The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes punyavanta jataka which is Chapter V 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 V - The Puṇyavanta Jātaka

The monks said to the Exalted One, “Behold, Lord, how thou speakest in praise of merits.” The Exalted One replied, “This is not the first time that I have spoken in praise of merits. I did so on another occasion also.” The monks asked, “Lord, was there another occasion?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Benares, in the province of Kāśi, a king named Añjanaka[1] was ruling. He was meritorious and mighty; he treated his people well, had the virtue of charity and generosity, was powerful and wealthy, and had a large army. His kingdom was prosperous, rich, well-supplied with food and well-peopled with happy subjects.

Now that king had a son, a young prince named Puṇyavanta, who at all times spoke in praise of merits. Of the same age as this young prince were four sons of counsellors. One counsellor’s son was named Vīryavanta, who always spoke in praise of energy, holding that it was the supreme thing in the world. The second was named Śilpavanta, who always spoke in praise of the arts, holding that they were the supreme things in the world. The third was named Rūpavanta, who always spoke in praise of beauty, holding that it was the supreme thing in the world. The fourth was named Prajnāvanta, who always spoke in praise of wisdom, holding that it was the supreme thing in the world.

The young prince Puṇyavanta spoke to them, saying, “There is nothing equal to merits. Merit is the supreme thing in the world. (34) If you cannot understand this, let us go to another kingdom, and there find out who of us excels, the meritorious one, the energetic one, the artistic one, the beautiful one, or the wise one.”

They thus left Benares and went to the city of Kampilla, so that, as they said, they should find out[2] who of them excelled. Now it happened that they went out of Kampilla to bathe in the Ganges. And in the stream of the river Ganges they saw a large trunk of a tree being carried down.[3] The other counsellors’ sons and Puṇyavanta, the king’s son, said to the counsellor’s son Vīryavanta, “Now, here, O Vīryavanta, you must exercise[4] your energy on the trunk of a tree, and see if[5] you can pull out[6] that tree-trunk which is being carried down by the river Ganges.” Then Vīryavanta, exerting his great strength and power, pulled out the huge tree-trunk to dry land. The others looked at it and saw it was the precious sandal-wood tree. Vīryavanta, the counsellor’s son, sold it to perfume-makers for one hundred thousand purāṇas,[7] and he brought the hundred thousand purāṇas and gave them to his companions. He addressed them in a verse:

“Men praise energy in the world; there is nothing superior to it in the world. See how by means of my energy I have gathered this store of wealth.”

They said then, “We have seen the fruit of energy. Let us now see the fruit of Śilpavanta’s art.”

Śilpavanta took his lute and left his companions. He played the lute along with other counsellors’ sons and merchants’ sons skilled in the lute. A great crowd of people gathered. All those in the city of Kampilla who were conversant with the music of the lute (35) gathered together when they heard the music. They vied with one another in playing the lute in competition with the counsellor’s son. But none could beat that counsellor’s son; Śilpavanta excelled them all in playing the lute.

Now it happened that while Śilpavanta was playing his lute, one of the strings was broken. But it continued to produce the same music as before. A second string was broken, but the same music was forthcoming. A third string was broken, but the same music was forthcoming. And so one by one six strings were broken, and one alone was left.[8] But even from this one string the same music was forthcoming. All the bystanders were astonished at the lute-playing of Śilpavanta, the counsellor’s son. He won as a reward a large quantity of gold.[9] He brought the gold and gave it to his companions, saying, “Here is the fruit of my art.” Then he addressed his companions in a verse:

“Men praise art in the world; there is nothing superior to it in the world. By skill with the lute I have gathered a store of wealth.”

They replied, “We have seen the fruit of the art of Śilpavanta, the counsellor’s son. Let us now see the fruit of Rūpavanta’s beauty.”

Then Rūpavanta, the counsellor’s son, left his companions and went down to a stall in the market. As he was going round the stall a leading courtesan caught sight of him and saw that he was charming, comely, stately, with the most perfect beauty of complexion. (36) And as soon as she saw him she fell deeply in love with him. She sent her servant to him, saying, “Approach that man and speak to him in my name.” So the servant called to him and said, “Sir, a lady wishes to see you.”

And he went with the servant to the leading courtesan’s house. She greeted the counsellor’s son, saying, “Welcome, sir, here is a home for you, an incomparable, fine dwelling-place.[10] Indulge with me in the five sensual pleasures, and divert, enjoy and amuse yourself.”

The leading courtesan made him sit down on her couch, and what with one thing and another be began to covet her wealth.[11] He was taken to the bathroom, was given an unguent with perfumed oil, bathed with exquisite bathing powders, anointed with exquisite ointments, and arrayed in fine garments of silk. When he came in again with the leading courtesan, costly food was laid before him. Then as he sat with her he said, “Yonder in my own house sit my four companions. You must summon them and give them a quantity of your wealth so that they do not kill you.” As soon as she heard these words she set before him a hundred thousand pieces, and said, “Give these to your companions.”

Then he summoned his companions. And they came to the leading courtesan’s house, where they saw Rūpavanta, the counsellor’s son, sitting in the arms of a great lady, a leading courtesan. When Rūpavanta saw his companions, he addressed them in a verse:

“Men praise beauty in the world; there is nothing superior to it in the world. I have won a store of wealth in a courtesan’s arms.”

“Take these pieces,” said he, “and spend them.” They took them and went to their own lodging.[12]

(37) The companions said, “Now have we seen the fruit of the beauty of Rūpavanta, the counsellor’s son. We must now see the fruit of Prajñāvanta’s wisdom.”

Prajñāvanta then left his lodging and went down to a stall in the market-place. There he saw a merchant’s son wrangling with a leading courtesan in the midst of a large crowd. The merchant’s son was saying to her, “Come and entertain me[13] to-night, and I will give you a hundred thousand pieces.” The leading courtesan replied, “Sir, I have no time to-night, I have been hired by another. To-night I shall entertain him, and to-morrow[14] I will come to you, sir.” So she went and entertained the other man that night.

The merchant’s son for his part had an impure dream of the leading courtesan as he lay in bed.[15] In his dream he diverted, enjoyed and amused himself with the courtesan the whole night long to his heart’s content. And she, after diverting, enjoying and amusing herself with the other man all night long, in the morning went to the merchant’s son, saying, “Here I am come to entertain you, sir.” The merchant’s son replied, “I diverted, enjoyed and amused myself with you in my dream to my heart’s content the whole night long. Go away, I do not want you.” She said, “If, sir, you diverted, enjoyed and amused yourself with me in your dream to your heart’s content the whole night long, you should give me a hundred thousand pieces.” The merchant’s son said, “Seeing that you lay with another man the whole night, why should I give you one hundred thousand pieces?” She replied, “Sir, you said yourself that you diverted, enjoyed and amused yourself with me in your dream to your heart’s content the whole night long, you should therefore pay me the fee of a hundred thousand pieces.” And hence rose the dispute between them, and though a great crowd (38) had gathered, none of them was able to settle the dispute.

Standing there was Prajñāvanta, the counsellor’s son. The townspeople of Kampilla appealed to him, saying, “Young man, what seems to you the proper thing?[16] Should this leading courtesan be given the hundred thousand pieces by the merchant’s son, or should she not?” Prajñāvanta replied, “The fee should be paid by the merchant’s son to the leading courtesan in just the same fashion as he consorted with her.” They said to him, “Explain then, young man, how it should be paid.” Prajñāvanta ordered that a large mirror and a hundred thousand pieces should be brought. He told the merchant’s son, “Take the box containing the hundred thousand pieces and set it in front of the mirror.” He then said, “Come, lady, take this reflection of the box containing the hundred thousand pieces which is in the mirror. That is your fee.”

The crowd roared their approval of the solution found by Prajñāvanta the counsellor’s son, and they presented[17] him with a large amount of gold. He gave the gold to his companions, and addressed them in a verse:

“Men praise wisdom in the world; there is nothing superior to it in the world. By my thoughtful wisdom I have gathered a store of wealth.”

The counsellors’ sons then said, “We have now seen the power of the energy of Vīryavanta the counsellor’s son, the power of the art of Śilpavanta, the power of the beauty of Rūpavanta, and the power of the wisdom of Prajñāvanta. Now we shall see the power of the merit of Prince Puṇyavanta.”

Puṇyavanta, the king’s son, left his companions (39) and made his way to a royal palace. And he settled near that royal palace. He was seen by a certain counsellor’s son. As soon as this counsellor’s son saw Puṇyavanta the king’s son, he conceived an affection for him. He invited him to eat with him, took him to his home and led him to his gymnasium.[18] After he had taken exercise he was bathed and anointed and taken in to eat. And there, along with the counsellor’s son, the king’s son was that day served with exquisite and regal food and drink. The counsellor’s son took him up to the royal coach-house and made him lie down.[19] He was seen by the daughter of King Brahmadatta,[20] and she thought to herself, “This is the counsellor’s son who has come.” Then in the late evening she hurried out of the palace, entered the coach-house, and climbed into the carriage where Puṇyavanta the king’s son was lying. She was certain that in a little while he would wake up. “Then,” said she, “he will take his pleasure with me.” But the prince having eaten and drunk well slept peacefully, while the king’s daughter being distracted[21] by thoughts of love kept on saying, “Presently he will wake up, in a moment he will wake up.” But overcome by the excessive influence of the night she fell asleep. At daybreak she came down from the carriage, entered the palace and was seen by some counsellors. These thought to themselves, “Here is the king’s daughter coming down from the coach-house after a sleepless night and entering the palace. Can it be that she has been sitting in a carriage with some man?”

Now while they were thinking thus, Prince Puṇvavanta came down from his carriage. The counsellors thought. “Where is this man from? He has been sitting with King Brahmadatta’s daughter in the coach-house.” They seized him and led him before King Brahmadatta. “Your majesty,” said they, “this man has lain with your daughter in the coach-house.” The king asked, “How was this?” The prince replied, “Your majesty, a certain counsellor’s son invited me to his house and gave me to eat (40) and drink. When it was late I was dismissed, and I left for my lodging. But, because of the lateness of the hour, he made me go up[22] to the coach-house and lie down after my eating and drinking. There was no other person there.”

The king’s daughter was then asked, “How was this?” She told King Brahmadatta the true state of affairs, saying, “It was just as this man says, and not otherwise.”

King Brahmadatta was pleased with Prince Puṇyavanta. He saw that he was a gracious, handsome, intelligent and upstanding young man. And he thought to himself, “This can be no ordinary person; he must belong to a great family.” Then he asked him, “Young man, whence are you?” The prince answered, “I am from Benares, and the son of Añjana, king of Kāśi.”

Immediately on seeing Prince Puṇyavanta, Brahmadatta, king of Kampilla, had conceived an affection for him as for a son, for the king had no son of his own. So he dowered[23] his daughter with a thousand pieces of gold, and with great royal pomp and magnificence and in the presence of all the people he gave her to Prince Puṇyavanta and established him on the throne. To his counsellors and the people of town and country he said, “He has become my son, so that he may be king. For I am old.”

Then when Prince Puṇyavanta had gained a kingdom, he summoned his companions and addressed them in a verse:

Men praise merit in the world; there is nothing superior to it in the world, By my merits I have won[24] a kingdom and a king’s daughter.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the counsellor’s son named Vīryanta was somebody else. But you must not think so. And why? Śroṇakoṭiviṃśa[25] here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was Vīryavanta the counsellor’s son. You may think that at that time and on that occasion Śilpavanta the counsellor’s son was somebody else. (41) You must not think so. And why? Rāśtrapāla[26] here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was Śilpavanta the counsellor’s son. You may think that at that time and on that occasion Rūpavanta the counsellor’s son was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? The elder Sundarananda here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was Rūpavanta the counsellor’s son. You may think that at that time and on that occasion Prajñāvanta the counsellor’s son was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? The elder Śāriputra here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was Prajñāvanta the counsellor’s son. You may think that at that time and on that occasion the son of Añjana, king of Kāśi, named Puṇyavanta, was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the son of Añjana, king of Kāśi, named Puṇyavanta. Then, too, did I speak in praise of merit, just as I do now.”

Here ends the Puṇyavanta Jātaka.[27]

Footnotes and references:

1.

Not alluded to elsewhere.

2.

Literally, “until (so that) we learn,” yāvat jñāsyāma.

3.

Oruhyantam, pres. part. pass.

4.

Literally, “display”, darśayitavya.

5.

Yam. Cf. Pali, yaṃ te sakkā... ārogam kātuṃ, taṃ karohi (V. 1, 276).

6.

Okaḍḍhitum. See p. 28, n. 3.

7.

See Vol. I, p. 188, n. 9.

8.

This lute, then, had seven strings.

9.

Prabhūtaṃ hiraṇyasuvarṇaṃ ācchādo ca labdho, where hiraṇyasuvarṇam and ācchāda must be in opposition. For ācchāda in the sense of “reward” see p. 36, n. 2.

10.

Vyasanam, sic for vasanam.

11.

Literally, “in many ways he was allured by her wealth,” bahuprakāraṃ arthena lobhito.”

12.

Ohāra = avahāra. So interpreted by Senart. Cf. Edgerton (B.H.S.D.), who compares AMg. oharai, “establish,” “settle.”

13.

Āgaccha mama... upasthāpanakāri. According to Senart kāri is a sort of infinitive denoting “purpose” with a verb of motion, giving to the preceding substantive the force of the infinitive or future participle. Immediately below occurs the form upasthāpanakārikā, where the suffix-(i)ka still further enforces the idea of purpose. Edgerton (B.H.S.D.) rightly prefers the form upasthāna, which is a v.l. of the MS. The causal stem is out of place here.

14.

Śuve. Cf. Pali sve and suve. Sk. śvas.

15.

Literally, “lay being impure with the leading courtesan,” agragaṇikām saṅkīyanto śayito.” Saṅkīyanto is pr. part, of saṅkīyait Pali and BSk.„ pass, of saṅkirati. The use of the pass pr. part, with the acc. here is noteworthy. Edgerton (B.H.S.D.) does not agree with this. He translates, “went to bed thinking about that courtesan.” And he goes on to say, “If our form is right, I can only understand it as a MIndic passive to Skt. caus. śaṅkayati, “makes concerned”; it would then mean, “being made concerned with.” There is a v.l. sakrīdanto: read saṃkrīdanto “amusing himself (in thoughts?)”

16.

Pratibhāyati = pratibhāti, in the sense of videtur, “seems good.” Cf. Vol. 2, p. 278, n. 6.

17.

Ācchādayanti. This must be the sense of this verb here. Senart compares the use of ācchāda in the sense of “retribution,” “recompense,” see p. 33, n. 3. The same use of the verb is found elsewhere in BSk., e.g., ācchādayati jīvitena “to keep alive,” Av. Ś. 1. 300, Divy. 136. This meaning may be compared with the figurative use of acchādeti in Pali, namely, “to envelope,” “to fill.” See B.H.S.D. s.v. āchāda.

18.

Vyāyāmaśāla.

19.

The text is very succinct here, so much so as to be syntactically incoherent. It reads amātyaputro... yānaśālāmabhiruhāpayitvā śayāyito. The object of the causal gerund is not expressed and grammatically śayāyito, causal pass. part, of śī = śayāpito, agrees with the subject, whence it might seem that it was the counsellor’s son who was made to lie down. But the context demands that it refer to rājaputro, understood.

20.

None of the historical kings of this name is alluded to here.

21.

Reading, as Senart is inclined to suggest, khidyamānā for vidyamānā of the text.

22.

Abhiruhitvā, radical stem for causal.

23.

Maṇḍitā, “adorned,” “decorated.” Cf. p. 22, n. 8.

24.

The text has āgatā, “have come (to me),” but, as Senart remarks, it would be quite feasible to read āhṛtā as in the other verses of this tale.

25.

Pali Soṇa Kolivisa, a disciple of the Buddha.

26.

Pali Raṭhapāla, a disciple of the Buddha.

27.

Not in Fausböll.