Sunday, April 29, 2007

Legend of Wetsandon & Chuchok

The Prajna Paramita Sutra says:

"It is by means of the Dharma of having nothing whatsoever which is given away that he perfects Dana Paramita. This is because neither giver, receiver nor object given can be found."

In the world of Thai Buddhism there is a certain deity of a crooked, old brahmin called Chuchok (Jujaka). This odd-looking figure is believed to attract wealth for the person who venerates it. Who exactly is Chuchok and what is the story behind him?

Chuchok is actually one of the characters in the Jataka tale of Prince Wetsandon (Vessantara), the Bodhisattva's last life before he was reborn in the Tusita heaven. It is in this existence that the Bodhisattva, as Prince Wetsandon, brings his Dana Paramita to perfection. The tale goes like this:

Phusatti, the principal consort of Sakka (another name for the Indian thunder god Indra) descended to earth and became the mother of the Bodhisattva in his final birth. Phusatti, at the age of 16, marries King Sanjaya, the sovereign of Sivi. Once pregnant, she built six alms' halls where she distributed charity daily. While visiting Vessa, the merchants' quarter of the city, she gave birth to Vessantara. Vessantara became a generous and charitable boy, always wanting to give away his possessions, distributing alms on his favorite white elephant with whom he shared birth and whom he grew up together. Many subjects attributed the kingdom's rains to this white elephant.

But one day he gives the elephant away to brahmin emissaries from another kingdom, which enrages the citizens. They compel King Sanjaya to force Prince Vessantara and his wife, Maddi, who insists on accompanying him and their children, to go into exile. Before leaving, the prince gives away all of his possessions, making the "gift of the seven hundreds". Along the way, they encounter a group of people begging for their horses. The prince gives them his horses and they are taken away by these people. When Vessantara gave away the horses, the devas turn themselves into deers to pull the chariot, but he also gives away the chariot later. The couple continue on foot carrying their children. They reached a town, and the people there invite the couple to remain as King and Queen, but Vessantara refuses and leaves. After a long journey on foot, they reach a spot in the mountains, where they settle down in a forest hermitage. Husband and wife make a vow to live in chastity.

In another village, there is an old brahmin called Jujaka (Chuchok). His wife is pretty a young girl who marries him to repay the family debts. Her faithful care of the rather repulsive Jujaka only provokes the ire of the other village women since it makes their husbands demand the same uncomplaining attention. Jujaka 's wife forces him to find a servant when she refused to fetch water any longer. Having no money, and as a last resort, he decides to test the fabled generosity of Vessantara by asking for his children. Jujaka goes into the forest and meets a hermit who knows where Vessandara is residing. Jujaka then tries to trick the wise hermit into showing him the way to the hermitage. He eventually succeeds. When Chujok arrives, Maddi is on the mountain gathering berries. The devas, knowing that she will not understand the tests of Vessantara's generosity, turn themselves into wild animals and hold her at bay. The brahmin pretends to be a messenger from the King and invites Vessantara to return; but his true motive is to ask for Vessantara's children.

Vessantara is at first shocked and angry when the Jujaka asks him for the children as servants. Then he realizes that he has only given away his material possessions, never anything that was a part of his own being. He explains this to the children and asks them to help him in the great sacrifice. Jali assents gladly but his sibling Kanha was reluctant. Vessantara, agreeing to a large sum of ransom money, hands them to the brahmin.

The old Jujaka takes the children away, driving them ahead of him through the forest and treating them cruelly. During the night Jujaka sleeps on top of a tree safe from snakes and scorpions, while the children are being tied up. They escape once and return to the hermitage but Vessantara will not let them break a bargain. He makes them return to Jujaka.

When Maddi returns from the mountain she finds the children gone. Vessantara, fearing to add to her grief, will not speak. She falls into death-like faint. Later he explained to her of his great sacrifices. Another old man appears and asks for his wife. This is actually Sakka, the king of the gods, who has assumed the old man's form. After Vessantara has passed the test, Sakka resumes his divine form and returns Maddi, binding her over to his care.

Jujaka finally loses the children and they make their way back to the palace of their grandparents, the King and Queen. When he hears their story the King is angry with Prince Vessantara but Jali explains the ultimate test of his generosity. The King finally understands and orders that Vessantara be brought back from exile. He then pays Jujaka the agreed sum for ransom of his grandchildren. Jujaka wastes the ransom money lavishly on wine, women and dies from gluttony.

Finally King Sanjaya and the court set off for the forest to bring back Vessantara from exile. They remain at the hermitage for a month, feasting and celebrating until a smooth road could be prepared for the triumphal return to their kingdom. As in all traditional Indian stories, the story has a happy ending. The family is reunited, all of Prince Vessantara's possessions are returned to him, and they all live happily ever after.

So why is Chuchok, an evil brahmin who harassed the Bodhisattva in his last birth, associated with wealth attraction? Because it is precisely his meanness that helped Wetsandon to complete his perfection of giving. Paradoxically, he is believed to have made much merit in that way, and after he had finished suffering in the lower realms for his misdeeds, he would be reborn with great wealth and power. By venerating Chuchok, people believe they can share in his "merits" and also gain that kind of prosperity. But do these people really get what they seek? Hmm.. I leave this question for readers to think about.


Anonymous said...

Personally I doubt one can share the "merit" of Chuchok. Merit has to be cultivated by oneself and to venerate Chuchok because one needs merit I think is wrong view. Besides, I doubt I want to venerate Chuchok as I do not see him as a Buddha nor Arahant.


Anonymous said...

Why not think oneself as vessadorn bodisattva who give and give till oneself no more exist then samsara or chuchok became the field of merits and you become the Buddha..
just a view from my heart ..

Many notable sangha created chuchok is to remind us the great paramita of bodhisattva the Dana paramita(almost all chuchok is molded taking away valuables from the wearer Have you notice it ?)

To say they create chuchok is not right ?Are you Crazy ?The monks Is trying to tell you Be Bodhisattva Be Brave then next live Buddha you become ...

Better become a monk and take 227 precepts then you start to pinpoint ,read Bhrama Jala sutra then you know...evil monks or good monks as long wearing the samghati do not say they wrong ...if they are cheats,money making or etc...the Avici Hell door waiting for them


Anonymous said...

Fantastic explaination/telling story. I could not find a better explaination of Jhuchoak anywhere.

Thank you.


sleepyhead said...

Why cant we judge monks?There's good and bad people. There's good and bad monks. Buddha said never to blindly follow his teachings. It's only the person who left the second comment is a big fool.Wayne is only sharing the story.

Northern Star said...

whether or not, monks are disciples of lord buddha. only their teacher, lord buddha has every right to teach them. they belong to the sangha community, as we are just lay followers, again not buddha yet. please reflect on the basic precept before making any comments as we don't want to fall into the avici hells.

jinen said...

Hi, does you have the katha for chuchok?? Mind Sharing? ? Thanks in advance. .

mike stuart said...

chuchok has disciples and its call white snake or call white nagar, true or not? i need more information for this and if you can give because this white snake is at some where Mekong river with a bridge walking there.