Jataka 66

Mudulakkhaṇa Jātaka

The Delicate Quality

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 lovely tale. It is one in which our hero, the Bodhisatta, is overcome by sexual desire and falls from grace. However, his benefactor, the King, and the Queen set him back on the proper path. The real hero of this story is the Queen who finds a way to restore the recluse’s virtue by essentially annoying him back into his senses!

Until Gentle-heart was mine.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about overwhelming sexual desire. Tradition says that a young gentleman of Sāvatthi, on hearing the Dharma preached by the Master, gave his heart to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṇgha. Renouncing the world for the life of a monk, he trained in the Noble Eightfold Path, practiced mindfulness, and never failed to keep in mind the theme he had chosen for meditation.

One day, while he was on his alms round in Sāvatthi, he saw a beautiful woman in provocative clothing. For the sake of sensual pleasure, he lost his mindfulness and stared at her. Passion was stirred within him. He became like a fig tree felled by the axe. From that day on, under the spell of passion, he lost all of his resolve in the training of his mind and his body. Like a brutal beast, he took no joy in the Dharma, and as a result his nails and hair grew long and his robes began to grow foul.

When his friends in the Saṇgha became aware of his troubled state of mind, they said, “Why, sir, has your commitment to the path changed?”

“My joy is gone,” he said. Then they took him to the Master who asked them why they had brought that monk there against his will. “Because, sir, his joy in the practice is gone,”

“Is that true, brother?”

“It is, Blessed One.”

“What has troubled you?”

“Sir, I was on my alms round when, losing my mindfulness, I saw a woman, and passion was stirred within me. Therefore am I troubled.”

Then the Master said, “It is not surprising, brother, that when you lost your mindfulness, you were stirred by passion by looking at a beautiful woman. Why, in bygone times, even those who had won the five Higher Knowledges (supernormal powers) and the eight Attainments (jhānas), those who by the might of Insight had quelled their passions, whose hearts were purified and whose feet could walk the skies, yes, even Bodhisattas, through losing their mindfulness and looking at a beautiful woman, lost their insight, were stirred by passion and came to great sorrow.

“Passion is like a wind that can overturn Mount Sineru (the mythological center of the earth), much less a bare hillock no bigger than an elephant, or a wind that can uproot a mighty apple tree like a bush on the face of a cliff, or a wind that can dry up a vast ocean, much less a tiny pond.

“If passion can breed folly in the supremely enlightened and pure-minded Bodhisattas, you should not be ashamed of being overcome by it. Why, even purified beings are led astray by passion, and those advanced to the highest honor come to shame.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a rich brahmin family in the Kāsi country. When he was grown up and had finished his education, he renounced all sense desire. Forsaking the world for a hermit’s life, he went to live in the solitude of the Himalayas. There by due fulfilment of all preparatory forms of meditation, he attained the Higher Knowledges and the ecstatic Attainments, and so lived his life in the bliss of mystic Insight.

Lack of salt and vinegar brought him one day to Benares, where he took up his quarters in the King’s pleasure garden. On the next day, after seeing to his bodily needs, he folded up the red suit of bark which he commonly wore, threw a black antelope’s skin over one shoulder, knotted his tangled hair in a coil on the top of his head, and with a yoke on his back from which hung two baskets, he set out on his alms round. Coming to the palace gates on his way, the King was so impressed by his demeanor that his majesty invited him in. So the recluse was seated on a couch of great splendor and fed with abundance of the finest food. And when he thanked the King, he was invited to live in the pleasure garden. The recluse accepted the offer, and for sixteen years he lived there, inspiring the King’s household and accepting the King’s generosity.

Now one day the King went to the border to put down an uprising. But before he started, he told his Queen, whose name was Gentle-heart, to tend to the needs of the holy man. So after the King’s departure, the Bodhisatta continued to go to the palace when he pleased.

One day Queen Gentle-heart got a meal ready for the Bodhisatta. But because he was late, she tended to her personal grooming. After bathing in perfumed water, she dressed herself in all her splendor and lay down, awaiting his coming, on a little couch in the spacious chamber.

Waking from the rapture of Insight and seeing how late it was, the Bodhisatta transported himself through the air to the palace. Hearing the rustling of his bark-robe, the queen got up quickly to receive him. In her hurry to rise, her tunic slipped down so that her beauty was revealed to the ascetic as he entered the window. At the sight, in violation of his virtue, he looked with pleasure at the marvelous beauty of the queen. Lust was kindled within him. He was like a tree felled by an axe. At once all Insight deserted him, and he became like a crow with its wings clipped. Clutching his food, still standing, he did not eat. He went back to his hut in the pleasure garden, trembling with desire. He sat down on his wooden couch and lay for seven whole days, ignoring his hunger and thirst, enslaved by the queen’s beauty. His heart was burning with lust.

On the seventh day the King came back from pacifying the border. After passing in a triumphant procession around the city, he entered his palace. Then, wishing to see the recluse, he went to the pleasure garden. There he found the Bodhisatta lying on his couch in the hut. Thinking the holy man had been taken ill, the King, after first having the hut cleaned out, asked as he stroked the sufferer’s feet, what ailed him.

“Sire, my heart is shackled by lust. That is my ailment.”

“Lust for whom?”

“For Gentle-heart, sire.”

“Then she is yours. I give her to you,” the King said.

Then he went with the recluse to the palace. He told the Queen to dress herself in all her splendor, and he gave her to the Bodhisatta. But as he was giving her away, the King implored the Queen to put forth her best effort to save the holy man.

“Fear not, sire,” said the Queen. “I will save him.”

So the recluse left the palace with the Queen. But when he had passed through the great gate, the Queen cried out that they must have a house to live in, and that he must go to the King to ask for one. So he went back to ask the King for a house to live in. The King gave them a tumble-down hut that travelers used as a latrine. The ascetic took the Queen to this hut, but she flatly refused to enter it because of its filthy state.

The Clever Queen

Figure: The Clever Queen

“What am I to do?” he cried.

“Why, clean it out!” she said. And she sent him to the King for a shovel and a bucket and made him remove all the filth and dirt. She also made him plaster the walls with cow dung, which he had to go find. This done, she made him get a bed and a stool and a rug and a water pot and a cup, sending him for only one thing at a time. Next, she sent him to get water and a thousand other things. So off he started for the water. He filled up the water pot and set out the water for the bath. He made the bed. And, as he sat with her upon the bed, she took him by the whiskers and drew him towards her until they were face to face, saying, “Have you forgotten that you are a holy man and a brahmin?”

Suddenly he came to his senses after his interval of witless folly.

So when he came to his senses, he thought how as his desire grew stronger and stronger, this fatal craving would condemn him to the Four States of Punishment (the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, the animal realm, and the realm of inferior beings). “This very day,” he cried, “I will restore this woman to the King and fly to the mountains!” So he stood before the King with the Queen and said, “Sire, I do not want your Queen any longer. My craving was only for her.” And so saying, he repeated this stanza:

Until Gentle-heart was mine, my only desire

Was to win her. When her beauty owned

Me, lord, desire came crowding on desire.

Immediately his power of Insight returned to him. Rising from the earth and seating himself in the air, he preached the Dharma to the King. And without touching the earth he passed through the air to the Himalayas. He never came back to the world of men. He grew in love and charity until, with Insight unbroken, he passed to a new birth in the Realm of Brahma.

His lesson ended, the Master preached the Four Noble Truths, at the close of which that brother won Arahatship itself. And the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Ānanda was the King of those days, Uppalavaṇṇā was Gentle-heart, and I was the hermit.”

(Uppalavaṇṇā was an elder nun, foremost among the nuns in supernormal powers. She was the daughter of a wealthy merchant and was known for her great beauty.)