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Jataka 55

Pañcāvudha Jātaka

The Five Weapons

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 is a story about resolve and unflagging determination. When he first meets the ogre, he does battle with him, using what we might call “tough love.” But when the ogre decides to set him free, the Bodhisatta teaches him how his evil actions are causing him to perpetuate his own suffering.


When no Attachment.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a monk who had given up all earnest effort.

The Master said to him, “Is the report true, brother, that you are a backslider?”

“Yes, Blessed One.”

“In bygone days, brother,” said the Master, “the wise and good won a throne by their dauntless perseverance in the hour of need.”

And so saying, he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as the son of the queen. On his naming day, the parents asked eight hundred brahmins, to whom they gave their hearts’ desire in all sense pleasures, what the child’s destiny would be. Promising that he would have a glorious destiny, these clever soothsaying brahmins foretold that, coming to the throne at the King’s death, the child would be a mighty King endowed with every virtue. He would be famed and renowned for his exploits with the five weapons (sword, spear, battle-axe, bow, and mace). He would stand peerless in all Jambudīpa (the inhabited world). And because of the brahmin’s prophecy, the parents named their son Prince Five-Weapons.

Now, when the prince came of age when he was sixteen years old, the King told him to go away and study.

“With whom, sire, am I to study?” asked the prince.

“With the world-famed teacher in the town of Takkasilā in the Gandhāra country. Here is his fee,” said the King, handing his son a thousand coins.

So the prince went to Takkasilā and was taught there. When he was leaving, his master gave him a set of five weapons. After saying good-bye to his old master, the prince set out from Takkasilā for Benares.

On his way he came to a forest haunted by an ogre named Hairy-grip. At the entrance to the forest, men who met him tried to stop him, saying, “Young brahmin, do not go through that forest. It is the haunt of the ogre Hairy-grip, and he kills every one he meets.” But, bold as a lion, the self-reliant Bodhisatta pressed on until he came to the ogre in the heart of the forest. The monster made himself appear as tall as a palm tree, with a head as big as a garden trellis and huge eyes like bowls, with two tusks like turnips and the beak of a hawk. His belly was blotched with purple, and the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet were blue-black!

“Where are you going?” cried the monster. “Stop! You are my prey.”

“Ogre,” the Bodhisatta replied, “I knew what I was doing when entering this forest. It would be a bad idea for you to come near me, for I will kill you with a poisoned arrow right you where you stand.”

Defiantly he fitted an arrow into his bow. He dipped it in the deadliest poison and shot it at the ogre. But it only stuck on to the monster’s shaggy coat. Then he shot another and another, until he had shot fifty arrows. All of them merely stuck on to the ogre’s shaggy coat.

Then the ogre, shaking the arrows off so that they fell at his feet, came at the Bodhisatta. The Bodhisatta, again shouting defiance, drew his sword and struck at the ogre. But, like the arrows, his sword, which was thirty-three inches long, merely stuck fast in the shaggy hair.

Next the Bodhisatta threw his spear, and that stuck fast also. Seeing this, he hit the ogre with his club. But like his other weapons, that too stuck fast. The Bodhisatta shouted, “Ogre, you never heard yet of me, Prince Five-Weapons. When I came into this forest, I put my trust not in my bow and other weapons, but in myself! Now will I strike you a blow that will crush you into dust.”

Then the Bodhisatta hit the ogre with his right hand, but the hand just stuck to the hair. Then he hit him with his left hand and with his right foot and his left foot. But his hands and feet just stuck to the hide. Again he shouted “I will crush you into dust!” He butted the ogre with his head, and that too stuck fast.

Yet even when he was stuck and immobilized, the Bodhisatta, as he hung upon the ogre, was still fearless, still undaunted. And the monster thought to himself, “This is a lion among men, a hero without peer, and no mere man. Even though he is caught in the clutches of an ogre like me, he has not backed down one bit. Since I first started attacking travelers on this road, I have never seen a man to equal him. Why doesn’t he show any fear?” Not daring to simply kill the Bodhisatta, he said, “How is it, young brahmin, that you have no fear of death?”

“Why should I?” the Bodhisatta replied. “Every life must come to an end. Moreover, within my body is a sword of resolve which you will never digest if you eat me. It will chop your insides into mincemeat, and my death will cause yours too. And that is why I have no fear.”

(It is said that the Bodhisatta meant the Sword of Knowledge, which was within him.)

The ogre thought to himself, “This young brahmin is speaking the truth and nothing but the truth. I could not digest a morsel as big as a pea from such a hero. I'll let him go.” And, so, in fear of his life, he let the Bodhisatta go free, saying, “Young brahmin, you are a lion among men. I will not eat you. Go forth from my hand, even as the moon from the jaws of Rāhu (In Indian mythology Rāhu is the god who swallows the sun or the moon causing eclipses), and return to gladden the hearts of your kinsfolk, your friends, and your country.”

“As for myself, ogre,” the Bodhisatta responded, “I will go. As for you, it was your actions in the past that caused you to be reborn a voracious, murderous, flesh-eating ogre. If you continue to act in this way, you will go on from darkness to darkness. To destroy life is to ensure re-birth either in hell or as a brute or as a ghost or among the fallen spirits. Or, if the re-birth is into the world of humans, then such actions cut short the days of a person’s life.”

In this and other ways the Bodhisatta showed the evil consequences of the five bad courses (breaking the Five Precepts), and the blessing that comes from the five good courses. In this way he was able to teach the ogre to fear the consequences of evil actions. And so he converted the monster, imbuing him with self-restraint and establishing him in the Five Precepts. Then making the ogre the lord of that forest, with a right to due respect, and charging him to remain steadfast, the Bodhisatta went his way. He made sure that everyone knew about the change in the ogre’s heart as he left the forest. And in the end he went, armed with the five weapons, to the city of Benares, and he presented himself before his parents. In later days when he became the King, he was a righteous ruler. And after a life spent in charity and other good works, he passed away to fare thereafter according to his karma.

The Newest Disciple

Figure: The Newest Disciple


This lesson ended, the Master, as Buddha, recited this stanza:

When there is no attachment to hamper the heart or mind,

When righteousness is practiced to win peace,

He who walks in this way, will gain the victory

And all the fetters will be utterly destroyed.

(The fetters are 1. A belief in a permanent essence, or “self,” 2. doubt in the Buddha’s Dharma, 3. attachment to rites and rituals, 4. sensual desire, 5. ill will, 6. desire for material existence, 7. desire for immaterial existence, 8. conceit, 9. restlessness, and 10. ignorance.)

When he had explained awakening up to its crowning point of Arahatship, the Master went on to preach the Four Noble Truths. At the end of that the monk won Arahatship. And the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Aṅgulimāla was the ogre of those days, and I myself Prince Five-Weapons.” (During the Buddha’s life, Aṅgulimāla was a serial killer who became a disciple of the Buddha and an Arahat.)