Achieving Nothing – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[No Thing]
[Parosahassa-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was living in
Jetavana monastery with regard to Sāriputta’s wisdom.
On a certain occasion, the monks gathered in the
preaching hall were discussing how Sāriputta had expounded
the meaning of a pithy saying of the Buddha. On entering the
hall and being told by the monks what it was they were
talking about, the Buddha said, “This is not the first time, oh
monks, that the meaning of a pithy saying of mine has been
brought out by Sāriputta. He did the same in the past.” And
saying this, the Buddha told the story:
Once upon a time the Bodhisatta – the Enlightenment
Being – was born into a high-class family in northern India.
When he grew up he gave up the ordinary desires of the
everyday world and became a holy man. He went to the
Himalayan Mountains where 500 other holy men became his
followers.
He meditated throughout his long life. He gained
supernatural powers – like flying through the air and
understanding people’s thoughts without their speaking.
³³ Compare also Candābha-Jātaka [No. 135].
These special powers impressed his 500 followers greatly.
One rainy season, the chief follower took 250 of the
holy men into the hill country villages to collect salt and
other necessities. It just so happened that this was the time
when the master was about to die. The 250 who were still by
his side realized this. So they asked him, “Oh most holy one,
in your long life practicing goodness and meditation, what
was your greatest achievement?”
Having difficulty speaking as he was dying, the last
words of the Enlightenment Being were, “No Thing
[Akiñcana ].” Then he was reborn in a heaven world.
Expecting to hear about some fantastic magical power,
the 250 followers were disappointed. They said to each other,
“After a long life practicing goodness and meditation, our
poor master has achieved ‘nothing’.” Since they considered
him a failure, they burned his body with no special
ceremony, honors, or even respect.
When the chief follower returned he asked, “Where is
the holy one?” “He has died,” they told him. “Did you ask
him about his greatest achievement?” “Of course we did,”
they answered. “And what did he say?” asked the chief
follower. “He said he achieved ‘nothing’,” they replied, “so
we didn’t celebrate his funeral with any special honors.”
Then the chief follower said, “You brothers did not
understand the meaning of the teacher’s words. He achieved
the great knowledge of ‘No Thing’. He realized that the
names of things are not what they are. There is what there is,
without being called ‘this thing’ or ‘that thing’. There is no
‘Thing’.” In this way the chief follower explained the
wonderful achievement of their great master³⁴, but they still
did not understand.
Meanwhile, from his heaven world, the reborn
Enlightenment Being saw that his former chief follower’s
words were not accepted. So he left the heaven world and
appeared floating in the air above his former followers’
monastery. In praise of the chief follower’s wisdom he said,
“The one who hears the Truth [Sacca ] and
understands automatically, is far better off than a
thousand fools who spend a hundred years thinking and
thinking and thinking.³⁵”
By preaching in this way, the Great Being encouraged
the 500 holy men to continue seeking Truth [Sacca ]. After
lives spent in serious meditation, all 500 died and were
reborn in the same heaven world with their former master.
The Buddha said:
“Sāriputta was the chief follower in the past. And I,
myself, was the Great Being.”
The moral: “When the wise speak, listen!”
³⁴ Such is frequently described as an attribute of an Arahant, or
one without
defilements. It is taken to mean that he is above such impurities of
character as
passion for a thing [rāga], anger on account of this or that thing
[dosa] and
delusion as to the nature of things [moha].
³⁵ The import of the Pāli title of this story, Parosahassa-Jātaka
[The Story of
More than a Thousand] is given in this verse. The import is ‘…
more than a
thousand fools.’ So also, Jātaka 101, Parosata-Jātaka [The Story of More than a
Hundred], refers to the period of time that the fools spend thinking.