Two Mothers – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
The Buddha told this story while living in Jetavana
temple with regard to a monk who was love-stricken by a
woman. The Buddha told him, “Oh monk, women will cause
you misery. Why be love-stricken if it will lead to
unhappiness?” And the Buddha told this story of the past:
Once upon a time there was a very well known teacher
in the city of Takkasilā, in northern India. He taught religion,
as well as all other subjects. His knowledge was enormous
and his teaching ability made him world-famous.
At that time a son was born to a rich family in Benares.
The family kept a holy fire burning constantly from that day
on. When the son turned 16, they gave him a choice. They
said, “This holy fire has been burning since your birth. If you
wish to be reborn in a high heaven world, take it into the
forest and worship the fire god.
“However, if you wish to live the home life of a family
man, you must learn how to manage the wealth of our family
in the affairs of the world. If that is the life you choose, go
and study under the world-famous teacher of Takkasilā.”
The young man said, “I don’t want to be a holy man. I
would much rather be a family man. Then I will be happy for
the rest of my life.” So his parents sent him to the world-
famous teacher. They gave him a thousand gold coins to pay
for his lessons.
After several years the man graduated with honors and
returned home to Benares.
Meanwhile, his parents had come to wish more and
more that he would become a holy man in the forest. This
was just as they had wished on the day he was born. His
mother wanted the best life possible for her son. She thought,
“My son wants to marry and raise a family. He does not
realize how dangerous a wicked woman can be to a man. I
must find a way to get his teacher to teach him this.”
So the wise woman asked her son, “Did you earn only
the Ordinary Degree without also obtaining the higher
Unhappiness Degree?” Her son replied, “I have earned only
the Ordinary Degree.”
His mother said, “How can you be called educated in
the ways of the world if you have learned nothing about
unhappiness? Return to the great teacher and ask for the
Unhappiness Degree.” The son dutifully followed his good
mother’s advice and returned to Takkasilā.
It just so happened that the world-famous teacher had a
mother who was 120 years old. She was blind and very weak.
The teacher bathed and fed and cared for her with his own
hands. Since it took more and more of his time, he was
forced to give up teaching. He and his mother moved into a
forest hut, where he looked after her, night and day.
When the young student arrived from Benares he found
that his old teacher was no longer at the college. Hearing that
he had retired to the forest, he went and found him there.
After greeting each other, the teacher asked him, “Why
have you come back so soon?” He replied, “Honorable
professor, you did not give me the Unhappiness Degree.”
“Who told you about that degree?” asked the teacher. “My
mother, sir,” he said.
The teacher thought, “I’ve never heard of such a
degree! No doubt his wise mother wanted me to teach him
how wicked some women can be. For they bring great
unhappiness to men.”
He said, “All right, I will teach you so you can earn this
high degree. The course is a work-study program. Your
lessons will consist of taking care of my old mother for me.
You will bathe, feed and care for her tenderly with your own
“While you are washing and massaging her body, you
must say, ‘Dear lady, even in your old age your skin remains
fair and beautiful.’ You must constantly exaggerate her
beauty in this way, saying, ‘When you were young, you must
have been even more beautiful!’ And if she says anything to
you, you must tell me without shame, whatever it is, hiding
“If you do these things correctly, you will earn the
Unhappiness Degree. Then your mother will be proud of
The student agreed and began tending to the 120-year-
old lady. He bathed and fed her with his own hands. He
massaged her arms, legs, back and head. While doing this he
said, “Madam, it is marvelous indeed! Even in such great old
age, your arms and legs are so very beautiful! I can guess
how beautiful you were in your youth!” In this way he
exaggerated her beauty again and again, for many days.
Gradually, desire began to arise in the old lady’s mind.
Even though she knew she was blind and her body was rotten
from old age, she thought, “No doubt this young man would
like to live with me like a husband.” So she asked him, “Do
you want to be with me, just like a husband and wife?”
The man replied, “Oh yes of course, madam. I want to
very much. But how can I? Your son is my teacher and he is
very respectable. It would cause such a scandal! I will not
dishonor my teacher.”
Then the teacher’s mother said, “Well in that case, if
you really want to be with me, then kill my son!”
The student said, “How can I kill him when I have been
studying with him for so long? How can I kill him just
because of this desire for you?” Then she said, “If you will
stay with me and not desert me, I will kill him myself!”
As he had agreed, the student went to the world-famous
teacher and told him all that had taken place. Amazingly, the
teacher did not seem surprised. He said, “You have done well
to tell me this, my pupil. I appreciate your good work.”
Then he examined his mother’s horoscope and
discovered that this was to be the day of her death. He said,
“I will arrange a test for her.”
The teacher carved a statue from the soft wood of a tree
limb. He made it look exactly like himself, life-size. He laid
it in his own bed and pulled the sheet up over it. He attached
a long string to it and gave it to his pupil. He told him, “Now
take this string and ax to my mother. Tell her it is time to do
the killing.”
Obediently the student returned to the blind old lady.
He said, “Madam, my master is sleeping in his bed. If you
follow this string it will lead you to him. Then kill him with
this ax, if you really can do such a thing!”
She replied, “If you do not abandon me, I will do it.”
He said, “Why should I abandon you?”
Then she took the ax in her hands. She trembled as she
stood up. Slowly she followed the string to her son’s bed. She
felt the statue and thought she recognized her son. She pulled
down the sheet from the head and raised the ax. Thinking to
kill him with one blow, she struck the neck as hard as she
could with the ax. But it made a thumping sound, so she
knew it had struck wood.
The teacher asked, “What are you doing, my mother?”
Suddenly she realized she had been deceived and discovered.
The shock was so overwhelming that she dropped dead on
the spot! This time the horoscope had been correct.
The world-famous teacher respectfully burned his
mother’s body and offered flowers on her ashes.
Then he said to his pupil, “My son, there really is no
such thing as the ‘Unhappiness Degree’. Wicked women
cause unhappiness. You are fortunate to have such a good
and wise mother. By sending you here to earn the
Unhappiness Degree, she wanted you to learn how evil some
women can be.
“You have seen with your own eyes how my mother
was filled with craving and vanity. She has taught you this
lesson. Now return to your wise mother, who cares so much
for your well-being.”
When he arrived home his mother asked, “My dear son,
have you finally earned the high degree in the subject of
Unhappiness?” He replied, “Yes mother.”
Then she said, “I ask you again, my son, do you wish to
leave the worldly life and go into the forest to worship the
fire god? Or do you wish to marry and lead the family life?”
Her son replied, “I do not wish to lead the family life. I
have seen with my own eyes how evil some women can be.
There is no limit to their craving and vanity. Therefore I want
nothing to do with family life. I will seek peace as a forest
He respectfully took leave of his parents. After many
years of peaceful meditation in the forest, he eventually died
and was reborn in a high heaven world.
The Buddha then identified the births in this way:
“The nun Kāpilāni was the young student’s mother.
His father was the venerable Mahā Kassapa. The venerable
Ānanda was the student. And I, myself, who have become
the Buddha was the world-famous teacher.
The moral: “Wickedness between women and men brings
unhappiness to both.”