The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Story of Naked Ascetic Jambuka contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as story of Sumana, Aggidatta and Jambuka. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 3 - The Story of Naked Ascetic Jambuka

This discourse beginning with the words “Mase mase kusaggena” was given by the Buddha while residing at the Veḷuvana Monastery in Rājagaha in connection with the naked ascetic Jambuka.

Jambuka’s Demeritorious Deeds of The Past.

During the time of Buddha Kassapa, a rich man of a village in the country side built a monastery for a monk. He made regular offerings of food, robe, monastery and medicine, the four requisites of a bhikkhu to the resident monk. The resident monk made regular visits to the house of the rich man for daily meal.

One day, an elderly monk who was an arahat, going on the alms-round, arrived at the gate of the rich man. The rich man was very pleased with the deportment of the monk and so he invited him into the house and offered food with profound respect and said: “Your Reverence, please accept this piece of cloth for use as a robe, after dyeing and stitching. Your hair is also long enough to be cut, I will bring a barber and a bed-stead for you to the monastery.” The resident monk saw the reverential way in which his monastery donor and supporter made his offering to the arahant-bhikkhu. He was instantly assailed by unwholesome thoughts of envy concerning the offerings gained by the arahant-bhikkhu (lābhamacchariya) and also his superior birth (kula-macchariya); and he was very worry, thinking to himself: “The rich man has shown more reverential attention to the monk whom he has just met than to me who frequents his house regularly for meal.” He returned to the monastery in a mood of anger.

The guest bhikkhu, who was an arahat, followed the resident monk to his monastety. He dyed and stitched the piece of cloth offered to him by the wealthy monastery donor and sat down wearing it as a robe. The wealthy man arrived, bringing with him a barber who attended to the arahat-bhikkhu's hair. The rich man prepared the bed-stead he had brought with him, ready for use and invited the arahant-bhikkhu to take rest on it. Then after inviting both monks for meal on the morrow, he went back home.

The resident monk was so overcome by malice towards the guest monk that he went to the place where the arahant-bhikkhu was resting, and gave vent to his bitter feeling in very offensive words:

(1) Look here visitor, it would be better for you to eat faeces than the food offered at the house of the rich man, the donor of my monastery.

(2) It would be better for you to have your hair pulled out with the outer shells of a Palmyra seed than cutting with the knife of the barber brought by the rich man, the donor of my monastery.

(3) It would be better for you to go about nude than in the robe offered by the rich man, the donor of my monastery.

(4) It would be better for you to sleep on the ground than lying on the bed offered by the rich man, the donor of my monastery.

The arahant-bhikkhu left the monastery early in the morning for a place where he could find peace and happiness, foregoing the invitation by the rich man for meal, in order that “nothing untoward might happen to the resident monk on account of him.”

The resident monk attended quite early to all the routine works in the monastery, and when the time came for going on the alms-round, he thought: “The lazy visitor is still asleep. I might strike the bell to wake him up. (But feeling uneasy that the visitor would actually get up on hearing the sound of the bell,) he just touched the bell with his finger nails and made off for the village to receive alms-food. After having made magnificent arrangements for meal offering, the rich monastery donor kept on waiting for the arrival of his two invited monks. On seeing the resident monk coming alone, he asked: “Venerable Sir, where is the guest mahāthera?” The envious resident monk replied: “Don't you talk about him, donor of the monastery! Your monk went into his room to sleep since you left the monastery last evening and did not wake up while I had the monastery compound swept, and the pots filled with water; nor did he hear the sound of the bell when I struck it as the time came for alms-round.”

The rich donor thought to himself: “It is absurd that such an exalted personage with commendable deportment should have slept for such a long time. This resident monk, through jealousy on seeing me showing great respect and courtesy to the visiting monk, must have spoken some reproachful words to him.” Having thus surmised correctly, he being wise and intelligent, kept his thoughts to himself and made his offerings of meal respectfully to the monk. After the meal was over, he took the empty bowl of the resident monk, had it washed carefully and filled with delicious food. He then handed the bowl back to the resident monk, with the request: “Venerable Sir, please be so kind as to give this food to the guest monk when you meet him.”

While going back to the monastery with food for the arahat-bhikkhu, the envious resident bhikkhu had the wrong thought: “The indolent visitor would stay on in the monastery if he were to enjoy delicious food such as these,” so he threw away the bowlful of food offered by the rich monastery donor. On arrival at the place occupied by the visiting monk, he looked for him, but the arahat-bhikkhu could not be found.

The evil deed of this envious monk against the arahat-monk (the destruction of the food offered to the arahat) was so demeritorious that its ill-effects outweighed the merits accruing from twenty thousand years of holy life as a monk. Consequently, after his death he was reborn in the lowest plane of woe (Mahā Avici) to undergo intense suffering for the duration of the incalculably long interval between the disappearance of Buddha Kassapa and the appearance of Buddha Gotama. After such suffering, he was born in a household, where food was abundant, at Rājagaha at the time of Buddha Gotama.

Jambuka still suffering in The Present Life

He was named Jambuka by his parents. He did not wish to sleep in bed ever since he could walk about; and instead of taking ordinary food, he kept to eating his own excrement. His parents and relatives at first thought that he took up these habits through youthful ignorance and tried to help him mend his way, taking pains to feed him and clean his body. But even when he had grown up, he did not wish to wear cloths;he walked about naked, slept on the ground and ate his own filth.

Jambuka sent to An Ajivaka’s Vihāra

Jambuka’s parents came to realize in due course that “he was not fit to live in a family of good birth like their own, as he had no sense of shame and should be in the company of Ajivakas, a heretical sect.” So they took him to the vihāra of Ajivakas and entrusted him to their care.

The Ajivakas then ordained him as a novice in their sect and the following is an account of how it was carried out:

He was placed in a pit that was deep as far as his neck; wooden planks were placed covering the hole and resting upon his shoulders (so that he might not struggle his way out). Sitting on the planks, the Ajivakas pulled out the hair from the head of Jambuka. (This was how the Ajivakas initiated a lad as a novice). Then his parents left after inviting the Ajivakas for the morrow’s meal at their home.

The following day, Ajivakas asked Jambuka: “Come along, let’s go to the village.” He replied: “You better go and I will remain in the vihāra.” After several vain attempts to persuade him to follow, they left him all alone and went into the village. Once he knew that they were gone, he took off the wooden covering of the latrine and went into the pit, picked up the filth with his two hands and helped himself to his hearts content.

Ajivakas, (being unaware of the truth), sent food to him from the village. But he was not interested in it and rejected it in spite of persuasive advices given by the Ajivakas His reply was: “I don't want these, I have enough of food for myself.” When he was asked: “From where did you receive them,” he replied: “From within the precincts of this vihāra.” The second, the third and the fourth days passed in the same manner, Jambuka refusing the invitation to go out for food but to stay alone in the vihāra.

Ajivakas began to wonder what Jambuka was up to: “This Jambuka refused every day to go into the village, rejected the food that was sent to him, saying, he got the food for himself from within the precincts of the vihāra. What is he up to? We will have to investigate.” They then decided to leave behind one or two of the brethren to keep a watching eye on Jambuka’s activities, when they went to the village. Those charged with the responsibility of investigation, pretended to go along with the group, but remained behind under cover to watch Jambuka. Thinking that all the Ajivakas had left for the village, Jambuka went down the latrine pit as on the previous days and ate the faeces.

Expulsion Jambuka from Ajivakas’ Vihāra

Jambuka was caught red-handed by the secret watchers and the matter was reported to their elders. The elders, on hearing the report murmured: “Jambuka’s action was grievous. Should the disciples of Recluse Gotama come to know of this affair, they will surely decry us as a wandering tribe of filth eaters, which will be much to the detriment of our dignity. He is not fit to remain with us any longer.” So saying they unanimously expelled him from their sect.

When he was expelled by the Ajivakas, Jambuka went to stay near a huge stone slab which was close to a spot used by the citizens of Rājagaha as a public lavatory. There was also a huge sewage pipe adjacent to that large stone slab. People usually came to ease and relieve themselves behind the screening stone slab. Jambuka ate the refused matter at night time, and when people came to answer the call of nature during the day, he stood with an arm rested on the edge of the flat stone and with one of his legs rested on the knee of the other leg, keeping his head erect with the mouth open.

Those who came to answer the call of nature, on seeing him, approached him and asked: “Venerable Sir, why are you standing like this with your mouth open?” “I live on air, there is no food for me other than air,” he replied boastfully. People went on asking: “Venerable Sir, why do you stand on one leg only, with one leg rested on the knee of the other one?” “I am a person engaged in rigorous austerity practices. When I stand with both my legs touching the ground, the earth cannot withstand my glories and attributes and trembles violently; that is why I stand in this posture. In truth (because of the earth quakes). I have got to stand on one leg night and day, without sitting down, without sleeping,” replied Jambuka with an air of ostentation.

(It is a general fact that people accept readily what others say; only few take the trouble to consider whether there is element of truth or not). So they said in admiration: “O Marvellous indeed it is! There are such personalities in the world who undertake severe practices. We have never before seen such personalities having such rigorous practices.” A great number of people from Anga and Magadha countries, agitated and excited by hearing the news of Jambuka’s austerities, came together with offerings for him and continued paying him homage every month.

Jambuka suffering for Fifty-five Years

Jambuka went on rejecting delicious and wholesome food offered by people, maintaining: “I live on air only, I do not take any other food. If I do take any other thing than air, it means breach of my practice.” People beseeched him, repeatedly saying: “Venerable Sir, may you not deny us this opportunity to gain merit; if only a personality such as yours, well advanced in austerity practices, accept our offer of alms-food, will our prosperity and happiness grow and last long.” Jambuka was not interested in any food but excrements, but pressed by earnest requests of the people, he was obliged to taste such food as butter and molasses the people fetched, picking them up with the tip of a blade of grass, just to give them satisfaction. Then he dismissed them, saying: “Go ye now; this much will go far to do a great deal of good for you.”

Thus Jambuka had to pay for his offences against an arahat by suffering for fifty-five years in these four ways:

(1) He could not put on any clothes.
(2) He ate nothing except faeces.
(3) He had to pull out his hair by using Palmyra seed shell.
(4) He slept on the ground.

(Mnemonic: Offending words of hatred, Bring about grievous consequences.)

Emancipation of Naked Ascetic Jambuka

It is the usual function of Perfectly Self-Enlightened Buddhas to survey the whole world at early dawn, every day, to see who are ready for liberation from the cycle of suffering. Thus, early one morning, the Omniscient Buddha, on surveying the world, perceived the person of Jambuka in His mind’s eye. Upon further investigation, He discovered that Jambuka had already accumulated meritorious deeds which would serve as sufficing conditions for his attainment of arahatta-phala, complete with four fold Analytical Knowledge (patisambhida-ñāṇa). He also came to know that He would have to teach a verse sermon to the naked ascetic Jambuka, and that His Teaching will also bring about the realisation of the Four Noble Truths by eighty thousand sentient beings who will thus gain emancipation. “Because of this person Jambuka, thousands of people will come to achieve happiness.” Thus, after going round Rājagaha for alms-food, He informed the Venerable Ānanda: “My dear son, Ānanda, I will be going to see Jambuka.”

“Glorious Buddha, is it that you are going there alone,” asked Ānanda. “That’s right, Ānanda. I will go alone,” replied the Buddha and went to the place of Jambuka in the evening of that day.

The good devas considered: “The glorious Buddha is visiting the naked ascetic Jambuka this evening; but that naked ascetic’s abode is the great stone slab which is abominably filthy and smelly with accumulation of excrement, urine and discarded tooth cleaners of twigs. We should wash up the loathesome mess by a downpour of rain.” Thus they caused, by means of their supernatural power, the falling, at that very instant, of a torrential rain, which washed away all the filth and dirt from the stone slab, making it look spick and span. Then the devas caused the falling of flowers of five colours on the stone slab.

On arrival at the place of Jambuka in the evening, the Buddha called out the naked ascetic by his name ‘Jambuka’, who felt annoyed to be discourteously addressed ‘Jambuka’ by an unknown person who, he thought, must be a lowly one. He retorted angrily: “Who is that calling me by my name?” The Buddha replied: “I am a noble recluse.” Jambuka asked then: “What is that you want here?” When the Buddha said: “I wish you would allot Me a place to stay for one night.” Jambuka replied bluntly: “There is no place for you at this place.” But the Buddha insisted: “O Jambuka, please do not say like this; do allot Me a place to stay for one night. It is only natural that a recluse seeks help of a recluse, men expect help of men and beasts expect help of their own kind.” Whereupon the naked ascetic asked: “Are you, indeed, a recluse?” “Yes, I am a noble recluse,” answered the Buddha. Jambuka then queried: “If you are a recluse, where are the equipments of a recluse, such as gourd, ladle for stirring fire, sacrificial threads?” The Buddha replied: “I possess the equipments of a recluse you ask about; but thinking it is cumbersome to carry them separately while wandering around, I take them along only inside Me.” Jambuka was much annoyed and reproached the Buddha: “Being a recluse, how could you go wandering about without the necessary equipments of a recluse?” The Buddha made a gentle reply: “O Jambuka, let that be! Don't be angry with Me. Just point out a place for Me.” But Jambuka gave the terse reply: “There is no place for you around here.”

There was a small valley close by Jambuka’s place and the Buddha asked: “Who stays there?” “No one,” replied Jambuka. “If so, I want that allotted to Me,” said the Buddha. Whereupon, Jambuka made a reply: “It is up to you to judge whether it is suitable or not,” implying that he had no objection for his occupation of the place but took no responsibility whatsoever.

The Buddha placed a small mattress at a spot in the valley and sat upon it. At the first watch of the night, four guardian devas from the Catumahārajika Deva realm came, illuminating the four points of the compass and waited upon the Buddha. When Jambuka saw the illumination he wondered what it could be. At the second watch of the night, Sakka, King of the devas, came to attend upon the Buddha and Jambuka remained puzzled as before. At the last watch of the night, when Mahā Brahmā who had the power of lighting one world with one finger of his, two worlds with two fingers, ten worlds with ten fingers, came to wait upon the Buddha, illuminating the whole forest, Jambuka pondered, as before: “Now, what could that illumination be!”

When the morning came, Jambuka approached the Buddha and after courteous exchange of greeting, sat down at an appropriate place and addressed Him: “O big recluse, who were those that came to you, in the first watch of the night, lighting up the four points of the compass?” “Jambuka, they were the four guardian devas of the Catumahārajika Deva realms,” He replied. “Why did they come?” asked Jambuka. “They came to pay homage and wait upon Me,” was the reply. Jambuka asked again: “O big recluse, how is that? Are you superior to them?” “Yes, Jambuka, that’s right, I am superior to them,” replied the Buddha.

The naked ascetic Jambuka asked again: “O big recluse, who was the one that arrived in the middle watch of the night?” “He was Sakka, King of the devas,” replied the Buddha. “And why did he come?” asked Jambuka. The Buddha replied: “He came to pay homage to Me and attend upon Me.” Jambuka asked again, “O big recluse, how is that? Are you superior to Sakka also?” “Yes, Jambuka,” replied the Buddha, “I am superior to Sakka also; Sakka is just like a nurse attending on Me or a resident novice who looks after Me.”

Jambuka went on asking the Buddha: “O big recluse, who was he that came in the last watch of the night, flooding the whole forest with his body radiance?” “Jambuka, the one who came in the last watch of the night was none other than Mahā Brahmā whose name is often invoked by brahmins and others uttering: ‘I worship the Great Brahmā’ when they suddenly sneeze or loose balance and totter.” Jambuka asked again: “O big recluse, how is that? Are you superior to Mahā Brahmā too?” “Yes, Jambuka, I am the King of Brahmās, superior to Mahā Brahmā as well.”

Then the ascetic Jambuka made his usual boastful remark: “O big recluse, you are worthy of admiration indeed, by the snapping of fingers. None of those persons have ever come to pay homage to me at this place where I have been practising austerities for fifty-five years. True! for the last fifty- five years I have been sustaining myself only on air;and all along those years, these devas, Sakka and Brahmas have never approached me and paid homage to me.”

Whereupon, the Buddha gave Jambuka a very plain talk: “O Jambuka, you, who have been playing a game of bluff with persons of poor intelligence, think of playing the same game with Me! Have you not been eating filth for the past fifty-five years, sleeping on the bare ground, wandering round naked, extracting hair by means of a shell of Palmyra seed? And yet you have been deceiving all the people, telling them: ‘I only live on air, standing on one leg without sitting down and sleeping’; and now you wish to play the same trick on a Fully Awakened Buddha like Me!”

“O Jambuka, because you had professed this vile, base heretical view you have to be living on filth, sleeping on bare ground, roaming naked, extracting hair with the shell of Palmyra fruit seed (for all these years experiencing intense suffering); and yet you are still holding this wretched, low heretical view.”

Then Jambuka asked the Buddha: “O big recluse, what kind of unwholesome deeds have I committed?” Whereupon, the Buddha explained to him extensively various misdeeds he had done in the past. While the Buddha was giving him the discourse, Jambuka was assailed by remorse, sense of shame and dread of consequences of his past misdeeds; he was shaken so much that he squatted down to conceal parts of his body.

Whereupon, the Buddha threw a bathing robe to him. Jambuka put on the robe and sat down at a suitable place making obeisance to Him. Then the Buddha expounded a graduated discourse touching on points connected with alms-giving (dāna-katha), moral conduct (sīla-katha), etc., and finally the Four Noble Truths. At the end of discourse, Jambuka attained arahatship, complete with the Four Analytical Wisdom (patisambhidañāṇa). He stood up from his seat and worshipping the Buddha, made a request for formal admission as a novice and ordination as a bhikkhu.

(N.B. Thus, the ill-effects of the unwholesome deeds which he had committed in the past, had ceased. To elaborate: For his offence against an arahat-bhikkhu during the Buddha Kassapa’s Dispensation, (as stated above) he had suffered intensely, being burnt and incinerated in the lowest Hell of Avīci for a duration of time, long enough for the earth to rise to a height of one yojana and three gavutas. And after that, for the amount of retribution still outstanding against him, he had to make his expiation by going through fifty-five years of wretched, abominable inhuman life. Having thus paid off his debts of evil deeds, the consequences of his past misdeeds have become exhausted.

But his accumulation of merit, which he had earned by observance of moral precepts as a bhikkhu for twenty thousand years, remained undisturbed by his evil deeds.

Therefore, when Jambuka requested for initiation and ordination, the Buddha stretched out His right hand and called out: “Ehi bhikkhu, carabrahmacariyam samma dukkhassa antakiriyaya——Come bhikkhu, (accept the monkhood that you wish) strive to take up the three noble practices which form the moral training in my Disposition, in order to bring about the end of round of suffering.” At that moment, Jambuka turned into a full-fledged monk like a senior thera of sixty years, readily robed and equipped with the eight requisites.

On the very day when Jambuka attained arahatship, people from Anga and Magadha visited him with offering to pay homage. When they saw the Buddha, and began to wonder: “How is that? Is our teacher Jambuka superior to the great recluse Gotama or is the great recluse Gotama superior to our teacher Jambuka?” Then they wrongly surmised that since the great recluse had come to the presence of their teacher, their teacher Jambuka must be superior to the recluse Gotama.

The Buddha knew what was in the minds of the people, and He told Jambuka: “Dear son Jambuka, you might yourself remove the doubt from the minds of your followers.” Jambuka replied: “Most Exalted Buddha, it has also been my intention to do so,” and so saying, he entered into the fourth jhāna. Then rising up from his seat, he went up into the air to the height of a palm tree from where he addressed the Buddha: “Glorious Buddha, You, the Exalted Buddha, are my teacher, I am but a disciple of Yours.” Then he came down to the earth and after paying homage to the Buddha, rose up in the air again. He repeated the same performance seven times, going up higher and higher, to the height of two palm trees, three palm trees, etc., up to the height of seven palm trees. In this manner, he had made it very clear to the assembled crowd that he was just a disciple of the Buddha.

On seeing these strange phenomena, people were struck with wonder and said: “O Buddhas are worthy of admiration by the snapping of fingers; they are glorious and there is no equal to them.” The Buddha, being desirous of holding discussion with the masses on Dhamma subjects addressed them:

“O lay devotees, Jambuka has lived here for the last fifty-five years telling you ostentatiously: ‘I have been exercising self-denial, eating only what is picked by the tip of a blade of grass out of the whole lot of offering you have brought.’ Supposing, he continued on with this practice of self-denial till it reached one hundred years, and certain amount of merit accrued on that score. Such a measure of merit to his credit would not be worth even 1/256 part of the merit he would earn by refusing to take any food now as a noble ariya, through having some doubt whether the food and the time it is offered is allowable or not allowable.” Then the Buddha expounded the following Dhamma stanza which was pertinent to what He had been telling the people:

Mase mase kusaggena
bālo bhuñjeyya bhojanaṃ
na so sankhātadhammānaṃ
kalan agghati solasiṃ

Even though, month after month (or once a month) the fool (who does not know the Four Noble Truths) bent on living in austerity, takes his food sparingly by picking it up on the tip of a grass blade for one hundred years; he is not even worth, one part out two hundred and fifty-sixth (1/256) part of ariya who have comprehended the Four Noble Truths.

The stanza was expounded with reference to a particular individual, namely Jambuka. When considered in its generic sense:

(1) There is the volition (cetana), which arises when ignorant heretical recluse practises self-sacrifice for as long as one hundred years.

(2) There is the volition (cetana), which arises when an ariya who comprehends the Four Noble Truths, refuses an offer of food through having some doubt whether the food and the time it is offered is allowable or not allowable.

Of the two types of cetanas mentioned above, the cetanas accumulated by the heretical recluse for as long as one hundred years is not worth 1/256 part of the cetana that arose when an ariya refused food through doubt over the food and the time it was offered.

To explain further: The amount of merit accruing from cetana occasioned by mere doubt on the part of an ariya recluse as to the kind of food and the time it is offered, entailing the loss of a meal for him, is 256 times greater than the sum of merit gained by a heretical recluse through his faulty practice of self-denial for a hundred years.

At the close of the discourse, eighty-four thousand sentient beings gained release from the cycle of suffering through realization of the Four Noble Truths[1].

End of the Story of Jambuka.

Footnotes and references:


This story is mentioned in 5-Bala Vagga, Dhammapada, Vol. One.

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