Buddhist Legends


The Shronakotikarna Legend

The Shronakotikarna Legend

The Shronakotikarna Legend, Kizil, Cave of the Seafarers

The Shronakotikarna LegendThe Shronakotikarna Legend

The Shronakotikarna Legend (after Grufiwedel)       The Shronakotikarna Legend (after Grufiwedel)

There once lived a merchant by the name of Shronakotikarna. He derived his Sanskrit name from the con- stellation Shravana (Shrona) and his surname, Kotikarna, from a costly earring that he wore from birth. The only son of a rich merchant, Shronakotikarna, following his father's footsteps, set off one day together with his companions on a trading voyage to the Island of Jewels, hoping for treasure. On his return he was separated from his companions and lost his way. Alone and confused, he had many strange ad- ventures. Successively he arrived at two cities, identical in appearance, where, being hungry and thirsty, he cried for food at the first and drink at the second. For answer, spirits of the dead appeared at the city gates, themselves crying out for food and drink — the ghosts of misers and swindlers who had been condemned to torments of hunger and thirst. Shronakotikarna passed on, and climbed into a tree to spend the night. There he was inadvertent witness to one man enjoying the pleasures of love with a woman by night, and another doing so by day. Thereupon the first man was devoured by dogs by day, and the other suffered horrible torments by night.

In the course of his travels Shronakotikarna comes to a lake, where he drinks and waters his donkey. On the shore he suddenly notices a palace, and though he is afraid to enter it, hunger gets the better of him. Inside, a beautiful woman offers him food. While they are eating, two hunger-spirits suddenly appear and crouch down beside them. Shronakotikarna tosses them some scraps, only to see these transformed into pus and blood. The woman explains to him that the two spirits are those of her husband and son, who once, when she gave food to a begging monk, were stingy enough to wish it changed into these horrid substances. Then two women approach the table, also asking to share in the repast; the first climbs into a big pot, cooks herself, and begins feeding on her own flesh, while the second transforms herself into a ram and goes out to pasture. From his hostess Shronakotikarna learns that the two women were once her daughter-in-law and maidservant; they had stolen food but denied it, saying that if they were guilty of the deed they would eat their own flesh or grass. These experiences obsess Shronakotikarna; having returned to his home city of Ujjain, he ponders incessantly on the terrible suffering that the cycle of birth and rebirth inflicts on human beings. Finally he knows that he must enter the Buddhist order.


The Maitrakanyaka Legend

The Maitrakanyaka LegendThe Maitrakanyaka Legend

The Maitrakanyaka Legend       The Maitrakanyaka Legend
The Maitrakanyaka Legend. Kizil, Cave of the Seafarers (after Griinwedel)

There once lived in Benares a rich merchant by the name of Mitra who had long desired a son, but in vain. In his need he prayed to various gods, among them Shiva and Varuna, and finally his wife gave birth to a boy. In order to ward off evil she gave him a girl's name — Maitra (son of Mitra) Kanyaka (little girl) — and a great celebration was held in honor of the child.

One day the boy's father sails out to sea and is never heard from again. The son, now grown, begins to ask questions about his father, but the mother, not wishing the same terrible fate to befall him, refuses to divulge his father's profession. The merchants of the town, however, jealous of the family's prosperity, are less scrupulous.

Despite his mother's pleas Maitrakanyaka prepares with the other merchants for a trading voyage. On the day of his departure his mother begs him for the last time to take up some less hazardous profession. In answer Maitrakanyaka, angered and scornful, aims a kick at the prostrate woman's head. As he turns to leave he hears these words: "My son, may the fruit of this deed not fall back on thee."

Maitrakanyaka puts out to sea. Very soon, however, his ship is caught in a storm and sinks; he manages to save himself by clutching a timber, and the wind brings him to shore. Not far off he sees a city, but when he approaches it his way is blocked by four beautiful apsaras who ask him to go with them. He does so, and ends up in their clutches. Years pass before he manages to escape. The experience is repeated in the next city he comes to, this time with eight seductresses, and again with sixteen, then thirty-two.

Having finally succeeded in escaping, he comes to a city of iron. Hardly has he passed the gates when they slam shut behind him. Suddenly a man appears before him with a wheel of fire rotating on his head, feeding on the pus and blood of his own wounds. Horrified, Maitrakanyaka asks him the reason for this terrible torture, and the man replies: "I am one who insulted his own mother." On hearing these words Maitrakanyaka recalls his own deed of many years ago, and realizes that the time has come to do penance for it. At once he hears a voice saying: "Those who are bound shall be free, and those who are free, bound." In an instant the wheel of fire leaps from the man's head onto Maitrakanyaka's. In spite of the searing pain, Maitrakanyaka finds words of pity for other sinners: "For the good of all I shall bear this wheel on my head." As soon as these words are spoken the fiery wheel spins high into the air. And the bodhisattva Maitrakanyaka will be reborn among the gods in the Tushita heaven.

The story of Maitrakanyaka

(Avadanacataka No. 36; I p. 193—205)

In the city of Benares lived a merchant and leader of a caravan, whose wife was about to give birth to a child; his friends advised him, in case a son should be born, to give him a girl's name.

It so happened; the son received the name of Maitrakanyaka and grew up without mishap. While he was still young, his father died on a voyage. When Maitrakanyaka was a man, he asked his mother what trade his father had followed, intending to take up the same work. But his mother, fearing that her son too might travel across the sea, told him that his father had been a shopkeeper. Then Maitrakanyaka set up a shop and earned four karsapan. as the first day; this money he gave to his mother to be spent in charity. Then some one told him that his father had been a dealer in perfumes, immediately the young man closed his shop, started as perfume-dealer, and earned directly eight karsapana's, which he disposed of in the same way. Then again he was told that his father had been a goldsmith, so he at once started that trade; the first day he earned sixteen karsapana's and the second thirty-two; both sums he gave to his mother for charity. His success made other merchants jealous of him and in order to get rid of a tiresome rival, they told him that he followed a trade unsuited to him, for his father had been a great merchant and caravan-leader. Maitrakanyaka then asked his mother if this was true, which she could not deny, but begged him to stay with her. This he refused and gave out that he was about to fit up a caravan for a tradingvoyage overseas. Five hundred merchants accompanied him. Again his mother besought him not to depart and threw herself in despair at his feet, but her son, furious at her opposition, kicked her on the head and departed.

Arrived at the harbor the caravan went on board but the voyage turned out unfortunate. A sea-monster upset the vessel, Maitrakanyaka saved himself on a raft and was washed ashore. He went inland and reached a city called Ramanaka, where four beautiful apsaras met him at the gate and bade him welcome. In their company he lived a life of pleasure for several years, but at last the longing to travel drove him further South. There he came to the city of Sadamatta, where eight apsaras welcomed him in the same manner. After some pleasant years passed among these, he departed and came to Nandana, where there were sixteen apsaras and these too he forsook in the same way and came still farther South to the palace Brahmottara, where thirty-two ladies received him. But here again the longing to depart laid hold of him and he left this pleasure-city and came at last to Ayomaya. No sooner had he entered this city than the gates closed behind him. When he came into the middle of the place, he saw a man of lofty stature, who carried a revolving iron wheel on his head; this wheel, all in flames, tore open his head and the unhappy man was forced to feed himself with the blood and matter that dripped off. Maitrakanyaka inquired who he was and received the answer: "A man who has ill-treated his mother." Then Maitrakanyaka remembered his evil behaviour to his own mother. And a voice was heard saying: "Those who are bound, are free and those who are free are now bound"; immediately the wheel sprang off the man's head and fastened itself on to the head of Maitrakanyaka, who began to feel the most horrible pains. He asked how long the torture would last and was told sixty thousand and sixty hundred years; then again he asked if another would come to undergo the same torment and the man replied: "One who has committed the same sin as yourself." Though he was overcome by the pain, yet Maitrakanyaka did not lose his compassion for human kind. lIe said: "I am willing to wear this wheel for ever on my head for the sake of my fellow-creatures; may there never come another who has committed such sin." No sooner had he uttered these words than the wheel was lifted from his head and remained floating in the air. And at the same moment the Bodhisattva Maitrakanyaka died and was born again into the heaven of the Tusitagods.