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Verse 70: The Story of Thera Jambuka

While residing at the Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (70) of this book, with
reference to Thera Jambuka.

Jambuka was the son of a rich man in Savatthi. Due to his past evil deeds he was born with very
peculiar habits. As a child, he wanted to sleep on the floor with no proper bed, and to take his own
excreta for food instead of rice. When he grew older, his parents sent him to the Ajivakas, the
naked ascetics. When those ascetics found out about his peculiar food habits they drove him away.
At nights he ate human excreta and in the day time he stood still on one leg and kept his mouth open.
He used to say that he kept his mouth open because he only lived on air and that he stood on one
leg because it would otherwise be too heavy for the earth to bear him. "I never sit down, I never go
to sleep," he boasted and on account of this, he was known as Jambuka, a 'jackal'.

Many people believed him and some would come to him with offerings of choice food. Then
Jambuka would refuse and say, "I do not take any food except air." When pressed, he would take
just a little of the food with the tip of a blade of grass and say, "Now go, this little will give you
enough merit." In this way, Jambuka lived for fifty-five years, naked and taking only excreta.

One day, the Buddha saw in his vision that Jambuka was due to attain Arahatship within a short
time. So, in the evening, the Buddha went to where Jambuka was staying and asked for some place
to spend the night. Jambuka pointed out to him a mountain-cave not far from the stone slab on
which he himself was staying. During the first, second and third watches of the night, the
Catumaharajika devas, Sakka and Mahabrahma came to pay homage to the Buddha in turn. On all
the three occasions, the forest was lit up and Jambuka saw the light three times. In the morning,
he walked over to the Buddha and enquired about the lights.

When told about the devas, Sakka and Mahabrahma coming to pay homage to the Buddha , Jambuka
was very much impressed, and said to the Buddha , "You must, indeed, be a wonderfully great
person for the devas, Sakka and Mahabrahma to come and pay homage to you. As for me, even
though I have I practised austerely for fifty-five years, living only on air and standing only on one
leg, none of the devas, nor Sakka, nor Mahabrahma has ever came to me" To him, the Buddha
replied, "O Jambuka! You have been deceiving other people, but you cannot deceive me. I know that
for fifty-five years you have been eating excreta and sleeping on the ground."

Furthermore, the Buddha explained to him how in one of his past existences during the time of
Kassapa Buddha, Jambuka had prevented a Thera from going with him to the house of a lay-disciple
where alms-food was being offered and how he had also thrown away the food that was sent along
with him for that Thera. It was for those evil deeds that Jambuka had to be eating excreta and
sleeping on the ground. Hearing that account, Jambuka was horrified and terror-strickeen, and
repented for having done evil and for having deceived other people. He went down on his knees and
the Buddha gave him a piece of cloth to put on. The Buddha then proceeded to deliver a discourse;
at the end of the discourse Jambuka attained Arahatship and joined the Buddhist Order on the
spot.

Soon after this, Jambuka's pupils from Anga and Magadha arrived and they were surprised to see
their teacher with the Buddha. Thera Jambuka then explained to his pupils, that he had joined the
Buddhist Order and that he was now only a disciple of the Buddha. To them, the Buddha said that
although their teacher had lived austerely by taking food very sparingly, it was not worth even
one-sixteenth part of his present practice and achievement.

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 70. Even though, month after month, the fool (living in austerity) takes his food sparingly
with the tip of a grass blade, he is not worth even one-sixteenth part of those who have
comprehended the Truth (i.e., the Ariyas).

Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A.,
Burma Pitaka Association, Rangoon, Burma 1986.


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