sunset

Jataka 70

Kuddāla Jātaka

The Spade

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


As noted in the text, this story probably came well after the Buddha died. The Abhidhamma was composed well after the Buddha’s time. It is only part of the Theravada tradition, and that distinction only came in the first millennium. Also, the notion that a monk could disrobe and then re-ordain cam much later, and was also only part of the Theravada tradition. In most schools of Buddhism, you cannot re-ordain if you disrobe. However in places like Thailand, temporary ordination is the norm among young men there. It is something of a rite of passage. Re-ordination is also common in Thailand.


The conquest.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about the Elder Cittahattha Sāriputta. (This is not the Elder Sāriputta.) He is said to have been a young man from a good family in Sāvatthi. One day when he was on his way home from ploughing, he went into the monastery. Here an Elder monk gave him some wonderful food - rich and sweet - from his bowl. This made him think to himself, “Day and night I am working away with my hands at many different tasks, yet I never taste food so sweet. I must become a monk myself!”

So he joined the Saṇgha. But after spending six weeks of applying himself diligently to meditation and study, he was seduced by the power of sensual desire and off he went. However, his belly again proved too much for him, and back he went to join the Saṇgha once more. This time he studied the Abhidhamma. (The Abhidhamma is the third set of texts in the Pāli Canon after the Sutta Piṭaka and the Vinaya. It was probably compiled after the Buddha’s time, which indicates that this story also came later.) In this way, six times he left and came back again. But when he joined the Saṇgha for the seventh time, he mastered the whole seven books of the Abhidhamma. And by frequent chanting of the Dharma, he won discernment and attained to Arahatship. Now his friends among the Saṇgha scoffed at him, saying, “Can it be, sir, that craving has ceased to spring up within your heart?”

“Sirs,” he replied, “I have transcended mundane existence forevermore.”

His having won Arahatship, a discussion arose in the Dharma Hall as follows: “Sirs, while all the time he was destined to attain the glories of Arahatship, six times Cittahattha Sāriputta renounced the Saṇgha. Truly, the unconverted state is very enticing.”

Returning to the Dharma Hall, the Master asked what they were discussing. Being told, he said, “Monks, the worldling’s heart is light and hard to curb. Material things attract it and hold it fast. When it is held so fast, it cannot be easily released. The mastery of the heart is excellent. Once mastered, it brings joy and happiness:

It is good to tame a headstrong and frail heart,

One swayed by passion. Once tamed, the heart brings bliss.

It was because of this stubbornness of the heart, however, that, for the sake of a pretty spade that they could not bring themselves to throw away, the wise and good of bygone days reverted six times to the world out of sheer greed. However, on the seventh occasion they won Insight and subdued their craving.” 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 a gardener and grew to manhood. They called him the “Spade Sage.” He cleared a patch of ground with his spade and grew herbs, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers, and other vegetables. He made a meager living by selling them. And except for that one spade, he had nothing in the world!

One day he decided to forsake the world for the holy life. He hid his spade away and became a recluse. But thoughts of that spade rose in his heart and the passion of craving overcame him, so that for the sake of his blunt spade he reverted to the world. Again and again this happened. Six times he hid the spade and became a recluse, only to renounce his vows again.

But the seventh time he thought about how that blunt spade had caused him to backslide again and again. He made up his mind to throw it into a great river before he became a recluse again. So he took the spade to the riverside. Afraid that if he saw where it fell he would come back and fish it out again, he swung the spade three times around his head by the handle and with the strength of an elephant threw it right into the middle of the stream, shutting his eyes tight as he did so. Then he yelled in exultation a shout like a lion's roar, “I have conquered! I have conquered!”

Now at just that moment the King of Benares, on his way home from suppressing an uprising on the border, had just finished bathing in that very river. He was riding along in splendor on the back of his elephant when he heard the Bodhisatta’s shout of triumph. “Here's a man,” the King said, “who is proclaiming that he has conquered. I wonder who he has conquered. Go and bring him before me.”

So the Bodhisatta was brought before the King, who said to him, “My good man, I am a conqueror myself. I have just won a battle and am on my way home victorious. Tell me who you have conquered.”

“Sire,” the Bodhisatta said, “a thousand, yea, a hundred thousand, such victories as yours are in vain if you have not conquered the craving inside of yourself. It is by conquering greed within myself that I have conquered my craving.” And as he spoke, he looked at the great river, and by concentrating his mind upon the idea of water, he won Insight. Then by virtue of his newly-won transcendent powers, he rose in the air, and, seated there, instructed the King in the Dharma in this stanza:

The conquest that must be upheld

by further victories or eventual defeat

Is vain! True conquest lasts for evermore!

As he listened to the Dharma, light shone in on the King’s darkness. The craving of his heart was extinguished. His heart determined to renounce the world. His lust for royal power left him.

“And where will you go now?” said the King to the Bodhisatta.

“To the Himalayas, sire. There I will live the life of a recluse.”

“Then I, too, will become a recluse,” the King said. And with that he went with the Bodhisatta. And the whole army went with him, too. And so did all the brahmins and householders and all the common folk. In a word, everyone who was with the King went with him.

Word made it back to Benares that their King, on hearing the Dharma preached by the Spade Sage, decided to live the life of a recluse, and that his entire entourage had gone forth with him. “What shall we do here?” cried the people of Benares. And thereupon, from out of that city which was seven miles long, all the inhabitants went forth. So there was a procession seven miles long, with whom the Bodhisatta went to the Himalayas.

Figure: Teaching the King About True Victory

Figure: Teaching the King About True Victory

Then the throne of Sakka, King of Devas, became hot beneath him. (According to the notes, the struggle of a man facing adversity could appeal to the King of Devas, thus making his “seat hot.”) Looking out, he saw that the Spade Sage was engaged upon a Great Renunciation. (When a future Buddha renounces the world for the religious life, this “going forth” is called a Great Renunciation.) Seeing the great number of people who had followed the Bodhisatta, Indra thought about how to house them all. He sent for Vissakamma, the architect of the Devas, and said, “The Spade Sage is engaged upon a Great Renunciation and living quarters must be found for him. Go to the Himalayas, and use your divine power to create a hermit’s estate 100 miles long and 15 miles wide on level ground.”

“It will be done, sire,” Vissakamma said. And away he went and did as he was asked.

Vissakamma built a hermitage in the recluse’s estate. He drove away all the noisy beasts and birds and fairies. He built a path in each cardinal direction just broad enough for one person to pass along it at a time. This done, he went back to his own home. The Spade Sage went to the Himalayas with his host of people and entered the estate that Indra had created. He took possession of the house and furniture that Vissakamma had created for the recluses. First, he renounced the world, and afterwards he made the people renounce it. Then he portioned out the vast estate among them. They abandoned all their power and status - which rivalled that of Sakka himself - and the whole 100 miles of the estate was filled.

By performing the other rites that conduce to Insight, the Spade Sage developed perfect loving-kindness within himself, and he taught the people how to meditate. Hereby they all won the Attainments (jhānas). This assured their rebirth into the Brahma Realm. And all who attended to them qualified for rebirth into the Realm of Devas.


“Thus, monks,” the Master said, “when passion holds it fast, the heart is hard to release. When the attributes of greed spring up within it, they are hard to chase away, and even persons who are wise and good are rendered foolish.” His lesson ended, he preached the Dharma, at the close of which some won the First, some the Second, and some the Third Path, while others attained to Arahatship. Further, the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Ānanda was the King of those days, the Buddha’s followers were the followers, and I was the Spade Sage.”