Restraint from Drinking Intoxicants
F.7 Ex. Kumbha Jātaka (J.512)
Long ago before alcohol was produced industrially, it occurred by accident far away, deep in a forest in Kasi in India. In the forest there was a certain tree with a cleft between its branches. Rainwater collected in the cleft. Fruit like myrobalans and peppercorns from the surrounding trees fell in the water. At the foot of the tree was a rice plant and the birds in the forest would collect the rice seeds and perch to eat them in the bough of the tree. Some of the seeds fell in the water in the cleft of the tree too. The water, the fruit and the rice in the tree cleft were warmed by the heat of the sun until it fermented into alcohol, changing its colour, taste and smell. It became red in colour and the smell attracted birds to drink it. The birds drank some of the rotgut without realizing its danger — they only drank it to slake their thirst, mistaking it for water.
After only a taste the birds fell out of the tree unconscious — and the pile of birds under the tree did not escape the eye of a forester called Sura who happened to be passing by. He taught “that’s good luck for me today — I don’t have to catch birds and set my traps or spread my nets!” As he watched the birds continued to fall out of the tree one by one. In fact the birds were asleep and when then eventually woke up, they could fly away as normal. The hunter was curious and realized there must be something special up the tree. He climbed the tree and found the special liquid in the cleft with a tempting aroma. He tasted a little fluid — not knowing its dangers however by the time he had climbed down the tree he started to feel dizzy, unlike he had ever felt before — intoxicated. He picked up some of the unconscious birds from the foot of the tree and started to roast them on the coals of a bonfire he had built, and ate them as an appetizer with cup after cup of alcohol from the top of the tree. He felt like dancing and singing all by himself in the forest. Then he remembered a friend of his called Varuna who had become a hermit. He thought, “I ought to share discovery with my friend.” Thinking this, he took a flask of the alcohol for his friend to try. When Sura arrived at Varuna’s hermitage, he was sitting for meditation. Sura tapped on his shoulder, ”Hey friend! Don’t waste your time meditating. Drink this instead — it’s more fun!” You’ll feel intoxicated and relaxed.”
Varuna the hermit tasted it and laughed out loud. He felt more lively than usual and decided to give up being a hermit to see if he could make a living out of selling the liquor. Sura led the way back into the forest saying, “We’ll start by offering some to the king.”
Eventually they brought a sample of alcohol of offer to the king. They explained, “Your majesty, we have found the most wonderful, the most delicious drink in the world. A drink so amazing that you have never before tasted since the day you were born — won’t your majesty just try a sip?”
The king tasted it and liked it — and ordered more. Therefore Sura and Varuna were in and out of the forest all day long bringing alcohol from the tree for the king.
Later the two got tired of making the journey so often, so they contrived a synthetic process to produce the alcohol. The produced many barrel of the liquor. They reserved some of the liquor for the king but they sold the rest to citizens of the kingdom.
In the beginning the citizens asked what sort of drink it was — they replied, “It’s a delicious drink and call it ‘Sura’ after the discoverer.”
The citizens drank more and more. The more they drank, the less inclined the felt to work for a living. When they were drunk they would sleep all day. When they got sober they would drink more because it was so tasty. In the end, the whole kingdom went bankrupt — eventually going to rack and ruin. Sura and Varuna realized their market had collapsed so they moved to another kingdom, namely Benares, where the king and the citizens were still unaware of the side-effects. They brought Benares to rack and ruin in exactly the save way and moved on to the next kingdom, that of Saketa. The same thing happened there, so they moved to Sāvatthī.
In that kingdom, King Sabbamitta ordered 500 barrels of alcohol without even tasting it. However as they were pouring the alcohol into the barrels some split over the brim. A cat licked some of the spillings out of curiosity. The cat’s curiosity was not easily abated and eventually it got so drunk that it fell down unconscious. It lost all it’s cat-like dignity when the mice came out and nibbled its whisker and ears. Someone discovered the incapacitated cat and reported to the king that ‘curiosity had killed the cat’ — it had be poisoned to death by the alcohol. The King had Sura and Varuna up for treason and sent them for execution.
However before their heads were chopped off. The cat came round and wandered around dizzily. The king realized that alcohol was not poisonous and pardoned the two alcohol merchants — having preparation made for the launch of the new product.
The impending doom caused Indra, the king of heaven’s throne to show signs of heat. Indra realized that if he did not intervene and this major kingdom got addicted to alcohol in the same way as the lesser kingdoms before it, alcohol would spread unabated throughout the subcontinent... Indra therefore appeared to King Sabbamitta in the guise of young Brahmin holding a ‘gold pot’ floating in the air before the throne. The king marvelled, “O! Brahmin! — How come you can float in the air like that you are surely no ordinary being! What is that you have in your hand?”
The Brahmin replied, “This is a magic pot. In this pot is a fluid which is exceptionally delicious. Anyone who drinks this fluid will be so drunk they could fall head first in a pond, abandon their reason, sing in the street, run around naked and encourage their friends to do same. They will be shameless, sing raucously, walk back and forth all night each friend taking it in turn to see the other home. They will fall asleep so drunk that they won’t even notice if the house is burning down around them. Anyone who drinks this won’t even care about eating dog food off the floor, go around clumsily, unsuitably dressed in public, vomiting in the street or sleeping face down in their own vomit. Some have delusions of their own grandeur, or become hideously aggressive. Drinking such a fluid can kill you, it will consume all your wealth if you drink it. It will make you so shameless that you won’t think twice about insulting your parents, flirting with your daughter-in-law, shouting at your in-laws or having an affair with the maid. You will be capable of all this if you drink this fluid. You will think nothing of harming clergy, getting in arguments and fighting. Children will have no respect for their elders, adults will squabble, chatter aimlessly and tell lies, when they drink this fluid — they will forget to do the work they promised. The intelligent are reduced to fools. People forget to eat and nourish themselves properly, falling asleep in inappropriate places — anyone who drinks this fluid is like someone who has drunk poison. If your princes drink this they will elope with the court dancers. Even angels who drink this fluid fall out of heaven and become Titans [asūra]. This gold pot contains no butter, cheese or honey — it contains the fluid with all the side-effects I have been speaking of — does your majesty want some?”
“I certainly wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole — let alone drink it,” said the king and rewarded the Brahmin by granting him five estates, with a great deal of other riches. The king wanted the Brahmin to be his minister.
The Brahmin said, “You may keep your wealth and estates because I am already king of my own estate in heaven. It is out of anxiety that I have come here to warn your majesty. I am afraid otherwise that the whole subcontinent will come to rack and ruin. May your majesty be established in justice. May you practice in accordance with the Buddha’s teaching so that you too may gain heaven at the end of your life!”