ordained him as a Novice first, and then gave him the full ordination later when he was old enough. In his old age he was known as Elder Losaka Tissa.

But he always suffered misfortune. Very little was given to him. The story goes that no matter how lavish the charity, he never got enough to eat. He only got enough to keep himself alive. A single ladle of rice appeared to fill his alms-bowl to the brim so that the person giving him food thought his bowl was full. Then they would give the rest of the rice to the next monk. When rice was being put into his bowl, it is said that the rice in the giver’s dish would disappear. This happened with every kind of food. Even when he had attained awakening and won the highest Fruit of Arahatship, he still got little.

Eventually, when the karma of this existence was exhausted, the day came for him to pass away. As the Marshall of the Faith meditated, he became aware of this, and he thought to himself, “Losaka Tissa will pass away today, and today at least I will see that he has enough to eat.” So he took the Elder and went to Sāvatthi for alms. But, because Losaka was with him, it was all in vain. When Sāriputta held out his hand for alms in the heavily populated Sāvatthi, he did not receive so much as a bow. So he told the Elder to go back and sit in the Dharma Hall of the Monastery. Then he collected food which he sent with a message that it was to be given to Losaka. Those to whom he gave the food took it, but, they forgot all about Losaka and ate it themselves. So when Sāriputta entered the monastery, Losaka came to him and saluted him. Sāriputta stopped and turned around and said, “Well, did you get the food, brother?”

“I shall, no doubt, get it in good time,” the Elder said. Sāriputta was greatly troubled and looked to see what time it was. But noon had passed. (Monastics are not allowed to eat solid food after noon.) “Stay here, brother,” Sāriputta said, “and do not move.” He made Losaka Tissa sit down in the Dharma Hall and set out for the palace of the King of Kosala. The King commanded that his bowl be taken and saying that it was past noon and therefore not the time to eat rice, he ordered his bowl to be filled with the four sweet kinds of food. (These are honey, ghee, butter, and sugar. The implication is that these are not considered solid food, so they can be eaten after noon.). He returned with this and stood before Losaka, bowl in hand, and told the sage to eat. But because of the respect that he had for Sāriputta, the Elder was ashamed and would not eat. “Come, brother Tissa,” Sāriputta said, “I must stand with the bowl. Sit down and eat. If the bowl leaves my hand, everything in it will disappear.”

So the venerable Elder Losaka Tissa ate the sweets while the exalted Marshall of the Faith stood holding the bowl. And thanks to the latter’s virtue the food did not vanish. So the Elder Losaka Tissa ate as much as he wanted and was satisfied, and that same day he passed away to enter the realm of the Unconditioned, never to be born again.

The All-Enlightened Buddha stood by and saw the body cremated, and they built a stupa for the ashes.

Seated in the Dharma Hall, the monks said, “Monks, Losaka suffered from misfortune, and little was given to him. How is it possible that he could be so unfortunate yet he was still able to win the glory of Arahatship?”

Entering the Dharma Hall, the Master asked what they were talking about, and they told him. “Monks,” he said, “this brother’s past actions were the cause both of his receiving so little and of his becoming an Arahat. In bygone days he prevented others from receiving alms, and that is why he received so little himself. But it was by his meditating on suffering (dukkha), impermanence (anicca), and non-self (anattā) in all things, that he won Arahatship for himself.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time, in the days of the Buddha Kassapa (the 27th of the previous 29 Buddhas named in the Canon), there was a monk who lived the village life and was supported by a nobleman. He followed the monastic rules, he was virtuous in his life, and he overflowed with wisdom. There was also an Elder, an Arahat, who lived with his fellows in harmony. At the time of the story he visited the village where the nobleman who supported this monk lived.

The nobleman was so pleased with the demeanor of the Elder that he took his bowl, led him into the house, and with great respect invited him to eat. Then he listened to a short discourse by the Elder, and at its close he said with a bow, “Sir, please stay at our monastery close by. I will come and see you there in the evening.”

So the Elder went to the monastery, saluted the resident monk on his arrival, and - after politely asking permission - took a seat by his side. The monk received him with great friendliness and asked him whether he had been given any food as alms.

“Oh yes,” replied the Elder.

“Where was it?”

“Why, in your village close by, at the nobleman’s house.”

And so saying, the Elder asked to be shown to his room and made it ready. Then laying aside his bowl and robe and seating himself, he became absorbed in deep meditation.

In the evening the nobleman came with servants carrying flowers and perfumes and lamps and oil. Saluting the resident monk, he asked whether a guest had appeared, an Elder. Being told that he had, the nobleman asked where he was and in what room he was staying. Then the nobleman went to the Elder and, after bowing courteously, seated himself next to the Elder and listened to a discourse. In the cool of the evening the nobleman made his offerings at the stupa and the Bodhi tree (many monasteries in India had Bodhi trees that were propagated from a cutting of the original Bodhi tree), lit his lamp, and left after inviting both Elder and monk to come up to his house the next day for their meal.

“I’m losing my hold on the nobleman,” the monk thought. “If this Elder stays here, I will count for nothing with him.” So he was discontented and started scheming how to convince the Elder not to settle down there for good. When the Elder came to pay his respects in the early morning, the monk did not speak. The Arahat read his mind and said to himself, “This monk does not know that I would never stand between him and the family that supports him or his Saṇgha.” And going back to his room, he became absorbed in deep meditation.

On the next day, the resident monk, having first knocked gently on the gong, went off alone to the nobleman’s house. Taking his alms-bowl from him, the nobleman told him to be seated and asked where the stranger was.

“I have no news of your friend,” said the monk. “Even though I knocked on the gong and tapped at his door, I couldn’t wake him. I can only presume that his rich food here yesterday disagreed with him and that he is still in bed as a result.”

Meantime the Arahat, who had waited until the proper time to go on his alms round, had washed and dressed and risen with his bowl and robe and gone elsewhere.

The nobleman gave the monk rice and milk to eat, with ghee and sugar and honey in it. Then he had his bowl scoured with perfumed soap and filled it again, saying, “Sir, the Elder must be tired from his trip. Take this to him.”

Without hesitation the monk took the food and went on his way. He thought to himself, “If our friend tastes this, even if I take him by the throat and kick him out of doors I won’t get rid of him. But how can I get rid of this food? If I give it to someone, it will be discovered. If I throw it into the water, the ghee will float on top. And if I throw it on the ground, that will only bring all the crows of the district flocking to the spot.” In his bewilderment he saw a field that had been burned (this is still done to improve fertility), and, scraping away the embers, he threw the contents of his bowl into the hole, filled in the embers on the top, and went home. Not finding the Elder there, he thought that the Arahat had understood his jealousy and departed. “Woe is me,” he cried, “for my greed has made me act wickedly.”

The Wicked Act

Figure: The Wicked Act

From then on misfortune fell on him and he became like a living ghost. He died soon after and was reborn in hell. He was tormented there for hundreds of thousands of years. Because of his karma, he was an ogre for five hundred consecutive births. He never had enough to eat, except one day when he enjoyed an abundance of decaying animal flesh.

For the next five hundred existences he was a dog. Here, too, he only had enough to eat on one day. On no other occasion did he have enough to eat. Even when he stopped being reborn as a dog, he was born into a beggar family in a Kāsi village. From the hour of his birth, that family became even more impoverished, and he never got half as much gruel as he wanted. And he was called Mittavindaka (friend who suffers).

Finally, unable to endure the pangs of hunger that now beset them, his father and mother beat him and drove him away, crying, “Go away, you curse!”

In the course of his travels, the little outcast came to Benares. In those days the Bodhisatta was a world-renowned teacher with five hundred young brahmins to teach. In those times the people of Benares gave food to poor young men and had them taught for free. So Mittavindaka also became a charity scholar under the Bodhisatta. But he was fierce and stubborn, always fighting with the other students and heedless of his master’s criticism. As a result, the Bodhisatta’s income fell off.

Because he quarreled so much and would not accept criticism, the youth ended up running away. He came to a border-village where he hired himself out in order to earn a living. He married a miserably poor woman with whom he had two children. Later, the villagers paid him to teach them what was true Dharma and what was false. They gave him a hut to live in at the entrance to their village. But because of Mittavindaka’s coming to live with them, the King’s vengeance fell on those villagers seven times, and seven times their homes were burned to the ground. And seven times their water tank dried up.

Then they discussed the situation and agreed that things had not been this bad before Mittavindaka came to live there, but that ever since he came things had gone from bad to worse. So with blows they drove him from their village. He left with his family and came to a haunted forest. There the demons killed and ate his wife and children. Fleeing once again, after many days he came to a village on the coast called Gambhīra. He arrived on a day when a ship was putting to sea, and he signed on to the ship’s crew. For a week the ship sailed on her way, but on the seventh day she was becalmed in mid-ocean. It was as though she had run aground on a rock. Then they cast lots in order to determine who was the cause of their trouble. Seven times in a row the lot fell on Mittavindaka. So they gave him a raft of bamboo and threw him overboard. And with that, the ship made way again.

Mittavindaka clambered on to his bamboo raft and floated on the waves. Thanks to his having obeyed the monastic rules in the time of the Buddha Kassapa, he found four daughters of the gods living in a palace of crystal in mid-ocean. He lived happily there for seven days.

Now palace ghosts only enjoy happiness for seven days at a time. So when the seventh day came and they had to go to their punishment, they left him with instructions to wait for their return. But no sooner had they left than Mittavindaka left on his raft again and went to where eight daughters of the gods lived in a palace of silver. Leaving them in turn, he went to where 16 daughters of the gods lived in a palace of jewels, and after that to where 32 lived in a palace of gold.

Disregarding their instructions, he again sailed away and came to a city of ogres set among islands. There an ogress was ranging about in the shape of a goat. Not knowing that she was an ogress, Mittavindaka thought he could make a meal of the goat, and he grabbed the creature by the leg. Immediately, by virtue of her demon-nature, she threw him up and over the ocean. He landed on a thorn bush on the slopes of the dry moat of Benares and then rolled down to earth.

Now it happened that at that time thieves used to frequent that moat and kill the King’s goats, and the goatherds had determined to catch the rascals. Mittavindaka picked himself up and saw the goats. He thought to himself, “Well, it was a goat on an island in the ocean that threw me over the sea when I seized it by the leg. Perhaps, if I do this to one of these goats, I may get thrown back again to where the daughters of the gods live in their ocean palaces.” So without thinking, he grabbed one of the goats by the leg. At once the goat began to bleat, and the goatherds came running from every side. They grabbed hold of him at once, crying, “This is the thief that has so lived so long on the King’s goats.” And they beat him and began to drag him away in chains to the King.

Just then the Bodhisatta, with his 500 young brahmins around him, was coming out of the city to bathe. Seeing and recognizing Mittavindaka, he said to the goatherds, “Why, this is a pupil of mine, my good men. Why have you seized him?”

“Master,” they said, “we caught this thief in the act of seizing a goat by the leg, and that’s why we’ve got hold of him.”

“Well,” the Bodhisatta said, “suppose you hand him over to us to live with us as our slave.”

“All right, sir,” the men replied. And letting their prisoner go, they went their way. Then the Bodhisatta asked Mittavindaka where he had been all that time, and Mittavindaka told him all that had happened.

“It is through not heeding those who wished him well,” said the Bodhisatta, “that he suffered all these misfortunes.” And he recited this stanza:

The stubborn man who, when exhorted, pays

No heed to friends who kindly give advice,

Shall come to certain harm, like Mittaka,

When he seized the grazing goat by the leg.

And after a time both the Teacher and Mittavindaka passed away to fare according to their karma.


The Master said, “This Losaka was both the cause of his getting little and of his attaining Arahatship.” His lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “The Elder Losaka Tissa was the Mittavindaka of those days, and I was the Teacher of world-wide fame.”