Candala Champion
Matanga Jataka

It was while staying at Jetavana that the Buddha told this story about King Udena.

In a previous existence, Venerable Pindola had been a king in Kosambi and had been very fond of the royal park there. Remembering this, during the hot season, he often used his supernatural power to travel through the air from Jetavana to spend the hottest part of the day in the cool shade of that park. One day, while Venerable Pindola was sitting under a magnificent sal tree in full flower and enjoying the bliss of his arahatship, King Udena entered the garden with his retinue. Since the king had been drinking steadily for the past week, he lay down in the arms of one of his women on the great royal stone and immediately fell asleep. When the women who were singing, playing instruments, and dancing realized that the king was asleep, they stopped and wandered around the garden. As they were picking fruit and gathering flowers, they came upon Venerable Pindola. They paid their respects and sat down to listen to his teaching.

The woman who was holding the king shifted her weight slightly and the king awoke. Not seeing the musicians, he cried, "Where have those good for nothing women gone without my permission?"

"They are over there, Sire," the woman said, pointing. "They have gathered around an ascetic and are listening to his teaching."

Enraged, the king stormed across the garden and confronted Venerable Pindola. "What do you think you are doing?" he shouted at the bhikkhu. "What right have you to sit here with the women of my court? I'll teach you!" He ordered that an entire basket of biting red ants be dumped on Venerable Pindola's body. Venerable Pindola, however, immediately rose into the air and admonished the king not to get angry and not to be so hasty. Then he returned to Jetavana and alighted at the entrance to the Buddha's Perfumed Chamber.

"Where have you come from?" asked the Tathagata. Venerable Pindola told him what had happened, and the Buddha replied, "Pindola, this is not the first time that King Udena has tried to harm a religious man. Long ago, too, he did the same thing." At Venerable Pindola's request, the Buddha told this story of the past.

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta was born outside the city as the son of a candala and was named Matanga. One day, as he was entering the city, the palanquin of Ditthamangalika,[1] the daughter of a rich Baranasi merchant, passed by. This young woman was on her way to the park, where she went every month with her friends. Matanga stopped and stepped aside to get out of the way of the palanquin and the entourage. At that moment, however, Ditthamangalika happened to peer out from behind her curtain. She saw Matanga standing against the wall and asked one of her servants who he was. When she learned that he was a candala, she became very upset. "Curses!" she cried. "The mere sight of an outcaste brings bad luck for the whole day! Our party is ruined!" She quickly rinsed her eyes with perfumed water to remove the ritual pollution and returned home.

Her friends were furious and turned on Matanga. "You vile outcaste!" they shouted as the men beat him. "You have cheated us out of free food and liquor today!" They pelted him with stones and left him lying senseless on the ground.

When he regained consciousness, he thought, "I was just an innocent bystander, but Ditthamangalika's friends beat me for no reason whatsoever. For that, I will marry her! I will not give up until she is given to me!" He found her father's house and lay down in front of the door, refusing to move. When anyone asked why he was lying there, he simply replied, "All I want is Ditthamangalika."

Matanga lay there without moving, refusing to take any food. One day passed, then a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth. On the seventh day, Ditthamangalika's family, afraid of being disgraced by having a candala die on their doorstep, relented and gave Ditthamangalika to him as his wife.

"Stand up, Husband." Ditthamangalika said quietly to him. "Let us go to your house."

"Madam," Matanga replied, "I was severely beaten by your friends. I am weak from hunger and cannot walk. You must pick me up and carry me on your back!" Ditthamangalika obediently lifted her husband and, in full sight of all the neighbors, carried him through the city gate to the candala village.

Matanga kept Ditthamangalika in his house for a few days, without violating any caste rules. "Now that she has given up her pride of birth, I wish to show her the highest honor and to give her the best gifts," he declared. "The only way that I can do this is by renouncing the world." He summoned her and said, "Madam, unless I go to the forest to gather food, we will not be able to stay alive. Please wait patiently until I return. You must not worry!"

After instructing the members of his household to take care of Ditthamangalika, Matanga went into the forest and undertook the life of an ascetic. He practiced concentration meditation with such great energy and determination that, in only seven days, he had perfected the five extraordinary powers and the eight jhanas. "Now," he declared, "I will be able to protect Ditthamangalika properly!" Using his newly acquired supernatural power, he returned to Baranasi. He alighted at the gate of the candala village and walked to Ditthamangalika's house. As soon as she saw him, she began to weep. "Husband," she cried, "why did you desert me and become an ascetic?"

"Never mind, madam," he replied. "I intend to make you more glorious than before. In front of many people, will you be able to say one simple sentence?"

"I think so, Husband. What do you want me to say?"

"When anyone asks you about me, you must reply, 'My husband is not Matanga. My husband is the great Maha-Brahma himself!' Can you do that?"

"Yes, sir, I can."

"Excellent! When they ask you where your husband has gone, you must reply, 'He has gone to the Brahma heavens.' If they ask when he will come back, you must say, 'In seven days, he will come, breaking through the disk of the full moon!' Can you do that?"

"Yes, sir, I can," she replied, and Matanga went to the Himavat.

Ditthamangalika went about her daily life in Baranasi, and, whenever anyone asked, she loudly proclaimed, "My husband is not Matanga. My husband is the great Maha-Brahma himself!" People believed her, and, soon, the story had spread throughout the city. In every quarter, people were telling each other, "Her husband is not staying with her because he is Maha-Brahma. Next week, at the full moon, he will return in all his glory!"

On the seventh night, when the full moon was high in the sky, Matanga assumed the appearance of Maha-Brahma, and, with a great blaze of light which illuminated not only the city of Baranasi, but also the entire kingdom of Kasi, he broke through the moon. After circling the city three times, he began his descent. The multitude of worshipers shouted their adoration and offered garlands and incense as they followed him to the candala village. The devotees of Brahma reverently draped Ditthamangalika's house with white cloth. In front of the house, they spread the ground with four kinds of perfume and erected a pavilion with a splendid throne in the center. At the door of the pavilion, they laid a layer of white sand as smooth as a mirror, scattered flowers, stretched awnings, and hung banners. They lit incense and a lamp with scented oil and invited Matanga to sit on the throne.

When Ditthamangalika entered, Matanga understood that she was menstruating. He touched her navel with his thumb, and she immediately conceived. "Madam," he announced, "you are pregnant and will have a son. Both you and he will receive great honor and the highest tribute. The water that washes your feet will be used for the ceremonial sprinkling of kings throughout all of Jambudīpa. The water in which you bathe will become a magic elixir. Those who sprinkle it on their heads will be free from disease and will escape from bad luck. One who prostrates himself at your feet should offer you one thousand coins. One who kneels in respect should offer you one hundred coins. One who remains standing to greet you should offer you one coin. Madam, be diligent!" Then he stepped out of the pavilion. As the great crowd watched, he rose into the air and appeared to reenter the moon.

That great crowd remained standing outside the pavilion all night. The next morning, they placed Ditthamangalika in a golden palanquin, and, crying loudly, "The wife of Maha-Brahma! Make way for the wife of Maha-Brahma!" they carried her into the city. As they made a procession around the whole city of Baranasi, twelve leagues in extent, many worshiped her and offered coins according to Matanga's instructions. That day, she received eighteen crores of coins.

In the city center, the people erected a great pavilion and decorated it with rich curtains. They invited Ditthamangalika to stay there during her confinement, provided her with every comfort, and paid her great respect. After ten months, she gave birth to a son, whom the brahmins named Mandavya because he was born in the pavilion.

In front of the pavilion, the devotees had begun building a seven-story palace with seven magnificent entrance gates. All of the workers and the donors gained a great deal of merit in the construction, and the palace was completed about the time the prince was born. Mother and son moved into the palace, and Mandavya grew up there, amid great splendor. When he was seven years old, renowned teachers came and taught him the three Vedas. By the time he was sixteen, he was feeding sixteen thousand brahmins every day in the alms-hall at the fourth gateway.

One day, which happened to be a festival day, Mandavya, brilliantly dressed with golden slippers on his feet and a gold staff in his hand, was at the gateway giving directions to servants who were serving special rice porridge with fresh ghee, honey, and jaggery to the sixteen thousand brahmins. At that time, Matanga was meditating in his hermitage in the Himavat. He directed his thoughts to Baranasi and saw what was happening. "Ditthamangalika's son is going in the wrong direction," he thought. "I must teach him how to give so that his gift will bring great fruit!" He passed through the air to Lake Anotatta, rinsed out his mouth, and assumed the guise of a poor wandering ascetic, with a ragged robe and an earthen bowl. Passing again through the air, he alighted at the alms-hall right in front of Mandavya.

"Where are you from?" the youth shouted. "Who are you, you wretched outcaste? You look more like a yakkha than an ascetic! How dare you show up here, in your vile, filthy rags, picked up from the garbage! You're not worthy to receive alms here!"

"This delicious food, sir," Matanga replied gently, "is beautifully arranged and is being graciously offered. There is plenty here, and we take only what we need to live. Why not let a low caste man enjoy a bit, as well?"

"This food is prepared exclusively for brahmins," Mandavya retorted sharply, "given from my pious heart, that I may reap the blessing. It's not for the likes of you! Get out of here, you brute!"

Matanga calmly replied, "Sow seed on high ground and on low, in good faith, and you will find those worthy to receive your gifts."

"Don't talk to me about worthy recipients!" Mandavya haughtily snarled. "I know where to sow my seeds of faith! For me, the noble brahmins, highborn and lofty, those who know the sacred scriptures, are a fertile field of merit."

Matanga answered him, "Pride of birth, arrogance, drunkenness, greed, hatred, and ignorance! Those who harbor these wicked vices are a barren and infertile field for seeds of faith. Those in whom pride of birth, arrogance, drunkenness, greed, hatred, and ignorance find no place, they are a fertile field of merit!"

"This miserable beggar talks too much!" Mandavya shouted angrily. "Where are my servants? Gandakucchi, Upajjhaya, and Upajotiya!" he called. "Come here!"

The three servants came running and asked, "What is it, Master?"

"Who is this damned outcaste?" Mandavya asked. "Have you ever seen him before"

"No, sir!" they replied. "He must be a juggler, a gambler, or some other trouble-maker!"

"How did he get in?"

"We don't know, sir. He didn't come through the outer gates."

"Well, don't just stand there! Do something!"

"What shall we do, Master?"

"Seize the miserable outcaste! Beat him! Whip him until his back is raw! Torture him! Break his jaw! Kill him, if you feel like it! Just get rid of him!"

Before the men could touch him, Matanga rose and stood poised in the air over their heads. "Reviling a sage," that champion of truth and right proclaimed, "is like swallowing a blazing ball of fire, biting hard iron, or leveling a mountain with your fingernails!"

While all the brahmins were gazing at him, Matanga turned to the east and flew away. Making a determination that his footprints should be visible, he came down in a street near the eastern gate and begged for alms. Then he went to sit in a nearby hall to eat his meager fare.

All the devas of the city were outraged that Mandavya had dared to speak so rudely to the great sage. The chief of the devas grabbed Mandavya and twisted his neck so sharply that his head faced backward. "He must be punished for his wickedness!" the deva declared, but, out of respect for Matanga, he did not kill the boy. Nevertheless, the youth's body was stiff, and his eyes rolled back in his head. Other devas grabbed the sixteen thousand brahmins and twisted their necks as well. They all appeared dead as they lay on the pavement with spittle dribbling from their mouths.

People informed Ditthamangalika that something had happened to her son, and she hurried to the alms-hall. When she saw Mandavya, she was sure that he was dead and cried, "What has happened here? Who has done this to my son?"

Several bystanders tried to explain what had happened, but no one really knew.

"There was an ascetic here," said one.

"His robes were very dirty, like something picked up from the garbage," said another.

"He said something to your son," said a third.

"He must have done this!" added another.

"No one else has the power to do such a thing!" Ditthamangalika thought. "It must have been the wise Matanga! He is steadfast and full of goodwill to all creatures, however. He would never make all these people suffer like this. I wonder what he did and where he has gone."

Aloud she asked, "In what direction did that ascetic go? In order to bring Mandavya back to life, we must make atonement for the offense."

"He rose into the air and went toward the eastern gate," several young men told her.

Ditthamangalika took a solid gold pitcher and bowl and went with a company of maidservants to look for her husband. Near the eastern gate, she saw his footprints and followed them to the hall where he was sitting and eating his meal.

Ditthamangalika walked to the hall, paid her respects to Matanga, and stood in front of him. As soon as he saw her, he dropped the last bit of rice back into his earthen bowl. Ditthamangalika poured water for him from the gold pitcher, and he washed his hands and rinsed out his mouth.

"I found my son stretched out on the floor," she said, "with his head twisted backwards and his eyes rolled back in his head. I'm afraid that he is dead! Who did such a cruel thing?"

"There are powerful devas all around who respect wise ascetics. Offended by your son's wicked and violent abuse, they must have decided to punish him."

"Devas!" she cried. "Please, wise sage, do not be angry with me! My brother, I love my son! I beg for your help and your protection."

"I neither have, nor have I ever had, thoughts of enmity," Matanga assured her. "Your son has been badly educated. He is drunk with ignorant pride of birth and knows nothing of the true meaning of the scriptures."

"Yes, Brother," she replied. "Please forgive me for not teaching my son humility and tolerance. Though the wise are never fierce in rage, I know that he is prone to flashes of anger."

Matanga was pacified by Ditthamangalika's apology. "Let me give you an elixir," he offered compassionately, "which will restore your foolish son to you."

She held out the gold bowl, and he dropped into it the leftovers from his earthen bowl. "Place some of this rice in your son's mouth," he instructed her, "and he will be released by the devas and will return to normal. Mix the rest with water, and put it in the mouths of the afflicted brahmins, and they will also be restored." Then he arose and departed for the Himavat.

Ditthamangalika placed the golden bowl on her head and returned to the palace, announcing as she walked, "I have the elixir of life! I have the elixir of life!"

When she reached the alms-hall, she knelt and put half of the rice in her son's mouth. Immediately, the devas fled, and Mandavya straightened his neck and got up. Brushing the dust from his robes, he asked, "Mother, what happened?"

"You know well enough that you have done wrong!" she replied. "Look at the miserable plight of the brahmins you feed!"

As Mandavya looked around, he was horrified and filled with remorse.

"Mandavya, my dear son," Ditthamangalika admonished him, "you have been a fool! You must learn how to give so that your gift will bear fruit. Ignorant, greedy, hating, and conceited men like these are not fit for your generosity. Only those like the wise Matanga are truly worthy. Gifts given to the wicked bear little fruit, but from offerings given to calm and holy men the reward is great. From now on, be generous to virtuous ascetics who, through their meditation, have perfected the eight jhanas. Offer your gifts to Pacceka Buddhas and to wise sages. Now, my son, let me give these servants the elixir and make them whole once more."

She poured water into the bowl, mixed it with the leftover rice, and placed a few drops in the mouth of each of the sixteen thousand brahmins. All of them got up and brushed the dust from their robes. Having been fed the leavings of a candala, they regarded themselves as defiled. Knowing that they would be declared outcastes by other brahmins, they left Baranasi in disgrace and went to the kingdom of Mejjha.

At that time, in Mejjha, there was a brahmin ascetic, named Jatimanta, living on the bank of the Vettavatī River. Jatimanta was obsessively proud of his brahmin birth. In order to humble him, Matanga built a hermitage upstream from him and practiced his meditation there. One day, Matanga intentionally dropped a toothstick he had used into the water. The toothstick floated downstream and got entangled in Jatimanta's matted hair while he was performing his ablutions. "Curse the brute who tossed this into the water!" he fumed. "I'll take care of whoever did it! Just let me lay my hands on him!" He walked upstream along the bank and found Matanga.

"Did you throw a toothstick into the river?" Jatimanta asked Matanga.

"Yes, I did," Matanga replied calmly.

"What is your caste?"

"I am a candala,"

"You vile outcaste!" Jatimanta shouted. "Damn you, you filthy brute! I forbid you to stay here another minute. Go downstream, where you belong! Make sure this never happens again!"

Matanga calmly picked up his bowl and complied with the brahmin's demand. Even after setting up his residence downstream, however, all the toothsticks he threw into the river floated against the current and got entangled in Jatimanta's hair.

Jatimanta again stormed into Matanga's hermitage. "Curse you!" he shouted. "If you stay here, in seven days, your head will split into seven pieces!"

Matanga did not reply. "If I allow myself to feel any anger toward this man," he thought, "I will be violating my virtue. Nevertheless, I must find a way to break his pride."

On the seventh day, Matanga used his supernatural power to prevent the sunrise. Throughout Jambudīpa people were inconvenienced by the lack of sun. Many devotees flocked to Jatimanta's hermitage and asked "Is it you, sir, who is preventing the sun from rising today?"

"No," Jatimanta answered, "I have nothing to do with it, but there is a candala ascetic living downstream. I'm sure this is his doing."

The people proceeded downstream and asked Matanga whether he was responsible for the sun's failure to rise.

"Yes, friends," Matanga replied. "I have stopped the sun."

"Why did you do it?" they asked.

"That brahmin ascetic, who is your favorite, has reviled me. Although I am completely innocent, he despises me simply because of my caste. Only when he falls at my feet and begs forgiveness, will I release the sun."

They hurried back upstream and dragged Jatimanta, very much against his will, to Matanga's hermitage and threw him down at Matanga's feet. "Now, sir," they pleaded, "please release the sun."

"My friends," Matanga replied, "If I released the sun immediately, this wretched man's head would split into seven pieces."

"Well, sir," they asked, "what are we to do?"

"Bring me a lump of clay," Matanga told them. After they had brought it, he said, "Now put the lump of clay on this ascetic's head, carry him to the river, and lower him into the water."

The people did exactly as Matanga had instructed. As they lowered Jatimanta into the water, the sun rose, the lump of clay split into seven pieces, and the ascetic, completely humbled, sank in the water.

"Now, where are those sixteen thousand brahmins who believed themselves defiled by eating my leftovers?" Matanga wondered. "Let me humble them, too." He immediately perceived they were staying with the king of Mejjha. Using his supernatural power, he transported himself to the capital and began walking for alms in the neighborhood where the brahmins were staying. The brahmins saw him and became worried. "If he stays here," they said to each other, "we will soon find ourselves without any support!"

Hoping to drive him away, they hurried to the king. "Sire," they complained, "a charlatan has just arrived in your capital. He is no more than a juggler, but he is posing as an ascetic and is begging in the streets. You must arrest him!"

"Of course!" replied the king, and he sent his men to seize Matanga.

They found him sitting on a bench beside a well, quietly eating from his earthen bowl. One of the soldiers drew his sword and cut off the wise ascetic's head.

The devas instantly rose up and poured down a torrent of hot ashes, completely destroying Mejjha and all its inhabitants. Thus, it is said: "Because of the death of the glorious Matanga, the entire kingdom of Mejjha was swept away by the devas!" Matanga was reborn in the Brahma heavens.

Having concluded his story, the Buddha said, "Thus, this is not the first time that King Udena has abused a religious man." Then the Buddha identified the birth: "At that time, King Udena was Mandavya, and I was the wise Matanga."

[1] Her name means "One who is superstitious about what is seen."

From Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology, retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy. 2010, Vol. 2, pp 838-848, ©Ken and Visakha Kawasaki