Vessantara Jataka

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
justindesilva
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by justindesilva »

robertk wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 6:16 pm
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.
Please down load pages.ucsd.edu to read a paper on vessantara jatakaya. It gives its values and the mythical side of the Jathaka story.
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robertk
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by robertk »

mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 2:26 pm
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.
Yes, he taught the way of non-attachment.
This occasion was near the end of his countless aeons of development towards the goal.
We tend to think of our attachment to our children as something very good- but in fact, while natural, it is still akusala. And for a Buddha to be, even this must be rooted out - he has compassion for men and gods, who would be lost without his coming.

Also all beings are owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma. His children had their own kamma which brings its own pleasant and unpleasant results.
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Dhammanando
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by Dhammanando »

mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 4:42 am 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?
I know that there's a Sogdian version of the jātaka. It also seems to be well known to the more scholarly Mahayana teachers, both Tibetan and East Asian, but I've never looked into the question of what their sources are.
mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 4:42 amProbably the Buddha referred to his life as Prince Vessantara or some sort in the Suttas?
No.
mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 4:42 am2. 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.
Taking the Vessantara Jātaka as a whole, the Indic texts with which its episodes have the greatest number of parallels are the various narratives of the romance of Sītā and Rāma. It's so long since I've read any of these that I don't recall if there's any giving away of family members.
mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 4:42 am3. When teachers teach this story, do they teach it as a metaphor or is it literal (I hope not).
It's taught in all sorts of ways (see the book recommendation below), but if a teacher is following the commentarial understanding then it would go something like this:

All paths to enlightenment require the multi-life development of the ten perfections.
Each of the ten perfections comes in three degrees: ordinary, superior and superlative.
Though the path to arahantship requires that the perfections be developed only to the ordinary degree, the path to buddhahood requires their development to all three degrees.
Development of the perfection of giving in the superlative degree entails a Bodhisatta's performance of the fivefold great sacrifice (pañcamahāpariccāga), i.e., the giving away of one's wealth, limbs, life, wife and children.
mabw wrote: Tue Feb 16, 2021 4:42 am 4. If I disagree with this story, am I missing something?
You wouldn't be missing anything that's vital to the path to arahatta.

And now for the book recommendation....

Steven Collins (ed), Readings of the Vessantara Jātaka.

https://www.amazon.com/Readings-Vessant ... 0231160399
The Vessantara Jataka tells the story of Prince Vessantara, who attained the Perfection of Generosity by giving away his fortune, his children, and his wife. Vessantara was the penultimate rebirth as a human of the future Gotama Buddha, and his extreme charity has been represented and reinterpreted in texts, sermons, rituals, and art throughout South and Southeast Asia and beyond. This anthology features well-respected anthropologists, textual scholars in religious and Buddhist studies, and art historians, who engage in sophisticated readings of the text and its ethics of giving, understanding of attachment and nonattachment, depiction of the trickster, and unique performative qualities. They reveal the story to be as brilliantly layered as a Homeric epic or Shakespearean play, with aspects of tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and utopian fantasy intertwined to problematize and scrutinize Theravada Buddhism's cherished virtues.

Review
Readings of the Vessantara Jataka will undoubtedly become a classic in the study of Buddhist biographical literature and its cultural contexts. The collection brings together excellent essays that show us how a central Buddhist narrative can resonate profoundly across a spectrum of dramatic, ethical, and cultural modalities. -- Juliane Schober, Arizona State University

This volume, taken as a whole, starts with some basic questions: what accounts for the tremendous popularity of the Vessantara Jataka in the Buddhist world? How and why did it become a tale better known even than the life story of the Buddha? In addressing these issues, the individual contributors go on to reveal and analyze the multiple (and often ambivalent) ways in which the story has been open to interpretation and to enactment in ritual, art, and society in both classic and modern times. Readings of the Vessantara Jataka is a pathbreaking work that will long endure as a go-to reference for anyone interested in this most significant and popular of Buddhist stories. -- John S. Strong, Bates College
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 »

I've just come across this passage from the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, an important Yogācāra treatise, ch. 16. The passage is about the conduct of a bodhisattva:

44. With his compassion, he always freely gives away his lives,
wealth, and wives to beings
; and he is overjoyed. How then would
he not maintain his refusal of these (things from others)?

"Refusal of these" is refusal of life, wealth, and wife belonging to others.
This shows the excellence of his morality, opposed to the three evil physical actions.

(tr. Robert Thurman)

Very Mahāyāna idea.
How good and wonderful are your days,
How true are your ways?
mabw
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

robertk wrote: Wed Feb 17, 2021 3:38 pm
Also all beings are owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma. His children had their own kamma which brings its own pleasant and unpleasant results.
Isn't this too fatalistic though. Where do you draw the line between action and inaction?
johnsmitty
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by johnsmitty »

mabw wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:02 am
robertk wrote: Wed Feb 17, 2021 3:38 pm
Also all beings are owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma. His children had their own kamma which brings its own pleasant and unpleasant results.
Isn't this too fatalistic though. Where do you draw the line between action and inaction?
If you go beyond the understanding of karma in Dhammpada Verse 126
Dhammapada_126_Daw_Mya_Tin_translation wrote: Some are reborn as human beings, the wicked are reborn in a place of continuous torment (niraya). The righteous go to the deva world, and those who are free from moral intoxicants (viz., the arahats) realize Nibbana.
to believing that karma determines more than rebirth "realm" then you end up in a very dark determinism that will make you also very callouses and behave very badly to other human beings always blaming anything bad that happens in their life on karma. A sane person sticks only with the Dhammapada's version of karma, where it only effects what realm you are reborn into next, and not the details of your life.
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mikenz66
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mikenz66 »

Thanks for bringing this up. I've only skimmed it but it looks like a very deep and complex story.
There remained one last and greatest gift, a devoted wife, and Sakka in his wisdom knew that Vessantara would not withhold it. To keep Vessantara from giving Maddi away to anyone else, Sakka assumed the guise of a Brahmin and approached the hermitage that same morning. Only then did Vessantara realize that he must also give away his dear wife to attain his goal. He gave her willingly to the old Brahmin, pouring water over his hands. Maddi submitted without a word, knowing that this would fulfill her husband's greatest wish : to have perfect knowledge. The heavens shook, the oceans roared, and the gods acknowledged that Vessantara had truly achieved omniscience. Then, having seen that the Great Being was capable of supreme charity, Sakka returned Maddi to him.
http://www.buddha-images.com/vessantara-jataka.asp
There's some echos there of the story of Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice...

:heart:
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Dhammanando
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by Dhammanando »

johnsmitty wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:18 am A sane person sticks only with the Dhammapada's version of karma, where it only effects what realm you are reborn into next, and not the details of your life.
A conscientious person reads the whole of the Dhammapada before presuming to spout about its conception of kamma. One need only read ten verses beyond the one that you quoted to see that even in the Dhammapada kamma is held to affect more than just a person's postmortem destination:
He who inflicts violence on those who are unarmed, and offends those who are inoffensive, will soon come upon one of these ten states:

Sharp pain, or disaster, bodily injury, serious illness, or derangement of mind, trouble from the government, or grave charges, loss of relatives, or loss of wealth, or houses destroyed by ravaging fire; upon dissolution of the body that ignorant man is born in hell.
(Dhp 137ff.)
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)
johnsmitty
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by johnsmitty »

Dhammanando wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 5:24 am
johnsmitty wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:18 am A sane person sticks only with the Dhammapada's version of karma, where it only effects what realm you are reborn into next, and not the details of your life.
A conscientious person reads the whole of the Dhammapada before presuming to spout about its conception of kamma. One need only read ten verses beyond the one that you quoted to see that even in the Dhammapada kamma is held to affect more than just a person's postmortem destination:
He who inflicts violence on those who are unarmed, and offends those who are inoffensive, will soon come upon one of these ten states:

Sharp pain, or disaster, bodily injury, serious illness, or derangement of mind, trouble from the government, or grave charges, loss of relatives, or loss of wealth, or houses destroyed by ravaging fire; upon dissolution of the body that ignorant man is born in hell.
(Dhp 137ff.)
That's not the silly superstituous damnable heresy of fatalistic karma that is full on retarded. That is a general statement that you commit crimes there is punishment. If I'm wrong, then even the Dhammapada is trash and Buddhism is all false.
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Dhammanando
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by Dhammanando »

mikenz66 wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:52 am There's some echos there of the story of Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice...
Funnily enough, when I was answering the OP's question about how the story might be read, I did initially propose a Kierkegaardian reading of it based on K's Fear and Trembling, an extended philosophical meditation on the Abraham and Isaac story. But it was getting a bit too complicated (too many things to explain to those not already familiar with Kierkegaard's thought) so I deleted it.

In a nutshell: Vessantara may be viewed as a knight of infinite resignation...

.


who is transitioning into a knight of faith...

.


and whose wife and children pariccāga exemplifies the teleological suspension of the ethical characteristic of the latter kind of knight...

.
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)
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robertk
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by robertk »

mabw wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:02 am
robertk wrote: Wed Feb 17, 2021 3:38 pm
Also all beings are owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma. His children had their own kamma which brings its own pleasant and unpleasant results.
Isn't this too fatalistic though. Where do you draw the line between action and inaction?
I think this post by Ven. Dhammando explains.
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1020&p=16611&hilit=nina#p16611
To me the examples you give and the conundra you raise regarding them merely highlight the limitations of expounding kamma and its ripening in conventional terms (i.e. in terms of conceptual realities such as "persons"). The conundra evaporate when the subject is expounded in terms of dhammas
.
mabw
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

robertk wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 8:23 am
I think this post by Ven. Dhammando explains.
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1020&p=16611&hilit=nina#p16611
To me the examples you give and the conundra you raise regarding them merely highlight the limitations of expounding kamma and its ripening in conventional terms (i.e. in terms of conceptual realities such as "persons"). The conundra evaporate when the subject is expounded in terms of dhammas
.
I have read the referred thread and reflected some of the points raised. The point seems to be that while there are circumstances which are caused by kamma, we have the power to change things.

The gist from Ven Dhammanando's post seems to be we should not just see kamma conventionally in terms of affecting individual persons, but to look at it from the ultimate perspective, i.e. anatta. If my understanding is correct, then a few things come to mind:
- people will have less of a need to help others. Since no one is ultimately suffering from these circumstances, let it be.
- it will then perpetuate the apparently distorted view of kammic determinism.
- it seems unwise to undermine the conventional and to privilege the ultimate. It is also because of the conventional that there is Metta practice. The ultimate rests on the conventional, at least according to some views.

Could it be that there is tension here between social justice, something more pronounced in the West, and self-cultivation, something more prevalent in the East. David Loy spoke of this in one of his talks. Probably the right approach is somewhere in the middle. Social justice without first working on ourselves can be misguided and destructive. Self-cultivation to the exclusion of social justice will not create a very comfortable environment for anybody, even for the enlightened self-cultivator.

Is there actually any problem of treating this Jataka as metaphorical? I sense a certain hesitancy here to view it as such.
johnsmitty
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by johnsmitty »

sphairos wrote: Thu Feb 18, 2021 4:58 pm I've just come across this passage from the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, an important Yogācāra treatise, ch. 16. The passage is about the conduct of a bodhisattva:

44. With his compassion, he always freely gives away his lives,
wealth, and wives to beings
; and he is overjoyed. How then would
he not maintain his refusal of these (things from others)?

"Refusal of these" is refusal of life, wealth, and wife belonging to others.
This shows the excellence of his morality, opposed to the three evil physical actions.

(tr. Robert Thurman)

Very Mahāyāna idea.
See where the rejection of celibacy as a prerequisite for enlightenment leads? To so-called "bodhisattvas" who engage in human trafficking and become pimps prostituting out theire wives and kids. Disgusting.
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robertk
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by robertk »

mabw wrote: Sun Feb 21, 2021 2:57 pm
robertk wrote: Fri Feb 19, 2021 8:23 am
I think this post by Ven. Dhammando explains.
viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1020&p=16611&hilit=nina#p16611
To me the examples you give and the conundra you raise regarding them merely highlight the limitations of expounding kamma and its ripening in conventional terms (i.e. in terms of conceptual realities such as "persons"). The conundra evaporate when the subject is expounded in terms of dhammas
.
I have read the referred thread and reflected some of the points raised. The point seems to be that while there are circumstances which are caused by kamma, we have the power to change things.

The gist from Ven Dhammanando's post seems to be we should not just see kamma conventionally in terms of affecting individual persons, but to look at it from the ultimate perspective, i.e. anatta. If my understanding is correct, then a few things come to mind:
- people will have less of a need to help others. Since no one is ultimately suffering from these circumstances, let it be.
- it will then perpetuate the apparently distorted view of kammic determinism.
- it seems unwise to undermine the conventional and to privilege the ultimate. It is also because of the conventional that there is Metta practice. The ultimate rests on the conventional, at least according to some views.

I would say it is the opposite- the conventional is like the shadow of the ultimate.
Take metta . Sometimes we might feel angry with someone, no metta - but if we understand that there are actually only elements arising and ceasing, who then is there to be angry with- easy to drop that anger then.

You say "we have the power to change things"/ Not the way I look at life; I find the teaching on conditionality is always verifiable and realistic , and by learning what is kusala there is a little appreciation of kusala in daily life. But not trying to change things: things, phenomena, arise as they must, it is their nature, it is pointless to try to manage this.
mabw
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Re: Vessantara Jataka

Post by mabw »

robertk wrote: Mon Feb 22, 2021 4:20 am

You say "we have the power to change things"/ Not the way I look at life; I find the teaching on conditionality is always verifiable and realistic , and by learning what is kusala there is a little appreciation of kusala in daily life. But not trying to change things: things, phenomena, arise as they must, it is their nature, it is pointless to try to manage this.
I don't get you. So, you're saying we cannot change things? There is no need for charity since those in need brought it upon themselves and there is no need to practise Buddhism either?
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