GHATA-JĀTAKA (NO. 454)
BONDED TIGHTLY BY HISTORY, UNRAVELS HALLUCINATIONS
The Buddha told this story to a layman about his son’s death while residing in Jetavana Monastery.
A long time ago, a king named Mahākamsa reigned in Uttarāpatha. He had two sons named Kamsa and Upakamsa, and one daughter named Devagabbhā. On her birthday, the brahmins predicted her future: “A son born of this girl will one day destroy the country and the lineage of Kamsa (the crown prince).” But the king loved the girl dearly and could not bear to put her to death. Leaving her two brothers to settle it, the king lived his days out and then died.
Now, Devagabbhā had a female servant named Nandagopā. The woman’s husband, Andhakavenhu, was also her servant. Upasāgara, a viceroy of neighbouring country fell in love with Devagabbhā and she returned his love. One night, Nandagopā arranged a tryst and brought Upasāgara up into the tower. He stayed there with Devagabbhā. By their constant intercourse, Devagabbhā conceived. Soon it became known that she was pregnant and the brothers questioned Nandagopā.
When they heard the story, they thought, “We cannot put our sister to death. If she bears a daughter, we will spare the baby; if a son, we will kill him.” They gave Devagabbhā to Upasāgara as wife. When the time came, she gave birth to a daughter. On receiving this news, the brothers were delighted and gave her the name of the Lady Añjanā. Devagabbhā conceived again and that very day Nandagopā became pregnant also. When they were due for delivery, they gave birth on the same day; Devagabbhā, a son and Nandagopā, a daughter. Devagabbhā, fearing that her son might be put to death, sent him secretly to Nandagopā and received Nandagopā’s daughter in return. In the same manner, Devagabbhā bore ten sons and Nandagopā ten daughters. The eldest son was named Vāsudeva and the future Buddha was born as the ninth son named Ghata-pandita. The sons lived with Nandagopā whereas the daughters with Devagabbhā and not a soul knew the secret.
In the course of time, the sons grew big and were very strong, fierce and ferocious. Known as the Ten Slave Brethren, they went about plundering. They even went so far as to steal a present being conveyed to their uncle, the king. The king set up a match with two wrestlers to kill them but the ten brothers overcame the wrestlers and after the match, killed both their uncles, the king and viceroy. Thus, the Ten Brethren, assumed the sovereignty of the city of Asitañjanā. Next, they set out intending to conquer all of India and eventually succeeded in achieving their goal. They slayed all the kings in sixty three thousand cities and ruled from Dvāravatī.
The brothers had many sons and daughters. Then, one very beloved son of the great King Vāsudeva died. The king, half dead with grief, neglected everything and lay lamenting. The ninth brother, Ghata-pandita, who is the future Buddha thought to himself, “No one else except me is able to ease my brother’s grief. I will find some means to soothe him.” So pretending to be mad, he paced through the whole city, gazing up at the sky and crying out, “Give me a hare! Give me a hare!” All the city was excited: “Ghata-pandita has gone mad!” they exclaimed. Hearing the news of Ghata-pandita’s insanity from a courtier named Rohineyya, the king arose and quickly descended from his chamber and proceeding to Ghata-pandita, he uttered the following stanza:
“In maniac fashion, why do you pace all through Dvāraka and cry, “Hare, hare!” Say, who has taken a hare from you?”
To the utterances of the king, Ghata-pandita only answered by repeating the same cry over and over again. Then the king recited two more stanzas:
“Be it of gold, or made of jewels fine,
Or brass, or silver, as you may incline,
shell, stone, or coral, I declare I’ll make a hare.”
“And many other hares there be,
that range the woodland wide,
they shall be brought, I’ll have them caught;
say, which do you decide?”
On hearing the king’s words, the future Buddha replied by repeating this stanza:
“I crave no hare of earthly kind, but that within the moon
O bring him down, O Kesava! I ask no other boon!”
“Undoubtedly my brother has gone mad,” thought the king, when he heard this. In great grief, he uttered this stanza:
“In sooth, my brother, you will die,
if you make such a prayer,
And ask for what no man may pray,
the moon’s celestial hare.”
Ghata-pandita, on hearing the king’s answer, stood still and said, “My brother, you know that if a man prays for the hare in the moon and cannot get it, he will die; then why do you mourn for your dead son? If, brother, this you know and can console another’s woe, why are you still mourning the son who died so long ago?” Then he went on —”And I, brother, pray only for what exists but you are mourning for what does not exist.” Then he instructed him by speaking two more stanzas:
“’My son is born, let him not die!’
No man nor deity can have that boon;
then wherefore pray for what can never be?”
“No mystic charm, nor magic roots,
nor herbs, nor money spent,
can bring to life again that ghost whom you lament.”
The king, on hearing this, answered, “Your intent was good, dear one. You did it to take away my trouble.” Then, in praise of Ghata-pandita, he uttered the following stanzas:
“Men had I, wise and excellent to give me good advice:
But how has Ghata-pandita opened this day my eyes!”
“Blazing was I, as when a man pours oil upon a fire;
You brought water and quenched the pain of my desire.”
“Grief for my son, a cruel shaft was lodged within my heart;
You have consoled me for my grief and taken out the dart.”
“That dart extracted, free from pain,
tranquil and calm I keep;
Hearing, your words of truth,
no more I grieve nor weep.”
“Thus do the merciful and thus they who are wise indeed:
They, free from pain, as Ghata here his eldest brother freed.”
At that time, Ānanda was Rohineyya, Sāriputta was Vāsudeva, the followers of the Buddha were the other persons and the Buddha was Ghata-pandita.
At the end of the discourse, that layman attained the first stage of sainthood.
Although it was seemingly easy to change the non-conclusive conclusion that the sons of Devagabbhā would destroy the lineage of Kamsa, conditionally, it turned out to be otherwise. The love of the king for his daughter and subsequently, the love of the brothers for their sister coupled with the servant’s interventions and the series of uncanny events that followed, conditionally, made the prophecy come true.
The very act of reading the prophecy to safeguard the Kamsa Kingdom was the very necessary catalyst to ripen the enemies’ kamma to hasten the demise of the kingdom. The ten brethren conditionally became so united and powerful due to the traumatic realisation of the hardship borne by so many involved in protecting their lives. This is the enormous inconclusive interventive hand of kamma that is beyond the grasp of human comprehension.
Having used his powerful self to conquer thousands of kingdoms, resulted in the necessary backlash that King Vasudeva was not able to conquer himself. When his son died, King Vasudeva was trapped in his own memory of his son. Conditionally, the future Buddha had used all his knowledge and love for the king to help rescue him from his hallucination so that the king could finally conquer himself. The future Buddha saved the king by the act of lunacy. This ability of the future Buddha to shake the king out of his delusional grasping to his deceased son was conditionally acquired only by having gone through many perilous battles together with the king and his other brothers.
In Ghata Jātaka, the future Buddha
fought courageously side by side with his nine brothers,
bound deeply beyond ordinary kinship.
This necessarily laid the conditions of a deeply bonded brotherhood that ultimately elevated him
to have the prerogative to jolt the grieving king
out of his insanity and opened the king’s eyes
to see his grief as an unreasonable predicament
akin to craving for the hare in the moon.
Then, he conveyed the simple truth:
‘No mystic charm, nor magic, nor magic roots,
nor herbs, nor money spent
can bring to life again Kanha, the son of King Vasudeva’.
Even if Kanha could be miraculously resurrected,
this is incomparable to the miracle of realising the highest wisdom conveyed by the future Buddha –
“no real birth, therefore, we never die”.
Seeing the miracle of conditionality
is seeing the greatest miracle of all,
to realise life and death as one inseparable reality,
both, equally created, equally freed,
ascertaining one to the realisation of Nibbāna!
The Buddha in relating this past life incident
had led a layperson to attain the fruition of Sotāpanna.