sunset

Jataka 126

Asilakkhaṇa Jātaka

The Lucky Sneeze

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 about how the same type of event can lead to very different results. This is a subtle theme in the Buddha’s teachings, that karma is not deterministic.

An interesting item in this story is that apparently at the time of the Buddha the notion of prosthetic devices – in this case a nose (!) – was at least an idea. Medical people have made special note of that part of this story.

Our different fates.” This story was told by the Master while he was at Jetavana. It is about a brahmin who was employed by the King of Kosala because of his ability to tell whether swords were lucky or not. We are told that when the King’s smiths forged a sword, this brahmin could tell whether it was a lucky one or not by smelling it. He made it a rule only to praise the work of the smiths who gave him presents, while he rejected the work of those who did not bribe him.

Now a certain smith made a sword and put some finely-ground pepper into the sheath with it. He brought it to the King, who handed it over to the brahmin to test. The brahmin unsheathed the blade and sniffed it. The pepper went into his nose and made him sneeze so violently that he slit his nose on the edge of the sword.

This mishap of the brahmin made it back to the monks. One day they were talking about it in the Dharma Hall when the Master entered. When he learned what they were discussing, he said, “This is not the first time, monks, that this brahmin has slit his nose sniffing swords. The same thing happened to him in former days.” So saying, he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, he had a brahmin in his service who claimed that he could tell whether swords were lucky or not, and all came to pass as in the Introductory Story. The King called in the surgeons and had him fitted with a false tip to his nose which was cleverly painted to look like a real nose. After that the brahmin resumed his duties again with the King.

Now Brahmadatta had no son, only a daughter and a nephew. He raised them both as his own. When they grew up, they fell in love with one another. So the King sent for his councilors and said to them, “My nephew is heir to the throne. If I give him my daughter to marry, he will be anointed King.”

But on second thought, he decided that as his nephew was like a son, he had better marry him to a foreign princess and give his daughter to a prince of another royal house. For, he thought, this plan would give him more grandchildren and bring his heirs into several kingdoms. After consulting with his councilors, he decided to separate the two. Accordingly, they were forced to live apart from one another.

Now they were sixteen years old and very much in love. The young prince thought of nothing but how to free the princess from her father’s palace. After thinking about it, he decided to send for a wise woman, to whom he gave a pocketful of money.

“And what is this for?” she asked.

He told her of his passion, and asked the wise woman to reunite him with his dear princess.

She promised to do so. She said that she would tell the King that his daughter was under the influence of witchcraft. She would say that the demon had possessed her for so long that he was off his guard. Then she would take the princess to the cemetery with an armed escort. There the princess would lay in a magic circle on a bed with a dead man under it. With 108 showers of scented water the demon would be flushed out of her.

“And when I bring the princess to the cemetery on this pretext,” the wise woman continued, “make sure that you reach the cemetery just before us in your carriage. Bring an armed escort and some ground pepper with you. Leave your carriage at the entrance and send your men to the cemetery grove. You go to the top of the mound and lie down as though you were dead. Then I will set up a bed over you on which the princess will lie down. When the time is right, sniff the pepper until you sneeze two or three times. When you sneeze, we will leave the princess and run away. Then you and the princess must bathe, and then you should take her home with you.”

“Wonderful!” said the prince. “This is an excellent plan.”

So the wise woman went to the King. He loved her idea, as did the princess when it was explained to her. When the proper day arrived, the old woman told the princess their true purpose. In order to frighten the guards she said to them, “Listen. There will be a dead man under the bed. That dead man will sneeze. As soon as he sneezes, he will come out from under the bed and seize the first person he finds. So be prepared, all of you.”

Now the prince had already gotten to the cemetery and was under the bed as arranged.

Next the old woman led off the princess and laid her on the bed. She whispered to her not to be afraid. The prince sniffed the pepper and started to sneeze. The wise woman let out a loud scream and sped off, quicker than any of them. Not one man stood his ground. They threw away their weapons and bolted for dear life. Once they were out of sight the prince came out and took the princess to his home, as had been arranged. Then the old woman went back to the King and told him what had happened.

Figure: Caught!

Figure: Gasundkeit!

“Well,” the King thought, “I always intended for her to marry him, and they’ve grown up together like rice and curry.” So he did not fly into a rage. In due course he made his nephew the King of the land with his daughter as his Queen.

Now the new King kept the brahmin who claimed to tell the fortunes of swords in his service. One day as he stood in the sun, the false tip to the brahmin’s nose got loose and fell off. And there he stood, hanging his head with shame.

“Never mind, never mind,” the King laughed. “Sneezing is good for some, but bad for others. A sneeze lost you your nose while I have a sneeze to thank for both my throne and Queen.” So saying he uttered this stanza:

Our different fates this moral shows,

--What brings me good, may bring you woe.

So spoke the King. And after a life spent in charity and other good works, he passed away to fare according to his karma.


In this way the Master taught the lesson that the world was wrong in thinking events were absolutely good or bad in all cases. Lastly, he identified the birth by saying, “The same man that now claims to know whether swords are lucky or not, claimed to have the same ability in those days. And I was the prince who inherited his uncle’s kingdom.”