The Shovel Wise Man – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Renunciation]
[Kuddāla-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was dwelling in
Jetavanārāma with regard to the venerable Cittahattha
Sāriputta.
The venerable Cittahattha Sāriputta, when he was living
as a layman, used to till fields for people, for which he got
paid. One day, he happened to go to the monastery, and there
he was given very delicious food, much more tasty than the
food he was used to eating. This made him think to himself
that rather than exert great effort in tilling fields, he ought to
become a monk. And he entered the monkhood [Sa gha].
As he had difficulty in keeping his mind focused for
meditation, though, after several weeks he disrobed. But
then, his belly drew him back to the monkhood again. This
happened six times. Then, the seventh time he came back to
the order, through his chanting and meditation, he became an
Arahant [saint]. Other monks chided him, and asked when
he would be leaving them again. The Buddha told them,
though, that this would not happen. And saying this, the
Buddha told them a story of the past:
Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being was born
into a family of vegetable gardeners. After he grew up he
cleared a patch of land with his shovel. He grew herbs,
pumpkins, melons, cucumbers and other vegetables. These he
sold to earn a humble living.
The shovel was his one and only possession in the
whole world. He carried it with him everywhere. Some
people thought he carried it in the same way a forest monk
carries his walking staff. So he became known as the ‘Shovel
Wise Man’ [Kuddālapa ita].
One day he thought, “What good does it do me to live
the ordinary everyday life of a gardener? I will give up this
life and go meditate in the forest. Then I will be peaceful and
happy.” So the Shovel Wise Man hid his one possession, his
shovel, and became a forest meditator.
Before too long, he started thinking about his only
possession, his shovel. He was so attached to this shovel that
he couldn’t get it out of his mind, no matter how hard he
tried! Trying to meditate seemed useless, so he gave it up. He
returned to his shovel and his ordinary life as a vegetable
gardener.
Lo and behold, in a little while the Shovel Wise Man
again gave up the everyday life, hid his shovel and became a
forest meditator. Again he could not get his shovel out of his
mind, and returned to being a gardener. All in all, this
happened six times!
The next time the Shovel Wise Man gave up his forest
meditation, he finally realized it was because of his old worn
out shovel that he had gone back and forth seven times! So
he decided to throw it away, once and for all, in a deep river.
Then he would return to the forest for good.
He took his shovel down to the riverbank. He thought,
“Let me not see where this shovel enters the water. Otherwise
it may tempt me again to give up my quest.” So he closed his
eyes, swung the shovel in a circle over his head three times,
and let it fly into the midst of the river. Realizing that he
would never be able to find the shovel again, he shouted, just
like a lion roars, “I have conquered! I have conquered! I have
conquered!”
It just so happened that the King of Benares
[Brahmadatta] was riding by at that very moment. He was
returning from putting down a revolt in a border village. He
had bathed in the river, and had just seated himself on his
magnificent royal elephant. He was riding back to Benares in
a victory procession.
When he heard the triumphant shouts of the
Enlightenment Being, he said to his ministers, “Listen. Who
is shouting, just like a lion roars, ‘I have conquered’? Whom
has he conquered? Bring that man to me!”
When they brought the Shovel Wise Man to him, the
king said, “I am a conqueror because I have won a battle.
You say that you have conquered. Whom did you conquer?”
The Enlightenment Being replied, “Your lordship, even
if you conquer a hundred thousand armies, they are
meaningless victories if you still have unwholesome thoughts
and desires in your own mind! By conquering the craving in
my mind, I know I have won the battle against unwholesome
thoughts.”
As he spoke he concentrated his mind on the water in
the river, then on the idea of water itself, and reached a high
mental state. In a sitting position he rose into the air. He
preached these words of Truth [Dhamma] to the king:
“Defeating an enemy who returns to fight you again and
again is no real victory. But if you defeat the
unwholesomeness in your own mind, no one can take that
true victory from you!”
While the king was listening to these words, all
unwholesome thoughts left his mind. It occurred to him to
give up the ordinary world and seek real peace and
happiness. He asked, “Where are you going now, wise one?”
He answered, “I am going to the Himalayas, oh king, to
practice meditation.” The king said, “Please take me with
you. I too wish to give up the common worldly life.” Lo and
behold, as the king turned northward with the Shovel Wise
Man, so did the entire army and all the royal ministers and
attendants.
Soon the news reached the people of Benares that the
king and all those with him were leaving the ordinary world
and following the Shovel Wise Man to the Himalayas. Then
all the people in the entire city of Benares followed them
towards the northern mountains. Benares was empty!
This great migration of people came to the attention of
the god Sakka, King of the Heaven of 33. Never had he seen
so many giving up worldly power. He ordered the architect of
the gods [Vissakamma] to build a dwelling place in the
Himalayan forests for all these people.
When they arrived in the Himalayas, the Shovel Wise
Man was the first to announce that he had given up the
ordinary world for good. Then all those with him did the
same. Never was so much worldly power given up, or
renounced, at the same time.
The Shovel Wise Man developed what holy men call
the ‘Four Heavenly States of Mind’ [cattāri-brahma-
vihāra-s]. First is loving-kindness [mettā], tender affection
for all. Second is feeling sympathy and pity for all those who
suffer [karu ā]. Third is feeling happiness for all those who
are joyful [muditā]. And the fourth state is balance and calm,
even in the face of difficulties or troubles [upekkhā].
He taught the others advanced meditation. With great
effort they all gained high mental states, leading to rebirth in
heaven worlds.
The story having been told, the Buddha said:
“Ānanda was King Brahmadatta at that time. The
Buddha’s followers today were King Brahmadatta’s
followers. And the Shovel Wise Man was I who am today
the fully enlightened one.”
The moral: “Only one possession is enough to keep the mind
from finding freedom.”