The Curse of Mittavinda – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Mittavinda-Jātaka (Mittavindaka-Jātaka)]
The Buddha told this story while he was living in
Jetavana monastery with regard to a disobedient monk. The
incidents of this story’s telling are the same as those for the
first Jātaka of the ninth book, the Gijjha-Jātaka [No. 427].
[A certain young monk, immediately after his
ordination, became careless in his duties, his fulfillment of
good qualities, and did not pay attention to elder monks’
admonitions. He said to them, “Don’t tell me how to behave.
I know what to do and what not to do.”
One day, the monks in the preaching hall, having heard
of his disobedience, were discussing his behavior. The
Buddha heard of it from the monks. On hearing of it, the
Buddha summoned that monk, and the Buddha warned him,
“Oh monk, in your previous life also you did not listen to
elders’ advice and because of that you were blown to your
death by veramba winds.²⁵]
Here, the Buddha admonished this monk, “Long ago
you, too, were disobedient. And because of that a cutting
wheel of blades was given to you.” And the Buddha told this
story of the past:
²⁵ Veramba winds are strong high winds that blow from four
directions at the
same time.
[Chapter 1. Jealousy]
Once upon a time, there was a monk who lived in a tiny
monastery in a little village. He was very fortunate that the
village rich man supported him in the monastery. He never
had to worry about the cares of the world. His alms food was
always provided automatically by the rich man.
So the monk was calm and peaceful in his mind. There
was no fear of losing his comfort and his daily food. There
was no desire for greater comforts and pleasures of the world.
Instead, he was free to practice the correct conduct of a
monk, always trying to eliminate his faults and do only
wholesome deeds. But he didn’t know just how lucky he
was!
One day an elder monk arrived in the little village. He
had followed the path of Truth [Dhamma] until he had
become perfect and faultless.
When the village rich man saw this unknown monk, he
was very pleased by his gentle manner and his calm attitude.
So he invited him into his home. He gave him food to eat,
and he thought himself very fortunate to hear a short teaching
from him. He then invited him to take shelter at the village
monastery. He said, “I will visit you there this evening, to
make sure all is well.”
When the perfect monk arrived at the monastery, he
met the village monk. They greeted each other pleasantly.
Then the village monk asked, “Have you had your lunch
today?” The other replied, “Yes, I was given lunch by the
supporter of this monastery. He also invited me to take
shelter here.”
The village monk took him to a room and left him
there. The perfect monk passed his time in meditation.
Later that evening, the village rich man came. He
brought fruit drinks, flowers and lamp oil, in honor of the
visiting holy man. He asked the village monk, “Where is our
guest?” He told him what room he had given him.
The man went to the room, bowed respectfully, and
greeted the perfect monk. Again he appreciated hearing the
way of Truth as taught by the rare faultless one.
Afterwards, as evening approached, he lit the lamps and
offered the flowers at the monastery’s lovely temple shrine.
He invited both monks to lunch at his home the next day.
Then he left and returned home.
In the evening, a terrible thing happened. The village
monk, who had been so contented, allowed the poison of
jealousy to creep into his mind. He thought, “The village rich
man has made it easy for me here. He provides shelter each
night and fills my belly once a day.
“But I’m afraid this will change because he respects
this new monk so highly. If he remains in this monastery, my
supporter may stop caring for me. Therefore, I must make
sure the new monk does not stay.”
Thinking in this way, he lost his former mental calm.
His mind became disturbed due to his jealousy – the fear of
losing his comfort and his daily food. This led to the added
mental pain of resentment against the perfect monk. He
began plotting and scheming to get rid of him.
Late that night, as was the custom, the monks met
together to end the day. The perfect monk spoke in his usual
friendly way, but the village monk would not speak to him at
all.
So the wise monk understood that he was jealous and
resentful. He thought, “This monk does not understand my
freedom from attachment to families, people and comforts. I
am free of any desire to remain here. I am also free of any
desire to leave here. It makes no difference. It is sad this
other one cannot understand nonattachment. I pity him for
the price he must pay for his ignorance.”
He returned to his room, closed the door, and meditated
in a high mental state throughout the night.
The next day, when it was time to go collect alms food
from the supporter of the monastery, the village monk rang
the temple gong. But he rang it by tapping it lightly with his
fingernail. Even the birds in the temple courtyard could not
hear the tiny sound.
Then he went to the visiting monk’s room and knocked
on the door. But again he only tapped lightly with his
fingernail. Even the little mice inside the walls could not hear
the silent tapping.
Having done his courteous duty in such a tricky way, he
went to the rich man’s home. The man bowed respectfully to
the monk, took his alms bowl, and asked, “Where is the new
monk, our visitor?”
The village monk replied, “I have not seen him. I rang
the gong, I knocked at his door, but he did not appear.
Perhaps he was not used to such rich food as you gave him
yesterday. Perhaps he is still asleep, busily digesting it,
dreaming of his next feast! Perhaps this is the kind of monk
who pleases you so much!”
Meanwhile, back at the monastery, the perfect monk
awoke. He cleaned himself and put on his robe. Then he
calmly departed to collect alms food wherever he happened
to find it.
The rich man fed the village monk the richest of food. It
was delicious and sweet, made from rice, milk, butter, sugar
and honey. When the monk had eaten his fill, the man took
his bowl, scrubbed it clean, and sweetened it with perfumed
water. He filled it up again with the same wonderful food. He
gave it back to the monk, saying, “Honorable monk, our holy
visitor must be worn out from traveling. Please take my
humble alms food to him.” Saying nothing, he accepted the
generous gift for the other.
By now the village monk’s mind was trapped by its
own jealous scheming. He thought, “If that other monk eats
this fantastic meal, even if I grabbed him by the throat and
kicked him out, he still would never leave! I must secretly get
rid of this alms food. But if I give it to a stranger, it will
become known and talked about. If I throw it away in a pond,
the butter will float on the surface and be discovered. If I
throw it away on the ground, crows will come from miles
around to feast on it, and that too would be noticed. So how
can I get rid of it?”
Then he saw a field that had just been burned by
farmers to enrich the soil. It was covered with hot glowing
coals. So he threw the rich man’s generous gift on the coals.
The alms food burned up without a trace. And with it went
his peace of mind!
For, when he got back to the monastery, he found the
visitor gone. He thought, “This must have been a perfectly
wise monk. He must have known I was jealous – afraid of
losing my favored position. He must have known I resented
him and tried to trick him into leaving. I wasted alms food
meant for him. And all for the sake of keeping my own belly
full! I’m afraid something terrible will happen to me! What
have I done?” So, afraid of losing his easy daily food, he had
thrown away his peace of mind.
For the rest of his life the rich man continued to support
him. But his mind was filled with torment and suffering. He
felt doomed like a walking starving zombie, or a living
hungry ghost.
When he died, his torment continued. For he was
reborn in a hell world, where he suffered for hundreds of
thousands of years.
Finally, there too he died, as all beings must. But the
results of his past actions were only partly completed. So he
was reborn as a demon, 500 times! In those 500 lives, there
was only one day when he got enough to eat, and that was a
meal of afterbirth dropped by a deer in the forest!
Then he was reborn as a starving stray dog – another
500 times! For the sake of a full monk’s belly in a past life,
all these 500 lives were also filled with hunger, and
quarreling over food. Only a single time did he get enough to
eat, and that was a meal of vomit he found in a gutter!
Finally most of the results of his actions were finished.
Only then was he so very fortunate enough to be reborn as a
human being. He was born into the poorest of the poor
beggar families of the city of Kāsi, in northern India. He was
given the name, Mittavinda.
From the moment of his birth, this poor family became
even more poor and miserable. After a few years, the pain of
hunger became so great, that his parents beat him and chased
Mittavinda away for good. They shouted, “Be gone forever!
You are nothing but a curse!”
––––––––––
Poor Mittavinda! So very long ago he had not known
how lucky he was. He was contented as a humble village
monk. But he allowed the poison of jealousy to enter his
mind – the fear of losing his easy daily food. This led to the
self-torture of resentment against a perfect monk, and to
trickery in denying him one wholesome gift of alms food.
And it took a thousand and one lives for the loss of his
comfort and daily food to be completed. What he had feared,
his own actions had brought to pass!
[Chapter 2. Greed]
Little did poor Mittavinda know that his lives of
constant hunger were about to come to an end. After
wandering about, he eventually ended up in Benares.
At that time the Enlightenment Being was living the life
of a world-famous teacher in Benares. He had 500 students.
As an act of charity, the people of the city supported these
poor students with food. They also paid the teacher’s fees for
teaching them.
Mittavinda was permitted to join them. He began
studying under the great teacher. And at last, he began eating
regularly.
But he paid no attention to the teachings of the wise
master. He was disobedient and violent. During 500 lives as a
hungry dog, quarreling had become a habit. So he constantly
got into fist fights with the other students.
It became so bad that many of the students quit. The
income of the world-famous teacher dwindled down to
almost nothing. Because of all his fighting, Mittavinda was
finally forced to run away from Benares.
He found his way to a small remote village. He lived
there as a hard working laborer, married a very poor woman,
and had two children.
It became known that he had studied under the world-
famous teacher of Benares. So the poor villagers selected him
to give advice when questions arose. They provided a place
for him to live near the entrance to the village. And they
began following his advice.
But things did not go well. The village was fined seven
times by the king. Seven times their houses were burned.
And seven times the town pond dried up.
They realized that all their troubles began when they
started taking Mittavinda’s advice. So they chased him and
his family out of the village. They shouted, “Be gone forever!
You are nothing but a curse!”
While they were fleeing, they went through a haunted
forest. Demons came out of the shadows and killed and ate
his wife and children. But Mittavinda escaped.
He made his way to a seaport city [Gambhīra]. He was
lonely, miserable and penniless. It just so happened that there
was a kind generous rich merchant living in the city. He
heard the story of Mittavinda’s misfortunes. Since they had
no children of their own, he and his wife adopted Mittavinda.
For better or worse they treated him exactly as their own son.
His new mother and father were very religious. They
always tried to do wholesome things. But Mittavinda still had
not learned his lesson. He did not accept any religion, so he
often did unwholesome things.
Some time after his father’s death, his mother decided
to try and help him enter the religious life. She said, “There is
this world and there is the one to come. If you do bad things,
you will suffer painful results in both worlds.”
But foolish Mittavinda replied, “I will do whatever I
enjoy doing and become happier and happier. There is no
point considering whether what I do is wholesome or
unwholesome. I don’t care about such things!”
On the next full moon holy day, Mittavinda’s mother
advised him to go to the temple and listen all night long to
the wise words of the monks. He said, “I wouldn’t waste my
time!” So she said, “When you return I will give you a
thousand gold coins.”
Mittavinda thought that with enough money he could
enjoy himself constantly and be happy all the time. So he
went to the temple. But he sat in a corner, paid no attention,
and fell asleep for the night. Early the next morning he went
home to collect his reward.
Meanwhile his mother thought he would appreciate
wise teachings. Then he would bring the oldest monk home
with him. So she prepared delicious food for the expected
guest. When she saw him returning alone, she said, “Oh my
son, why didn’t you ask the senior monk to come home with
you for breakfast?”
He said, “I did not go to the temple to listen to a monk
or to bring him home with me. I went only to get your
thousand gold coins!” His disappointed mother said, “Never
mind the money. Since there is so much delicious food
prepared – only eat and sleep!” He replied, “Until you give
me the money I refuse to eat!” So she gave him the thousand
gold coins. Only then did he gobble up the food until all he
could do was fall asleep.
Mittavinda did not think a thousand gold coins were
enough for him to constantly enjoy himself. So he used the
money to start a business, and before long he became very
rich. One day he came home and said, “Mother, I now have
120,000 gold coins. But I am not yet satisfied. Therefore I
will go abroad on the next ship and make even more money!”
She replied, “Oh my son, why do you want to go
abroad? The ocean is dangerous and it is very risky doing
business in a strange land. I have 80,000 gold coins right here
in the house. That is enough for you. Please don’t go, my
only son!”
Then she held him to keep him from leaving. But
Mittavinda was crazy with greed. So he pushed his mother’s
hand away and slapped her face. She fell to the floor. She
was so hurt and shocked that she yelled at him, “Be gone
forever! You are nothing but a curse!”
Without looking back, Mittavinda rushed to the harbor
and set sail on the first departing ship.
[Chapter 3. Pleasure]
After seven days on the Indian Ocean, all the winds and
currents stopped completely. The ship was stuck! After being
dead in the water for seven days, all on board were terrified
they would die.
So they drew straws to find out who was the cause of
their bad luck and frightening misfortune. Seven times the
short straw was drawn by Mittavinda!
They forced him onto a tiny bamboo raft, and set him
adrift on the open seas. They shouted, “Be gone forever! You
are nothing but a curse!” And suddenly a strong wind sent the
ship on its way.
But once again Mittavinda’s life was spared. This was a
result of his wholesome actions as a monk, so many births
ago. No matter how long it takes, actions cause results.
Sometimes an action causes more than one result, some
pleasant and some unpleasant. It is said there are Asura-s
who live through such mixed results in an unusual way.
Asura-s are unfortunate ugly gods. Some of them are
lucky enough to change their form into beautiful young
dancing girl goddesses. These are called Apsaras-es.
They enjoy the greatest pleasures for seven days. But
then they must go to a hell world and suffer torments as
hungry ghosts for seven days. Again they become Apsaras
goddesses – back and forth, back and forth – until both kinds
of results are finished.
While floating on the tiny bamboo raft, it just so
happened that Mittavinda came to a lovely Glass Palace.
There he met four very pretty Apsaras-es. They enjoyed their
time together, filled with heavenly pleasures, for seven days.
Then, when it was time for the goddesses to become
hungry ghosts, they said to Mittavinda, “Wait for us just
seven short days, and we will return and continue our
pleasure.”
The Glass Palace and the four Apsaras-es disappeared.
But still Mittavinda had not regained the peace of mind
thrown away by the village monk, so very long ago. Seven
days of pleasure had not satisfied him. He could not wait for
the lovely goddesses to return. He wanted more and more. So
he continued on, in the little bamboo raft.
Lo and behold, he came to a shining Silver Palace, with
eight Apsaras goddesses living there. Again he enjoyed seven
days of the greatest pleasure. These Apsaras-es also asked
him to wait the next seven days, and disappeared into a hell
world.
Amazing as it may seem, the greedy Mittavinda went
on to seven days of pleasure in a sparkling Jewel Palace with
16 Apsaras-es. But they too disappeared. Then he spent seven
days in a glowing Golden Palace with 32 of the most
beautiful Apsaras-es of all.
But still he was not satisfied! When all 32 asked him to
wait seven days, again he departed on the raft.
Before long he came to the entrance of a hell world
filled with suffering tortured beings. They were living
through the results of their own actions. But his desire for
more pleasure was so strong that Mittavinda thought he saw a
beautiful city surrounded by a wall with four fabulous gates.
He thought, “I will go inside and make myself king!”
After he entered, he saw one of the victims of this hell
world. He had a collar around his neck that spun like a wheel,
with five sharp blades cutting into his face, head, chest and
back. But Mittavinda was still so greedy for pleasure that he
could not see the pain right before his eyes. Instead he saw
the spinning collar of cutting blades as if it were a lovely
lotus blossom. He saw the dripping blood as if it were the red
powder of perfumed sandalwood. And the screams of pain
from the poor victim sounded like the sweetest of songs!
He said to the poor man, “You’ve had that lovely lotus
crown long enough! Give it to me, for I deserve to wear it
now.” The condemned man warned him, “This is a cutting
collar, a wheel of blades.” But Mittavinda said, “You only
say that because you don’t want to give it up.”
The victim thought, “At last the results of my past
unwholesome deeds must be completed. Like me, this poor
fool must be here for striking his mother. I will give him the
wheel of pain.” So he said, “Since you want it so badly, take
the lotus crown!”
With these words the wheel of blades spun off the
former victim’s neck and began spinning around the head of
Mittavinda. And suddenly all his illusions disappeared – he
knew this was no beautiful city, but a terrible hell world; he
knew this was no lotus crown, but a cutting wheel of blades;
and he knew he was not king, but prisoner. Groaning in pain
he cried out desperately, “Take back your wheel! Take back
your wheel!” But the other one had disappeared.
Just then the king of the gods arrived for a teaching
visit to the hell world. Mittavinda asked him, “Oh king of
gods, what have I done to deserve this torment?” The god
replied, “Refusing to listen to the words of monks, you
obtained no wisdom, but only money. A thousand gold coins
did not satisfy you, nor even 120,000. Blinded by greed, you
struck your mother on your way to grabbing greater wealth
still.
“Then the pleasure of four Apsaras-es in their Glass
Palace did not satisfy you. Neither eight Apsaras-es in a
Silver Palace, nor 16 in a Jewel Palace. Not even the pleasure
of 32 lovely goddesses in a Golden Palace was enough for
you! Blinded by greed for pleasure you wished to be king.
Now, at last, you see your crown is only a wheel of torture,
and your kingdom is a hell world.
“Learn this, Mittavinda – all who follow their greed
wherever it leads are left unsatisfied. For it is in the nature of
greed to be dissatisfied with what one has, whether a little or
a lot. The more obtained, the more desired – until the circle
of greed becomes the circle of pain.”
Having said this, the god returned to his heaven world
home. At the same time the wheel crashed down on
Mittavinda. With his head spinning in pain, he found himself
adrift on the tiny bamboo raft.
Soon he came to an island inhabited by a powerful she-
devil. She happened to be disguised as a goat. Being hungry,
Mittavinda thought nothing of grabbing the goat by a hind
leg. And the she-devil hiding inside kicked him way up into
the air. He finally landed in a thorn bush on the outskirts of
Benares!
After he untangled himself from the thorns, he saw
some goats grazing nearby. He wanted very badly to return to
the palaces and the dancing girl Apsaras-es. Remembering
that a goat had kicked him here, he grabbed the leg of one of
these goats. He hoped it would kick him back to the island.
Instead, this goat only cried out. The shepherds came,
and captured Mittavinda for trying to steal one of the king’s
goats.
As he was being taken as a prisoner to the king, they
passed by the world-famous teacher of Benares. Immediately
he recognized his student. He asked the shepherds, “Where
are you taking this man?”
They said, “He is a goat thief! We are taking him to the
king for punishment!” The teacher said, “Please don’t do so.
He is one of my students. Release him to me, so he can be a
servant in my school.” They agreed and left him there.
The teacher asked Mittavinda, “What has happened to
you since you left me?”
He told the story of being first respected, and then
cursed, by the people of the remote village. He told of getting
married and having two children, only to see them killed and
eaten by demons in the haunted forest. He told of slapping
his generous mother when he was crazy with the greed for
money. He told of being cursed by his shipmates and being
cast adrift on a bamboo raft. He told of the four palaces with
their beautiful goddesses, and how each time his pleasure
ended he was left unsatisfied. He told of the cutting wheel of
torture, the reward for the greedy in hell. And he told of his
hunger for goat meat, that only got him kicked back to
Benares without even a bite to eat!
The world-famous teacher said, “It is clear that your
past actions have caused both unpleasant and pleasant results,
and that both are eventually completed. But you cannot
understand that pleasures always come to an end. Instead,
you let them feed your greed for more and more. You are left
exhausted and unsatisfied, madly grasping at goat legs! Calm
down, my friend. And know that trying to hold water in a
tight fist, will always leave you thirsty!”
Hearing this, Mittavinda bowed respectfully to the great
teacher. He begged to be allowed to follow him as a student.
The Enlightenment Being welcomed him with open arms.
* * *
At the end of this Jātaka story, the Buddha identified
the births in this way:
“Mittavinda then, was this disobedient monk. And I
who have become the Buddha was the teacher who gave him
advice.”
The moral: “In peace of mind, there is neither loss nor gain.”