Tibetan tales (derived from Indian sources)

by W. R. S. Ralston | 1906 | 134,175 words

This page related the story of “the story of vishvantara” from those tibetan tales (derived from Indian sources) found in the Kah-gyur (Kangyur or Kanjur). This represents part of the sacred Tibetan canon of Buddhist literature. Many of such stories correspond to similar legends found in the West, or even those found in Polynesia.

Chapter 16 - The story of Viśvantara

[Source: Kah-gyur iv. ff. 192-200. Printed as the Wessantara Jātaka in Spence Hardy’s Manual of Buddhism, p. 116.—S.]

In long past times King Viśvāmitra reigned in the city of Viśvanāgara. As a king of the law, according to the law he ruled over that city, which was blest with wealth, plenty, prosperity, fruitfulness, and a large population, richly provided with rice, sugar-cane, oxen, and buffaloes, and free from disease, discord, quarrels, uproar, strife, and robbery. The king’s faith was pure and his mind virtuous, he bethought himself of his own welfare and that of others, he was full of compassion, constant in ṃagṇanimity, and kindly towards mankind.

It came to pass that his wife conceived, and, after a space of eight or nine months,.gave birth to a fine, well-formed, handsome boy, whose complexion was the colour of gold, his head canopy-like, his arms long, his forehead high-arched, his eyebrows interlacing, his nose aquiline, all his limbs and joints complete. When his birthday feast was celebrated after his birth, his kinsmen proceeded to give him a name. They said, “As the boy is King Viśvāmitra’s son he shall be called Viśvantara. To the boy Viśvantara were given eight nurses, two for carrying, two for suckling, two for cleansing, and two for playing, who fed him on milk, curdled milk, butter, melted butter, butter-foam, and divers other excellent kinds of nutriment, so that he grew rapidly like a lotus in a pool. When he had grown up and learnt writing, counting, and hand-reckoning, he applied himself to all the arts and accomplishments which befit one of the Kṣatriya class who has been consecrated to be a king, a ruler provided with riches, might, and heroism, a subduer of the whole orb. Such are riding on elephants and horses, driving in a car, handling of a sword and bow, advancing and retreating, flinging an iron hook, slinging, shooting missiles, striking, cutting, stabbing, seizing, marching, and the five methods of shooting. The young Viśvantara, in whom dwelt pure faith and virtuous feelings, was considerate as to his own welfare and that of others, compassionate and addicted to magnanimity, kindly towards men, of a yielding and generous nature, bestowing presents freely and quite dispassionately, and assiduous in giving away. When men heard of this excessive generosity on his part, numberless crowds came to beg of him, whom he sent away with their expectations completely fulfilled.

One day the Bodisat Viśvantara drove out of the excellent city to the park, in a splendid chariot, gleaming with jewels, gold, silver, steel, coral, lapis-lazuli, turquoises, rubies, and sapphires, constructed of sandalwood, covered with skins of lions, tigers, and bears, its four horses rushing along with the swiftness of the wind, resonant with bells of gold and silver. Some Brahmans versed in the Vedas met him and said, “O Kṣatriya youth, may you be victorious!” And they added thereto, “Through the whole world are you renowned as one who gives all things away. Therefore it is meet that you should confer this chariot as a gift on the Brahmans.” When they had thus spoken, the Bodisat Viśvantara swiftly alighted from the chariot, and, while with joyful heart he gave the chariot to the Brahmans, he said, “As I have given away the chariot with the greatest pleasure, so may I, giving away the three worlds, become possessed of the greatest insight!”

Another time he was riding on the elephant Rājyavardhana,[1] which in whiteness equalled jasmine blossoms, white lotuses, snow, silver, and the clouds, which was of a remarkable size and provided with well-formed feet and trunk, and which strode along like the elephant Āirāvaṇa, marked with the signs of distinguished gifts, and remarkable for its capacity. On it, followed by the troop of very devoted slaves, friends, and servants, like unto the moon surrounded by the starry host, he rode, as the spring was come, to the forest park, wherein the trees and the flowers were blooming, and the flamingoes, cranes, peacocks, parrots, mainas, cuckoos, and pheasants, were calling. There came up hastily unto Prince Viśvantara, certain Brahmans who were engaged in discussion, and said to him, “Kṣatriya prince, may you be victorious!” And they added thereto, “In the world with beings divine and not divine you are renowned as an All-giver. Therefore it is meet that you should give us this splendid elephant.” When they had said this, the Bodisat swiftly alighted from the splendid elephant, and having presented that most splendid elephant to them with the utmost good humour, he said, “As I have given the elephant to the Brahmans with the greatest pleasure, so may I, after I have given away the three worlds, become possessed of perfect insight!”

When it became known that King Viśvāmitra’s son, Viśvantara, had given the splendid elephant, Rājyavardhana, to the Brahmans who were engaged in discussion, and King Viśvāmitra heard the news, he became angry, and he sent for Prince Viśvantara, and ordered him to quit the country. Discarded by his father, Viśvantara reflected that he, striving after completest insight, clothed with the armour of virtue out of good will towards the whole world, had given away even his elephant; that so long as he dwelt at home he had bestowed gifts according to his means; that dwelling in the penance-forest he had to strive intensely; that as he was not capable of refusing requests, he would rather quit his home and go into the penance-forest. Thereupon the Bodisat, after having pronounced a strong vow, went to his wife, Madrī, and told her everything. As soon as she had heard his words she joined the palms of her hands, and, with heart fearful of being parted from the loved one, she said to the Bodisat, “O lord, if this be so, I too will go into the penance-forest. Parted from you, O lord, I am not capable of living a single instant longer. And why? As the sky when it is deprived of the moon, as the earth when it is deprived of water, so is the wife who is deprived of her husband.”

The Bodisat said, “There is no doubt that we must ultimately be parted, for such is the way of the world. You are accustomed to excellent food and drink, clothes and couches, and therefore you are of a very delicate constitution. In the penance forest it is necessary to sleep on grass and leaves, to feed on roots, flowers, and fruits, and to walk on a ground which is covered with millet and thorns and splinters, to keep constantly to one kind of food, to practise magnanimity towards all beings, and to offer hospitality to those who appear unexpectedly. Ās even there I shall undoubtedly bestow gifts according to my means, you must feel absolutely no regret on that account. Therefore you ought to think this over well for a time.”

Madrī replied, “O lord, so long as I am able, I will follow after you.” The Bodisat said, “If this be so, be mindful of your vow.”

Then the Bodisat went to his father, paid him reverence with his head, and said, “O father, be pleased to forgive me my fault, the giving away of the elephant. As I am now going forth from the city into the forest, your treasury, O king, will not become empty.” The king, losing his breath from grief at the parting, said with tremulous voice, “O son, give up making presents and remain here.” The Bodisat replied, “The earth and its mountains may perhaps be destined to overthrow; but I, O lord of the earth, cannot turn aside my mind from giving.”

After saying these words he went away, mounted a chariot along with his son, daughter, and wife, and went forth from the good city; hundreds of thousands of the townspeople and country folks attending him with lamentation. A certain man who heard this wailing and lament, and saw such great crowds streaming towards the city-gate, asked another man, “Hey, friend, wherefore has so great a multitude set up such a lamentation?” “Honoured sir,” was the reply, “do not you know in what way the king’s own son has been sent away from here, because he persistently took pleasure in giving?”

When the prince, together with his wife and children, had reached the margin of the forest, all the people who formed his retinue raised a loud cry of lament. But so soon as it was heard, the Bodisat addressed the retinue which had come forth from the good city, and ordered it to turn back, saying—

“However long anything may be loved and held dear, yet separation from it is undoubtedly imminent. Friends and relatives must undoubtedly be severed from what is dearest to them, as from the trees of the hermitage wherein they have rested from the fatigues of the journey. Therefore, when ye reflect that all over the world men are powerless against separation from their friends, ye must for the sake of peace strengthen your unsteady minds by unfailing exertion.”

When the Bodisat had journeyed three hundred yojanas, a Brahman came to him and said, “O Kṣatriya prince, I have come three hundred yojanas because I have heard of your virtue. It is meet that you should give me the splendid chariot as a recompense for my fatigue.”

Madrī could not bear this, and she addressed the Brahman in angry speech. “Alas! this Brahman, who even in the forest entreats the king’s son for a gift, has a merciless heart. Does no pity arise within him when he sees the prince fallen from his royal splendour?” The Bodisat said, “Find no fault with the Brahman.”

“Why not?”

“Madrī, if there were no people of that kind who long after riches there would also be no giving, and in that case how could we, inhabitants of the earth, become possessed of insight? As giving and the other Pāramitās (or virtues essential to a Buddhaship) rightly comprise the highest virtue, the Bodisats constantly attain to the highest insight.”

Thereupon the Bodisat bestowed the chariot and horses on that Brahman with exceeding great joy, and said, “O Brahman, by means of this gift of the chariot, a present free from the blemish of grudging, may I be enabled to direct the car of the sinless law directed by the most excellent Rishi!” When Viśvantara had with exceeding great joy bestowed on the Brahman the splendid chariot he took Prince Kṛṣṇa on his shoulder, and Madrī took Princess Jālinī.[2] They went forth into the forest, and at length arrived at the forest of penance.

In that penance-forest Viśvantara dwelt, after he had taken the vow which pleased his heart. One day, when Madrī had gone to collect roots and fruits in the penanceforest, a Brahman came to Viśvantara, and said, “O prince of Kṣatriya race, may you be victorious! As I have no slave, and wander about alone with my staff, therefore is it meet that you should give me your two children.” As the Bodisat, Viśvantara, after bearing these words, hesitated a little about giving his beloved children, the Brahman said to the Bodisat—

“O prince of Kṣatriya race, as I have heard that you are the giver of all things, therefore do I ask why you still ponder over this request of mine. You are renowned all over the earth as the possessor of a compassion which gives away all tilings: you are bound to act constantly in conformity with this renown.”

After hearing these words the Bodisat said to the Brahman, “O great Brahman, if I had to give away my own life I should not hesitate for a single moment. How, then, should I think differently if I had to give away my children? 0 great Brahman, under these circumstances I have bethought me as to how the children, when given by me, if I do give away these two children who have grown up in the forest, will live full of sorrow on account of their separation from their mother. And inasmuch as many will blame me, in that with excessive mercilessness I have given away the children and not myself, therefore is it better that you, O Brahman, should take me.”

Then said the Brahman to Viśvantara, “O prince of Kṣatriya race, descended from a great kingly family, as I have perceived how all over this earth your virtue is extolled, your goodness which takes pity on all beings—the presents, the hospitality, and the honour with which you welcome Śramaṇas, Brahmans, and strangers, and fulfil all the expectations of the poor and needy, the helpless and the hungry—it is not right that I, after having come to you, should remain without a present and deprived of the fruit of my journey, and that, with the knowledge that I have not obtained it, all the hopes which my mind had cherished should be brought to nought. Therefore is it meet that you, fulfilling my hopes, should give me the children. And why? One who gave away the earth, clothed with the ocean as with a garment, possessing the corn-fields as its incomparable eyes, the mighty hills as the upper parts of its body with breasts, and supporting towns and villages, would not be equal in might to you.”

When the Bodisat Viśvantara had heard these words of the Brahman, he laid aside the longing which clung to the children, saying to himself, “If I give the two children to the Brahman, Madrī and I will feel the pain of parting with the children. But if I do not give them to him, then I shall prove faithless to my vow, and the Brahman, disappointed in his hopes, will go away as he came. If he receives them, despairing grief for the loss of my children will he my lot upon earth. If I act otherwise, I break my promise and my vow disappears.”

Then the Bodisat Viśvantara determined to give up his beloved children, and he said, “'Well, then, this takes place in order that, by means of a hundred kinds of penance, I, like a pillared transit bridge resembling the full moon with spotless visage, may save from the sea of troubles, containing manifold terrors, those who sink into its bottomless depths.” After he had uttered these words with an untroubled countenance, his eyes filled with tears, and he gave his two children to the Brahman, and said, “As I am to obtain a very great recompense in return for the gift of the children, I shall save the world from the ocean of revolution.”

Immediately after the surrender of the children, the earth quaked in a sixfold manner. When the ascetics who dwelt in the forest, terrified by the earthquake, asked one another by whose power the earth had been shaken in so intolerable a manner, and wished to know who it was who possessed such power, an old ascetic of the Vaś-iṣṭha race, who was versed in the meanings of signs, made the matter known to them, saying; “The earth has doubtless been set in movement because Viśvantara, in order that he may completely redeem men reduced to despair by trouble, has given up his two bright-eyed, beloved children, who dwelt in the penance-forest, partaking of fruit and water.”

Now, when the two children saw that their father was about to give them away, they touched Viśvantara’s feet, uttering mournful cries, and joining the palms of their hands, and saying, “O father, will you give us away in the absence of our mother? Be content to give us up after we have seen her.” Then the Bodisat gave way under the grief which had laid hold of his mind, and his face was wet with tears as he embraced his two children and said, “O children, in my heart there is no unkindness, but only merciful compassion. As I have manifested virtue for the salvation of the whole world, I give you away, whereby I may attain unto complete insight, and, having myself obtained rest, may save the worlds which lie, deprived of support, in the ocean of woes.”

When the children perceived that their father’s resolve was firm to give them up, they paid honour to his feet with their heads, laid their palms together, and said with soft complaint, “If you have severed the cord, we have this to say r grant us forbearance. O father, be pleased to utter the words. livery fault which we, as children, have committed against you, our superior, or any words at any time uttered by us, which displeased you, or anything in which, not obeying you, we have wrongly left aught undone-grant us forgiveness of these things, regarding them as the faults of children.”

After they had thus spoken, and had paid reverence to their father, and three times encompassed him, they went forth from the hermitage, ever looking back with tearful eyes, keeping in their hearts those things which they had to say to their superior. The Bodisat consoled them with compassionate words, and then, desiring to attain to the highest insight, he betook himself to a hut made of leaves in the forest of penance.

Scarcely had the children gone away when the system of the three thousand worlds quaked six times. Many thousands of gods filled the air with sounds of shouting and rejoicing, and cried, “Oh the great deed of surrender! Truly is he worthy of being wondered at, whose mind remains constant even after the surrender of both his children.”

Meanwhile Madrī had set off for the hermitage, carrying roots and fruits, and when the earth shook, she hurried on all the faster towards the hermitage. A certain deity, who perceived that she might hinder the sur-render which the Bodisat proposed to make for the salvation of the world, assumed the form of a lioness, and barred her way. Then Madrī said to this wife of the King of the Beasts, “O wife of the King of the Beasts, full of wantonness, wherefore do you bar my way? In order that I may remain truly irreproachable, make way for me that I may pass swiftly on. Moreover, you are the wife of the King of the Beasts, and I am the spouse of the Lion of Princes, so that we are of similar rank. Therefore, 0 Queen of the Beasts, leave the road clear for me.”

When Madrī had thus spoken, the deity, who had assumed the form of the lioness, turned aside from the way. Madrī reflected for a moment, recognising inauspicious omens, for the air resounded with wailing notes, and the beings inhabiting the forest gave forth sorrowful sounds, and she came to the conclusion that some disaster had certainly taken place in the hermitage, and said, “As my eye twitches, as the birds utter cries, as fear comes upon me, both my children have certainly been given away; as the earth quakes, as my heart trembles, as my body grows weak, my two children have certainly been given away.”

With a hundred thousand similar thoughts of woe she hastened towards the hermitage. Entering therein she looked mournfully around, and, not seeing the children, she sadly with trembling heart followed the traces left on the ground of the hermitage. “Here the boy Kṛṣṇa and his sister were wont to play with the young gazelles; here is the house which they twain made out of earth; these are the playthings of the two children. As they are not to be seen, it is possible that they may have gone unseen by me into the hut of foliage and may be sleeping there.” Tims thinking and hoping to see the children, she laid aside the roots and fruits, and with tearful eyes embraced her husband’s feet, asking, “O lord, whither have the boy and girl gone?” Viśvantara replied, “A Brahman came to me full of hope. To him have I given the two children. Thereat rejoice.” When he had spoken these words, Madrī fell to the ground like a gazelle pierced by a poisoned arrow, and struggled like a fish taken out of the water. Like a crane robbed of her young ones she uttered sad cries. Like a cow, whose calf has died, she gave forth many a sound of wailing. Then she said, “Shaped like young lotuses, with hands whose flesh is as tender as a young lotus leaf,[3] my two children are suffering, are undergoing pain, wherever they have gone. Slender as young gazelles, gazelle-eyed, delighting in the lairs of the gazelles, what sufferings are my children now undergoing in the power of strangers? With tearful eyes and sad sobbing, enduring cruel sufferings, now that they are no longer seen by me, they live downtrodden among needy men. They who were nourished at my breast, who used to eat roots, flowers, and fruits, they who, experiencing indulgence, were ever wont to enjoy themselves to the full, those two children of mine now undergo great sufferings. Severed from their mother and their family, deserted by the cruelty of their relatives, thrown together with sinful men, my two children are now undergoing great suffering. Constantly tormented by hunger and thirst, made slaves by those into whose power they have fallen, they will doubtless experience the pangs of despair. Surely I have committed some terrible sin in a previous existence, in severing hundreds of beings from their dearest ones. Therefore do I now lament like a cow which has lost its calf. If there exists any exorcism, by which I can gain over all beings, so shall my two children, after having been made slaves, be by it rendered free.”

Then Madrī, looking upon the thick-foliaged trees which the children had planted and tended, embraced them tenderly, and said, “The children fetched water in small pitchers, and dropped water on the leaves. You, O trees, did the children suckle, as though ye had been possessed of souls.” Further on, when she saw the young gazelles with which the children used to play, standing in the hermitage, she sadly said, gently wailing, “With the desire of seeing their playfellows do the young gazelles visit the spot, searching among the plants, offering companionship with my never - ending woe.” Afterwards, when the footprints on the road along which the children had gone became interrupted, and she saw that their footprints did not lie in a straight line, but in all sorts of directions, she was seized by bitter anguish, and cried, “As the footprints point to dragging along and some of them to swiftness of pace, you must surely have driven them on with blows, O most merciless Brahman. How have my children fared with tender feet, their throats breathing with difficulty, their voices reduced to weakness, their pretty lower lips trembling, like gazelles timidly looking around?”

Observing how she bore herself and uttered complaints, the Bodisat exerted himself to exhort his wife with a series of such and such words about instability, and said: “Not for the sake of renown, nor out of anger, have I given away your two children; for the salvation of all beings have I given the children, whom it was hard to give. By giving up the objects which it is hardest to give up, children and wife, may one, like the great souls, attain to the completest insight. 0 Madñ, as I cling closely to giving, I have given for the redemption of the world the children whom it was hard to give. My purpose is to sacrifice all things, to give myself, my wife, my children, and my treasures.”

When after a time Madrī had recovered her strength of mind, she said to the Bodisat: “I will in nothing be a hindrance to you. Let your mind be constant. If you wish to give me too, give me without hesitation. As soon as, O courageous one, you have attained to that, for the sake of which you give up that which is connected with difficulty, save all beings from revolution.”

When the King of the Gods, Śakra, perceived this marvellous endurance on the part of the Bodisat, and the striving of Madrī, and their deeds very hard to be accomplished, he descended from heaven, surrounded by the company of the thirty-three gods, into the hermitage and lighted it up with great brilliance. Remaining in the air, he said to the Bodisat: “Inasmuch as after this fashion, O mighty one, in the foolish world, the mind of which is bound fast by knots of ignorance, in the world which is fettered by the bonds of a mind which pays homage to enjoyment, you alone, superior to passion, have given up the children in whom you delighted, you have certainly attained to this degree through stainless and joyless tranquillity.”

After gratifying the Bodisat with these words, the King of the Gods, Śakra, said to himself: “As this man, when alone and without support, might be driven into a corner, I will ask him for Madrī.” So he took the form of a Brahman, came to the Bodisat, and said to him: “Give me as a slave this lovely sister, fair in all her limbs, unblamed by her husband, prized by her race.” Then in anger spake Madrī to the Brahman.: “O shameless and full of craving, do you long after her who is not lustful like you, O refuse of Brahmans, but takes her delight according to the upright law.” Then the Bodisat, Viśvantara, began to look upon her with compassionate heart, and Madrī said to him: “I have no anxiety on ṛny own account, I have no care for myself; my only anxiety is as to how you are to exist when remaining alone.” Then said the Bodisat to Madrī: “As I seek after the height which surmounts endless anguish, no complaint must be uttered by me, O Madrī, upon this earth. Do you, therefore, follow after this Brahman without complaining. I will remain in the hermitage, living after the manner of the gazelles.”

When he had uttered these words, he said to himself with joyous and exceedingly contented mind: “This gift here in this forest is my best gift. After I have here absolutely given away Madrī too, she shall by no means be recalled.” Then he took Madrī by the hand, and said to that Brahman: “Receive, O most excellent Brahman, this my dear wife, loving of heart, obedient to orders, charming in speech, demeaning herself as one of lofty race.”

When, in order to attain to supreme insight, he had given away his beautiful wife, the earth quaked six times to its extremities like a boat on the water. And when Madrī had passed into the power of the Brahman, overcome by pain at being severed from her husband, her son, and her daughter, with faltering breath and in a voice which huskiness detained within her throat, she spoke thus: “What crime have I committed in my previous existence that now, like a cow whose calf is dead, I am lamenting in an uninhabited forest?” Then the King of the Gods, Śakra, laid aside his Brahman’s form, assumed his proper shape, and said to Madrī: “O fortunate one, I am not a Brahman, nor am I a man at all. 1 am the King of the Gods, Śakra, the subduer of the Asuras. As I am pleased that you have manifested the most excellent morality, say what desire you would now wish to have satisfied by me.”

Rendered happy by these words, Madrī prostrated herself before Śakra, and said: “O thou of the thousand eyes, may the lord of the three and thirty set my children free from thraldom and let them find their way to their grandfather.” After these words had been spoken the Prince of the Gods entered the hermitage and addressed the Bodisat. Taking Madrī by the left hand, he thus spake to the Bodisat: “I give you Madrī for your service. You must not give her to any one. If you give away what has been entrusted to you, fault will be found with you.”

Afterwards the King of the Gods, Śakra, deluded the Brahman who had carried off the boy and girl, so that under the impression that it was another city, he entered the selfsame city from which they had departed, and there set to work to sell the children. When the ministers saw this they told the king, saying, “O king, your grandchildren, Kṛṣṇa and Jālinī, have been brought into this good city in order to be sold, by an extremely worthless Brahman.” When the king heard these words, he said indignantly, “Bring the children here, forthwith.”

When this command had been attended to by the ministers, and the townspeople had hastened to appear before the king, one of the ministers brought the children before him. When the king saw his grandchildren brought before him destitute of clothing and with foul bodies, he fell from his throne to the ground, and the assembly of ministers, and the women, and all who were present began to weep. Then the king said to the ministers: “Let the bright-eyed one, who, even when dwelling in the forest, delights in giving, be summoned hither at once, together with his wife.”

After this the King of the Gods, Śakra, having paid reverence to the Bodisat, returned to his own habitation.

Now, when King Viśvāmitra was dead, the Brahmans, the ministers, the towns-people, and the country people, went to the hermitage and with entreaties invited the Bodisat to come to the city. There they installed him as king. Thereafter King Viśvantara was known by the name of Viśvatyāga (all-giver). And after he had made presents of various kinds to the Sramaṇas, Brahmans, the poor and needy, his friends and relations, his acquaintances and servants, he uttered these ślokas: “In order to obtain supreme insight have I fearlessly bestowed gifts on Kṣatriyas, Brahmans, Vaiśyas, Śūdras, Chandalas, and Pukkasas, with gold and silver, oxen and horses, jewelled earrings, and labouring slaves. For giving is the most excellent of virtues. With a heart free from passion have I given away my wife and children, and obtained thereby power over men in this and the other world.”

As King Viśvāmitra had, for Viśvantara’s sake, bestowed great treasures on the Brahman Jujaka, who had thereby attained to great wealth, Jujaka’s friends and relations, and those ‘who were dear to him, came to him and said: “Your property and wealth and high fortune all depend upon Viśvantara.” He replied: “What have I to do with Prince Viśvantara? As I was born in the first caste, I have obtained the recompense of the world, and therefore have I become so wealthy.”

Footnotes and references:


In the recension given by Hardy, the elephant is accredited with the power of producing rain. Has not the double meaning of the word nāga caused a characteristic of the Nāgas to be attributed in that case to the elephant?—S.


In Hardy’s Southern Recension, the boy is called Jāliya and the girl Kṛṣṇāyinā (Manual, p. 116).—S.


Properly “lotus-arrow.” According to Maximowicz, the young lotus leaves are reed-like or arrow-like in appearance.—S.

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