Jataka 49

Nakkatta Jātaka

The Stars

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

Many Asian cultures practiced astrology, magic, and various occult rituals. But the Buddha was quite disparaging of these. His message was simple: wholesome actions have wholesome results, and unwholesome actions have unwholesome results. We live in a universe of causes and results, not magic. Nonetheless, as Buddhism moved into different Asian countries, many people who otherwise accepted the Buddha’s teachings continued to believe in the occult.

It may seem like the poor bride in these stories is treated rather cavalierly. But a recent study determined that 55% of all marriages in the world are arranged, and that these marriages only have a 6% divorce rate. (Note that arranged marriages are not the same as forced marriages.) The people who are responsible for arranging the marriage are usually trying to find a good match, and the people in this story are from the same village. As a result, they probably knew each other well.

The fool may watch.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a certain naked ascetic. Tradition says that a gentleman of the country near Sāvatthi asked for his son the hand in marriage of a young Sāvatthi lady of equal rank. After they arranged the day on which they would come to fetch the bride, he subsequently consulted a naked ascetic who was close with his family, as to whether the stars were favorable for holding the festivities that day.

“He didn’t ask me before he arranged the day of the wedding,” thought the indignant ascetic. “But having already arranged the day without consulting me, he is just making an empty gesture to me now. Very well. I will teach him a lesson.”

So he said that the stars were not favorable for that day, that the wedding should not to be celebrated that day, and that if they were, great misfortune would come of it. So the country family, because of their faith in the ascetic, did not go for the bride that day.

But the bride’s friends in the town had made all their preparations for celebrating the wedding, and when they saw that the other side did not show up, they said, “It was they who fixed the day, and yet they have not come, and we have gone to great expense to make the preparations. Who are these people? Let us marry the girl to someone else.” So they found another bridegroom and gave the girl to him in marriage, going through with the festivities that they had prepared.

On the next day the country party came to get the bride. But the Sāvatthi people berated them, saying “You country folk are a bad lot. You chose the day yourselves, and then insulted us by not coming. We have given the girl to someone else.” The country party started a fight, but in the end they went home the same way they came.

Now the monks learned about how that naked ascetic had sabotaged the festivity, and they began to talk about it in the Dharma Hall. Entering the hall, and learning about the subject of their conversation, the Master said, “Monks, this is not the first time that this same ascetic has sabotaged the festivities of that family. Out of annoyance with them, he did the same thing once before.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, some townsfolk asked a country girl for her hand in marriage and had named the day for the wedding. Having already set the date of the wedding, they asked their family ascetic whether the stars were auspicious for the ceremony on that day. Irritated because they set the date without having first consulting him, the ascetic decided to ruin their marriage festivities for that day. Accordingly he said that the stars were not favorable for that day, and that if they persisted, grave misfortune would result. So in their faith in the ascetic, they stayed at home on the day of the wedding. When the country folk found that the town folk did not come, they said among themselves, “It was they who fixed the marriage for today, and now they have not come. Who are these people?” And they married the girl to someone else.

Nasty guru, bad astrologer

Figure: Nasty guru, bad astrologer

On the next day the townsfolk came and asked for the girl, but the country folk said, ”You town people lack common decency. You named the day of the wedding, and yet you did not come to get the bride. So we married her to someone else.”

“But we asked our ascetic, and he told us the stars were unfavorable. That’s why we did not come, yesterday. Give us the girl.”

“You didn’t come at the proper time, and now she is another man’s wife. How can we marry her twice over?”

While they argued with one another, a wise man from the town came into the country on business. Hearing the townsfolk explain that they had consulted their ascetic and that their absence was due to the unfavorable disposition of the stars, he exclaimed, “What do the stars matter? Is it not a lucky thing to get the girl?” And, so saying, he repeated this stanza:

The fool may watch for “lucky days,”

Yet luck will always miss.

Luck itself is luck’s own star.

What can the stars achieve?

As for the townsfolk, they did not get the girl for all their arguing and had to go off home again!

Then the Master said, “This is not the first time, monks, that this naked ascetic has ruined that family’s festivities. He did just the same thing in bygone times as well.” His lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “This ascetic was also the ascetic of those days, and the families too were the same. I myself was the wise and good man who uttered the stanza.”