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Tipitaka >> Sutta Pitaka >> Khuddaka Nikaya >> Jataka >>Cullaka-Seṭṭhi-Jātaka

Source: Adapted from Archaic translation by Robert Chalmers[]

JATAKA No. 4.  


"With humblest start."

This story was told by the Master about the Elder monk named Little Merchant, while in Jivaka's Mango-grove (*1) near Rajgraha city. And here an account of Little Merchant's birth must be given. Tradition tells us that the daughter of a rich merchant's family in Rajgraha city actually stooped to intimacy with a slave. Becoming alarmed otherwise her misconduct should get known, she said to the slave, "We can't live on here; for if my mother and father come to know of this sin of ours, they will tear us limb from limb. Let us go and live afar off." So with their belongings in their hands they stole together out by the hardly-opened door, and fled away, they cared not where, to find a shelter beyond the sight of her family. Then they went and lived together in a certain place, with the result that she conceived. And when her full time was nearly come, she told her husband and said, "If I am taken in labour away from friends and family, that will be a trouble to both of us. So let us go home." First he agreed to start to-day, and then he put it off till the next day; and so he let the days slip by, till she thought to herself, "This fool is so conscious of his great offence that he dares not go. One's parents are one's best friends; so whether he goes or stays, I must go." So, when he went out, she put all her household matters in order and set off home, telling her next-door neighbour where she was going. Returning home, and not finding his wife, but discovering from the neighbours that she had started off home, he hurried after her and came up with her on the road; and then and there she was taken in labour.

"What's this, my dear?" said he.

"I have given birth to a son, my husband," said she.

Accordingly, as the very thing had now happened which was the only reason for the journey, they both agreed that it was no good going on now, and so turned back again. And as their child had been born by the way, they called him 'Way Merchant.'

Not long after, she became with child again, and everything fell out as Before. And as this second child too was born by the way, they called him 'Way Merchant' too, distinguishing the elder as 'Older Merchant' and the younger as 'Little Merchant: Then, with both their children, they again went back to their own home.

Now, as they were living there, their way-child heard other boys talking of their uncles and grandfathers and grandmothers; so he asked his mother whether he hadn't got relations like the other boys. "Oh yes, my dear," said his mother; "but they don't live here. Your grandfather is a wealthy merchant in the city of Rajgraha city, and you have plenty of relations there." "Why don't we go there, mother?" She told the boy the reason why they stayed away; but, as the children kept on speaking about these relations, she said to her husband, "The children are always tormenting me. Are my parents going to eat us at sight? Come, let us show the children their grandfather's family." "Well, I don't mind taking them there; but I really could not face your parents." "All right;--so long as, some way or other, the children come to see their grandfather's family," said she.

So those two took their children and coming in due course to Rajgraha city put up in a public rest-house by the city gate. Then, taking with them the two children, the woman caused their coming to be made known to her parents. The latter, on hearing the message, returned this answer, "True, it is strange to be without children unless one has renounced the world in quest of Arhatship(Enlightenment equal to Buddha). Still, so great is the guilt of the pair towards us that they may not stand in our sight. Here is a sum of money for them: let them take this and retire to live where they will. But the children they may send here." Then the merchant's daughter took the money so sent her, and sent the children by the messengers. So the children grew up in their grandfather's house, Little Merchant being of tender years, while Older Merchant used to go with his grand-father to hear the Buddha preach the Truth. And by constant hearing of the Truth from the Master's own lips, the boy's heart yearned to renounce the world for the life of a Brother (Monk).

"With your permission," said he to his grandfather, "I should like to join the Brotherhood (Monk's Order)." "What do I hear?" cried the old man. "Why, it would give me greater joy to see you join the Order than to see the whole world join. Become a Brother(Monk), if you feel able." And he took him to the Master.

"Well, Merchant," said the Master, "have you brought your boy with you?" Yes sir; this is my grandson, who wishes to join your Brotherhood(Monks Order)." Then the Master sent for a Monk, and told him to admit the boy to the Order; and the Monk repeated the Teaching of the Perishable Body (*2) and admitted the boy as a novice. When the latter had learned by heart many words of the Buddha, and was old enough, he was admitted a full Brother(Monk). He now gave himself up to earnest thought till he won Arhatship(Enlightenment equal to Buddha); and as he passed his days in the enjoyment of Insight and the Paths, he thought whether he could not impart the like happiness to Little Merchant. So he went to his grandfather the merchant, and said, "Older Merchant, with your consent, I will admit Little Merchant to the Order." "I request, do so, reverend sir," was the reply.

Then the Elder Monk (Older Merchant) admitted the boy Little Merchant and established him in the Ten Commandments. But Little Merchant proved a dullard: with four months' study he failed to get by heart this single stanza:-

Amazing! like a fragrant lotus at the dawn
Of day, full-blown, with virgin wealth of scent,
See the Buddha's glory shining on,
As in the high heaven beams the sun!

For, we are told, in the Buddhahood of Kashyapa this Little Merchant, having himself attained to knowledge as a Brother, laughed to contempt a dull Brother who was learning a passage by heart. His contempt so confused him, that the latter could not learn or recite the passage. And now, in consequence, on joining the Brotherhood he himself proved a dullard. Each new line he learned drove the last out of his memory; and four months slipped away while he was struggling with this single stanza. Said his elder brother to him, "Little Merchant, you are not capable of receiving this teaching. In four whole months you have been unable to learn a single stanza. How then can you hope to crown your learning with supreme success? Leave the monastery." But, though thus expelled by his brother, Little Merchant was so attached to the Buddha's path that he did not want to become a layman again.

Now at that time Older Merchant was acting as manager(keeper) of monastery there. And Jivaka Komarabhacca, a disciple, going to the mango-grove with a large present of perfumes and flowers for the Master, had presented his offering and listened to a discourse; then, rising from his seat and bowing to the Buddha, he went up to Older Merchant and asked, "How many Brethren(Monks) are there, reverend sir, with the Master?" "Just 500, sir." "Will you bring the 500 Brethren(Monks), with the Buddha at their head, to take their meal at my house tomorrow?" "Lay-disciple, one of them named Little Merchant is a dullard and makes no progress in the Faith," said the Elder Monk(Older Merchant); "I accept the invitation for everyone but him."

Hearing this, Little Merchant thought to himself, "In accepting the invitation for all these Brethren(Monks), the Elder brother carefully accepts so as to exclude me. This proves that my brother's affection for me is dead. What have I to do with this ? I will become a layman and live in the exercise of charity and other good works of a lay character." And on the next day early he went forward, vowing become a layman again.

Now at the first break of day, as Lord Buddha was remotely surveying the world in his meditative trance (as he did every morning), the Master became aware of this; and going forward even earlier than Little Merchant, he paced to and fro by the porch on Little Merchant's road. As the latter came out of the house, he observed the Master, and with a salutation went up to him. "Where you go at this hour, Little Merchant?" said the Master.

"My brother has expelled me from the Order (monkhood), sir; and I am going to leave and move away."

"Little Merchant, as it was under me that you took the vows, why did you not, when expelled by your brother, come to me? What have you to do with a layman's life? You come with me." So saying, he took Little Merchant and seated him at the door of his own perfumed chamber. Then giving him a perfectly clean cloth which he had supernaturally created, the Master said, "Face towards the East, and as you handle this cloth, repeat these words--'Removal of Impurity; Removal of Impurity.'" Then at the time appointed the Master, attended by the Brotherhood, went to Jivaka's house and sat down on the seat set for him.

Now Little Merchant, with his gaze fixed on the sun, sat handling the cloth and repeating the words, "Removal of Impurity; Removal of Impurity." And as he kept handling the piece of cloth, it became dirty. Then he thought, "Just now this piece of cloth was quite clean; but my personality has destroyed its original state and made it dirty. Impermanent indeed are all worldly things! And even as he realised Death and Decay, he won the Arhat's Illumination(Enlightened equal to Buddha). Knowing that Little Merchant's mind had won Illumination, the Master sent forward an apparition and in this resemblance of himself appeared before him, as if seated in front of him and saying, "Little Merchant, this mere piece of cloth has become dirty and stained with impurity; within you are the impurities of lust and other evil things. Remove them." And the apparition uttered these stanzas:-

Impurity exists in the Lust(Raag/desire) , not in dirt;
And Lust we term as the real Impurity.
Yes, Monks, whosoever drives it away from him,
He truly lives the teaching of the Purification.
Impurity exists in the hatred(Dosa/Dvesha), not in dirt;
And hatred we term as the real Impurity.
Yes, Monks, whosoever drives it away from him,
He truly lives the teaching of the Purification.
Impurity exists in the delusion(Moha,absence of Enlightenment), not in dirt;
And the delusion we term as the real Impurity.
Yes, Monks, whosoever drives it away from him,
He truly lives the teaching of the Purification.

(Note : Here Delusion means (1) Not practicing meditation as taught by Buddha, because in meditation, a person can experience truths about everyday life i.e. about sense perceptions, feelings, emotions, desires, reactions, thoughts etc. (2) Also delusion means not experiencing the true happiness of the inner self in trance states & remaining deluded in gaining worldly pleasures as the only means of happiness (3) and ultimately delusion means not having experience of the transcendental Nirvanic state of Enlightenment, the final truth)

At the close of these stanzas Little Merchant attained Arhatship(Enlightenment equal to Buddha) with the four branches of knowledge (*3), by which he straightway came to have knowledge of all the sacred texts. Tradition has it that, in ages past, when he was a king and was making a procession round his city, he wiped the sweat from his brow with a spotless cloth which he was wearing; and the cloth was stained. Thought he, "It is this body of mine which has destroyed the original purity and whiteness of the cloth, and dirtied it. Impermanent indeed are all worldly things." Thus he grasped the idea of impermanence; and hence it came to pass that it was the removal of impurity which worked his enlightenment/Nirvana (Salvation).

Meantime, Jivaka Komarabhacca offered the Water of Donation (*4) (ceremonial; to mark start of meal); but the Master put his hand over the vessel, saying, "Are there no Brethren(Monks), Jivaka, in the monastery?"

Said Older Merchant, "There are no Brethren(Monks) there, reverend sir." "Oh yes, there are, Jivaka," said the Master. "Hey, there!" said Jivaka to a servant; "just you go and see whether or not there are any Brethren(Monks) left out in the monastery."

At that moment Little Merchant, became conscious (through clairaudience) as he was, that his brother was stating that there were no Brethren(Monks) in the monastery, determined to show him that there were, and so he filled the whole mango-grove with nothing but disciples (using supernatural powers of Arhatship after achieving enlightenment) . Some were making robes, others dyeing, while others again were repeating the sacred texts:-each of a thousand Brethren(Monks) he made unlike all the others. Finding these many of Brethren(Monks) in the monastery, the man returned and said that the whole mango-grove was full of Brethren(Monks).

But as regards the Little merchant(now attained to Elder Monk level) up in the monastery--

Little Merchants, a thousand-times self-multiplied,
are there present , in that pleasant grove.

"Now go back," said the Master to the man, "and say 'The Master sends for him whose name is Little Merchant.'

But when the man went and delivered his message, a thousand mouths all answered, "I am Little Merchant! I am Little Merchant!"

Back came the man with the report, "They all say they are 'Little Merchant,' reverend sir."

"Well now go back," said the Master, "and take by the hand the first one of them who says he is the Little Merchant, and the others will all vanish." The man did as he was asked, and straightway the thousand Brethren(Monks) vanished from sight. The Little Merchant(now an Elder Monk) came back with the man.

When the meal was over, the Master said, "Jivaka, take Little Merchant's bowl; he will return thanks." Jivaka did so. Then like a young lion roaring defiance, the Elder Monk(Little Merchant) covered the whole of the sacred texts through in his address of thanks. Lastly, the Master rose from his seat and attended by the Order returned to the monastery, and there, after the assignment of tasks by the Brotherhood(Monks), he rose from his seat and, standing in the doorway of his perfumed chamber, delivered a Buddha-discourse to the Brotherhood. Ending with a theme which he gave out for meditation, and dismissing the Brotherhood, he retired into his perfumed chamber, and lay down lion-like on his right side to rest.

At evening, the orange-robed Brethren(Monks) assembled together from all sides in the Hall of Truth and sang the Master's praises, even as though they were spreading a curtain of orange cloth round him as they sat.

"Brethren(Monks)," they said, "Older Merchant failed to recognise the zeal of Little Merchant, and expelled him from the monastery as a dullard who could not even learn a single stanza in four whole months. But the All-Knowing Buddha by his supremacy in the Truth gave him Arhatship(Enlightenment equal to Buddha) with all its supernatural knowledge, even while a single meal was in progress. And by that knowledge he grasped the whole of the sacred texts. Oh! how great is a Buddha's power!"

Now the Lord Buddha, knowing full well (by clairaudience) the talk that was going on in the Hall of Truth, thought it well to go there. So, rising from his Buddha-couch, he ,wearing his two orange under-cloths, got up as if with lightning, clothed himself in his orange-coloured robe, the ample robe of a Buddha, and came to the Hall of Truth with the infinite grace of a Buddha, moving with the royal gait of an elephant in the grace of his vigour. Ascending the glorious Buddha-throne set in the midst of the magnificent hall, he seated himself upon the middle of the throne emitting those six-coloured rays which mark a Buddha, like the newly-arisen sun, just like from the peaks of the Yugandhara Mountains it illumines the depths of the ocean. Immediately as the All-Knowing One came into the Hall, the Brotherhood broke off their talk and were silent. Gazing round on the company with gentle loving-kindness, the Master thought within himself, "This company is perfect! Not a man is guilty of moving hand or foot improperly; not a sound, not a cough or sneeze is to he heard! In their reverence and awe of the majesty and glory of the Buddha, not a man would dare to speak before I did, even if I sat here in silence all my life long. But it is my part to begin; and I will open the conversation." Then in his sweet divine tones he addressed the Brethren(Monks) and said, "What, I request, is the theme of this meeting? And what was the talk which was broken off?"

"Sir," said they, "it was no useless theme, but your own praises that we were telling here in the meeting."

And when they had told him word for word what they had been saying, the Master said, "Brethren(Monks), Yes, through me Little Merchant has just now risen to great heights in the the Faith; in times past also it was to great things in the way of wealth that he rose, through me."

The Brethren(Monks) asked the Master to explain this; and the Lord Buddha made clear in these words a thing which previous existences had hidden from them:-


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares in Kasi, the Bodhisattva was born into the Treasurer's family, and growing up, was made Treasurer, being called Treasurer Little. A wise and clever man was he, with a keen eye for signs and omens. One day on his way to wait upon the king, he came on a dead mouse lying on the road; and, taking note of the position of the stars at that moment, he said, "Any decent young fellow with his wits about him has only to pick that mouse up, and he might start a business and keep a wife."

His words were overheard by a young man of good family but reduced circumstances, who said to himself, "That's a man who has always got a reason for what he says." And accordingly he picked up the mouse, which he sold for a small coin at a tavern for their cat.

With the small coin he got molasses and took drinking water in a water-pot. Coming on flower-gatherers returning from the forest, he gave each a tiny quantity of the molasses and served the water out to them. Each of them gave him a handful of flowers, with the proceeds of which, next day, he came back again to the flower grounds provided with more molasses and a pot of water. That day the flower-gatherers, before they went, gave him flowering plants with half the flowers left on them; and thus in a little while he obtained eight pennies.

Later, one rainy and windy day, the wind blew down a quantity of rotten branches and leaves in the king's garden, and the gardener did not see how to clear them away. Then up came the young man with an offer to remove the lot, if the wood and leaves might be his. The gardener closed with the offer on the spot. Then this good pupil of Treasurer Little went to the children's playground and in a very little while had got them by bribes of molasses to collect every stick and leaf in the place into a heap at the entrance to the garden. Just then the king's potter was on the look out for fuel to fire bowls for the palace, and coming on this heap, took the lot off his hands. The sale of his wood brought in sixteen pennies to this pupil of Treasurer Little, as well as five bowls and other vessels. Having now twenty-four pennies in all, a plan occurred to him. He went to the vicinity of the city-gate with a jar full of water and supplied 500 mowers with water to drink. Said they, "You've done us a good turn, friend. What can we do for you?" "Oh, I'll tell you when I want your aid," said he; and as he went about, he struck up an intimacy with a land-trader and a sea-trader. Said the former to him, "Tomorrow there will come to town a horse-dealer with 500 horses to sell." On hearing this piece of news, he said to the mowers, "I want each of you to-day to give me a bundle of grass and not to sell your own grass till mine is sold." "Certainly," said they, and delivered the 500 bundles of grass at his house. Unable to get grass for his horses elsewhere, the dealer purchased our friend's grass for a thousand pieces.

Only a few days later his sea-trading friend brought him news of the arrival of a large ship in port; and another plan struck him. He hired for eight pence a well appointed carriage which commuted for hire by the hour, and went in great style down to the port. Having bought the ship on credit and deposited his signet-ring as security, he had a pavilion pitched hard by and said to his people as he took his seat inside, "When merchants are being shown in, let them be passed on by three successive guides into my presence." Hearing that a ship had arrived in port, about a hundred merchants came down to buy the cargo; only to he told that they could not have it as a great merchant had already made a payment on account. So away they all went to the young man; and the footmen duly announced them by three successive guides, as had been arranged beforehand. Each man of the hundred forcefully gave him a thousand pieces to buy a share in the ship and then a further thousand each to buy him out altogether. So it was with 200,000 pieces that this pupil of Treasurer Little returned to Benares.

Actuated by a desire to show his gratitude, he went with one hundred thousand pieces to call on Treasurer Little. "How did you come by all this wealth?" asked the Treasurer. "In four short months, simply by following your advice," replied the young man; and he told him the whole story, starting with the dead mouse. Thought Lord High Treasurer Little, on hearing all this, "I must see that a young fellow of these parts does not fall into anybody else's hands." So he married him to his own grown-up daughter and settled all the family estates on the young man. And at the Treasurer's death, he became Treasurer in that city. And the Bodhisattva passed away to fare according to his deeds.


His lesson ended, the Supreme Buddha, the All-Knowing One himself, repeated this stanza:

With humblest start and small capital
A clever and able man will rise to wealth,
Even as his breath can nurse a tiny flame.

Also the Lord Buddha said, "It is through me, Brethren(Monks), that Little Merchant has just now risen to great heights in the Faith, as in times past to great things in the way of wealth." His lesson thus finished, the Master made the relation between the two stories he had told and identified the Birth in these concluding words, "Little Merchant was in those days the pupil of Treasurer Little, and I myself Lord High Treasurer Little."


(1)Jivaka, a prominent lay-follower of the Buddha, was physician to the Magadha King Seniya Bimbisara.

(2)Buddhism teaches the impermanence of things, and chief of the trains of thought for realising this teaching is the meditation on the body and its 32 impurities.

(3) These four branches were (i) understanding of the sense of the sacred books, (ii) understanding of their ethical truth, (iii) ability to justify an interpretation grammatically, logically, ., and (iv) the power of public exposition. Also see note (12) of Jataka 1.

(4)When a gift was made, the donor poured water over the hand of the donee. The gift that was here made by Jivaka was the food given to the Brotherhood(Monks).