Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 50202)
Origin Location Mongolia
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Buddha

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shakyamuni Buddha, Previous Life Stories (Sanskrit: jataka. Tibetan: kye rab): from the famous Indian text presenting 34 morality tales drawn from the previous life stories of the historical buddha, Shakyamuni.

#12 The Brahman

A Tale of Conscience

As a son of illustrious Brahmans who were well respected for their ancestry and conduct, the Bodhisattva excelled in scholarly pursuits. At the proper age, he was sent off to live and study with a great teacher.

The teacher, to test the morals of his disciples, complained daily about living in poverty. His students then started begging even more intensely, but he stated that even with better food he will not be free from the pains of poverty. He said that for his situation to improve, they needed to gain wealth. Yet the laws of the land stated that no Brahmans were allowed to acquire wealth except when it was offered as a gift. The people of the region were known for their lack of charity. The teacher told them to look at the laws closer, and that the law also states that Brahmans are allowed to steal if in times of distress. Surely his poverty warranted such action.

All the disciples except for the Bodhisattva immediately started planning what they were going to steal and how they were going to remain unseen. Silent and ashamed, the Bodhisattva sat with his eyes downcast, neither approving of their scheming nor denouncing it. The teacher continued his test and challenged the Bodhisattva, saying that he was obviously not affected by his distress, and that while all the other students were heroically planning their missions he was looking slothful and impartial. The Bodhisattva responded that neither lack of affection or a cold heart was keeping him silent, but the actions the teacher suggested could not be carried out. He explained that it is impossible to commit wicked actions without being seen, for nobody is ever truly alone. The divine eyes of the enlightened ones are always watching.

Hearing these words, the teacher arose from his seat full of joy and admiration and embraced the Bodhisattva. The teacher went on to explain that the virtuous can never stray from their path, even when in great distress. Ascetic practice, learning, and wisdom are all the wealth that is needed.

Monty McKeever 9-2005

Key Events in the Story

1. Bodhisattva is one of many students of great teacher.

2. The teacher tests his students and tells them to steal for him.

3. The Bodhisattva is the only student who refuses and passes the test.

View other items in the Thematic Set: Collection of Zanabazar: Jataka Stories