The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes vijitavin jataka which is Chapter VI 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 VI - The Vijitāvin Jātaka

“And, monks, that was not the only time that I spoke 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 Mithilā[1] there reigned a king named Vijitāvin. He was meritorious and majestic. He treated his subjects kindly and had the virtue of liberality and generosity. There was nothing which he would refuse to give to recluses, brāhmans, the poor and the beggars. Whoever wanted an elephant, he gave him one. Whoever wanted a horse, he gave him one. Whoever wanted a chariot, he gave him one. Whoever wanted a conveyance of any kind, he gave him one. Whoever wanted a woman, he gave him one decked out in every finery. Whoever wanted (42) female slaves, he gave him them. Whoever wanted male slaves, he gave him them.[2] Whoever wanted clothes, he gave him them. Whoever wanted any kind of vessels, he gave him them. Whoever wanted cows, he gave him them. Whoever wanted oxen, he gave him them. Whoever wanted gold, he gave him it. Whoever wanted money,[3] he gave him it. Whoever wanted silver, he gave him it. Whatever anyone wanted, he gave him it. There was nothing which he would refuse to give. And he did not grow to be otherwise. But he exulted in his liberality and charity, and he did not regret his gifts afterwards, but was full of joy and gladness.

Now as he went on giving excessive largesses his treasuries failed. The treasurers, chief ministers, princes, counsellors, townsmen, countrymen and the mass of the people came together, and he was banished from his kingdom. He settled in a large forest grove in the Himalayas. When he came there he laid out a hermitage and made himself a dwelling by building a hut of grass and leaves. He lived there in the hermitage by gathering roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits of various kinds. But first he fed the other seers[4] and only afterwards took food himself. So eager was he at all times to observe the dharma.

But Śakra, lord of the devas, wishing to make trial of the king, came to the grove in all his celestial beauty. Hovering in the air he sought to dissuade the king of Videha[5] from his liberality. “Your majesty,” said he, “such giving is not approved by wise men, but they always condemn it. He who gives charity becomes unhappy even in this world, and when he leaves the world of men he is reborn in the hells. Just as your majesty has been banished from his kingdom because of his liberality and is now even in this world bereft of his kingdom and afflicted with ill, so in the world beyond, too, through the influence of this liberality he will be reborn in the hells. If you do not believe me, your majesty, that (43) you will be reborn in the hells for having given charity in this world, I will give you visual proof as to where munificent and liberal donors are reborn.”

Śakra then conjured up[6] a great hell, afire, ablaze and aflame. There many thousand beings were seen in torment[7] and crying out in fearful tones.[8] Śakra said to the king, “Your majesty, go to these crying people and ask them through what karma they were reborn there.”

The king thus asked those denizens of hell, “What wicked deeds did you commit when you were human beings that you should now be crying out in feariul tones and suffering such torments in hell?” And the phantom[9] beings replied, “Your majesty, in the world of men we were[10] generous givers of charity. We showered handsome, liberal and lavish[11] gifts on recluses, brahmans, the poor and the beggars. And now, because of that, here are we, having passed away from the world of men, reborn in the hells.”

The king said, “Friends, this is not as you aver. There is no cause nor reason that a generous giver should be reborn in the hells for having given charity. But when generous givers of charity have made a gift, as a result of that gift they are reborn in heaven after they die. There they enjoy divers celestial joys. And having enjoyed celestial joys among the devas, when their time is up they pass away from the world of the devas, and are reborn in the world of men among wealthy families. And, O Kauśika,[12] when these mendicants leave me, rewarded and satisfied, I have a sublime feeling of joy and gladness. And they too are glad. Even if I shall be reborn in hell for it, I shall persist in giving charity.”

Sakra, lord of the devas, having thus tested the king of Videha, was pleased with the result. “Your majesty,” said he, “your intention is splendid and sublime. (44) I came hither but to test you.”

When Śakra, lord of the devas, had so spoken, he disappeared from the forest grove and returned to his home in Trāyastriṃśa.

Now in the kingdom of Mithilā, from the time that[13] the king had been banished, no rain had fallen. It became short of food, and it was oppressed by robbers and enemies. So the princes, counsellors, treasurers, ministers, citizens and the country folk went to the forest grove and craved pardon of the king of Videha. With great royal pomp and splendour he was restored to Mithilā. And from that time the kingdom had abundance of food once more.

The Exalted One said, “It may be, again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the king of Videha in Mithilā, named Vijitāvin, was somebody else. But you must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the king of Videha in Mithilā, named Vijitāvin. Then, too, did I speak in praise of merits, just as I now do.”

There[14] was a king, Vijitāvin, ruler of Mithilā in Videha.

He was famed far and wide for his charity, being open-handed, generous and liberal.

Elephants and horses, chariots and carriages, richly adorned women, silver and gold, not one of these would he refuse to give.

Full of joy and gladness, he knew inward happiness. When he gave he was elated and did not regret it.

When he saw a recluse, a brahman, a poor man or a beggar, he regaled him with food and drink, with clothing, bed and couch.

His treasurers and ministers, princes and counsellors, citizens and the whole people banded together and banished[15] him from his throne.

(45) And after he had been banished he came to a forest grove. There he laid out a hermitage and made it his home.

There in the forest grove he would gather fruits of various kinds. But first he would satisfy the needs of other seers, and then partake himself.

Śakra in his celestial splendour approached the king, and hovering in the air, thus spoke to him.

“Wise men do not commend charity, but always censure it.

For this excessive charity of yours you have been banished from your kingdom.

“A noble though you are, you have suffered misfortune even in this world and have been deprived of your throne. And when you pass to the other world you will go[16] to hell.

“If you do not believe me as to where the generous man goes, I will show you the bourne of the charitable.”

And Śakra conjured up[17] a blazing, fiery hell, and showed him many thousands of beings in torment.[18]

Then he said, “Your majesty, ask these burning creatures yourself why they are come to misfortune and suffer[19] grievous woes.

“Fearfully they cry as they suffer their grievous woes. So ask them what wickedness they did[20] in their former lives.” They replied,

“O king, when we were among men, we were[21] generous givers. And now, having dispensed great charity we suffer[22] this woe.”

(46) The king said,

“That is not the reason. There is no reasonableness in the supposition that[23] he who is generous should, when he passes away, go to an evil bourne.

“For generous people, when they pass away from the world of men, go to heaven. There they enjoy the heavenly bliss which they themselves have created.

“It is desire [that brings][24] suffering in the hells, immense like the ocean[25]. . .[26] I cannot bear seeing a beggar.

“Let this be my delight, O thousand-eyed one, that I go on giving and impart counsel the while,[27] and that he who comes to me will go away replenished, content, satisfied and glad.

“There shall be no gift that I will not give.[28] Day by day[29] I shall bestow abundance and satisfaction. I shall be a refuge, [like][30] the tree of heaven[31] laden with leaves and fruit.

“My heart is not wroth with a beggar, and when I have given I do not grieve and repent. I do not promise what I cannot bestow, and whatever I promise I immediately provide.”

. . .[32]

(47) “In an instant the wish of my heart was fulfilled and he[33] was truly vanquished by me,

“For seven days I sat cross-legged and at ease. Then I stood up, a sage immoveable as a rock.

“Oil the seventh day I went forth as a saviour and preached the word, a mighty seer instructing all the worlds.[34]

“Blessed is the fruit of merits; the wish of the meritorious prospers. Speedily does he attain perfect peace, utter release.”

Here ends the Jātaka of Vijitāvin, the king of Videha.

Footnotes and references:


See vol. 1, p. 239. n. 2.


The text repeats the first substantive in each sentence. Here the repetition is dāsāni, acc. pl. with neut. ending. Cf. brāhmaṇāni, Vol. I, 309 (text). See Edgerton, Gram. §8. 98, for other examples of this anomaly.


Suvarṇa, used in juxtaposition to hiraṇya, would seem to denote money or a gold piece. Cf. M. 3. 175; J. 1. 341.


Ṛṣīṇi, neuter. For other examples of neut. ending in nom. acc. pl. of i- stems, see Edgerton. Gram. §10. 160. Examples which have hitherto occurred in the Mhvu. may conceivably be explained as due to change of gender, as the substantives concerned are names of lifeless things.


See Vol. I, p. 239, n. 2.


Nirmita from nir-mā. See Vol. I, p. 141, n. 2.


Sampaccamānā, “being roasted,” pres. part, of -paccati, Pali for BSk. -pacyate, pass, of pacati.


Bhīṣmasvaram. Senart’s admittedly doubtful conjecture for ahīsvaram or ahasvara. The latter, however, would seem to make quite good sense, “sound of woe.” Edgerton (B.H.S.D.), however, pointing out that the MSS. here and on p. 45 almost unanimously read ahṛsvara, leaves the word unexplained. Aha may have existed in BSk. as it did in Pali as a form of Sk. ahaha, aho. (See B.H.S.D. s.v.).


“The conjured-up beings,” nirmitā.


Note the form āsī. See Edgerton, Gram. §32. 20.


Literally “scattered,” vistīrṇa.


Epithet of Śakra = Indra. See Vol. 2, p. 60, n. 10.


Yadupādāya... tadupādāya.


The same story in verse.


Vipravāsayet, opt. (3 sg.) used in aor. sense, as frequently in Mhvu.


Gansi, v.l. gaṃsi, fut. of gam. Cf. Edgerton, Gram. §31. 29.


Gansi, v.l. gaṃsi, fut. of gam. Cf. Edgerton, Gram. §31. 29.


Paccamānāni. See above, p. 41, n. 3.


Vedatha, either a strange Prakrit use of 2nd for 3rd pl., or this part of the sentence suddenly turns into oratio recta. Its use in the very next sentence, however, would seem to show that the former alternative is the true one.


Akare, aor., 3rd sg. for pl.


vayam āsi. Cf vayam āsī in the prose version (p. 41, n. 6). The verbal forms in this story, and especially in the metrical version, are paralleled in Ardhamāgadhi and Apabhramsa. According to Prof. F. Edgerton the dialect on which Buddhist Sanskrit was based was closely related to these two dialects. (See his article in Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, Vol. 8, pp. 501 ff.) The use of āsī (āsi) just referred to is mentioned on p. 504 of this article. See also his Gram., §32.20.


Anubhoma = anubhavamas. Cf. Pali, homa. This is not cited by Edgerton, Gram., p. 224.


Yatra for yat, a very unusual application of the former.


Lacuna in the text.


Text has analparūpam īdṛśam followed by a lacuna. This lacuna has been tentatively filled by supplying samudrāya from the reading sanamudre of one MS. However, īdṛśam samudrāya is a form of expression which is rather unusual in our text.


Another lacuna.


This is Senart’s interpretation of the obscure girām viyāharanto.


Dadeha, for dade (opt. 1 sg.) ’ha (= aha, BSk. for aham). See Edgerton, Gram., §20. 7.






Kalpavṛkṣa, see Vol. I, p. 118, n. 1.


There is an obvious lacuna here. Equally obvious is the fact that the next two stanzas are misplaced. They would be more apposite on page 33 of text.


Sc. Māra.


Literally “the thousands of the world elements,” lokadhātusahasrāṇi.