Family Group: Pañña, Wisdom

With summer vacations and COVID outbreaks cutting into our schedules, it’s been awhile since our last family group and it will be awhile still before the next one.  But it was a joy to come together for a special session dealing with a very special topic- one of the most important qualities we can develop to avoid pain and cultivate happiness.  That is, of course, Wisdom.

We started with some questions to help reach a common understanding:

What is Wisdom? Who is wise? What is the opposite of wisdom? What supports wisdom? What helps wisdom grow?

All the while we had some pictures up on the screen of wise figures from history and lore:  socrates, confucious, ghandi, hermits and yogis, the buddha, even yoda!  Though it’s not a normal line of conversation, we found that there was a lot of agreement.  We do, as individuals, understand what wisdom is.  So it’s good to make much of it, and understand what it’s for, where it is weak and strong, and how to grow through our lives.  It’s also good to reiterate that if we don’t know the solutions to a problem we face, we can always seek advice from someone we know to be at least more wise and calm than ourselves.

The highlight of the group is always the chance to act out a story from the Buddha’s own quest to develop the paramī’s, and this week we had a story about Mahosadha, or Great Wisdom, one of the ten last lives of the Bodhisatta and a beloved jataka tale of the ages.


The Story of Mahosadha

This is the story of one of the last ten lives of the Bodhisatta. The last ten are some of the most important stories because the Bodhisatta had been working on all ten paramī’s for a long time and was almost done. There were many lifetimes where the bodhisatta was developing his Wisdom, but in this life he was really put to the test.

Characters: King, Mahosadha, Sage, Kevatta the Warchief

This story takes place long ago in the great kingdom city of Vedeha. In this city there was a king who was a little foolish and tended to believe whatever he was told. But he tried hard to rule his kingdom the right way, so he found the four wisest sages in all Vedeha to be his advisers. These sages sometimes argued to try to win the position of chief sage, but generally they gave good advice and the kingdom of Vedeha prospered. Whenever he had a problem or decision to make, he would ask their advice.

One day the King had a very strange dream and rushed to the four sages to tell them.

KING: “I was sitting in the courtyard of the castle surrounded by four large bonfires. They were very bright and I could feel their warmth. Then next to me a little fire started, at first as small as a firefly. It started growing! I backed away as it grew larger and larger until it swallowed up all the other bonfires and spread light over the whole kingdom. Yet it wasn’t hot! It burned and yet it was very cool. What does this mean?”

The sages talked among themselves and then one said,

SAGE: “These four bonfires represent us four sages. We bring light and warmth to the kingdom. But it seems this dream tells the future – a fifth sage will arise that will grow to be the chief of us all. And they will bring peace to the land!”

The king was very happy with this dream, but soon forgot about it. He found out he was going to be a father! Nine months later his son was born. They knew this boy would be special because he was born holding a rare medicinal plant. His mother felt no pain during the birth and anyone who visited him was cured of any disease they had. Because of this they named the boy, “Mahosadha” or “Great Medicine”.

Mahosadha was smart and wise, and he had many talents. When he was just a boy he oversaw the construction of a palace with a large and peaceful garden where he would spend his childhood. Anyone who came to the garden felt peaceful and people came from all around to ask Mahosadha for advice with their problems. He listened to them calmly and gave good advice.

When Mahosadha turned 16, the King told the sages:

KING: I hear my son Mahosadha has become very wise. Please send for him and bring him to my palace. He will become my chief adviser!

But the Sages didn’t want to give up the power they had over the king.

SAGE: Great King! We will do this but it’s important we test the boy first! If he can’t pass our tests he is not ready to guide you yet.

KING: Oh? Well, if you think that’s best. I trust you to find out if he is ready.

The sages took turns coming up with puzzles and riddles to try to test Mahosadha. At first they were trying to prevent him from becoming the chief sage. But Mahosadha calmly worked through each riddle and puzzle, and over time the sages had to admit Mahosadha was much wiser than them. Finally, having passed all the tests, Mahosadha was invited to the main palace and became the head adviser for the King.

At this time there was a fierce warlord in the neighboring lands named Kevatta. Kevatta ruled with violence and fear, not with wisdom. He conquered other countries one by one and his army kept getting bigger.

When Mahosadha learned of Kevatta, he knew they must prepare Vedeha to face him. He designed strong castle walls and defenses himself and managed the construction. He also sent spies to live with Kevatta’s army so he would know what the warlord was doing. When Kevatta prepared to attack Vedeha, Mahosadha knew he was coming.

As the enemy army approached Vedeha, they were shocked to hear not screaming and terror but the sounds of a great festival.

KEVATTA: These people aren’t worried at all! No wonder, their walls are so high and thick. Soldiers, surround the city! We will starve them out!

He ordered his army to dam all the rivers and cut off the water supply trying to make them thirsty. But Mahosadha had built deep wells, and he let fountains pour over the castle walls. Kevatta tried to block food from coming into the city, but Mahosadha had the guards on the walls toss fruit and bread down to Kevatta’s army, claiming they had too much and wanted to share. Kevatta then thought they would prevent all wood from getting to the city so nobody could cook or heat their homes, but in response Mahosadha had giant bonfires lit every night to brighten up the sky.

KEVATTA: This Vedeha will never fall to a seige! They have enough supplies to last for years. That makes me want to conquer them even more!! I will devise a special plan to defeat them using trickery.

Kevatta sent a messenger to offer to meet Mahosadha at the city gate. Kevatta knew that in Vedeha it was a custom when people first met for the younger person to bow to the older. Kevatta wanted to use this. He told his army that when Mahosadha bowed to him, it would mean they had surrendered the city. The army should charge forward through the gates without fear.

MAHOSADHA: This Kevatta is offering to meet me, but I hear his is a very violent and sneaky person. I think I see what he will try to do. I am much younger than him, and he will try to use our customs of paying respect to elders against me.

SAGE: Great Prince! Don’t go!

KING: Yes, let’s hide behind our walls! He can’t stay there forever!

MAHOSADHA: Don’t worry everybody, I have a plan.

Mahosadha fetched the most beautiful jewel in the kingdom, a giant topaz the size of an orange, and had it in his pocket. When the time came Mahosadha went to meet Kevatta at the city gate. But just when Mahosadha was supposed to bow in respe ct, he let the gem slip from his pocket.

Kevatta saw the gem and in his greed he bent down quickly to pick it up. Mahosadha put a hand on Kevatta’s shoulder.

MAHOSADHA: Oh please, don’t bow to me! I’m younger than you.

But when Kevatta tried to stand Mahosadha’s arm prevented him. The soldiers in the back of Kevatta’s army saw him bowing to Mahosadha and thought Kevatta was the one surrendering! They all ran away in fear of being captured. With Kevatta’s army running he was left alone, and he was captured and disgraced.

In this way, Mahosadha overcame all obstacles and returned peace to the land. He used his wisdom and intelligence to see danger coming and find the best solution to his problems.

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