The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of ajnata kaundinya which is Chapter XXXI 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 XXXI - The Jātaka of Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya

The monks asked the Exalted One, “Lord, as a maturing of what karma was the venerable Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya the first of all to learn the dharma?” The Exalted One replied, “Monks, he made a vow long ago to be so.”[1]

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Rājagṛha, a Pratyekabuddha, who suffered from biliousness, sought shelter in a potter’s shed. The potter took him in and cured him of his biliousness. Then the Pratyekabuddhas attending on that Pratyekabuddha who suffered from biliousness came to the potter’s[2] shed to inquire after his health. The potter asked the Pratyekabuddha whom he had cured of his biliousness, “By which one of you was the dharma first learnt?” (348) The Pratyekabuddha replied, “The dharma was learnt by me first of all, and afterwards by these others.” The potter then made a vow, saying, “By this root of merit, which I have acquired in doing this service and tendence to you, may I be the first of all to learn the dharma when it is proclaimed by an exalted Buddha. May I not crave for gain and honour. May I crave only for a solitary[5] bed and seat and be content with any kind of almsman’s bowl. May I lay aside my body amid the cascades and forest glades, dying all alone.”[4]

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion, that potter in the city of Rājagṛha was somebody else. But you must not think that. And why? This elder here, Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya, was at that time and on that occasion the potter in the city of Rājagṛha. For that he gave shelter to the Pratyekabuddha who was suffering from a bilious affection and tended him, and then made a vow, saying, ‘As you learned the dharma first of all and these others afterwards, so may I, too, be the first to learn the dharma when it is proclaimed by an exalted Buddha,’ as a maturing of that karma Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya has been the first to learn the dharma; afterwards the others did so.

Through[5] the root of merit which is acquired by service of food, shelter and sustenance, may I foregather with the Best of men.

As you were the first to learn the dharma and were followed by these others, so may I be the first to learn it when it is Proclaimed by a Conqueror.

My wishes few, may I he content to earn my living with[6] any kind[7] of bowl. My heart fortified with calm and ease, may I not covet gain and honour.

In the lonely forest and on the mountains[8] haunted by herds of deer, there, when my time is come, may I lay aside my body.[9]

(349) Whether honoured or unhonoured, life and consciousness pass away like vapour. Who can find pleasure in a dead body that is but dust of the earth?

Here ends the Jātaka of Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya.

The monks said to the Exalted One, “The Lord made renunciation of self, of son, of wife, of wealth and of kingdom, and when he had awakened to the incomparable perfect enlightenment, he made the venerable Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya to share in a great blessing.” The Exalted One replied, “Monks, this was not the first time that I made Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya to share in a great blessing. I did so on another occasion also.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, long ago, there was a king of the Kośalas who was virtuous, mighty, powerful, and wealthy and had a great army. His realm was prosperous, rich, peaceful, well supplied with food, and thickly peopled with happy subjects. Violence, brawling and rioting were quelled and robbers held in check. The kingdom was busy with trade, and governed with justice. The fair renown of that king was spread in all directions. He was a sovereign honoured for his generosity and liberality. He was intent on doing kindness to others and had his gaze on the world beyond. Thus he was styled “the Just.”

Now a worldly king of the Kāśis had designs to invade the kingdom of the Kośalas. He equipped a strong force of the four arms, warriors on elephants, cavalry, charioteers and infantry, and invaded the land of the Kośalas. But the counsellors and troops of the king of the Kośalas (350) defeated the king of the Kāśis and all his army was completely routed and broken up. He came again with a greater army of the four arms, but again he went away defeated. Again and again did the king of the Kāśis invade the territory of the Kośalas with a four-fold army. Thus many thousands of people, exposed to one another’s knives, arrows, swords and axes, fell into misfortune and ruin.

The heart of the just, compassionate and considerate king of the Kośalas was moved when he saw these thousands of people fallen into misfortune and ruin, his kingdom invaded, men destroyed because of another’s greed for a kingdom, and such wrong perpetrated. Moved by this consideration, he left his kingdom, and all alone he went to the southern country disguised as an unknown man. He said to himself, “There, by some means or other I shall manage to gain a living for myself.”

And as he went on his way, tired with the journey and scorched by the hot wind, he sat down to rest in the cool shade of a banyan tree. There came along on his way from the southern sea to Kośala a certain sea-faring trader, whose ship had sunk with the loss of all the cargo. He had heard that the king of the Kośalas was just, compassionate and devoted to helping others, and that he had relieved thousands of people who had lost their wealth and given them material assistance.[10] “He,” thought the merchant, “will give me, too, some money which will enable me to ply my trade again and recover from this disaster.”

Thus, with his hopes on the king of the Kośalas, he came in due course from the southern country and reached the place where the king was. He came upon him under the banyan tree. The king questioned the merchant, saying, “Can it be that you are not[11] weary or sick, good brother? Rest awhile. The shade of this banyan tree is cool, for you are tired with your journey.” The merchant replied, “Good brother, a blessing on you, but I will go on.” The king said, “Whither are you bound in such hurry that you do not wish to rest?” The merchant replied, “Kind sir, (351) I am a sea-faring merchant from a certain place. Having plentiful resources I left my native place and crossed the great ocean in a well-fitted vessel, taking with me wares of various kinds to sell among the seaboard towns. But in mid-ocean my wealth-laden vessel sank. By clinging to a plank I escaped from the sea with my life, but lost everything else.[12] And now I go to the king of the Kośalas to get money wherewith to ply my trade again, and recover from disaster. In this hope I have travelled far.”

But when the king of the Kośalas heard the merchant speaking thus, he began to weep and shed tears. The merchant asked him, “Kind sir, why do you weep?” The king replied, “I weep because you, a shipwrecked man, have come to me from afar in the hope that the king of the Kośalas will give you material assistance wherewith to ply your trade again and recover from your disaster. But that kingdom of mine has been invaded by the king of the Kāśis, and I have come, bereft of everything,[13] to this southern land thinking to maintain myself by some means or other. Thus I weep because you have come from afar through hearing about me, because report of me has brought you here from afar at the time I am in such misfortune and robbed of my kingdom.”

Then the merchant addressed the king of the Kośalas in a verse:

You valiant man in self-denial, hearing of your repute I have come hither from afar. My desires were fortified by the force of hope.[14] But now, from what I see, my hope has been turned to despair.

The king said:

I was a giver of a hundred desirable things. None like what I was is there among devas or men. (352) Because of you, I will forfeit my life, lest my fame be other than the truth.

Then the king set about consoling the merchant, who, dazed with despair, had fallen to the ground. “You have come from afar,” said he, “with your hope set on me. Therefore I shall so act that your coming will not be profitless. For your sake I will sacrifice myself. Tie my arms behind me and take me to the king of the Kāśis. He will be pleased with you and he will give you great riches. Willingly do I sacrifice myself in order that the hope you had put in me be not in vain.”

But the merchant said:

I cannot do wrong to a valorous man for the sake of gain. As your fame was so do you prove to be.[15] ’Tis a doughty deed you do, O wise man of the world.

The king replied:

What boots life to those whose fame brings no blessing in-the world? Riches are then of no avail, and confidence once shattered will no more be recovered.

Gladly will I suffer the cruel deed of being killed by my foes. Gladly will I let my foe cut up my body. Gladly will I go through the most bitter sufferings. Pain will I endure so that your hope be not in vain.

Now the king of the Kāśis was not[16] pleased that the king of the Kośalas should be living. Daily he made a proclamation, saying, “To whomsoever brings me the head of the king of the Kośalas I will give a great reward.” While the king of the Kāśis[17] was (353) continually proclaiming this, the king of the Kośalas, with his hands bound behind him, was brought to him by the merchant.

The king of the Kāśis said, “Ah! The king of the Kośalas is brave and well-trained. How comes he then to have been caught and to be brought in by you?” And when the merchant had related all that led up to his coming, the king of the Kāśis was amazed, and he said, “It is not right for me to deprive such a righteous king of his kingdom.” He consecrated the king of the Kośalas to his throne once more. He then left for his own kingdom, while the king of the Kośalas bestowed a large amount of riches on the merchant.

It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion the king of the Kośalas was somebody else. He was not somebody else, for I at that time, monks, was the king of the Kośalas. It must not be thought, either, that the merchant was somebody else, for at that time Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya was he. Then also did I make renunciation of my self and bestow great wealth[18] on him. And now, too, after I have made hundreds of painful self-sacrifices and awakened to the supreme perfect enlightenment, have I made him share in a great blessing.

Here ends the Jātaka of Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya.

Footnotes and references:


“That was his vow” etasya eṣa (for eṣam) praṇidhānam.


Bhārgava, properly a patronymic from Bhṛgu. It is not clear how this word came to have the meaning “potter”. Examples of the similar usage of the corresponding Pali bhaggava are referred to in D.P.N. (s.v.), to which Miss I. B. Horner, in a letter, adds M. 2. 52. The P.E.D. is obviously wrong in saying that the one passage in which it occurs in Pali is J. 3. 381-2, where it is an epithet of, rather than a synonym for “potter”. In other Pali passages it is a synonym, as it is here in the Mhvu. According to Kern, Toev., the Sk. form in this meaning also occurs at MBh. 1.190. 47 and Saddhp. 191f. See P.E.D., also B.H.S.D. for BSk. references. It is possible that potters were so named because Bhṛgu was the mythical discoverer of fire which became the means for the development of so many arts and crafts.


Prānta. See Vol. I, p. 119, n. 3.


Literally, “may the laying aside of my body be that of one who dies all alone,” ekasya mṛtabhūtasya śarīranikṣepanaṃ bhaveya. For śarīranikṣepana cf. Pali dehanikkhepana (Vism. 236). B.H.S.D. does not notice this use of nikṣepana (= nikṣepaṇa). Edgerton there (s.v.) says that nikṣepaṇa at vol. 2, p. 287 means “subjugation” or “conqueror”. The translation (2 p. 270), however, has rendered it “renouncing”, this interpretation being based on the radical sense of nikṣip, “to throw down”, “lay aside”, etc.


Part of a metrical version of the same tale.


Literally “living on any kind of bowl,” itaretarapiṇḍakena yāpento. This use of yāpayati (Pali yāpeti, yapeti) seems to be a natural extension of its use, with the instrumental, to denote “living on” some article of food, as at Mhvu. 2. 125, 126, 128; 3. 159. See B.H.S.D. for BSk., and P.E.D. for Pali, instances. The expression may equally, of course, be analogous with paṃśukūlena civarena yāpayitum, “to live with a robe consisting of refuse rags,” cited by the former dictionary from Bhik. 22 b. 3.


Itaretara (Pali itarītara). See B.H.S.D.


There is a lacuna in this verse which leaves the construction obscure.


Śarīranikṣepaṇo bhaveyā, see p. 345, n. 2; but here the word is masc.


Literally “did them a favour with property (money)” arthamātrāye parigrahaṃ karoti. Parigraha itself, of course, can mean “property”, but here as the object of karoti its meaning must be “grace, favour, patronage” (see M.W.). In the repetition of the phrase (p. 351) we have saṅgraha for parigraha.


“Can it be that... not," a rendering of (+ pres, indie.) introducing a question. Cf. Edgerton, Gram. § 42. 12.


Literally “with my body only,” śarīramātreṇa.


“With my body only,” śariramātreṇa.


Manorathāśābalavṛṃhitā. So Senart. B.H.S.D. (s.v. bṛṃhayitar) renders “my desires and hopes were mightily swollen, augmented.” But as the story lays so much stress on the merchant’s hope, the former interpretation seems more in accord with the context.


Literally “such is the sight or experience of you,” tādṛśam darśanante.


The negative na is obviously required with nandati, and is therefore supplied in translation.


Kośalarājñā is clearly a slip for Kāśirājñā.


Artha. Here referring to the dhanaskandha conferred on the merchant. The same word is used for the moral or spiritual benefit (blessing) conferred by the Buddha on Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: