sunset

Jataka 6

Devadhamma Jātaka

Divine Virtue

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

There are some lovely but understated moments in this story. There is the moment when the King kisses his elder sons before tearfully seeing them off. There is the selflessness of the youngest brother who decides to be loyal to his older brothers and go with them. And then there is the wisdom of the Bodhisatta, who not only saves his younger brothers, but saves the water-demon himself.

This is another case where the story-in-the-present is probably from a later time. It is hard to believe that any monk during the Buddha’s time would have been able to provide for himself in the way that the misbehaving monk does.

Only those who are godlike call.” This story was told by the Blessed One while at Jetavana, about a wealthy monk.

Tradition tells us that, on the death of his wife, a wealthy landowner from Sāvatthi joined the Saṇgha. When he joined, he had a chamber built for him with a room for a fire and a store-room. He did not formally join the Saṇgha until he stocked his store-room with ghee, rice, and the like. Even after he became a monk, he used to send for his servants and have them cook what he liked to eat. He was richly provided for. He had an entire change of clothing for night and another for day, and he lived separate from the rest of the monks on the outskirts of the monastery.

One day when he had taken out his cloths and bedding and had spread them out to dry in his chamber, a number of monks from the country, who were on a pilgrimage from monastery to monastery, came to his cell and found all these belongings.

“Whose are these?” they asked.

“Mine, sirs,” he replied.

“What, sir?” they cried. “This upper-cloth and that as well, this under-cloth as well as that, and that bedding too, this is all yours?”

"Yes, nobody's but mine,” he replied.

“Sir,” said they, “the Blessed One has only sanctioned three robes, and even though the Buddha to which you have devoted yourself is so simple in his wants, you have all these possessions. Come! We must take you before the Lord of Wisdom.” And, so saying, they took him to the Master.

Becoming aware of their presence, the Master said, “Why have you brought the monk against his will?”

“Sir, this monk is well-off and has quite a lot of possessions.”

“Is it true, monk, as they say, that you are so well-off?”

“Yes, Blessed One.”

“But why, monk, do you have so much? Don’t you know that I praise wanting little, contentment, and so forth, solitude, and determined resolve?”

Angered by the Master's words, he cried, “Then I'll go about like this!” And, ripping off his outer clothing, he stood in their wearing nothing but his underwear.

Then with patience and compassion, the Master said, “Was it not you who in the past was ashamed to behave in an unwholesome, unworthy way? And even when you were a water-demon, you lived for twelve years in a virtuous way? How can it be that, after vowing to follow the Dharma, you have ripped off your outer robes and stand here devoid of shame?”

At the Master's word, his healthy sense of shame (In the Buddha’s teaching a healthy sense of shame is used as a deterrent to behaving unskillfully.) was restored. He put on his robes again, and, saluting the Master, seated himself at the side.

The monks then asked the Blessed One to explain to them the story to which he referred, the Blessed One made clear what had been concealed from them by re-birth.


Once upon a time Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares in Kāsi. The Bodhisatta was born as the son of the King and the Queen, and was named Prince Mahiṃsāsa. By the time he could run about, a second son was born to the King, and the name they gave this child was Prince Moon. But by the time he could run about, the Bodhisatta’s mother died. Then the King took another Queen, who was his joy and delight, and their love was crowned with the birth of yet another prince, who they named Prince Sun. In his joy at the birth of the boy, the King promised to grant her any boon she might ask on the child’s behalf. But the Queen asked that she be able to decide what she wanted at a later time. And once her son grew up, she said to the King, “Sire, when my boy was born, you granted me a boon to ask for him. Let him be King.”

“No,” said the King. “I have two older sons who are as radiant as flaming fires. I cannot give the kingdom to your son.” But the queen kept pestering him to grant her request. And finally the King became afraid that she would harm his sons, so he sent for them and said, “My children, when Prince Sun was born, I granted a boon, and now his mother wants the kingdom for him. I have no wish to give him the kingdom, but I am afraid that she will conspire against you. You had better go off to the forest and only return after my death to rule in the city that belongs by right to our house.” So with tears and lamentations, the King kissed his two sons on the head and sent them away.

As the princes were leaving the palace, Prince Sun, who had been playing in the courtyard, saw them. When he found out what had happened, he decided to go with his brothers. So he too went off in their company.

The three princes went to the Himalayas, and there the Bodhisatta sat down at the foot of a tree, and he said to Prince Sun, “Run down to the that pool over there. Drink and bathe there and then bring us back some water in a lotus-leaf.”

That pool happened to have been given to a water-sprite by Vessavaṇa (Vessavaṇa is another name for Kuvera, the Hindū Plutus, half-brother of Rāvaṇa, the demon-king of Ceylon in the Rāmāyaṇa. Vessavaṇa had rule over tree-sprites as well as water-sprites.), who said to him, “With the exception of those who know what is truly godlike (i.e., virtuous and wise), you may devour anyone that goes down into this pool. But you only have power over those who go into the water.” And after that the water-sprite used to ask all who went down into the pool what was truly godlike, devouring everyone who did not know.

Now quite unsuspecting Prince Sun went into this pool, and he was seized by the water-sprite who said to him, “Do you know what is truly godlike?”

“O yes,” he said. “The sun and moon.”

“You don't know,” said the monster, and he hauled the prince down into the depths of the water and imprisoned him there. After Prince Sun had been gone for a long time, the Bodhisatta sent Prince Moon to see what had happened. He too was seized by the water-sprite and asked whether he knew what was truly godlike. “Oh yes, I know,” he said. “The four quarters of heaven are.”

“You don't know,” said the water-sprite, and he hauled this second victim off to the same prison.

When he thought that his second brother had been gone too long, the Bodhisatta felt sure that something was wrong. So he went after them and traced their footsteps down into the water. He realized at once that the pool must be the domain of a water-sprite. He strapped on his sword, took his bow in his hand, and waited. Now when the demon figured out that the Bodhisatta had no intention of entering the water, he assumed the shape of a forester, and in this disguise said to the Bodhisatta, “You're tired from your journey, friend. Why don't you go in and have a bath and a drink, and cover yourself with lotuses? You will feel better afterwards.”

But knowing that he was a demon, the Bodhisatta said, “It is you who have taken my brothers.”

“Yes, it was,” the water-sprite admitted.

“Why?”

“Because all who go down into this pool belong to me.”

“What, all?”

“Except for those who know what is truly godlike, all who go into the water are mine.”

“And do you want to know what is godlike?”

“I do.”

“If this is true, then I will tell you what is truly godlike.”

“Do so, and I will listen.”

“I should like to begin,” said the Bodhisatta, “but I am tired and dirty from my journey.”

Then the water-sprite bathed the Bodhisatta and gave him food to eat and water to drink. He decked him with flowers, sprinkled him with scents, and laid out a couch for him in the midst of a gorgeous pavilion. Seating himself on this couch and making the water-sprite sit at his feet, the Bodhisatta said, “Listen then and you shall hear what the truly godlike is.” And he repeated this stanza:

The godlike are those who shrink from doing harm,

The white-souled, tranquil, devoted disciples of good.


The Bodhisatta and the Water-demon

Figure: The Bodhisatta and the Water-demon

And when the demon heard this, he was pleased, and said to the Bodhisatta, “Man of wisdom, I am pleased with you, and I will give you back one of your brothers. Which one should I bring?”

“The youngest.”

“Man of wisdom, though you know what the truly godlike is, you don't act from wisdom.”

“How so?”

“Why, you take the younger instead of the elder, without regard to his age.”

“Demon, I not only know but practice the godlike. It was because of this boy that we sought refuge in the forest. His mother asked our father to give him the kingdom, but our father refused. As a result we had to run away to the refuge of the forest. This boy came with us of his own accord and never thought of turning back. No one would believe me if I told them that he had been devoured by a demon in the forest, and it is the fear of this backlash that compels me to ask for him.”

“Excellent! excellent! O man of wisdom,” cried the demon in approval. “You not only know but practice what is godlike.” And in token of his pleasure and approval he brought back both brothers and gave them to the Bodhisatta.

Then the Bodhisatta said to the water-sprite, “Friend, it is because of your evil deeds in the past that you are now a demon living on the flesh and blood of other creatures, and in this life you continue to do evil. This evil conduct will keep you from escaping re-birth in hell and other evil states. From this time forward, you should renounce evil and live virtuously.”

In this way the demon was converted from his evil ways. The Bodhisatta continued to live there under his protection, until one day he read in the stars that his father was dead. Then taking the water-sprite with him, he returned to Benares and took possession of the kingdom. He made Prince Moon his chief deputy and Prince Sun his commander-in-chief. He made a home for the water-sprite in a pleasant spot and made sure he was given the choicest garlands, flowers, and food. He himself ruled in righteousness until he passed away to fare according to his karma.


His lesson ended, the Master preached the Four Noble Truths, after which that monk won the Fruit of the First Path, stream-entry. And the All-knowing Buddha, having told the two stories, connected them together and identified the birth by saying, “The well-to-do monk was the water-demon of those days. Ānanda was Prince Sun, Sāriputta was Prince Moon, and I myself was the eldest brother, Prince Mahiṃsāsa.”