BABBU JĀTAKA (NO. 137)
MISFORTUNE OR GOOD FORTUNE, WHO KNOWS?
During the Buddha’s lifetime, there was a lady named Kānā and her mother who was a stream enterer. One day, Kānā who was visiting her mother decided to go back to her husband. Her mother told her to wait until she had baked a cake for her to bring home. However, just after the cake was baked, a monk came on alms round and Kānā’s mother immediately offered the cake to the monk instead. Upon his return to the monastery, the monk told a second monk to go to Kānā’s mother’s house for another cake. When Kānā’s mother had just finished baking the second cake for her daughter, the second monk came and the cake was offered to him too. He told a third monk, and the third told a fourth and so each freshly baked cake was taken by a new monk.
In the meantime, Kānā’s husband had sent a message stating that he would marry a new wife if Kānā did not return. Due to the delay, Kānā was unable to make it home before the husband remarried. She was extremely depressed and developed a strong hatred against monks. At that time, the Buddha was in Jetavana Monastery. Being informed of the story above, He told this past story about Kānā’s mother.
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the future Buddha was born as an expert stone cutter who quarried and shaped stones in a deserted village. In the past, when that village was occupied, a rich merchant and his wife had lived there. Due to strong attachment to her husband’s wealth, after death, the wife was re-born there as a mouse that dwelt over her wealth of four hundred million gold coins. Over time, the village gradually became deserted.
As it happens, the mouse fell in love with the stone cutter. Thinking how the secret of all her vast wealth would die with her, the mouse conceived the idea of enjoying it with him. Thus, every day, she would bring a coin in her mouth to the stone cutter for him to buy some meat for her with part of the coin and save the balance.
However, this peaceful existence was not to last. One day, the mouse was caught by a cat. Trapped in the clutches of the cat, to save herself, the mouse promised to bring meat to the cat daily. Thus, the mouse gave the cat half her share of the meat given by the stone cutter and kept half for herself. Unfortunately, the next day, the mouse was caught by another cat. Again, to save herself, the mouse also offered to provide meat to the other cat every day. She now had to divide the meat given by the stone cutter into three portions, two portions for the two cats and one for herself.
As fate would have it, the poor mouse was caught by a third and fourth cat. Offering meat to each cat in turn to save herself from being eaten, the mouse had very little left for herself and was soon reduced to just skin and bones. Seeing his emaciated friend, the stone cutter asked the reason. Upon hearing her story, the future Buddha devised a plan to help her out of her predicament.
The stone cutter carved a cavity in a block of purest crystal. He made the mouse get inside and told her to fiercely threaten and revile all who came near. Shortly, up came one of the cats demanding its share of the meat. Provoked by the mouse, the cat sprang at her, not knowing she was inside a crystal. The cat smashed into the crystal and broke the walls of its chest, dying instantly. The same fate in turn befell the three other cats.
Thereafter, the grateful mouse brought the future Buddha double the amount of coins. By degrees, she gave him the whole of the hoard. In unbroken friendship, the two lived together till the end of their lives.
The mouse was later reborn as Kānā’s mother, who became a stream-enterer, in the Buddha’s lifetime. The four monks who received the cakes from Kānā’s mother were the four cats. Kānā herself also became a stream-enterer after listening to the Buddha’s discourse. When the king heard that Kānā was enlightened, he adopted Kānā as his oldest daughter and issued a proclamation for a noble to marry her. A great noble married her and endowed her with his lordly power and wealth. Henceforth, Kānā ministered to all monks and nuns who came to her house and sought for more sangha members to serve until there were no more to be found.
In this Jātaka tale, Kānā had concluded that she would return to her husband. However, this conclusion was non-conclusive as it was dependent on future conditionalities. Since she did not fulfil her husband’s demand, by virtue of necessity, the backlash was inevitable. In accordance with invariability of change, the husband left her for another woman. Ironically, this was also one of the conditions which led Kānā to eventually triumph over her misfortune to become the eldest daughter of the king and the wife of a great noble and most importantly, to deeply comprehend conditionality.
In this tale, going beyond morality and non-morality and without discursive second thoughts, the future Buddha had conditionally used deceptive means to counter the threats and the desire of the cats.
An example of non-conclusive conclusion, it cannot be concluded conclusively that the then seemingly untoward encounter between the mouse and four cats and the future Buddha’s involvement in the past were inauspicious as these conditions eventually resulted in Kānā’s mother becoming a stream-enterer, the four cats ordaining as Bhikkhus and Kānā’s good fortune and awakening in the Buddha’s final birth.
“Abandoning own views, not grasping (at more)
And even in knowledge not seeking support,
Monk those who dispute he never takes sides,
To the various views he does not recourse
Having no bias for either extreme –
Not craving becoming nor non-becoming
Either here in this life or in the next world
For him there is not an attachment to views
While examining Dhamma held true
Concerning the seen, the heard and cognized
Not the least notion is fashioned by him
That Brahmin (perfected) grasps at no view,
By whom in the world then, could he be described?
They fashion no views nor pursue them at all
Doctrines are never accepted by them
The Brahmin (perfected) not guided by rites
Beyond has he gone, not leaning on views.”
Here, the Buddha praised a sage who holds no view but examines the truth with non-conclusive conclusion, the highest quality of mind that abandons all views with non-grasping. Without bias for either extremes, he continues to examine all Dhamma. Understanding invariably of change and at ease with all the changes, such a person could be a Brahmin, a perfected being. Finally, without grasping to rites and rituals and living within the principles of Dependent Origination, he is victorious over conditionalites.
The conundrum which Kānā found herself in
was sacrificially challenging.
She had to struggle between her faith in her mother
and the threat of her husband leaving her.
When she lost her husband, she “collapsed”.
She could not tolerate the mother’s loyalty to the Triple Gem
eclipsing family allegiances.
Her faith had brought her thus far
but it had to finally blossom in her own realisation
of conditionality over illusory family relationships.
The past life event of her mother and the monks
as the mouse feeding the cats,
which had led to her present life’s apparent misfortune
enabled her to see the transient nature of family ties for
which she had harboured anger in losing.
Finally, she transcended the binds of family relationships through seeing the crystal clear nature
of all those unrelated and chaotic elements of life,
realising the unconditioned Nibbāna.
The perfect picture of gain, loss, happiness and anger
never departed from the “crystal” display.
All is nothing except to transcend conditionality
by having an unshakeable mind towards all phenomena.
This is to preside at perfect equipoise as Sotāpanna,
the first stage of sainthood.
 This paragraph is from the Dhammapada Commentary of verse 82
 Sutta Nipata 4.5 Paramatthaka Sutta, Pāli Text Society verses 796-803 Translated by Bhikkhu Khantipalo