Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births
Book 20 Sattatinipāta
532. Sona-Nanda Jātaka
“Angel or minstrel-god,” etc. This was a story told by the Master, while living at Jetavana, about a Brother who supported his mother. The circumstance which led up to it was the same as that related in the Sama Birth. But on this occasion the Master said, “Brethren, do not take offence at this Brother. Sages of old, though they were offered rule over all India, refused to accept it and supported their parents”: and so saying he told a story of the past.
Once upon a time the city of Benares-was known as Brahmavaddhana. At that time a king named Manoja reigned there, and a certain Brahmin magnate, possessed of eighty crores, had no heir, and his Brahmin wife at the bidding of her lord prayed for a son. Then the Bodhisatta passing from the Brahma world was conceived in her womb, and at his birth they called him young Sona. By the time that he could run alone, another Being left the Brahma world and he too was conceived by her, and when he was born they called him young Nanda. As soon as they had been taught the Vedas and had attained proficiency in the liberal arts, the Brahmin, observing how handsome the boys were, addressing his wife said, “Lady, we will unite our son, the youthful Sona, in the bonds of wedlock.” She readily assented and reported the matter to her son. He said, “I have quite enough of the household life as it is. So long as you live, I will watch over you, and on your death I will withdraw to the Himalayas and become an ascetic.” She repeated this to the Brahmin, and when they had spoken to him again and again but had failed to persuade him, they addressed themselves to the young Nanda, saying, “Dear son, do you set up an establishment.” He answered, “I will not pick up what my brother has rejected, as if it were a lump of phlegm . I too on your death will together with my brother join the ascetics.” The parents thought, “If they, though they are quite young, thus give up the lusts of the flesh, how much more should all of us adopt the ascetic life,” and they said, “Dear son, why talk of becoming ascetics when we are dead? We will all take the vows.” And telling their purpose to the king they disposed of all their wealth in the way of charity, making freedmen of their slaves and distributing what was right and proper amongst their kinsfolk, and then all four of them setting forth from the city of Brahmavaddhana, they built them a hermitage in the Himalaya region in a pleasant grove, near a lake covered by the five kinds of lotus, and there they dwelt as ascetics. The two brothers watched over their parents. And early in the morning they bring them pieces of stick to brush their teeth and water to rinse their mouth. They sweep out the hut, cell and all, supply them with water to drink, bring them sweet berries from the wood to eat, provide them with hot or cold water for the bath, dress their matted locks, shampooing their feet and rendering them all similar services. As time thus passed on, the sage Nanda thought, “I shall have to provide all kinds of fruit as food for my father and mother,” so whatever ordinary fruit he had gathered on the spot either yesterday or even the day before that, he would bring in the early morning and give to his parents to eat. They ate it and after rinsing their mouth they observed a fast. But the wise Sona went a long distance and gathered sweet and ripe fruit and offered it to them. Then they said, “Dear son, we ate early this morning what your younger brother brought us and we are now fasting. We have no need of this fruit now.” So his fruit was not eaten but was all wasted, and the next day and so on it was just the same. And thus through his possession of the five Supernatural Faculties he travelled a great distance to fetch fruit, but they refused to eat it. Then the Great Being thought, “My father and mother are very delicate, and Nanda brings all sorts of unripe or half ripe fruit for them to eat, and this being so, they will not live long. I will stop him from doing this.” So addressing him he said, “Nanda, henceforth when you bring them fruit, you are to wait till I come, and we will both of us at the same time supply them with food,” Though he was thus spoken to, desiring merit for himself only, Nanda paid no heed to his brother’s words. The Great Being thought, “Nanda acts improperly in disobeying me: I will send him away.” Then thinking he would watch over his parents by himself, he said, “Nanda, you are past teaching and pay no heed to the words of the wise. I am the elder. My father and mother are my charge: I alone will watch over them. You cannot stay on here: get you gone elsewhere,” and he snapped his fingers at him. After being thus dismissed, Nanda could no longer remain in his brother’s presence, and bidding him farewell he drew nigh to his parents and told them what had happened. Then retiring into his hut of leaves, he fixed his gaze on the mystic circle and that very day he developed the five Supernatural Faculties and the eight Attainments, and he thought, “I can fetch precious sand from the foot of Mount Sineru and sprinkling it in the cell of my brother’s hut I can ask his forgiveness, and should he not even so be mollified, I will fetch water from lake Anotatta and ask him to forgive me, and should he not even thus be mollified, supposing my brother should not pardon me for the sake of angelic beings, I would bring the four Great Kings and Sakka and ask his forgiveness, and should he still not be mollified, I would bring the chief king in all India, Manoja, and the rest of the kings and beg him to pardon me. And this being so, the fame of my brother’s virtue would be spread throughout India and would be blazed abroad as the sun and moon.” Meanwhile by his magic power he alighted in the city of Brahmavaddhana at the door of the king’s palace, and sent a message to the king, saying, “A certain ascetic wishes to see you.” The king said, “What has an ascetic to do with seeing me? He must have come for some food.” He sent him rice, but he would have none of it. Then he sent husked rice and garments and roots, but he would have none of them. At last he sent a messenger to ask why he had come, and in answer to the messenger he said, “I am come to serve the king.” The king, on hearing this, sent back word, “I have plenty of servitors, bid him do his duty as an ascetic.” On hearing this he said, “By my own power I will get the sovereignty over all India, and bestow it on your king.” The king when he heard this thought, “Ascetics, verily, are wise: they certainly know some clever tricks.” Then he summoned him to his presence, assigned him a seat and saluting him asked, “Holy sir, will you, as they tell us, gain the rule over all India and grant it to me?” “Yes, sire.” “How will you manage it?” “Sire, without shedding the blood of any one, no, not even so much as a tiny fly would drink, and without wasting your treasure, by my own magic power will I gain the sovereignty and make it over to you. Only, without a moment’s delay, you must sally forth this very day.” The king believed his words and set out, escorted by an army corps. If it was hot for the army, the sage Nanda by his magic created a shade and made it cool. If it rained, he did not allow the rain to fall upon the army. He kept off a hot wind. He did away with stumps and thorns in the road and every kind of danger. He made the road as level as the circle used in the Kasina rite, and spreading a skin he sat cross-legged upon it in the air, and so moved in front of the army. Thus first of all he came with his army to the Kosala kingdom, and, pitching his camp near the city, he sent a message to the king of Kosala, bidding him either give battle or yield himself to his power. The king was enraged and said, “What then, am I not a king? I will fight you “; and he sallied forth at the head of his forces, and the two armies engaged in battle. The sage Nanda, spreading out wide the antelope skin on which he sat between the two armies, caught up with it all the arrows shot by the combatants on both sides, and in neither army was there a single soldier wounded by a shaft, and, when all the arrows in their possession were spent, both armies stood helpless. And sage Nanda went to the Kosala king and reassured him, saying, “Great king, be not dismayed. There is no danger threatening you: the kingdom shall still be yours. Only submit to king Manoja.” He believed what Nanda said and agreed to do so. Then conducting him into the presence of Manoja, Nanda said, “The king of Kosala submits to you, sire: let the kingdom still remain his.” Manoja readily assented and receiving his submission, he marched with the two armies to the kingdom of Anga and took Anga, and then he took Magadha in the kingdom of that name, and by these means he made himself master of the kings of all India, and accompanied by them he marched straight back to the city of Brahmavaddhana. Now he was seven years, seven months, and seven days in taking the kingdoms of all these kings, and from each royal city he caused to be brought all manner of food, both hard and soft, and taking the kings, one hundred and one in number, for seven days he held a great carouse with them. The sage Nanda thought, “I will not show myself to the king until he has enjoyed the pleasures of sovereignty for seven days.” And going his rounds for alms in the country of the Northern Kurus, he abode for the space of seven days in the Himalayas, at the entrance of the Golden Cave. And Manoja on the seventh day, after contemplating his great majesty and might, bethought him, “This glory was not given me by my father and mother nor by any one else. It originated through the ascetic Nanda and surely it is now seven days since I set eyes on him. Where in the world can be the friend that bestowed on me this glory?” and he called to mind sage Nanda. And he, knowing that he was remembered, came and stood before him in the air. The king thought, “I do not know whether this ascetic is a man or a deity. If he be a man, I will give him the sovereignty over all India, but if he be a divinity, I will pay him the honour due to a god,” and to prove him he spoke the first stanza:
Angel or minstrel-god art thou, or do we haply see
Sakka, to cities bountiful, or mortal-born may be,
With magic powers endued? Thy name we fain would learn from thee.
On hearing his words Nanda in declaring his nature repeated a second stanza:
The king, on hearing this, thought, “He says he is a human being; even so he has been useful to me. I will satisfy him with the great honour I pay him,” and he said:
Great service thou hast wrought for us, beyond all words to tell,
Midst floods of rain no single drop upon us ever fell.
Cool shade thou didst create for us, when parching winds arose,
From deadly shaft thou didst us shield, amidst our countless foes.
Next many a happy realm thou mad’st own me as sovereign lord,
Over a hundred kings became obedient to our word.
What from our treasures thou shalt choose, we cheerfully resign,
Cars yoked to steeds or elephants, or nymphs attired so fine,
Or if a lovely palace be thy choice, it shall be thine.
In Anga realms or Magadha if thou art fain to live,
Wouldst rule Avanti, Assaka—this too we gladly give.
Yea e’en the half of all our realm we cheerfully resign,
Say but the word, what thou wouldst have, at once it shall be thine.
No kingdom do I crave, nor any town or land,
Nor do I seek to win great riches at thy hand.
“But if thou hast any affection for me,” he said, “do my bidding in this one thing.”
Beneath thy sovereign sway my aged parents dwell,
Enjoying holy calm in some lone woodland cell.
With these old sages I’m allowed no merit to acquire,
If thou and thine would plead my cause, Sona would cease his ire.
Then the king said to him:
Gladly in this will I perform, O brahmin, thy behest,
But who are they that I should take to further thy request?
More than a hundred householders, rich brahmins too I name,
And all these mighty warrior chiefs of noble birth and fame,
With king Manoja, are enough to satisfy my claim.
Then the king said:
Go, harness steeds and elephants and yoke them to the car,
Go, fling my banners to the wind, from carriage-pole and bar,
I go to seek where Kosiya, the hermit, dwells afar.
Equipped then with his fourfold host the king marched out to seek
Where he did dwell in charming cell, a hermit mild and meek.
These verses were inspired by Perfect Wisdom.
Now on the day on which the king reached the hermitage, the sage Sona reflected: “ It is now more than seven years, seven months and seven days since my young brother went forth from us. Where can he possibly be now?” and looking with the divine eye he saw him and said to himself, “He is coming with a hundred and one kings and an escort of twenty-four legions to beg my pardon. These kings and their retinues have witnessed many marvellous things done by my young brother, and being ignorant of my supernatural power they say of me, “This false ascetic overestimates his power and measures himself with our lord.” By such boasting they will become destined to hell. I will give them a specimen of my magic-working powers,” and placing a carrying-pole in the air, not touching his shoulder by an interval of four inches, he thus travelled in space, passing close by the king, to fetch water from lake Anotatta. But the sage Nanda, when he saw him coming, had not the courage to show himself, but, disappearing on the spot where he was sitting, he escaped and hid himself in the Himalayas. Howbeit king Manoja, when he saw Sona approaching in the comely guise of an ascetic, spoke this stanza:
Who goes to fetch him water through the air at such a pace,
With wooden pole not touching him by quite four inches space?
The Great Being, being thus addressed, spoke a couple of stanzas:
I’m Sona; from ascetic rule I never go astray
My parents I unweariedly support by night and day.
Berries and roots as food for them I gather in the wood,
Ever recalling to my mind how they once wrought me good.
Hearing this, the king wishing to make friends with him, spoke another stanza:
Then the Great Being by his supernatural power created a footpath leading to the hermitage and spoke this stanza:
This is the path: mark well, O king, yon clump of sombre green;
There midst a grove of ebon trees the hermitage is seen.
Thus did the mighty sage instruct these warrior kings, and then
Once more he travelled through the air and hurried home again.
Next having swept the hermitage he sought his sire’s retreat,
And waking up the aged saint he offered him a seat.
“Come forth,” he cried, “O holy sage, be seated here, I pray,
For high-born kings of mighty fame will pass along this way.”
The old man having heard his son his presence thus implore,
Came forth in haste from out his hut and sat him by the door.
These verses were inspired by Perfect Wisdom.
And the sage Nanda came to the king at the very moment when the Bodhisatta reached the hermitage, bringing with him water from Anotatta, and Nanda pitched their camp not far from the hermitage. Then the king bathed and arrayed himself in all his splendour, and, escorted by one hundred and one kings, he came with the sage Nanda in great state and glory and entered the hermitage, to beg the Bodhisatta to forgive his brother. Then the father of the Bodhisatta, on seeing the king approach them, inquired of the Bodhisatta and he explained the matter to him.
On seeing him all in a blaze of glory standing near,
Surrounded by a band of kings, thus spoke the aged seer:
Who marches here with tabour, conch, and beat of sounding drums,
Music to cheer the heart of kings? Who here in triumph comes?
Who in this blaze of glory comes, with turban-cloth of gold,
As lightning bright, and quiver-armed, a hero young and bold?
Who comes all bright and glorious, with face of golden sheen,
Like embers of acacia wood, aglow in furnace seen?
Who comes with his umbrella held aloft in such a way,
That it with ribs so clearly marked wards off the sun’s fierce ray?
Who is it, with a yak-tail fan stretched forth to guard his side,
Is seen, like some wise sage, on back of elephant to ride?
Who comes in pomp and majesty of parachutes all white,
And mail-clad steeds of noble strain, encircling left and right?
Who hither comes, surrounded by a hundred kings or more,
An escort of right noble kings, behind him and before?
With elephants, with chariots and with horse and foot brigade,
Who comes with all the pomp of war, in fourfold host arrayed?
Who comes with all the legions vast that follow in his train,
Unbroken, limitless as are the billows of the main?
It is Manoja, king of kings, with Nanda here has come,
As though ’twere Indra, lord of heaven, to this our hermit home.
His is the mighty host that comes, obedient in his train,
Unbroken, limitless as are the billows of the main.
In robe of finest silk arrayed, with sandal oil bedewed,
These kings approach the saintly men in suppliant attitude.
Then king Manoja with a salutation took his seat apart, and, exchanging friendly greetings, spoke a couple of stanzas:
O holy men, we trust that you are prosperous and well,
With grain to glean and roots and fruit abundant where you dwell.
Then these stanzas were spoken by them as question and answer:
We thank thee, king, and answer thus: We prosper and are well,
With grain to glean and roots and fruit abundant where we dwell.
From flies and gnats and creeping things we suffer not annoy,
And from wild beasts of prey we here immunity enjoy.
Areca nuts for such as live as hermits here abound,
No harmful sickness that I know has ever here been found.
Welcome, O king, a happy chance directed thee this way,
Mighty thou art and glorious: what errand brings thee, pray?
And this cool water from a cave high hidden on a hill,
O mighty monarch, take of it, drink if it be thy will.
Accepted is thy offering by me and all, but pray
Give ear to what wise Nanda here, our friend, has got to say.
For all of us in Nanda’s train as suppliants come to thee,
To beg a gracious hearing for poor Nanda’s humble plea.
The sage Nanda, thus addressed, rose from his seat and saluted his father and mother and brother, and, conversing with his followers, said:
Let country folk, a hundred odd, and brahmins of great fame,
And all these noble warrior chiefs, illustrious in name,
With king Manoja, our great lord, all sanction this my claim.
Ye Yakkhas in this hermitage that are assembled here,
And woodland spirits, old and young, to what I say give ear.
My homage paid to these, I next this holy sage address,
In me a brother thou didst erst as thy right hand possess.
To serve my aged parents is the boon from thee I ask:
Cease, mighty saint, to hinder me in this my holy task.
Others there are that know in this the path of duty lies,
It is the way to heaven, as thou, O sage, dost recognise.
And yet a holy man bars me from merit such as this,
When I by service fain would bring my parents perfect bliss.
All ye that swell my brother’s train, my words now hear in turn;
Whoso shall ancient precedent of his forefathers spurn,
Sinning against his elders, he, reborn in hell, shall burn.
But they who skilled in holy lore the Way of Truth may know,
Keeping the moral law, shall ne’er to World of Suffering go.
As eldest son this heavy charge I gladly undertake,
And as a pilot guards his ship, the Right I’ll ne’er forsake.
On hearing this all the kings were highly delighted and said, “To-day we learn that all the rest of a family are a charge laid upon the eldest,” and they forsook the sage Nanda and became devoted to the Great Being and, singing his praises, recited two stanzas:
We have found knowledge like a flame that shines at dead of night,
E’en so has holy Kosiya revealed to us the Right.
Just as the sun-god by his rays illumines all the sea,
Showing the form of living things, as good or bad they be,
So holy Kosiya reveals the Right to me and thee.
Thus was it that although these kings had so long a time believed in the sage Nanda, from witnessing his wonderful works, yet did the Great Being by the power of knowledge destroy their faith in him, and, causing them to accept his words, thus make them all his most obedient servants. Then the sage Nanda thinking, “My brother is a wise and clever fellow and mighty in the scriptures. He has got the better of these kings and won them over to his side. Except him I have no other refuge. To him only will I make my supplication; and he spoke this stanza:
Since thou my suppliant attitude heed’st not, nor outstretched hand,
Thy humble bond-slave will I be, to wait -at thy command.
The Great Being naturally entertained no angry or hostile feeling towards Nanda, but he had acted as he did by way of rebuking him, in order to bring down his high stomach, when he spoke so exceeding proudly. But now on hearing what he had to say he was mightily pleased, and conceived a favour towards him, and saying, “Now I forgive you and will allow you to watch over your father and mother,” and making known his virtues he said:
Nanda, thou know’st the true faith well, as saints have taught it thee,
“’Tis only noble to be good”—thou greatly pleasest me.
My worthy parents I salute: list ye to what I say,
The charge of you as burden was ne’er felt in any way.
My parents I have tended long, their happiness to earn,
Now Nanda comes and humbly begs to serve you in his turn.
Then his mother, rising from her seat, said, “Dear Sona, your young brother has been long absent from his home. Now that he has at length returned, I do not venture to ask him myself, for we are altogether dependent upon you, but with your sanction I might now be allowed to take this holy youth to my arms and kiss him on the forehead,” and, to make her meaning clear, she spoke this stanza:
Sona, dear son, on whom we lean, if thou allowest this,
Embracing him once more I will the holy Nanda kiss.
Then the Great Being said to her, “Well, dear mother, I give you permission: go and embrace your son Nanda and smell and kiss his head, and soothe the sorrow in your heart.” So she went to the sage Nanda and embracing him before all the assembly she smelled and kissed his head, putting an end to the sorrow in her heart, and conversing with the Great Being she spoke this verse:
Just as the tender bo-tree shoot is shaken by the blast,
So throbs my heart with joy at sight of Nanda come at last.
Nanda, methinks, as in a dream returned I seem to see,
Half mad and jubilant I cry, “Nanda comes back to me.”
But if on waking I should find my Nanda gone away,
To greater sorrow than before my soul would be a prey.
Though Nanda to his sire is dear, let him stay where he will,
—Thou to thy father’s wants attend—Nanda shall mine fulfil.
The Great Being assented to his mother’s words, saying, “So be it,” and he admonished his brother, saying, “Nanda, you have received the portion of the eldest son; verily a mother is a great benefactress. Be careful in watching over her,” and celebrating a mother’s virtues he spoke two stanzas:
Kind, pitiful, our refuge she that fed us at her breast,
A mother is the way to heaven, and thee she loveth best.
She nursed and fostered us with care; graced with good gifts is she,
A mother is the way to heaven, and best she loveth thee.
Thus did the Great Being in two stanzas tell of a mother’s virtues, and when his mother had once more taken her seat, he said, “You, Nanda, have got a mother who has suffered things hard to be borne. Both of us have been painfully reared by our mother. Now, you are carefully to watch over her and not to give her sour berries to eat,” and to make it clear in the midst of the assembled people that deeds of great difficulty fell to a mother’s lot, he said:
Pregnant in course of time she feels her tender longings grow,
And soon the unconscious babe begins a loving friend to know.
Her treasure for a year or less she guards with utmost care,
Then brings it forth and from that day a mother’s name will bear.
With milky breast and lullaby she soothes the fretting child,
Wrapped in his comforter’s warm arms his woes are soon beguiled.
Watching o’er him, poor innocent, lest wind or heat annoy,
His fostering nurse she may be called, to cherish thus her boy.
“Do this or that, my darling boy,” the worried mother cries,
And when he’s grown to man’s estate, she still laments and sighs.
He goes in reckless mood to see a neighbour’s wife at night,
She fumes and frets, “Why will he not return while it is light?”
If one thus reared with anxious pains his mother should neglect,
Playing her false, what doom, I pray, but hell can he expect?
If one thus reared with anxious pains his father should neglect,
Playing him false, what doom, I pray, but hell can he expect?
Those that love wealth o’ermuch, ’Tis said, their wealth will soon have lost,
One that neglects a mother soon will rue it to his cost.
Those that love wealth o’ermuch, ’Tis said, their wealth will soon have lost,
One that neglects a father soon will rue it to his cost.
Joy, careless ease, laughter and sport, are the sure heritage
Of him that studiously shall tend a mother in old age.
Joy, careless ease, laughter and sport, are the sure heritage
Of him that studiously shall tend a father in old age.
Gifts, loving speech, kind offices, together with the grace
Of calm indifference of mind shown in due time and place—
These virtues to the world are as linch-pin to chariot wheel,
These lacking, still a mother’s name to children would appeal.
Thus parents, worthy of all praise, a high position own,
By ancient sages Brahma called. So great was their renown.
Kind parents from their children should receive all reverence due,
He that is wise will honour them with service good and true.
He should provide them food and drink, bedding and raiment meet,
Should bathe them and anoint with oil and duly wash their feet.
For filial services like these sages his praises sound
Here in this world, and after death in heaven his joys abound.
Thus, as though he should set Mount Sineru rolling, did the Great Being bring his lesson to an end. On hearing him all these kings with their hosts became believers. So then establishing them in the five moral laws and exhorting them to be diligent in almsgiving and the like virtues, he dismissed them, and they all, after ruling their kingdoms righteously, at the end of their days went to swell the host of heaven. The sages, Sona and Nanda, as long as they lived, ministered to their parents and became destined to the Brahma world.
The Master here ended his lesson and revealing the Truths identified the Birth—At the end of the Truths the Brother who cherished his mother was established in the fruition of the First Path—“At that time the parents were members of the Great King’s Court, the sage Nanda was Ananda, king Manoja was Sariputta, the hundred and one kings were eighty chief elders and certain others, the twenty-four complete armies were Buddha’s disciples, but the sage Sona was I myself.”