The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes sharakshepa-jataka (story of the arrow that was shot far) which is Chapter X of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter X - The Śarakṣepa-jātaka (story of the arrow that was shot far)

The monks said to the Exalted One, “The arrow of the Exalted One was shot far.” The Exalted One replied, “Monks, that was not the first occasion on which I shot an arrow thus far.” “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Benares, in the land of Kāśi, there ruled a king, who was powerful, wealthy, rich in beasts of burden, virtuous and majestic. His realm was extensive, for his sway extended as far as Takṣaśilā.[1] Having established his younger brother on the throne he left Benares and came to Takṣaśilā and abode there.

Now Benares was besieged by another king with an army of the four divisions.[2] The brother sent a message to Takṣaśilā to say “Come hither, I am beset by a hostile army.” When the king who was staying at Takṣaśilā heard this from the mouth of the messenger, he wrote on a piece of birch-bark the name of the king by whom Benares was besieged. He wound the bark round the shaft of an arrow, making it fast with some thread. He then shot the arrow towards Benares,.It fell at the feet of the (invading) king and shattered his footstool.[3]

That king was amazed at such a man. “Look at his prowess,” said he, “and the range of his fist.[4] For, being at Benares, he shot an arrow which came thus far and fell at my feet on the footstool, though I was not hit.” Then he removed the birch-bark containing the message[5] and on it was written: (83)

Here I am at Benares, and yet your footstool is in pieces. If you do not want to die, withdraw[6] from my kingdom.

That king, thereupon, became still more frightened and terrified. “I know,” said he, “that this arrow did not come[7] from Benares. That is why I am amazed. It was shot by one standing in Takṣaśilā.” And on that very spot he made a shrine for the divine arrow.[8] In it he set up the arrow and worshipped and honoured it. Then he went his way.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the king of Kāśi by whom that arrow was shot from Takṣaśilā was somebody else. Verily, you must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was that king of Kāśi. Then too did I shoot an arrow far, just as I did on this other occasion.”

Here ends the Śarakṣepa-Jātaka.

Notes on the Śarakṣepa-jātaka:

This Jātaka closely resembles the last part of the Asadisa Jātaka in J. 2. 86 ff.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Pali Takkasilā, “the capital of Gandhāra. It is frequently mentioned as a centre of education, especially in the Jātakas.” (D.P.N.)

2.

Literally “four-limbed (caturaṅga) army,” i.e., infantry, cavalry, charioteers, and warriors on elephants. For a definition of the four divisions see V. 4. 105.

3.

Literally “foot-board,” pādaphalakat.

4.

Muṣṭisambandha.

5.

Literally, “the birch-bark which had been made to speak,” bhūrjaṃ vācitaṃ.

6.

Osakka, cf. Pali osakkati— “o + sakkati, surround,” from Pali sakk = *Sk. ṣvaṣk, cf. Māgadhi osakkai; but sometimes, as here, confused with sṛp., cf. Pali osappati and Sk. apasarpati.” (P.E.D., s.v.).

7.

The text has no negative, na, but the sense demands one.

8.

Devaśara.