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Vishvantara Jataka

Vishvantara Jataka

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Published by Milan Shakya
This is an article on Visvantara Jataka. Visvantara was the previous incarnation of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha.
This is an article on Visvantara Jataka. Visvantara was the previous incarnation of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha.

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Published by: Milan Shakya on Nov 07, 2009
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MILAN SHAKYAChakupat, Lalitpur 
 Definition of Jataka:
The Jataka is generally defined as previous birth stories of Buddha Shakyamuni. There areseveral birth stories, the collection of which is called the Jatakamala. It can also be calledBodhisattva avadanamala for the Bodhisattvavadana is nearly synonymous with Jataka.Indeed the Jatakas are nothing but Avadanas the hero of which is the Bodhisattva. Accordingto J. S. Speyer, the slightest difference between Jataka and Avadana is that in the Jataka, theBodhisattva is always either the hero or one of the main characters occuring in the story,whereas in the Avadana, any holy figure may play a part. Still, there are many avadanas inwhich the Bodhisattva is the hero.
Jataka as Words of the Buddha:
The Jatakas are considered to be Buddhavacana (spoken by Buddha). Together they constitutethe tenth of the twelve categories of Buddhist scripture, as enumerated by Haribhadra:
 ;"  q+u] od\Jofs/0fd\ufyf] bfgjbfgsd\.  Olta[ Qsd\lgbfgd\j} k' Nod\r ;hftsd\.  pkb] zb\e"  tf}wdf} { åfbzf+ uflgbd\jrM .
Vishvanatara Jataka in Buddhist Sanskrit and Pali literature
The Jataka stories are at least as old as the compilation of the Buddhist canon at the council of Vesali, about 377 BC.Perhaps one of the most famous and most popular of all these legends in the whole of theBuddhist world is Vishvantara Jataka.The vessantara Jataka is also available in the following Sanskrit Buddhist texts
Pali Jataka - No.547
Arya Shura's Jatakamala - No.9
Ksemendra's Avadanakalpalata - No.23
Prajnaparamitopadesa sastra, Haribhadra, Oriental Institute, Baroda, p. 35
Bodhisattvadanamala -
Cariyapitaka - 1.9Contents of Vishvantara Jataka of Aryasura's Jatakamala
The mean-spirited people like ourselves are not even capable of approving of the conduct of the Bodhisattva, how much less can they actually act after it. This is taught by the following.Once the Sibis were ruled by a king named Sanjaya who performed his royal duties in theright manner. He had a son by the name of Vishvantara who was none other than Sakyamunihimself in one of his previous lives as a Bodhisattva. In dignity, Vishvantara was just next tohis father but superior to his father in his famous set of virtues. Vishvantara held the rank of heir-apparent. Though young, he had a lovely placidity of mind proper to old age. Though hewas full of ardour, his natural disposition was inclined to forbearance. Though learned, he wasfree from the conceit of knowledge. Though mighty and illustrious, he was devoid of pride.As a prince, he was predisposed to fill day after day the mendicants who happened tocome to him, with the utmost gladness by his bounties, given without difficulty, surpassingthe objects asked for, and the more lovely, as they were bestowed with deference and kindwords. Because of this, his great practice of charity was being proclaimed everywhere by therejoiced mendicants, some neighbouring king who had heard of it, considering that it would be possible to deceive the young prince by means of his passion for almsgiving, directed someBrahmins, his emissaries, to rob him of his excellent elephant who was endowed with manyauspicious qualities. Brahmins placed themselves in Vishvantara's way, uttering benedictionswith their uplifted and outstretched right hands and asked outright for the elephant. AlthoughVishvantara could easily see through their deception backforced by the king, he gladly gavehis beloved elephant in charity to them.When the Sibis heard of the gift of that Lord elephants, anger and wrath penetrated their minds, and the eldest of the Brahmins, the ministers, the warriors and the chiefs of thetownsmen went into the presence of king Sanjaya. They reprimanded the king for his utter negligence as to what was happening in the country and not imposing restrictions on thewayward charity of the prince who would be held responsible for the collapse of the nation.They unanimously requested the king that prince Vishvantara be sent in exile to Mount Vankawhere he might exert his penance. Vishvantara prefered his own banishment from the countryto the abandonment of his deep-rooted propensity to charity. So he jubilantly acquisced to theorder. When insisted strongly by his wife Madri, his son Jalikumar and daughter Krishnajinato accompany him, he couldn't desist from taking them with him. Vishvantara's decisioncaused the mendicants to lament bitterly. Then he paid his respectful homage to his father andmother, taking leave of them who were overwhelmed with sadness and grief. Thereupon hemounted his royal chariot with his wife and children and left the capital, while a great body of  people uttered lamentations, the streets being as noisy as on a holiday. Then himself takingthe reins, he drove in the direction of Mount Vanka. While he was still on the way, by chance
some Brahmins came to meet him, and begged from him the horses that were drawing hischariot. When the horses were given away, Vishvantara had no other option than to pull thechariot laden with his family all by himself. So he put himself under the yoke and pulled italong. When they travelled a few distance, there appeared four young Yaksas in the form of red deer. Like well-trained excellent horses they put their shoulders under the yokethemselves. Then Vishvantara to his utmost gaity adored the strength of his penance whicheven pleased the deers. While they were moving along, another Brahmin came near, andasked Vishvantara for his royal chariot. He gladly caused his family to alight from the chariotand presented the Brahman with it. Taking Jalin kumar in his arms, he continued his way onfoot. Madri, too without feeling depressed, took the girl Krishnajina in her arms and marchedafter him.Vishvantara, his wife and his children didn't have to suffer from hunger, thirst, fatiguewhile they were walking because the nature itself seemed to be friendly towards them. In thismanner the Bodhisattva Vishvantara experienced the pleasure and the delight of a walk just asif they were strolling in some park and at last they reached Mount Vanka. He took up hisresidence with his family in a grove in the pleasant forest said to have been built byVisvakarma himself. Attended by his wife, enjoying the artless and sweet talk of his children,not thinking of the cares of royalty, he practised in that grove strong penance for half a year.One day, when the princess Madri had gone to search for roots and fruits, there arrived aBrahmin whose feet and ankles were stiff with the dust of the journey and who was bearingover his shoulder a wooden club, from which his waterpots hung down. Vishvantara gladlyreceived the Brahmin who told the former that he had been searching for attendents to helphim. Then noticing the children at play, he wasted no time to ask him for them. Even if atfirst, Vishvantara who didn't know how to reject when being asked for, and rejoiced at giving,flinched at his own decision and burst out with tears due to the great affection for their children, later he joyously agreed to give away his beloved children Jalin kumar andKrishnajina. Since the Brahmin insisted tremendously, Vishvantara was compelled to giveaway his beloved children even in his wife Madri's absence. His children also expressed their desire to meet their mother for the last time before they would go with the Brahmin. ButBrahmin didn't heed their request. Then the Brahmin cruelly and inhumanly bound thechildren with rope and hit them with the vine as he took them away. The scene was quite pathetic and heart-rending.When Madri returned, she was anxious not to find her children in the hermitage. WhenVishvantara told her that he had given them away to Brahmin in charity. She collapsed on theground and fainted away. When she came to, she was finally won over by the prince andinstead praised the generosity and sincerity of her husband for she could perceive gods on theheaven rejoicing at the great charity of her husband Vishvantara.Owing to the inconceivable charity of Vishvantara, even Sumeru mountain seemed totremble and a dazzing light glowed in the heaven. Indra, god of heaven, was taken by surpriseand as was his nature, decided to test the penance of Vishvantara. With this in mind, hedescended down on the earth near his hermitage in guise of a Brahmin. Vishvantara gladly

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