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Academic Sutta Name Notes PSA Plae Vagga Nikaya PTS Keywords
J.354 Uraga Jaataka When the Buddha was still pursuing Perfections as the Bodhisatva, he was born as a Brahmin farmer. He told of how he trained himself to avoid sorrow in life drawing on the experience of previous lifetimes. At that time he still had a family. He had a harmonious family life. He had a young son and a young daughter. Later, his household expanded with the addition of a son in law and a servant. One day he was ploughing the field and his son was weeding and burning the weeds. There was a lot of smoke some of which went into the burrow of a snake. The snake could not breath so it came out of its burrow and bit the son. By the time the father realized, his son was already dead from the poison. Normally a father would cry at the death of his son, but for the Bodhisatva, he saw that there was nothing more he could help with, so he continued to plough the field. A neighbour passed the Bodhisatva on the way to the homestead and the Bodhisatva told him to give the message to his wife that she should only send one serving of food for the packed lunch that day. When those at home guessed what had happened, all of them came rushing to the field and saw the son dead. However, like the Bodhisatva, the mother, sister, wife and servant did not cry, but helped to cremate the son. As they were cremating the corpse, an old Brahmin with a radiant complexion appeared from nowhere and asked: ìWhose body is this you are cremating?î
ìMy sonísî replied the Bodhisatva.
ìNormally a father must cry at the death of his son ó or at least his mother or sister or wife or servant must cry.î
ìWe have reasons for not crying,î explained the Bodhisatva and he continued, ìBecause when the life of someoneís body is expended it is like a snake which must slough off an old skin. I see my son as no more than a snake shedding its skin. Therefore I have no sorrow. My son will have another life ahead of him ó if he has been good he will have a good birth. If he has done evil he will have a fortunate birth. Even if I were to cry, it would make no difference to my sonís destination.î The father was not crying because he didnít love his son, but because he could love him but also let go.
The mother did not cry either. She said, ìWhen my son was born, no-one invited him to come. When he left us, he didnít say farewell. He has gone the way that he came. When this is the reality, what is the point of crying over spilt milk. Even if I were to cry, my son would have no way of knowing ó because he has already gone elsewhere.î
The little sister didnít cry. She said, ìIf I were to cry it would just spoil my looks. It would just make me ill so they would have to waste time looking for a doctor. It would just make me emaciated for no good reason. It would just increase the worries of the rest of the family ó so why cry? No-one is going to be any happier as the result of my crying. Even though we have come together for this cremation, it doesnít make any difference to the feelings of the deceased.î
The wife said, ìThere is no more use crying than there is use in a child crying for the moon that has set on the horizon. Even though we have come together for this cremation, it doesnít make any difference to the feelings of the deceased because he has already gone wherever he must go.î
The servant said, ìYou cannot pick up the pieces of a broken pot and make it what it used to be. In the same way, it is no more use crying over a dead body ó do we think it would bring them back to life again? He has already gone wherever he must go.î
Even the servant had a metaphor and an explanation for her lack of sorrow ó so how could they train themselves to think like this? It turned out that wherever the brahmin farmer went, he would teach his wife and children and even his servant, ìYou should make the recollection of death habitual. You have to think of death habitually because death is for sure. Life is not certain. Our aggregates are not permanent and they are of a nature to decay. Therefore you should never be reckless towards the accumulation of merit both by day and night. Make recollection of death your habit.î
It turned out that on that occasion, the old man who had come to ask them the questions was Indra, the king of heaven in disguise. The story was told in relation to a landowner of Savatthi who, when his son died, gave himself up to despair. The Buddha visited him and consoled him.
58/730 Jaataka Khuddhaka J.iii.162ff., DhA.iii.277 mourning, bereavement

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Last modified on: Sunday, 2 January 2000.