Category Archives: jataka tales

Maccha Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his family-priest.

In those days some fishermen had cast their net into the river. And a great big fish came along amorously toying with his wife. She, scenting the net as she swam ahead of him, made a circuit round it and escaped. But her amorous spouse, blinded by passion, sailed right into the meshes of the net. As soon as the fishermen felt him in their net, they hauled it in and took the fish out; they did not kill him at once, but flung him alive on the sands. [211] “We’ll cook him in the embers for our meal,” said they; and accordingly they set to work to light a fire and whittle a spit to roast him on. The fish lamented, saying to himself, “It’s not the torture of the embers or the anguish of the spit or any other pain that grieves me; but only the distressing thought that my wife should be unhappy in the belief that I have gone off with another.” And he repeated this stanza:

Tis not the cold, the heat, or wounding net;

Tis but the fear my darling wife should think

Another’s love has lured her spouse away.

Just then the priest came to the riverside with his attendant slaves to bathe. Now he understood the language of all animals. Therefore, when he heard the fish’s lamentation, he thought to himself, “This fish is lamenting the lament of passion. If he should die in this unhealthy state of mind, he cannot escape rebirth in hell. I will save him.” So he went to the fishermen and said, “My men, don’t you supply us with a fish every day for our curry?” “what do you say, sir?” said the fishermen; “pray take away with you any fish you may take a fancy to.” “We don’t need any but this one; only give us this one.” “He’s yours, sir.”

Taking the fish in his two hands, the Bodhisatta seated on the bank and said, “Friend fish, if I had not seen you to-day, you would have met your death. Cease for the future to be the slave of passion.” And with this exhortation he threw the fish into the water, and went into the city.


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Sammodamana Jataka

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a quil, and lived in the forest at the head of many thousands of quails. In those days a fowler who caught quails came to that place; and he used to imitate the note of a quail till he saw that the birds had been drawn together, when he flung his net over them, and whipped the sides of the net together, so as to get them all huddled up in a heap. Then he crammed them into his basket, and going home sold his prey for a living.

Now one day the Bodhisatta said to those quails, “This fowler is making havoc among our kinsfolk. I have a device where by he will be unable to catch us. Henceforth, the very moment he throws the net over you, let each one put his head through a mesh and then all of you together must fly away with the net to such place as you please, and there let it down on a thorn-brake; this done, we will all escape form our several meshes.” “Very good,” said they all in ready agreement.

On the morrow, when the net was cast over them, they did just as the Bodhisatta had told them:- they lifted up the net [209] and let it down on a thorn-brake, escaping themselves form underneath. While the fowler was still disentangling his net, evening came on; and he went away empty-handed. On the morrow and following days the quails played the same trick. So that it became the regular thing for the fowler to be engaged till sunset disentangling his net, and then to betake himself home empty-handed. Accordingly his wife grew angry and said, “Day by day you return empty-handed; I suppose you’ve got a second establishment to keep up elsewhere.”

“No, my dear,” said the fowler; “I’ve no second establishment to keep up. The fact is those quails have come to work together now. The moment my net is over them, off they fly with it and escape, leaving it on a thorn-brake. Still, they won’t live in unity always. Don’t you bother yourself; as soon as they start bickering among themselves, I shall bag the lot, and that will bring a smile to your face to see.” And so saying, he repeated this stanza to his wife:-

While concord reigns, the birds bear off the net.

When quarrels rise, they’ll fall a prey to me.

Not long after this, one of the quails, in alighting on their feeding ground, trod by accident on another’s head. “Who trod on my head?” angrily cried this latter. “I did; but I didn’t mean to. Don’t be angry,” said the first quail. But notwithstanding this answer, the other remained as angry as before. Continuing to answer one another, they began to bandy taunts, saying, “I suppose it is you single-handed who life up the net.” As they wrangled thus with one another, the Bodhisatta thought to himself, “There’s no safety with one who is quarrelsome. The time has come to great destruction. The fowler will get his opportunity. I can stay here no longer.” And thereupon he with his following went elsewhere.

Sure enough the fowler [210] came back again a few days later, and first collecting them together by imitating the note of a quail, flung his net over them. Then said one quail, “They say when you were at work lifting the net, the hair of your head fell off. Now’s your time; life away.” The other rejoined, “When you were lifting the net, they say both your wings moulted. Now’s your time; lift away.”

But whilst they were each inviting the other to lift the net, the fowler himself lifted the net for them and crammed them in a heap into his basket and bore them off home, so that his wife’s face was wreathed with smiles.



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Dummedha Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was reborn in the womb of the Queen Consort. When he was born, he was named Prince Brahmadatta on his name – day. By sixteen years of age he had been well educated at Takkasila, had learned the Three Vedas by heart, and was versed in the Eighteen Branches of Knowledge. And his father made him a Viceroy.

            Now in those days the Benares folk were much given to festivals to ‘gods’, and used to shew honour to ‘gods’. It was their wont to massacre numbers of sheep, goats, poultry, swine, and other living creatures, and perform their rites not merely with flowers and perfumes but with gory carcasses. Thought the destined Lord of Mercy to himself, “Led astray by superstition, men now wantonly sacrifice life; the multitude are for the most part given up to irreligion: but when at my father’s death I succeed to my inheritance, I will find means to end such destruction of life. I will devise some clever stratagem whereby the evil shall be stopped without harming a single human being.” In this mood the prince one day mounted his chariot and drove out of the city. On the way he saw a crowd gathered together at a holy banyan – tree, praying to the fairy who had been reborn in that tree, to grant them sons and daughters, honour and wealth, each according to his heart’s desire. Alighting from his chariot the Bodhisatta drew near to the tree and behaved as a worshipper so far as to make offerings of perfumes and flowers, sprinkling the tree with water; and pacing reverently round its trunk. Then mounting his chariot again, he went his way back into the city.

            Thenceforth the prince made like journeys from time to time to the tree , and worshipped it like a true believer in ‘gods.’

            In due course, when his father died, the Bodhisatta ruled in his stead. Shunning the four evil courses, and practising the ten royal virtues, he ruled his people in righteousness. And now that his desire had come to pass and he was king, the Bodhisatta set himself to fulfil his former resolve. So he called together his ministers, the Brahmins, the gentry, and the other orders of the people, and asked the assembly whether they knew how he had made himself king. But no man could tell.

            “Have you ever seen me reverently worshipping a banyan – tree with perfumes and the like, and bowing down before it?”

“Sire, we have,” said they.

            “Well, I was making a vow; and the vow was that, if ever I became king, I would offer a sacrifice to that tree. And now that by help of the god I have come to be king, I will offer my promised sacrifice. So prepare it with all speed.”

            “But what are we to make it of?”

            “My vow,” said the king, “was this:- All such as are addicted to the Five Sins, to wit the slaughter of living creatures and so forth, and all such as walk in the Ten Paths of Unrighteousness, them will I slay, and with their flesh and their blood, with their entrails and their vitals, I will make my offering. So proclaim by beat of drum that our lord the king in the days of his viceroyalty vowed that if ever he became king he would slay, and offer up in a sacrifice, all such of his subjects as break the Commandments. And now the king wills to slay one thousand of such as are addicted to the Five Sins or walk in the Ten Paths of Unrighteousness; with the hearts and the flesh of the thousand shall a sacrifice be made in the god’s honour. Proclaim this that all may know throught the city. Of those that transgress after this date,” added the king, “will I slay a thousand, and offer them as a sacrifice to the god in discharge of my vow.” And to make his meaning clear the king uttered this stanza:-

                        A thousand evil – doers once I vowed

                            In pious gratitude to kill;

                        And evil – doers form so huge a crowd,

                            That I will now my vow fulfil.

            Obedient to the king’s commands, the ministers had proclamation made by beat of drum accordingly throughout the length and breadth of Benares. Such was the effect of the proclamation on the townsfolk that not a soul persisted in the old wickedness. And throughout the Bodhisatta’s reign not a man was convicted of transgressing. Thus, without harming a single one of his subjects, the Bodhisatta made them observe the Commandments. And at the close of a life of alms – giving and other good works he passed away with his followers to throng the city of the devas.


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Abhinha Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his minister. In those days there was a dog which used to go to the stall of the elephant of state, and eat the gobbets of rice which fell where the elephant fed. Haunting the place for the food’s sake, the dog grew very friendly with the elephant, and at last would never eat except with him. And neither could get on without the other. The dog used to disport himself by swinging back wards and forwards on the elephant’s trunk. Now one day a villager bought the dog of the mahout and took the dog home with him. Thence forward the elephant, missing the dog, refused either to eat or drink or take his bath; and the king was told of it. His majesty dispatched the Bodhisatta to find out why the elephant behaved like this. Proceeding to the elephant – house, the Bodhisatta, seeing how sad the elephant was, said to himself, “He has got no bodily ailment; he must have formed an ardent friendship, and is sorrowing at the loss of his friend.” So he asked whether the elephant had become friends with anyone.

            “Yes, my lord,” was the answer; “there’s very warm friendship between him and a dog.” “Where is that dog now?” “A man took it off.” “Do you happen to know where that man lives?” “No, my lord.” The Bodhisatta went to the king and said, “There is nothing the matter with the elephant, sire; but he was very friendly with a dog, [190] and it is missing his friend which has made him refuse to eat, I imagine.” And so saying, he repeated this stanza:-

                        No morsel can he eat, no rice or grass;

                        And in the bath he takes no pleasure now.

                        Methinks, the dog had so familiar grown,

                        That elephant and dog were closest friends.

            “Well,” said the king on hearing this; what is to be done now, sage?” “Let proclamation be made by beat of drum, your majesty, to the effect that a man is reported to have carried off a dog of which the elephant of state was fond, and that the man in whose house that dog shall be found, shall pay such and such a penalty.” The king acted on this advice; and the man, when he came to hear of it, promptly let the dog loose. A way ran the dog at once, and made his way to the elephant. The elephant took the dog up in his trunk, and placed it on his head and wept and cried, and, again setting the dog on the ground, saw the dog eat first and then took his own food.

            “Even the minds of animals are known to him,” said the king, and he loaded the Bodhisatta with honours.


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Varuni Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was the Treasurer of Benares, and had a tavern-keeper who lived under his protection. This man having got ready a supply of strong spirits, which he left his apprentice to sell while he himself went off the bathe, during his absence his apprentice mixed salt with the liquor, and spoiled it just in the same way. When on his return the young man’s guide and master came to know what had been done, he told the story to the Treasure. ‘Truly,’ said the latter, ‘the ignorant and foolish, with every desire to do good, only succeed in doing harm.’ And he recited this stanza:

                        “Tis knowledge crowns endeavour with success;

                        For fools are thwarted by their foolishness,

                        -Witness Kondanna’s salted bowl of grog.

In these lines the Bodhisatta taught the truth.



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Aramadusaka Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, a festival was proclaimed in the city; and at the first summoning notes of the festal drum out poured the townsfolk to keep holiday.

            Now in those days, a tribe of monkeys was living in the king’s pleasaunce; and the king’s gardener thought to himself, “They’re holiday- making up in the city. I’ll get the monkeys to do the watering for me, and be off to enjoy myself with the rest.” So saying, he went to the king of the monkeys, and, first dwelling on the benefits his majesty and his subjects enjoyed from residence in the pleasaunce in the way of flowers and fruit and young shoots to eat, ended by saying, “To-day there’s holiday – making up in the city, and I’m off to enjoy myself. Couldn’t you water the young trees while I’m away?”

            “Oh! Yes,” said the monkey.

            “Only mind you do,” said the gardener; and off he went, giving the monkeys the water – skins and wooden watering – pots to do the work with.

            Then the monkeys took the water-skins and watering-pots, and fell to watering the young trees. “But we must mind not to waste the water,” observed their king; “as you water, first pull each young tree up and look at the size of its roots. Then give plenty of water to those whose roots strike deep but only a little to those with tiny roots. When this water is all gone, we shall be hard put to it to get more.”

            “To be sure,” said the other monkeys, and did as he bade them.

            At this juncture a certain wise man, seeing the monkeys thus engaged, asked them why they pulled up tree after tree and watered them according to the size of their roots.

            “Because such are our king’s commands,” answered the monkeys.

Their reply moved the wise man to reflect how, with every desire to do good, the ignorant and foolish only succeed in doing harm. And he recited this stanza; [251]

                        “Tis knowledge crowns endeavour with success

                        For fools are thwarted by their foolishness,

                        – Witness the ape that killed the garden trees.

            With this rebuke to the king of the monkeys, the wise man departed with his followers from the pleasaunce.


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Kuddala Jataka

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life again as a gardener, and grew up. ‘Spade Sage’ was his name. With his spade he cleared a patch of ground, and grew pot herbs, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers, and other vegetables, by the sale of which he made a sorry living. For, save only that one spade, he had nothing in the world! Resolving one day to forsake the world for the religious life, he hid his spade away, and became a recluse. But thoughts of that spade rose in his heart and the passion of greed overcame him, so that for the sake of his blunt spade he reverted to the world. Again and again this happened; six times did he hide the spade and become a recluse, only to renounce his vows again. But the seventh time he bethought him how that blunt spade had caused him again and again to backslide; and he made up his mind to throw it into a great river before he became a recluse again. So he carried the spade to the river side, and, fearing lest if he saw where it fell, he should come back and fish it out again, he whirled the spade thrice round his head by the handle and flung it with the strength of an elephant right into mid stream, shutting his eyes tight as he did so. Then loud rang his shout of exultation, a shout like a lion’s roar, “I have conquered! I have conquered!”

            Now just at that moment the King of Benares, on his way home from quelling disorder on the border, had been bathing in that very river, and was riding along in all his splendour on the back of his elephant, when he heard the Bodhisatta’s shout of triumph. “Here’s man,” said the king, “who is proclaiming that he has conquered. I wonder whom he has conquered. Go, bring him before me.”

            So the Bodhisatta was brought before the king, who said to him, “My good man, I am a conqueror myself; I have just won a battle and am on my way home victorious. Tell me whom you have conquered.” “Sire,” said the Bodhisatta, “a thousand, yea a hundred thousand, such victories as yours are vain, if you have not the victory over the lusts within your self. It is by conquering greed within myself that I have conquered my lusts.” And as he spoke, he gazed upon the great river, and by duly concentrating all his mind upon the idea of water won insight. Then by virtue of his newly won transcendental powers he rose in the air, and, seated there, instructed the king in the Truth in this stanza:-

                        The conquest that by further victories

                        Must be upheld, or own defeat at last,

                        Is vain! True conquest lasts for evermore!

            Even as he listened to the Truth, light shone in on the king’s darkness, and the lusts of his heart were quenched; his heart was bent on renouncing the world; then and there the lust for royal dominion passed away from him. “And where will you go now?” said the king to the Bodhisatta. “To the Himalayas, sire; there to live the anchorite’s life.” “Then I, too, will become an anchorite,” said the king; and he departed with the Bodhisatta. And with the king there departed also the whole army, all the Brahmins and householders and all the common folk, in a word, all the host that was gathered there.

            Tidings came to Benares that their king, on hearing the Truth preached by the Spade Sage, was fain to live the anchorite’s life and had gone forth with all his host. “And what shall we do here?” cried the folk of Benares. And thereupon, from out that city which was twelve leagues about, all the inhabitants went forth, a train twelve leagues long, with whom the Bodhisatta passed to the Himalayas.

Then the throne of Sakka, King of Devas, became hot beneath him Looking out, he saw that the spade sage was engaged upon a great Renunciation. Marking the numbers of his following, Indra took thought how to house them all. And he sent for Vissakamma, the architect of the Devas, and spoke thus:- “The spade sage is engaged upon a great Renunciation, and quarters must be found for him. Go you to the Himalayas, and there on level ground fashion by divine power a hermit’s demesne thirty leagues long and fifteen broad.”

            “It shall be done sire,” said Vissakamma. And away he went, and did what he was bidden.

            (What follows is only a summary; the full details will be given in the Hatthipala Jataka, which forms one narrative with this.) Vissakamma caused a hermitage to arise in the hermit’s demesne; drove away all the noisy beasts and birds and fairies; and made in each cardinal direction a path just broad enough for one person to pass along it at a time. This done, he betook himself to his own abode. The Spade sage with his host of people came to the Himalayas and entered the demesne which Indra had given and took possession of the house and furniture which Vissakamma had created for the hermits. First of all he renounced the world himself, and afterwards made the people renounce it. Then he portioned out the demesne among them. They abandoned all their sovereignty, which rivaled that of Sakka himself; and the whole thirty leagues of the demesne were filled. By due performance of all the other rites that conduce to insight, the spade sage developed perfect good will within himself, and he taught the people how to meditate. Hereby they all won the Attainments, and assured their entry thereafter into the Brahma Realm, whilst all who ministered to them qualified for entry thereafter into the Realm of Devas.



Visavanta Jataka

Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a family of doctors skilled in the cure of snake bites, and when he grew up, he practiced for a livelihood.

            Now it fell out that a countryman was bitten by a snake; and without delay his relatives quickly fetched the doctor. Said the Bodhisatta, “Shall I extract the venom with the usual antidotes, or have the snake caught and make it suck its own poison out of the wound?” “Have the snake caught and make it suck the poison out.” So he had the snake caught, and asked the creature, saying “Did you bite this man?” “Yes, I did,” was the answer. “Well then, suck your own poison out of the wound again.” “What? Take back the poison I have once shed!” cried the snake; “I never did, and I never will.” Then the doctor made a fire with wood, and said to the snake, “Either you suck the poison out, or into the fire you go.”

            “Even though the flames be my doom, I will not take back the poison I have once shed,” said the snake, and repeated the following stanza:-

                        May shame be on the poison which, once shed,

                        To save my life, I swallow down again!

                        More welcome death then life by weakness bought!

            With these words, the snake moved towards the fire! But the doctor barred its way, and drew out the poison with simples and charms, so that the man was whole again. Then he unfolded the Commandments to the snake, and set it free, saying, “Henceforth do harm to none.



Saketa Jataka

Brethren, in ages past this Brahmin was my father in 500 successive births, my uncle in a like number, and in 500 more my grandfather. And in 1500 successive births his wife was respectively my mother, my aunt, and my grand mother. So I was brought up in 1500 births by this Brahmin, and in 1500 by his wife.

            And there withal, having told of these 3000 births, the Master, as Buddha, recited this Stanza:-

                        The man thy mind rests on, with whom thy heart

                        Is pleased at first sight, place thy trust in him.



Rohini Jataka

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born the son of the Lord High Treasurer, and came to be Lord High Treasurer himself at his father’s death. And he, too, had a maid servant whose name was Rohini. And her mother, in like manner, went to where the daughter was pounding rice, and lay down, and called out, ‘Do drive these flies off me, my dear,’ and in just the same way she struck her mother with a pestle, and killed her, and began to weep.

            Hearing of what had happened,  the Bodhisatta reflected: ‘Here, in this world, even an enemy, with sense, would be preferable,’ and recited these lines:-

                        Sense – lacking friends are worse than foes with sense,

                        Witness the girl whose reckless hand laid low

                        Her mother, whom she now laments in vain.

            In these lines in praise of the wise, did the Bodhisatta preach the Truth.


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