Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Pupils Without a Teacher]
The Buddha told this story while he was living in
Ghosita temple near Kosambī with regard to the elder Sāgata.
After spending the rainy season at Sāvatthi, the Buddha
came near the town Bhaddavatikā. There, people warned
him about a poisonous and deadly serpent that dwelt in that
area. But the Buddha ignored their warning, and went on to
While the Buddha was dwelling at Bhaddavatikā the
elder Sāgata, a follower of the Buddha who had won
supernatural powers [iddhi-s], went to where this serpent
king dwelt and seating himself cross-legged on a prepared
seat of leaves, overpowered the serpent through his
miraculous powers and brought him into the Buddha’s
following. Sāgata thereupon went back to the Buddha, who
then dwelt in Bhaddavatikā for as long as he pleased. The
Buddha and his followers afterward went on to Kosambī.
The story of how Sāgata had converted the serpent king
got bandied about. And the townsfolk of Kosambī, when
they approached the Buddha, asked him and the elder Sāgata
how they could please them. The Buddha remained silent.
But the evil six Chabbaggiyā monks²², suggested that the
townsfolk should offer Sāgata alcoholic kāpotikā spirits.²³
The next day when Sāgata went for alms, he was plied
with intoxicating spirits. He got so drunk that on the way out
of town, he fell prostrate at the town’s gateway, babbling
nonsense. On his way back from his meal in the town, the
Buddha came on Sāgata lying in this condition, and asked the
accompanying monks to carry Sāgata back to the temple.
The monks then laid the elder down with his head toward the
Buddha’s feet. But he turned round, so that his feet lay
towards the Buddha.²⁴
The Buddha pointed out his condition to the monks,
using it as an example of the evil effects of liquor. And the
Buddha at this time set down a rule against the use of
When the monks were later assembled in the preaching
hall, they discussed the badness of drinking alcohol, pointing
to the otherwise wise and gifted Sāgata’s condition. When
the Buddha entered and found out what they had been
discussing before he came, he said, “Oh monks, this is not
²² The Chabbaggiyā monks are a group of six sinful monks contemporary with the
Buddha who are taken to exemplify trespassing the rules of monastic
[vinaya] set out by the Buddha. Their names are Assaji, Punabbasu,
Lohitaka, Mettiya, and Bhummajaka.
²³ Kāpotikā is to date an unidentified kind of alcoholic drink.
Derivation of the
term from kapota ‘pigeon’ is probably a folk etymology, and is
Cowell’s Jātaka translation understands it as ‘kāpotaka’ ‘pigeon-colored, gray,
a dull white’ and translates here ‘white spirit.’ The Pali Text
English Dictionary translates it as ‘a kind of intoxicating drink of a reddish
(like pigeon’s feet).’
²⁴ Such is taken as a sign of disrespect. One’s head ought to be near the feet
person of higher status.
the first time that those who have renounced the world have
lost their senses through drinking spirits. The very same
thing happened in the past, as well.” And the Buddha told
this Jātaka story of the past:
Once upon a time, there was a high-class rich man who
gave up his wealth and his easy life in the ordinary world. He
went to the Himalayan forests and lived as a homeless holy
man. By practicing meditation, he developed his mind and
gained the highest knowledge [abhiññā]. Dwelling in high
mental states [brahma-vihāra-s], he enjoyed great inner
happiness and peace of mind. Before long, he had 500 pupils.
In a certain year, when the rainy season was beginning,
the pupils said to their teacher, “Oh wise master, we would
like to go to the places where most people live. We would
like to get some salt and other seasonings and bring them
The teacher said, “You have my permission. It would
be healthy for you to do so, and return when the rainy season
is over. But I will stay here and meditate by myself.” They
knelt down and paid their farewell respects.
The 500 pupils went to Benares and began living in the
royal pleasure garden. The next day they collected alms in
the villages outside the city gates. They received generous
gifts of food. On the following day they went inside the city.
People gladly gave them food.
After a few days, people told the king [Brahmadatta],
“Oh lord king, 500 forest monks have come from the
Himalayas to live in your pleasure garden. They live in a
simple way, without luxuries. They control their senses and
are known to be very good indeed.”
Hearing such good reports, the king went to visit them.
He knelt down and paid his respects. He invited them to stay
in the garden during the whole four months of the rainy
season. They accepted, and from then on were given their
food in the king’s palace.
Before long a certain holiday took place. It was
celebrated by drinking alcohol, which the people thought
would bring good luck. The King of Benares thought, “Good
wine is not usually available to monks who live simply in the
forests. I will treat them to some as a special gift.” So he gave
the 500 forest monks a large quantity of the very best tasting
The monks were not at all accustomed to alcohol. They
drank the king’s wine and walked back to the garden. By the
time they got there, they were completely drunk. Some of
them began dancing, while others sang songs. Usually they
put away their bowls and other things neatly. But this time
they just left everything lying around, here and there. Soon
they all passed out into a drunken sleep.
When they had slept off their drunkenness, they awoke
and saw the messy condition they’d left everything in. They
became sad and said to each other, “We have done a bad
thing, which is not proper for holy men like us.” Their
embarrassment and shame made them weep with regret. They
said, “We have done these unwholesome things [akusala-
kamma-s] only because we are away from our holy teacher.”
At that very moment the 500 forest monks left the
pleasure garden and returned to the Himalayas. When they
arrived they put away their bowls and other belongings
neatly, as was their custom. Then they went to their beloved
master and greeted him respectfully.
He asked them, “How are you, my children? Did you
find enough food and lodgings in the city? Were you happy
They replied, “Venerable master, we were happy and
united. But we drank what we were not supposed to drink.
We lost all our common sense and self-control. We danced
and sang like silly monkeys. It’s fortunate we didn’t turn into
monkeys! We drank wine, we danced, we sang, and in the
end we cried from shame.”
The kind teacher said, “It is easy for things like this to
happen to pupils who have no teacher to guide them. Learn
from this, do not do such things in the future.”
From then on they lived happily and grew in goodness.
After telling this story, the Buddha identified the births
in this way:
“The 500 forest monks at that time are my disciples
today. And their teacher was I who am today the Buddha.”
The moral: “A pupil without a teacher is easily embarrassed.”
Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old