Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 50209)
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.

#19 The Lotus Roots

A Tale of Understanding

After the death of their parents, a group of six brothers decided to become ascetics. Accompanied by their younger sister and two servants, they found a forest near a lake and began their individual solitary meditation. They each had their own hut built from palms and they would only meet every fifth day to hear the eldest brother teach. This eldest brother was the Bodhisattva.

They excelled in their meditative practice. They sustained themselves on nothing more than lotus roots. The servants would fetch the roots from the lake every morning and lay them out on large lotus leaves. Each ascetic would then one by one go and take their portion, so as to remain in solitude even when leaving their hut.

Shakra, the Lord of Gods, witnessed this family and became impressed with their dedication to the Dharma. To see if they were truly as free from desire and attachment as they seemed, he decided to test them. At every meal, he would secretly steal the Bodhisattva's portion of lotus roots. The Bodhisattva remained calm and completely untroubled and therefore said nothing, even as he began to starve. Then, after five days with no food, it came time for the groups meeting. The brothers saw the Bodhisattva was not well, with an emaciated body, hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes.

Instead of becoming angry and making accusations, one brother demonstrated true compassion and recited a prayer for whoever stole the roots. The other brothers did so as well and the sister and servants all followed their lead, reciting their own prayers for the anonymous thief. The Bodhisattva himself said a prayer. A yaksha spirit, an elephant, and a monkey all witnessed this.

After watching with astonishment, Shakra manifested in his divine appearance and approached the ascetics and admitted he had taken the roots. Shakra stated that high virtue can only be tested by trial and that they had passed his test. Yet as Shakra returned the lotus roots the Bodhisattva scorned him, saying that they did not need his approval. Upon hearing this, Shakra was even more impressed, for they had conquered their desires to point where even praise from the Lord of Gods meant nothing to them. Shakra then shook off his divine appearance and bowed before the Bodhisattva. He then vanished.

It is said that the six brothers were all reborn as important students of Shakyamuni Buddha, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, Kashyapa, Purna, Aniruddha, and Ananda. The sister was reborn as Utpalavarna and the servants as Kubgottara and Kitra. The Yaksha was reborn as Satagiri, the elephant as Pariliya, the monkey as Madhudatar, and Shakra, after his life as the Lord of Gods, as Kalodayin.

Monty McKeever 9-2005

Key Events in the Story

1. The Bodhisattva lives on Lotus Roots

2. Shakra tests the Bodhisattva

3. The Bodhisattva doesn't care

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