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Source: Adapted from Archaic translation by Robert ChalmersEdit
JATAKA No. 144
"Nasty Jataveda."--This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana monastery, touching the false austerity of the Ajivikas, or naked ascetics. Tradition tells us that behind Jetavana monastery they used to practise false austerities (*1). A number of the Brethren(Monks) seeing them there painfully squatting on their heels, swinging in the air like bats, reclining on thorns, scorching themselves with five fires, and so on in their various false austerities, were moved to ask the Lord Buddha whether any good resulted from that. "None whatsoever," answered the Master. "In days gone by, the wise and good went into the forest with their birth-fire, thinking to profit by such austerities; but, finding themselves no better for all their sacrifices to Fire and for all similar practices, straightway doused the birth-fire with water till it went out. By an act of Meditation the Knowledges and Attainments were gained and a title won to the Brahma Realm(Upper Heaven)." So saying he told this story of the past.
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisattva was born a brahmin in the North country, and on the day of his birth his parents lit a birth-fire.
In his sixteenth year they addressed him thus, "Son, on the day of your birth we lit a birth-fire for you. Now therefore choose. If you wish to lead a family life, learn the Three Vedas; but if you wish to attain to the Brahma Realm(Upper Heaven), take your fire with you into the forest and there tend it, so as to win Maha-Brahma's favour and hereafter to enter into the Brahma Realm(Upper Heaven)."
Telling his parents that a family life had no charms for him, he went into the forest and lived in a hermitage tending his fire. An ox was given him as a fee one day in a border-village, and when he had driven it home to his hermitage, the thought came to him to sacrifice a cow to the Lord of Fire. But finding that he had no salt, and feeling that the Lord of Fire could not eat his meat-offering without it, he resolved to go back and bring a supply from the village for the purpose. So he tied up the ox and set off again to the village.
While he was gone, a band of hunters came up and, seeing the ox, killed it and cooked themselves a dinner. And what they did not eat they carried off, leaving only the tail and hide and the shanks. Finding only these sorry remains on his return, the brahmin exclaimed, "As this Lord of Fire cannot so much as look after his own, how shall he look after me? It is a waste of time to serve him, bringing neither good nor profit." Having thus lost all desire to worship Fire, he said--"My Lord of Fire, if you cannot manage to protect yourself, how shall you protect me? The meat being gone, you must make shift to eating of the inner organs." So saying, he throw on the fire the tail and the rest of the robbers' leftovers and uttered this stanza:-
Nasty Jataveda (*2), here's the tail for you; And think yourself in luck to get so much! The prime meat's gone; put up with tail to-day.
So saying the Great Being put the fire out with water and departed to become a hermit. And he won the Knowledges and Attainments, and ensured his re-birth in the Brahma Realm(Upper Heaven).
His lesson ended, the Master identified the Birth by saying, "I was the ascetic who in those days quenched the fire."
(1)See Majjhima Nikaya, for a catalogue of extreme ascetic austerities, to which early Buddhism strongly opposed so rather adapted the middle path.
(2)See No. (35)