The Holy Man Who Tried To Be Too Holy – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Extremism]
[Lomaha sa-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was at Pā ikārāma,
near Vesāli, with regard to Sunakkhatta.
Sunakkhatta, having left the Buddha’s order [Sa gha],
became an adherent of Korakkhattiya and went about Vesāli
vilifying the Buddha and declaring that his doctrines did not
lead to the destruction of suffering. When Sāriputta reported
this to the Buddha, the Buddha responded that he had tested
the efficacy of severe asceticism 90 aeons [Kappa-s] ago, and
had found it wanting. And at Sāriputta’s request, the Buddha
told this story of the past:
Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being lived in a
world where most religions were very similar. They taught
that the way to remove suffering from the mind was to make
the body suffer instead. As strange as it seems, most people
thought that the holiest of the holy were the ones who
tortured their bodies the most! Since everyone seemed to
agree with this, the Bodhisatta decided to find out for himself
if it was true.
He stopped living as an ordinary everyday person and
became a holy man according to the custom of the times.
This meant that he gave up everything, even his clothes. He
went naked, with his body covered only by dust and dirt.
So he wouldn’t be spoiled by the taste of good food, he
forced himself to eat only filthy things – dirt, ashes, urine and
cow dung.
So he could concentrate without being interrupted by
anyone, he went to live in the most dangerous part of the
forest. If he did see a human being, he ran away like a timid
deer.
In the wintertime he spent his days under the trees and
his nights out in the open. So in the daytime he was soaked
by the cold water dripping from the icicles hanging from the
tree branches. And at night he was covered by the falling
snow. In this way, in winter, he made his body suffer the
most extreme cold in both day and night.
In the summertime he spent his days out in the open
and his nights under the trees. So in the daytime he was
burned by the most severe rays of the sun. And at night he
was blocked from the few cooling breezes of the open air. In
this way, in summer, he made his body suffer the most
extreme heat in both day and night.
This was how he struggled, trying to bring peace to his
mind. He was so determined that he lived his entire life in
this way.
Then, just as he was about to die, he saw a vision of
himself reborn in a hell world. The vision struck him like
lightning, and instantly he knew that all the ways he had
tortured his body were completely useless! They had not
brought him peace of mind. Lo and behold, as he gave up his
false beliefs and held on to the truth [Sacca ], he died and
was reborn in a heaven world!
The Buddha said:
“I was the naked ascetic at that time.”
The moral: “Even at the very last moment, ‘The truth shall
make you free.’”