Vessantara Jataka

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
mabw
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Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

Hi,

How do you view this Jataka?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vessantara_J%C4%81taka

I find certain episodes disturbing, i.e giving away his own wife and children. Should this just be viewed as metaphorical? I mean, irregardless of time period, this act seems rather, ...unskilful, shall I say.

Thank you in advance.
sphairos
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by sphairos »

There are many questionable things in Jātakas.
"Brahmin, you have done well in coming to me for food. This day will I grant you a boon that I have never granted before, but you shall not break the moral law by taking p. 37 animal life. Go, friend, and when you have piled together logs of wood, and kindled a fire, come and let me know, [55] and I will sacrifice myself by falling into the midst of the flames, and when my body is roasted, you shall eat my flesh and fulfil all your priestly duties." And in thus addressing him the hare uttered the fourth stanza:—

Nor sesame, nor beans, nor rice have I as food to give,
But roast with fire my flesh I yield, if thou with us wouldst live.

Sakka, on hearing what he said, by his miraculous power caused a heap of burning coals to appear, and came and told the Bodhisatta. Rising from his bed of kuça grass and coming to the place, he thrice shook himself that if there were any insects within his coat, they might escape death. Then offering his whole body as a free gift he sprang up, and like a royal swan, alighting on a cluster of lotuses, in an ecstasy of joy he fell on the heap of live coals.

https://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j3/j3017.htm
because they are about the behaviour of unenlightened beings, who don't know the path yet. The Mahāyāna guys took all that for real and ended up with their systems full of paradoxes and non-sequiturs.

And, as ven. Anālayo showed in his "The Genesis of Bodhisattva Ideal" in the early Buddhist tradition the immesurable compassion to all beings is attained only with the Enlightenment, not before. Before you are Enlightened it's impossible to have true boundless love to all beings. Which makes sense: if you are deluded and don't see the True Reality, how can you really be selfless and know how to help all beings? And from his pure boundless love the Buddha taught the Dhamma.
Last edited by sphairos on Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:15 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Dhammanando
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by Dhammanando »

King Milinda also had some problems with this jātaka. In the link below Nāgasena responds to the king's objections.

https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
mabw
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

Dhammanando wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 4:21 pm King Milinda also had some problems with this jātaka. In the link below Nāgasena responds to the king's objections.

https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1
Great, I shall have a look here. Thanks.

In my other thread on the Nettipakaraṇa & Peṭakopadesa, do these texts outline principles by which one can apply to the interpretation of this Jataka?
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Dhammanando
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by Dhammanando »

The Jātaka Commentary doesn't use the Netti method. I suppose you could if you wanted to but there wouldn't be much point to it. For example, you don't need a refined hermeneutic whose aim is to distinguish which of the four noble truths a text is concerned with when you're dealing with a body of texts that never steps outside of dukkha and samudaya.
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
sphairos
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by sphairos »

mabw wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:13 pm
Dhammanando wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 4:21 pm King Milinda also had some problems with this jātaka. In the link below Nāgasena responds to the king's objections.

https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1
Great, I shall have a look here. Thanks.

In my other thread on the Nettipakaraṇa & Peṭakopadesa, do these texts outline principles by which one can apply to the interpretation of this Jataka?
they explain the genre, themes and purpose of the text and its parts.

Jātakas are mentioned (quoted) two times in the Netti:

"915. <Full sixty thousand years gone by
Ripened in hell. When will it end ?
There is no end ! Where is the end ?
No sign of any end at all
Appears for you and me, good sir;
For evil we did then perform>
{Ja. iii, 47; Pe 49).

This is ripening.

784. <When once a man has come to birth
An axe is born inside his mouth,
Whereby the fool will cut himself
By uttering ill-spoken words > (S. i, 149
<For never did well whetted blade
Or poison of kaldhala
So certainly undo a man
As can the ill-spoken word> (Ja. iii, 103).


This is the type of Thread dealing with corruption."
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JamesTheGiant
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by JamesTheGiant »

It's a disgusting fabrication, in my opinion. People who spread the vessantara jataka are like people smearing human shit on a statue of the Buddha.

Whenever I see it displayed, as on the wall at Nanachat, I always find the manager or abbot and ask them why it's displayed.
They usually shrug and say "A layperson liked it, they organised it for that wall. "
johnsmitty
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by johnsmitty »

Dhammanando wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 4:21 pm King Milinda also had some problems with this jātaka. In the link below Nāgasena responds to the king's objections.

https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1
This confirms me in my rejection of the Questions of King Milinda text as contrary to Buddha's teaching.

Selling your wife and kids into slavery being praised as a virtuous act? Really? One so virtuous that it would cause his "fame" to be "spread abroad among gods and men through the ten thousand world systems"?

It reminds me too much of Lotus Sutra also. I have long held that Nagasena is what was prophecied about the Dharma only lasting pure for 500 years because his chariot analogy destroys the dharma. But this praise of selling people at all (but especially family members) into slaverty is just as bad. But what should I expect from the inventor of the "there is no person" dogma; if its just a chariot wheel and an axle but no chariot, or just skin and bones but no person, why not sell "it" into slavery, amiright?
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JamesTheGiant
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by JamesTheGiant »

JamesTheGiant wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 8:58 pm It's a disgusting fabrication, in my opinion. People who spread the vessantara jataka are like people smearing human shit on a statue of the Buddha.
Sorry, that's crude of me. I should have said that more sensitively. I can't edit it now though, apologies.
mabw
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

Dhammanando wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 4:21 pm King Milinda also had some problems with this jātaka. In the link below Nāgasena responds to the king's objections.

https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1
Okay, I've read the relevant portion from the Milindapanha. So Venerable Nagasena gives two reasons for the action:
But there were two reasons, O king, why he thus gave them away. What are those two? That his practice of giving should not be interrupted was one; the other was that as a result of his so doing his children, distressed by living with him only on wild roots and fruits, should eventually be set free by their new master.
For Vessantara knew, O king: “No one is capable of keeping my children as slaves. Their grandfather will ransom the children, and so they will come back to me.”
Some follow-up questions:
1. Since the King asked this question, I'm assuming this story is fairly well-known at the time. So is this story only found in the Jataka or does it appear elsewhere? Probably the Buddha referred to his life as Prince Vessantara or some sort in the Suttas? If he did refer to himself thus, what did the Buddha say in these other sources?
2. Are there parallel stories in Indian literature, among the Jains / Hindus for e.g., where the act of giving up family members is extolled for soteriological reasons.
3. When teachers teach this story, do they teach it as a metaphor or is it literal (I hope not).
4. If I disagree with this story, am I missing something? Does Buddhist doctrine really teach this and that it is just me who is resisting it because of the zeitgeist of the present? Buddhists talk about non-attachment all the time anyway. Some could argue that it does not take much to extrapolate that to its logical conclusion; everything should be given up, even family. The Buddha had to leave Yashodhara and Rahula anyway. So pursuing Buddhahood entails a certain selfishness. See where I am going?
circuit
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by circuit »

mabw wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 1:15 pm ...
could we consider all jataka is not from Buddha?
could it be a creeping infiltration by outsiders like brahmanism (animals upgrade to human life) or persian myths like Mithra -> Metteya
sphairos
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by sphairos »

mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 4:42 am
Dhammanando wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 4:21 pm King Milinda also had some problems with this jātaka. In the link below Nāgasena responds to the king's objections.

https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1
?
Jātakas are stories about unenlightened behaviour . They are all to be read as something fun and miraculous, fairy-tale like, not as instructions for life and practice (see the Hare jātaka above).

The Buddha (Enlightened being) of course teaches the opposite : developing unconditional love to all beings, as a mother that protects her only child.

The Vessantara jātaka became extremely popular in the Buddhist world because with it the Buddhists were nudging the kings to be generous toward the Saṅgha.

In the Canon you won't find anything like that, because it contradicts Buddhist teaching.

The legend of the Buddha leaving the palaces and wife and children is not in the Pāli canon. The Buddha was not a prince etc. It's all late mythologisation of the origin of Buddhism. J. Bronkhorst shows evidence that it was done late in North-West India and Gandhāra under Brahmanic influence.
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mabw
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

sphairos wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:58 am
Jātakas are stories about unenlightened behaviour . They are all to be read as something fun and miraculous, fairy-tale like, not as instructions for life and practice (see the Hare jātaka above).
I hesitate to say so. The Jatakas do contain lessons. The question for me is how literal it is to be taken.The principle of generosity in this story is fine for me. Just the way it is expressed can be a little unsettling. Hence my question on how teachers teach this story.

And I read somewhere that at a time when monks in SE Asia had the view that enlightenment was no longer possible, the Jatakas remained part of the curriculum.
sphairos wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:58 am The Buddha (Enlightened being) of course teaches the opposite : developing unconditional love to all beings, as a mother that protects her only child.
Yes, he did. But he also taught dispassion and letting go. And if the Sangha are the bearers of the Dhamma, there have been too many times when I have heard monastics speaking disparagingly about lay life. This is something that I have heard across all 3 main traditions, so for those of you who think the Mahayana and Vajrayana favour the laity, well, there are nuances to that. Many a time, when monastics (both Asian and Caucasian) talk about married life, it is often made into a caricature. To be fair, I have found monks who do not, but they are few.
sphairos wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:58 am The Vessantara jātaka became extremely popular in the Buddhist world because with it the Buddhists were nudging the kings to be generous toward the Saṅgha.
So?
sphairos wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:58 am In the Canon you won't find anything like that, because it contradicts Buddhist teaching.
Well, it does not contradict the paramita of dana.
sphairos wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:58 am The legend of the Buddha leaving the palaces and wife and children is not in the Pāli canon. The Buddha was not a prince etc. It's all late mythologisation of the origin of Buddhism. J. Bronkhorst shows evidence that it was done late in North-West India and Gandhāra under Brahmanic influence.
So? One answer from the Buddhists will be that Gotama eventually became a Buddha who benefited millions, including Yasodhara and Rahula. In fact, this is more or less one answer to the Vessantara question I just found on the other Wheel.

I suppose one approach to the story is simply to treat it as a story and just appreciate the part on generosity.
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by robertk »

JamesTheGiant wrote: Mon Feb 15, 2021 8:58 pm It's a disgusting fabrication, in my opinion. People who spread the vessantara jataka are like people smearing human shit on a statue of the Buddha.

Whenever I see it displayed, as on the wall at Nanachat, I always find the manager or abbot and ask them why it's displayed.
They usually shrug and say "A layperson liked it, they organised it for that wall. "
Reactions vary, but personally I find it deep and wonderful. The bodhisatta loved his family but, intent on the parami, he was able to give them up.
The commentaries note that only bodhisattas who will become Buddhas make that degree of sacrifice.
johnsmitty
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by johnsmitty »

mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 2:26 pm
sphairos wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 9:58 am In the Canon you won't find anything like that, because it contradicts Buddhist teaching.
Well, it does not contradict the paramita of dana.
It does in point of fact "contradict the paramita of dana" because dana is about giving food and necessities of life, not about giving people into slavery.

Now, the ridiculous "logic" from the "logician" Nagasena I find striking, where he is defending this jataka to the King Milinda:
https://legacy.suttacentral.net/en/mil6.3.1 wrote: ‘Venerable Nāgasena, I don’t blame him for giving, but for not having made a barter with the beggar, and given away himself rather, instead of his wife and children.’

‘That, O king, would be an act of a wrong doer, to give himself when he was asked for his wife and children. For the thing asked for, whatever it is, is that which ought to be given. And such is the practice of the good. Suppose, O king, a man were to ask that water should be brought, would any one who then brought him food have done what he wanted?’
So the good have to just give anyone whatever they ask for? Nonsense. But this is the same guy who invented "there is no person," so his lack of empathy for people is understandable.

Only someone who views people as inanimate objects like a chariot can compare giving your children into slavery because some slavetrader asks you to, to giving food or water to someone who asks.

Nagasena is just hyper-literal and is treating hyper-literality as a virtue that divides the good from the bad: give people whatever they ask for. Do they ask to rape you? Well that's what they asked for, and a good person (strike that, since he doesn't believe in persons)--a good robot or whatever, a good chariot wheel, just gives people whatever they want, so just give your body to be raped; to do otherwise would be to act as a "wrong doer" according to him, because a right doer just hyper-literally does what anyone asks them to do. How can anyone not find this to be devlish and evil teachings from Mara himself???????????????? There is no defense for this jataka, nor its defenders, nor for the "there is no person" doctrine that enabled them to agree with such vile trash.
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