Jataka 62

Aṇḍabhūta Jātaka

Overcome With Desire

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 another story in which the original is incredibly misogynistic and offensive. It took a great deal of creative editing to make it into something palatable.

This story is also, like the previous story, rather incoherent, and it is not consistent with the Buddha’s teachings. The basis for the story is a magical charm. The Buddha was quite critical of all types of magic, fortune telling, and so on. It is also hard to believe that the Bodhisatta would hire an unscrupulous man to seduce a young girl, especially to win at gambling.

The history of women in Buddhism is quite checkered. India during the Buddha’s time treated women horribly. They could not own property, inherit from a deceased husband, or own a business. If they traveled, they had to go with their father, brother, or husband. Otherwise legally they were fair game and had no protection.

Nonetheless, the Buddha decided to ordain women in what was a very radical move for the time. This was very unpopular with many of the monks. They treated the nuns extremely poorly. This led to many monastic rules to protect the nuns from the monks. This sexist attitude persists to this day in many portions of the Saṇgha. This is less of a problem, for some reason, in Mahayana (Chinese) Buddhism and Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism.

I dislike this story so much that I did not do an illustration for it!

Blindfold, eluding.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about another person who was overcome by passion.

The Master said, “Is the report true that you are overwhelmed by passion, brother?”

“Quite true,” was the reply.

“Brother, you must learn the danger in unbridled sexual desire. In days gone by the wise kept watch over a woman from the moment she was born, but they failed nevertheless to protect her from lust.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was reborn as the child of the Queen consort. When he grew up, he mastered every accomplishment. At his father’s death, he became King, and he proved to be a righteous King. Now he used to play dice with his priest, and as he flung the golden dice upon the silver table, he would sing this phrase for luck:

It is nature’s law that rivers wind,

Trees grow of wood by law of kind.

No one can keep their virginity,

When sexual desire brings iniquity.

As these lines always made the King win the game, the priest was about to lose all his money. In order to save himself from this, he decided to seek out a girl that had never seen another man, and then to keep her under lock and key in his own house. “For,” he thought, “I couldn’t manage to look after a girl who has seen another man. So I must take a new-born baby girl and keep her under my thumb as she grows up. I will keep a close guard over her so that no one will come near her and she will remain pure. Then I shall beat the King and grow rich.”

Now he was skilled in prognostication, and seeing a poor woman who was about to become a mother, and knowing that her child would be a girl, he paid the woman to come live in his house. Then he sent her away after her confinement with a present. The infant was brought up entirely by women, and no men - other than himself - were ever allowed to set eyes on her. When the girl grew up, she was subject to him, and he was her master.

Now while the girl was growing up, the priest endured losing to the King. But when she was grown up and under his own control, he challenged the King to a game. The King accepted and play began. But, when in throwing the dice the King sang his lucky catch, the priest added, “always excepting my girl.” And then the luck changed. Now it was the priest who won, while the King lost.

Thinking the matter over, the Bodhisatta suspected the priest had a virtuous girl shut up in his house. His enquiry proved this suspicion true. Then, in order to affect her fall from grace, he sent for a clever rogue. He asked him whether he thought he could seduce the girl. “Certainly, sire,” said the fellow. So the King gave him money and sent him away with orders to lose no time.

With the King’s money the fellow bought perfumes and incense and aromatics of all sorts. He opened a perfume shop close to the priest’s house.

Now the priest’s house was seven stories high. It had seven gateways. There was a guard at each one of them. They were all women. No man but the brahmin was ever allowed to enter. Even the baskets that contained the dust and sweepings were examined before they were allowed in. Only the priest was allowed to see the girl, and she had only a single lady-in-waiting. This woman had money given to her to buy flowers and perfumes for her mistress. On her way she used to pass near the shop that the rogue had opened. And he, knowing that she was the girl’s attendant, watched for her to pass by.

When she did, he rushing out of his shop and fell at her feet. He clasped her knees tightly with both hands and blubbered out, “O my mother! Where have you been all this long time?”

His co-conspirators, who stood by his side, cried, “What a likeness! Hand and foot, face and figure, even in style of dress, they are identical!” As they all kept talking about the marvelous likeness, the poor woman lost her head. Crying out that it must be her boy, she, too, burst into tears. And with weeping and tears the two fell to embracing one another. Then the man said, “Where are you living, mother?”

“Up at the priest’s house, my son. He has a young girl of peerless beauty, a very goddess for grace, and I am her lady-in-waiting.”

“And where are you going now, mother?”

“To buy her perfumes and flowers.”

“Why go elsewhere for them? Come to me for them in future,” he said. And he gave the woman betel, perfume, and so forth, and all kinds of flowers, refusing all payment. Struck with the quantity of flowers and perfumes that the lady-in-waiting brought home, the girl asked why the brahmin was so pleased with her that day.

“Why do you say that, my dear?” asked the old woman.

“Because of the quantity of things you have brought home.”

“No, it isn’t that the brahmin was free with his money,” the old woman said, “for I got them at my son’s.” And from that day on she kept the money the brahmin gave her, and she got her flowers and other things for free at the man’s shop.

A few days later the rogue pretended to be sick, and he took to his bed. So when the old woman came to the shop and asked for her son, she was told he had been taken ill. Rushing to his side, she fondly stroked his shoulders as she asked what ailed him. But he made no reply.

“Why don't you tell me, my son?”

“Not even if I were dying could I tell you, mother.”

“But, if you don’t tell me, who can you tell?”

“Well then, mother, my sickness is this. Hearing the praises of your young mistress’s beauty, I have fallen in love with her. If I win her, I shall live. If not, this will be my death bed.”

“Leave it to me, my boy,” the old woman said cheerily, “and don't worry yourself on this account.”

Then, with a heavy load of perfumes and flowers to take with her, she went home and said to the brahmin’s young girl, “Alas! My son is in love with you, merely because I told him how beautiful you are! What is to be done?”

“If you can smuggle him in here,” the girl replied, “you have my permission.”

So the old woman started sweeping together all the dust she could find in the house from top to bottom. She put this dust into a huge basket and tried to leave with it. When the guard searched the basket, she dumped the dust all over the woman on guard, who then ran away under such bad treatment. She did the same thing to all the other watchers, smothering each one in turn in dust. And so from that time forward, no matter what the old woman took in or out of the house, there was nobody bold enough to search her. Now was the time! The old woman smuggled the rogue into the house in a huge basket and brought him to her young mistress. He succeeded in wrecking the girl’s virtue. He actually stayed a day or two in the upper rooms. He hid when the priest was at home and enjoyed the company of his mistress when the priest was away.

A day or two passed and the girl said to her lover, “Sweetheart, you must go now.”

“Very well. Only I must hit the brahmin first.”

“Certainly,” she said, and she hid the rogue.

When the brahmin came in again, she exclaimed, “Oh, my dear priest, I should so like to dance. Would you play the lute for me?”

“Dance away, my dear,” the priest said.

“But I will be too ashamed if you watch. Let me hide your face with a cloth, and then I will dance.”

“All right,” he said, “if you're too modest to dance otherwise.”

So she took a thick cloth and blindfolded the brahmin’s face. And so the brahmin began to play the lute. After dancing a while she cried, “My dear, I would like to hit you on the head.”

“Hit away,” said the unsuspecting dotard. Then the girl signaled her lover. He softly snuck up behind the brahmin and hit him on the head.

The force of the blow was so hard that the brahmin’s eyes almost popped of his head. A big bump rose up on the spot. Smarting with pain, he called to the girl to give him her hand. She placed it in his. “Ah! It’s a soft hand,” he said, “but it hits hard!”

Now, as soon as the rogue had struck the brahmin, he hid. When he was hidden, the girl took the blindfold off the priest’s eyes and rubbed his bruised head with oil. The moment the brahmin went out, the rogue was stowed away in his basket again by the old woman and carried out of the house. Making his way at once to the King, he told him the whole adventure.

Accordingly, when the brahmin next visited, the King suggested a game with the dice. The brahmin agreed, and the dice table was brought out. As the King made his throw he sang his old verse. The brahmin - ignorant of the girl’s naughtiness - added his “always excepting my girl,” and nevertheless lost!

Then the King said to his chaplain, “Why except her? Her virtue has given way. Ah, you dreamed that by taking a girl in the hour of her birth and by placing a guard around her, you could keep her pure. Why, you couldn’t protect anyone from their own sexual desire, even if you kept her with you always. No one is immune to the dangers of sexual desire. As for that girl of yours, she told you she should like to dance, and having first blindfolded you as you played the lute to her, she let her lover strike you on the head. Then she smuggled him out of the house. Where, then, is your exception?” And so saying, the King repeated this stanza:

Blindfold, eluding, this girl was beguiled,

The brahmin sits, who tried to rear

A paragon of virtue undefiled!

Learn hence to hold desire in fear.

In this way the Bodhisatta taught the brahmin. And the brahmin went home and accused the girl of indiscretion.

“My dear priest, who said this about me?” she said. “I am innocent. It was my own hand that struck you and nobody else. If you do not believe me, I will brave the ordeal of fire to prove that no man’s hand has touched me but yours, and so I will make you believe me.”

“So be it,” said the brahmin. And he had some wood brought in and he started a fire. Then the girl was summoned. “Now,” he said, “if your story is true, brave these flames!”

Now before this the girl told her lady-in-waiting, “Tell your son to be there and to seize my hand just as I am about to go into the fire.” The old woman did as she was asked. The fellow came and stood among the crowd.

Then, to fool the brahmin, the girl stood before all the people and exclaimed, “No man’s hand but thine, brahmin, has ever touched me. By the truth of my declaration, I call on this fire not to harm me.”

So saying, she went up to the burning pile. Suddenly her lover ran up to her and grabbed her hand. He cried shame on the brahmin who could force so fair a maid to enter the flames! Shaking her hand free, the girl exclaimed to the brahmin that what she had asserted was now undone, and that she could not now brave the ordeal of fire.

“Why not?” said the brahmin.

“Because,” she replied, “my declaration was that no man’s hand but yours had ever touched me. But now here is a man who has seized my hand!”

The brahmin, knowing that he had been tricked, drove her away.

Such, we learn, is the danger of sexual desire. There is no crime that will not be committed. There is no claim that someone will not make. Therefore it is said:

A mind composed of lust and desire,

Unknowable. Uncertain as the path,

Of fishes in the water, the lustful

Hold truth for falsehood, falsehood for the truth!

As greedily as cows seek new pastures,

Desire, unsated, yearns for more and more.

As unstable sand, cruel as the snake,

Sexual desire craves all things. No one is safe from it.

“Such is the danger of sexual desire,” the Master said. His lesson ended, he preached the Dharma, at the close of which the brother won the Fruit of the First Path (stream entry). And the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “In these days I was the King of Benares.”