sunset

Jataka 100

Asātarūpa Jātaka

The Suffering Body

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 clearly about karma and the fruits thereof. But there are also a couple of interesting points here. First, the prince who blockades Benares is doing what I think most people would do in his situation. Yet - presumably because of the harm that he did - this becomes a karmic burden for him. This shows the extreme consequences of doing harm of any kind.

The other interesting tidbit is that the father of the prince – who dies before all this happens – was the Bodhisatta. This is the second story in a row where the Bodhisatta dies before the main events occur.

Disguised as joy.” This story was told by the Master while at Kuṇḍadhānavana near the city of Kuṇḍiya. It is about Suppavāsā, a lay sister, who was the daughter of King Koliya. At that time she had been carrying a child for seven years in her womb. She was in the seventh day of her labor, and her pains were torment. In spite of all her agony, she thought, “The Blessed One who is All-Enlightened preaches the Dharma so that suffering may end. The disciples of the Blessed One are blessed that they may walk the path so that suffering may end. Blessed is Nirvana where such suffering ends.” These three thoughts consoled her in her pains. And she sent her husband to the Buddha to tell him her condition and to send her greetings to him.

Her message was given to the Blessed One, who said, “May Suppavāsā, daughter of the King of the Koliyas, grow strong and well again and bear a healthy child.” And at the word of the Blessed One, Suppavāsā, daughter of the King of the Koliyas, became well and strong, and she bore a healthy child. Finding on his return that his wife had been safely delivered, the husband marveled greatly at the exalted powers of the Buddha. Now that her child was born, Suppavāsā was eager to give alms for seven days to the Saṇgha with the Buddha at its head. She sent her husband back to invite them.

Now it so happened that at that time the Saṇgha - with the Buddha at its head - had received an invitation from a layman who supported the Elder Moggallāna the Great. But the Master, wishing to gratify Suppavāsā’s charitable desires, sent word to the Elder to explain the matter. And so the Saṇgha accepted the hospitality of Suppavāsā for seven days.

On the seventh day she dressed up her little boy, whose name was Sīvali, and made him bow before the Buddha and the Saṇgha. When in due course he was brought to Sāriputta, the Elder greeted the infant with kindness. He said, “Well, Sīvali, is all well with you?”

“How could it be, sir?” the infant said. “I had to wallow in blood for seven long years.”

Then in joy Suppavāsā exclaimed, “My child, only seven days old, is actually discussing religion with the apostle Sāriputta, the Captain of the Faith.”

“Would you like another such a child?” the Master asked.

“Yes, sir,” said Suppavāsā. “I would like seven more, if I could have them like him.”

In solemn words the Master gave thanks for Suppavāsā’s hospitality and departed.

When he was seven years of age, the child Sīvali gave his heart to the Dharma. He renounced the world to join the Saṇgha. When he was twenty, he was given full ordination. He was so virtuous that he won the Fruit of the Dharma which is Arahatship, and the earth shouted aloud for joy.

So one day the assembled monks talked with one another in the Dharma Hall with respect to this story, saying, “The Elder Sīvali, who is now a shining light, was the child of many prayers. For seven long years he was in the womb and his mother was in labor for seven days. How great the pains of the mother and child must have been! What was the cause of this great pain?”

Entering the hall, the Master asked what they were discussing. “Monks,” he said, “the righteous Sīvali was in the womb for seven years and the labor took seven days because of his own past deeds. And similarly, Suppavāsā’s pregnancy of seven years and her labor of seven days resulted from her own past deeds.” So saying, he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was the child of the queen consort. He grew up and was educated at Takkasilā University, and at his father’s death he became King, and he ruled righteously.

Now in those days the King of Kosala came up with a great army against Benares and killed the King and took his queen to be his own wife.

When the King was killed, his son made his escape through the sewer. Afterwards he collected a mighty army and went back to Benares. Making camp nearby, he sent a message to the King to either surrender the kingdom or give battle. And the King sent back the answer that he would give battle. But the mother of the young prince, hearing of this, sent a message to her son, saying, “There is no need to do battle. Let every approach to the city on every side be blocked and barred until a lack of firewood and water and food wears out the people. Then the city will fall into your hands without any fighting.”

Following his mother’s advice, the prince besieged the city for seven days with a blockade that was so fierce that on the seventh day the citizens cut off their King’s head and brought it to the prince. Then he entered the city and made himself King, and when his life ended he passed away to fare according to his karma.

Thus did the Great Being - from midair - proclaim the Dharma and chastise the band of recluses. Then he passed back to the Brahma Realm, and all those hermits, too, qualified themselves for rebirth in the same Realm.


Figure: The Ill-conceived Siege

Figure: The Ill-conceived Siege

The result and consequence of his acts in blockading the city for those seven days was that for seven years he lived in the womb and the labor lasted seven days. However, in a previous life he had fallen at the feet of the Buddha Padumuttara (13th of the documented 28 Buddhas) and had prayed with many gifts that the crown of Arahatship might be his. And in the days of the Buddha Vipassī (the 22nd Buddha) he had offered up the same prayer. As a result, he and his townsfolk, with gifts of great value, won the crown of Arahatship by his merit. And because Suppavāsā sent the message telling her son to blockade the city, she was doomed to a seven-year pregnancy and to a seven days labor.

His story ended, the Master, as Buddha, repeated these verses:

Disguised as joy and blessings, sorrow comes

And trouble, the low-life’s heart to overwhelm.

And when he had taught this lesson, the Master identified the birth by saying, “Sīvali was the prince who blockaded the city and became King. Suppavāsā was his mother, and I was his father, the King of Benares.”