Buddha Poornima cannot but recall the Jatakas and it’s hard to choose which one to share. This little-known Jataka, for one, seems at first to be a ‘so-what’ story until the point stings. It tells of an ancient kingdom in India in which the king’s favourite horse was taken daily to bathe in a lovely, clean pool.
But a filthy newly-caught horse had just been washed there and its odour lingered. The fastidious royal horse refused to enter the water despite the coaxing of the perplexed grooms. When the news was carried to the palace, the king sent an astute minister to investigate.
Wise in the ways of animals and not lacking in plain common sense either, the minister looked at the water, smelt the air and straightaway deduced that the royal horse was resisting being taken into dirty water. Enquiry confirmed his observation. The minister advised the grooms to take the royal horse elsewhere and all was well. The lesson: “Even animals value cleanliness”.
Another not-so-well-known Jataka tells of when the Bodhisattva was born as a prince of Benares and eight hundred fortune-tellers predicted that he would be a great warrior with mastery over five weapons (meaning the five senses?).
So they named him ‘Panchaastra’ and in due course he was sent for higher learning to a great guru in Takshashila, for in those days such teachers were to be found in those parts. Eventually, the prince set off homewards carrying five wonderful weapons gifted by his guru.
Entering a dark jungle, he was set upon by a man-eating ghoul whom the Jataka tells us was particularly nasty and also had sticky hair, staring eyes and an unpleasantly mottled belly. The prince unleashed one weapon after the other but everything merely stuck to the ghoul’s hair and body.
Finally he attacked him with his fists and found that he too was firmly stuck. While the ghoul privately wondered at his courage, the prince remembered his guru and focused his mind. “My greatest weapon is still unused,” he calmly informed the ghoul. “It is a diamond-edged weapon lodged inside me by my guru’s extraordinary powers. If you eat me, it will tear your guts apart from within, so there.”
Impressed, the ghoul freed the fearless prince and sent him on his way, promising to desist from being a menace to society and the prince mentally prostrated to his guru for teaching him how to think — the greatest weapon of all.
— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture firstname.lastname@example.org