Looking for a Jataka - flying rishi loses iddhi


Is there a Jataka or maybe a story from another ancient Indian tradition that has a rishi who can fly accept alms every day from a princess, and then one day he happens to see her naked and loses his powers and it takes him years to get them back?


When I read your post earlier, I knew I’d heard or seen basically a very similar story before, but, annoyingly, couldn’t remember where. Eventually I figured out it was in an Ajahn Brahm talk. A google search just now turned up a shortish clip of Ajahn Brahm telling a version of this story:
This may not actually be the talk I originally heard the story in (Ajahn Brahm does tend to reuse good stories more than once). And, unfortunately also, there’s no mention of the original source of the story.

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Funnily enough, I was at that exact retreat and that’s where I heard the story too. The clip reminded me, I wonder what the original source is? Ajahn Brahm refers to the ascetic as a Buddhist monk but it does sound very much like a Jataka.

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Falling away from jhāna or losing one’s supernormal powers through seeing a beautiful woman is a common event in Buddhist Jātakas and in Indian ascetic texts in general.

Ajahn Brahm’s narration is probably of the Mudulakkhaṇa Jātaka, Ja66.


A few others:

Niḷinikā Jātaka, Ja526
Lomasakassapa Jātaka, Ja433
Haritaca Jātaka, Ja431
Cūḷapalobhana Jātaka, Ja263
Mahāpalobhana Jātaka, Ja507
Alambusā Jātaka, Ja523
Indriya Jātaka, Ja423

And just one Jātaka that I know of where it’s a female ascetic (though not one with any attainments) who goes astray:

The story of the samaṇī Saccatapāvī in the infamous Kuṇāla Jātaka, Ja536


My favorite one—I can’t recall at the moment which one—is where the rishi flies with his psychic powers up to the royal chambers every morning for alms. Every day he does this, then gracefully flies back down to his hut in the palace grounds. One day, the king is out, and the queen sleeps in. When the rishi flies up to the chamber, she gets up in a hurry, her robe slips, and he sees her naked. After receiving alms he says, “Umm, I think I’ll take the stairs today!” :blush:



I’d forgotten that one. It’s the Saṅkap­pa­rā­ga Jātaka, Ja251.


Oh, right, yes. And of course, the rishi is the Bodhisatta!

You’ve got to love the colorful language of the Jatakas:

Then the evil passion that had been calmed by the power of his ecstasy rose as a cobra rises spreading his hood


Thank you venerables. But this strikes me as doctrinally problematic, from Ja251, could it be just a translation issue:

The Master asked the reason, and he recounted what had happened. Said he, “O Brother, it has happened before that these women have caused impurity to spring up even in pure beings whose sins have been stayed by the power of ecstasy. Why should not vain men like you be defiled, when defilement comes even to the pure? Even men of the highest repute have fallen into dishonour; how much more the unpurified! Shall not the wind that shakes Mount Sineru also stir a heap of old leaves? This sin has troubled the enlightened Buddha himself, sitting on his throne, and shall it not trouble such an one as you?”

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I think the Jatakas are not always doctrinally straight.

Also for example this passage:

I am not aware of the Buddha saying that it’s the woman’s fault when “impurity springs up” in a man… Everyone is responsible for their own mind, I’d rather say. Or have their own conditioning, and are responsible for how to deal with it.

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Yes, it’s a very old translation.

The phrase, pubbe jhānabalena vikkhambhitakilesānaṃ (“whose sins have been stayed by the power of ecstasy”) would be better rendered: “whose defilements were formerly suppressed by the power of jhāna.”

The passage is referring to those who have arrived at temporary purity by jhānic suppression of defilements, not permanent purity by cutting off defilements.

The Pali doesn’t say “Buddha”. I understand it to be referring to the time of temptation by Māra’s daughters under the Bodhi tree but before awakening.

bodhitale nisīditvā abhisambujjhanaka-sattaṃ ayaṃ kileso āloḷesi

“This defilement troubled [even] the being-in-the-process-of-awakening after he had sat down at the foot of the Bodhi tree.”

Mahamakut Thai translation:
กิเลสนี้ยังก่อกวนสัตว์ผู้นั่งอยู่ที่โคนต้นโพธิ์ กำลังจะตรัสรู้ได้


I think the statement is acceptable provided it’s treated as a teaching whose meaning needs amplifying (neyyāttha) and not a definitive one. There are in fact sutta passages expressing ideas in much the same vein, e.g., itthī malaṃ brahmacariyassa in the Uppatha and Najīrati Suttas, SN1.58; SN1.76.

The needed amplification consists in pointing out that it’s one’s improper attention to a subhanimitta that gives rise to sensual desire, and not the nimitta alone.


Seeing a beautiful objects gives rise to … ok no such thing as a beautiful object (except in terms of conventional parlance) there are objects, which gives rise to pleasant feelings, which in turn can lead to craving. Now it say someone is to blame for this causal process is to misunderstand what is happening -under the guise of a Self.

with metta,