D. L. Ashliman
About the Jataka Tales
Part of the canon of sacred Buddhist literature, this collection of some 550 anecdotes and fables depicts earlier incarnations -- sometimes as an animal, sometimes as a human -- of the being who would become Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha. Traditional birth and death dates of Gautama are 563-483 BC. The Jataka tales are dated between 300 BC and 400 AD.
Many of the tales are set in or near Benares, now called Varanasi, a city in north central India on the Ganges River. One of the world's oldest cities, Varanasi is the most sacred place for Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims also have important religious sites nearby. According to tradition, Buddha began his teaching at Sarnath a short distance from this city.
A woman, carrying her child, went to the future Buddha's tank to wash. And having first bathed the child, she put on her upper garment and descended into the water to bathe herself.
Then a Yakshini, seeing the child, had a craving to eat it. And taking the form of a woman, she drew near, and asked the mother, "Friend, this is a very pretty child. Is it one of yours?" And when she was told it was, she asked if she might nurse it. And this being allowed, she nursed it a little, and then carried it off.
But when the mother saw this, she ran after her, and cried out, "Where are you taking my child to?" and caught hold of her.
The Yakshini boldly said, "Where did you get the child from? It is mine!" And so quarreling, they passed the door of the future Buddha's Judgment Hall.
He heard the noise, sent for them, inquired into the matter, and asked them whether they would abide by his decision. And they agreed. Then he had a line drawn on the ground; and told the Yakshini to take hold of the child's arms, and the mother to take hold of its legs; and said, "The child shall be hers who drags him over the line."
But as soon as they pulled at him, the mother, seeing how he suffered, grieved as if her heart would break. And letting him go, she stood there weeping.
Then the future Buddha asked the bystanders, "Whose hearts are tender to babes? Those who have borne children, or those who have not?"
And they answered, "Oh sire! The hearts of mothers are tender."
Then he said, "Who, think you, is the mother? She who has the child in her arms, or she who has let go?"
And they answered, "She who has let go is the mother."
And he said, "Then do you all think that the other was the thief?"
And they answered, "Sire! We cannot tell."
And he said, "Verily, this is a Yakshini, who took the child to eat it."
And he replied, "Because her eyes winked not, and were red, and she knew no fear, and had no pity, I knew it."
And so saying, he demanded of the thief, "Who are you?"
And she said, "Lord! I am a Yakshini."
And he asked, "Why did you take away this child?"
And she said, "I thought to eat him, Oh my Lord!"
And he rebuked her, saying, "Oh foolish woman! For your former sins you have been born a Yakshini, and now do you still sin!" And he laid a vow upon her to keep the Five Commandments, and let her go.
But the mother of the child exalted the future Buddha, and said, "Oh my Lord! Oh great physician! May your life be long!" And she went away, with her babe clasped to her bosom.
Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta gained his livelihood as a trader. In these days in a border village in Kasi there dwelt a number of carpenters. And it chanced that one of them, a bald gray-haired man, was planing away at some wood with his head glistening like a copper bowl, when a mosquito settled on his scalp and stung him with its dart like sting.
Said the carpenter to his son, who was seated hard by, "My boy, there's a mosquito stinging me on the head. Do drive it away."
"Hold still then father," said the son. "One blow will settle it."
(At that very time the Bodhisatta had reached that village in the way of trade, and was sitting in the carpenter's shop.)
"Rid me of it!" cried the father.
"All right, father," answered the son, who was behind the old man's back, and, raising a sharp ax on high with intent to kill only the mosquito, he cleft his father's head in two. So the old man fell dead on the spot.
Thought the Bodhisatta, who had been an eye witness of the whole scene, "Better than such a friend is an enemy with sense, whom fear of men's vengeance will deter from killing a man." And he recited these lines:
Sense-lacking friends are worse than foes with sense;
Witness the son that sought the gnat to slay,
But cleft, poor fool, his father's skull in two.
So saying, the Bodhisatta rose up and departed, passing away in after days to fare according to his deserts. And as for the carpenter, his body was burned by his kinsfolk.
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a Brahmin, and growing up was married to a bride of his own rank, who bore him three daughters named Nanda, Nanda-vati, and Sundari-nanda. The Bodhisatta dying, they were taken in by neighbors and friends, whilst he was born again into the world as a golden mallard endowed with consciousness of its former existences.
Growing up, the bird viewed its own magnificent size and golden plumage, and remembered that previously it had been a human being. Discovering that his wife and daughters were living on the charity of others, the mallard bethought him of his plumage like hammered and beaten gold and how by giving them a golden feather at a time he could enable his wife and daughters to live in comfort. So away he flew to where they dwelt and alighted on the top of the central beam of the roof. Seeing the Bodhisatta, the wife and girls asked where he had come from; and he told them that he was their father who had died and been born a golden mallard, and that he had come to visit them and put an end to their miserable necessity of working for hire.
"You shall have my feathers," said he, "one by one, and they will sell for enough to keep you all in ease and comfort."
So saying, he gave them one of his feathers and departed. And from time to time he returned to give them another feather, and with the proceeds of their sale these Brahmin women grew prosperous and quite well to do.
But one day the mother said to her daughters, "There's no trusting animals, my children. Who's to say your father might not go away one of these days and never come back again? Let us use our time and pluck him clean next time he comes, so as to make sure of all his feathers."
Thinking this would pain him, the daughters refused.
The mother in her greed called the golden mallard to her one day when he came, and then took him with both hands and plucked him.
Now the Bodhisatta's feathers had this property that if they were plucked out against his wish, they ceased to be golden and became like a crane's feathers. And now the poor bird, though he stretched his wings, could not fly, and the woman flung him into a barrel and gave him food there. As time went on his feathers grew again (though they were plain white ones now), and he flew away to his own abode and never came back again.
Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a village as a potter's son. He plied the potter's trade, and had a wife and family to support.
At that time there lay a great natural lake close by the great river of Benares. When there was much water, river and lake were one; but when the water was low, they were apart. Now fish and tortoises know by instinct when the year will be rainy and when there will be a drought.
So at the time of our story the fish and tortoises which lived in that lake knew there would be a drought; and when the two were one water, they swam out of the lake into the river. But there was one tortoise that would not go into the river, because, said he, "here I was born, and here I have grown up, and here is my parents' home. Leave it I cannot!"
Then in the hot season the water all dried up. He dug a hole and buried himself, just in the place where the Bodhisatta was used to come for clay. There the Bodhisatta came to get some clay. With a big spade he dug down, until he cracked the tortoise's shell, turning him out on the ground as though he were a large piece of clay. In his agony the creature thought, "Here I am, dying, all because I was too fond of my home to leave it!" And in the words of these following verses, he made his moan:
Here was I born, and here I lived; my refuge was the clay;
And now the clay has played me false in a most grievous way;
Thee, thee I call, oh Bhaggava; hear what I have to say!
Go where thou canst find happiness, where'er the place may be;
Forest or village, there the wise both home and birthplace see;
Go where there's life; nor stay at home for death to master thee.
So he went on and on, talking to the Bodhisatta, until he died. The Bodhisatta picked him up, and collecting all the villagers addressed them thus: "Look at this tortoise. When the other fish and tortoises went into the great river, he was too fond of home to go with them, and buried himself in the place where I get my clay. Then as I was digging for clay, I broke his shell with my big spade, and turned him out on the ground in the belief that he was a large lump of clay. Then he called to mind what he had done, lamented his fate in two verses of poetry, and expired.
So you see he came to his end because he was too fond of his home. Take care not to be like this tortoise. Don't say to yourselves, 'I have sight, I have hearing, I have smell, I have taste, I have touch, I have a son, I have a daughter, I have numbers of men and maids for my service, I have precious gold.' Do not cleave to these things with craving and desire. Each being passes through three stages of existence."
Thus did he exhort the crowd with all a Buddha's skill. The discourse was bruited abroad all over India, and for full seven thousand years it was remembered. All the crowd abode by his exhortation, and gave alms, and did good until at last they went to swell the hosts of heaven.
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came into the world as a young parrot. His name was Radha, and his youngest brother was named Potthapada. While they were yet quite young, both of them were caught by a fowler and handed over to a Brahmin in Benares. The Brahmin cared for them as if they were his children. But the Brahmin's wife was a wicked woman. There was no watching her.
The husband had to go away on business, and addressed his young parrots thus: "Little dears, I am going away on business. Keep watch on your mother in season and out of season. Observe whether or not any man visits her." So off he went, leaving his wife in charge of the young parrots.
As soon as he was gone, the woman began to do wrong. Night and day the visitors came and went. There was no end to them. Potthapada, observing this, said to Radha, "Our master gave this woman into our charge, and here she is doing wickedness. I will speak to her."
"Don't," said Radha.
But the other would not listen. "Mother," said he, "why do you commit sin?"
How she longed to kill him! But making as though she would fondle him, she called him to her. "Little one, you are my son! I will never do it again! Here, then the dear!" So he came out. Then she seized him, crying, "What! You preach to me! You don't know your measure!" And she wrung his neck, and threw him into the oven.
The Brahmin returned. When he had rested, he asked the Bodhisatta, "Well, my dear, what about your mother? Does she do wrong, or no?" And as he asked the question, he repeated the first couplet:
I come, my son, the journey done, and now I am at home again,"
Come tell me, is your mother true? Does she make love to other men?
Radha answered, "Father dear, the wise speak not of things which do not conduce to blessing, whether they have happened or not." And he explained this by repeating the second couplet:
For what he said he now lies dead, burnt up beneath the ashes there.
It is not well the truth to tell, lest Potthapada's fate I share.
Thus did the Bodhisatta hold forth to the Brahmin. And he went on, "This is no place for me to live in either." Then bidding the Brahmin farewell, he flew away into the woods.
Once upon a time, while Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life at the foot of the Himalayas as a monkey. He grew strong and sturdy, big of frame, well to do, and lived by a curve of the river Ganges in a forest haunt. Now at that time there was a crocodile dwelling in the Ganges. The crocodile's mate saw the great frame of the monkey, and she conceived a longing to eat his heart. So she said to her lord, "Sir, I desire to eat the heart of that great king of the monkeys!"
"Good wife," said the crocodile, "I live in the water and he lives on dry land. How can we catch him?"
"By hook or by crook," she replied, "he must be caught. If I don't get him, I shall die."
"All right," answered the crocodile, consoling her, "don't trouble yourself. I have a plan. I will give you his heart to eat."
So when the Bodhisatta was sitting on the bank of the Ganges, after taking a drink of water, the crocodile drew near, and said, "Sir Monkey, why do you live on bad fruits in this old familiar place? On the other side of the Ganges there is no end to the mango trees, and labuja trees, with fruit sweet as honey! Is it not better to cross over and have all kinds of wild fruit to eat?"
"Lord Crocodile," the monkey answered. "The Ganges is deep and wide. How shall I get across?"
"If you want to go, I will let you sit upon my back, and carry you over."
The monkey trusted him, and agreed. "Come here, then," said the crocodile. "Up on my back with you!" and up the monkey climbed. But when the crocodile had swum a little way, he plunged the monkey under the water.
"Good friend, you are letting me sink!" cried the monkey. "What is that for?"
The crocodile said, "You think I am carrying you out of pure good nature? Not a bit of it! My wife has a longing for your heart, and I want to give it to her to eat.!"
"Friend," said the monkey, "it is nice of you to tell me. Why, if our heart were inside us, when we go jumping among the tree tops it would be all knocked to pieces!"
"Well, where do you keep it?" asked the crocodile.
The Bodhisatta pointed out a fig tree, with clusters of ripe fruit, standing not far off. "See," said he, "there are our hearts hanging on yonder fig tree."
"If you will show me your heart," said the crocodile, "then I won't kill you."
"Take me to the tree, then, and I will point it out to you."
The crocodile brought him to the place. The monkey leapt off his back, and, climbing up the fig tree, sat upon it. "Oh silly crocodile!" said he. "You thought that there were creatures that kept their hearts in a treetop! You are a fool, and I have outwitted you! You may keep your fruit to yourself. Your body is great, but you have no sense."
And then to explain this idea he uttered the following stanzas:
Rose-apple, jack-fruit, mangoes, too, across the water there I see;
Enough of them, I want them not; my fig is good enough for me!
Great is your body, verily, but how much smaller is your wit!
Now go your ways, Sir Crocodile, for I have had the best of it.
The crocodile, feeling as sad and miserable as if he had lost a thousand pieces of money, went back sorrowing to the place where he lived.
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the future Buddha was born in a minister's family; and when he grew up, he became the king's adviser in things temporal and spiritual.
Now this king was very talkative; while he was speaking, others had no opportunity for a word. And the future Buddha, wanting to cure this talkativeness of his, was constantly seeking for some means of doing so.
At that time there was living, in a pond in the Himalayan Mountains, a tortoise. Two young wild ducks who came to feed there made friends with him. And one day, when they had become very intimate with him, they said to the tortoise, "Friend tortoise, the place where we live, at the Golden Cave on Mount Beautiful in the Himalayan country, is a delightful spot. Will you come there with us?"
"But how can I get there?"
"We can take you, if you can only hold your tongue, and will say nothing to anybody."
"Oh, that I can do. Take me with you."
"That's right," said they. And making the tortoise bite hold of a stick, they themselves took the two ends in their teeth, and flew up into the air.
Seeing him thus carried by the ducks, some villagers called out, "Two wild ducks are carrying a tortoise along on a stick!"
Whereupon the tortoise wanted to say, "If my friends choose to carry me, what is that to you, you wretched slaves?" So just as the swift flight of the wild ducks had brought him over the king's palace in the city of Benares, he let go of the stick he was biting, and falling in the open courtyard, split in two!
And there arose a universal cry, "A tortoise has fallen in the open courtyard, and has split in two!"
The king, taking the future Buddha, went to the place, surrounded by his courtiers, and looking at the tortoise, he asked the Bodisat, "Teacher, how has it possible that he has fallen here?"
The future Buddha thought to himself, "Long expecting, wishing to admonish the king, I have sought for some means of doing so. This tortoise must have made friends with the wild ducks; and they must have made him bite hold of the stick, and have flown up into the air to take him to the hills. But he, being unable to hold his tongue when he hears anyone else talk, must have wanted to say something, and let go of the stick; and so must have fallen down from the sky, and thus lost his life." And saying, "Truly, oh king, those who are called chatterboxes -- people whose words have no end -- come to grief like this," he uttered these verses:
Verily, the tortoise killed himself
While uttering his voice;
Though he was holding tight to stick,
By a word he slew himself.
Behold him then, oh excellent by strength!
And speak wise words, not out of season.
You see how, by his talking overmuch,
The tortoise fell into this wretched plight!
The king saw that he was himself referred to, and said, "Oh teacher, are you speaking of us?"
And the Bodisat spoke openly, and said, "Oh great king, be it you, or be it any other, whoever talks beyond measure meets with some mishap like this."
And the king henceforth refrained himself, and became a man of few words.
Once on a time Bramadatta, the King of Benares, had four sons.
One day they sent for the charioteer and said to him, "We want to see a Judas tree [butea frondosa]. Show us one!"
"Very well, I will," the charioteer replied.
But he did not show it to them all together. He took the eldest at once to the forest in the chariot, and showed him the tree at the time when the buds were just sprouting from the stem. To the second he showed it when the leaves were green. To the third at the time of blossoming. And to the fourth when it was bearing fruit.
After this it happened that the four brothers were sitting together and someone asked, "What sort of a tree is the Judas tree?"
Then the first brother answered, "Like a burnt stump!"
And the second cried, "Like a banyan tree!"
And the third, "Like a piece of meat!"
And the fokuth said, "Like the acacia!"
They were vexed at each other's answers, and ran to find their father. "My Lord," they asked, "what sort of a tree is the Judas tree?"
"What did you say to that?" he asked.
They told him the manner of their answers.
Said the king, "All four of you have seen the tree. Only when the charioteer showed you the tree, you did not ask him, 'What is the tree like at such a time, or at such another time?' You made no distinctions, and that is the reason of your mistake."
And he repeated the first stanza:
All have seen the Judas tree.
What is your perplexity?
No one asked the charioteer
What its form the livelong year!"
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta reigned in Benares, the Bodhisatta [the future Buddha] came to life as a young lion. And when fully grown he lived in a wood. At this time there was near the Western Ocean a grove of palms mixed with vilva trees.
A certain hare lived here beneath a palm sapling, at the foot of a vilva tree. One day this hare, after feeding, came and lay down beneath the young palm tree. And the thought struck him, "If this earth should be destroyed, what would become of me?"
And at this very moment a ripe vilva fruit fell on a palm leaf. At the sound of it, the hare thought, "This solid earth is collapsing," and starting up he fled, without so much as looking behind him. Another hare saw him scampering off, as if frightened to death, and asked the cause of his panic flight.
"Pray, don't ask me," he said.
The other hare cried, "Pray, sir, what is it?" and kept running after him.
Then the hare stopped a moment and without looking back said, "The earth here is breaking up."
And at this the second hare ran after the other. And so first one and then another hare caught sight of him running, and joined in the chase till one hundred thousand hares all took to flight together. They were seen by a deer, a boar, an elk, a buffalo, a wild ox, a rhinoceros, a tiger, a lion, and an elephant. And when they asked what it meant and were told that the earth was breaking up, they too took to flight. So by degrees this host of animals extended to the length of a full league.
When the Bodhisatta saw this headlong flight of the animals, and heard the cause of it was that the earth was coming to an end, he thought, "The earth is nowhere coming to an end. Surely it must be some sound which was misunderstood by them. And if I don't make a great effort, they will all perish. I will save their lives."
So with the speed of a lion he got before them to the foot of a mountain, and lion-like roared three times. They were terribly frightened at the lion, and stopping in their flight stood all huddled together. The lion went in amongst them and asked why there were running away.
"The earth is collapsing," they answered.
"Who saw it collapsing?" he said.
"The elephants know all about it," they replied.
He asked the elephants. "We don't know," they said, "the lions know."
But the lions said, "We don't know, the tigers know."
The tigers said, "The rhinoceroses know."
The rhinoceroses said, "The wild oxen know."
The wild oxen, "the buffaloes."
The buffaloes, "the elks."
The elks, "the boars."
The boars, "the deer."
The deer said, "We don't know; the hares know."
When the hares were questioned, they pointed to one particular hare and said, "This one told us."
So the Bodhisatta asked, "Is it true, sir, that the earth is breaking up?"
"Yes, sir, I saw it," said the hare.
"Where," he asked, "were you living, when you saw it?"
"Near the ocean, sir, in a grove of palms mixed with vilva trees. For as I was lying beneath the shade of a palm sapling at the foot of a vilva tree, methought, 'If this earth should break up, where shall I go?' And at that very moment I heard the sound the breaking up of the earth, and I fled."
Thought the lion, "A ripe vilva fruit evidently must have fallen on a palm leaf and made a 'thud,' and this hare jumped to the conclusion that the earth was coming to an end, and ran away. I will find out the exact truth about it."
So he reassured the herd of animals, and said, "I will take the hare and go and find out exactly whether the earth is coming to an end or not, in the place pointed out by him. Until I return, do you stay here." Then placing the hare on his back, he sprang forward with the speed of a lion, and putting the hare down in the palm grove, he said, "Come, show us the place you meant."
"I dare not, my lord," said the hare.
"Come, don't be afraid," said the lion.
The hare, not venturing to go near the vilva tree, stood afar off and cried, "Yonder, sir, is the place of dreadful sound," and so saying, he repeated the first stanza:
From the spot where I did dwell
Issued forth a fearful "thud";
What it was I could not tell,
Nor what caused it understood.
After hearing what the hare said, the lion went to the foot of the vilva tree, and saw the spot where the hare had been lying beneath the shade of the palm tree, and the ripe vilva fruit that fell on the palm leaf, and having carefully ascertained that the earth had not broken up, he placed the hare on his back and with the speed of a lion soon came again to the herd of beasts.
Then he told them the whole story, and said, "Don't be afraid." And having thus reassured the herd of beasts, he let them go.
Verily, if it had not been for the Bodhisatta at that time, all the beasts would have rushed into the sea and perished. It was all owing to the Bodhisatta that they escaped death.
Alarmed at sound of fallen fruit
A hare once ran away,
The other beasts all followed suit
Moved by that hare's dismay.
They hastened not to view the scene,
But lent a willing ear
To idle gossip, and were clean
Distraught with foolish fear.
They who to Wisdom's calm delight
And Virtue's heights attain,
Though ill example should invite,
Such panic fear disdain.
Once upon a time when a king named Senaka was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Sakka. The king Senaka was friendly with a certain naga king. This naga king, they say, left the naga world and ranged the earth seeking food. The village boys seeing him said, "This is a snake," and struck him with clods and other things.
The king, going to amuse himself in his garden, saw them, and being told they were beating a snake, said, "Don't let them beat him. Drive them away." And this was done.
So the naga king got his life, and when he went back to the naga world. He took many jewels, and coming at midnight to the king's bedchamber he gave them to him, saying, "I got my life through you." So he made friendship with the king and came again and again to see him. He appointed one of his naga girls, insatiate in pleasures, to be near the king and protect him, and he gave the king a charm, saying, "If ever you do not see her, repeat this charm."
One day the king went to the garden with the naga girl and was amusing himself in the lotus tank. The naga girl seeing a water snake quitted her human shape and made love with him. The king not seeing the girl said, "Where is she gone?" and repeated the spell. Then he saw her in her misconduct and struck her with a piece of bamboo.
She went in anger to the naga world, and when she was asked, "Why are you come?" she said, "Your friend struck me on the back because I did not do his bidding," showing the mark of the blow.
The naga king, not knowing the truth, called four naga youths and sent them with orders to enter Senaka's bedchamber and destroy him like chaff by the breath of their nostrils. They entered the chamber at the royal bedtime.
As they came in, the king was saying to the queen, "Lady, do you know where the naga girl has gone?"
"King, I do not."
"Today when we were bathing in the tank, she quitted her shape and misconducted herself with a water snake. I said, 'Don't do that,' and struck her with a piece of bamboo to give her a lesson. And now I fear she may have gone to the naga world and told some lie to my friend, destroying his goodwill to me."
The young nagas hearing this turned back at once to the naga world and told their king. He being moved went instantly to the king's chamber, told him all and was forgiven. Then he said, "In this way I make amends," and gave the king a charm giving knowledge of all sounds. "This, O king, is a priceless spell. If you give anyone this spell you will at once enter the fire and die."
The king said, "It is well," and accepted it. From that time he understood the voice even of ants.
One day he was sitting on the dais eating solid food with honey and molasses, and a drop of honey, a drop of molasses, and a morsel of cake fell on the ground. An ant seeing this comes crying, "The king's honey jar is broken on the dais, his molasses cart and cake cart are upset. Come and eat honey and molasses and cake."
The king hearing the cry laughed. The queen being near him thought, "What has the king seen that he laughs?"
When the king had eaten his solid food and bathed and sat down cross-legged, a fly said to his wife, "Come, lady, let us enjoy love."
She said, "Excuse me for a little, husband. They will soon be bringing perfumes to the king. As he perfumes himself some powder will fall at his feet. I will stay there and become fragrant, then we will enjoy ourselves lying on the king's back."
The king hearing the voice laughed again. The queen thought again, "What has he seen that he laughs?"
Again when the king was eating his supper, a lump of rice fell on the ground. The ants cried, "A wagon of rice has broken in the king's palace, and there is none to eat it."
The king hearing this laughed again. The queen took a golden spoon and helping him reflected, "Is it at the sight of me that the king laughs?"
She went to the bedchamber with the king and at bedtime she asked, "Why did you laugh, O king?"
He said, "What have you to do with why I laugh?" But being asked again and again her told her.
Then she said, "Give me your spell of knowledge."
He said, "It cannot be given." But though repulsed she pressed him again.
The king said, "If I give you this spell, I shall die."
"Even though you die, give it me."
The king, being in the power of womankind, saying, "It is well," consented and went to the park in a chariot, saying, "I shall enter the fire after giving away this spell."
At that moment Sakka, king of gods, looked down on the earth and seeing this case said, "This foolish king, knowing that he will enter the fire through womankind, is on the way; I will give him his life." So he took Suja, daughter of the Asuras, and went to Benares. He became a he-goat and made her a she-goat, and resolving that the people should not see them, he stood before the king's chariot. The king and the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot saw him, but none else saw him. For the sake of starting talk he was as if making love with the she-goat.
One of the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot seeing him said, "Friend goat, we have heard before, but not seen, that goats are stupid and shameless. But you are doing, with all of us looking on, this thing that should be done in secret and in a private place, and are not ashamed. What we have heard before agrees with this that we see."
And so he spoke the first stanza:
"Goats are stupid," says the wise man, and the words are surely true:
This one knows not he's parading what in secret he should do.
The goat hearing him spoke two stanzas:
O, sir donkey, think and realize your own stupidity,
You're tied with ropes, your jaw is wrenched, and very downcast is your eye.
When you're loosed, you don't escape, sir, that's a stupid habit too:
And that Senaka you carry, he's more stupid still than you.
The king understood the talk of both animals, and hearing it he quickly sent away the chariot. The ass hearing the goat's talk spoke the fourth stanza:
Well. sir king of goats, you fully know my great stupidity:
But how Senaka is stupid, prithee do explain to me.
The goat explaining this spoke the fifth stanza:
He who his own special treasure on his wife will throw away,
Cannot keep her faithful ever and his life he must betray.
The king hearing his words said, "King of goats, you will surely act for my advantage. Tell me now what is right for me to do."
Then the goat said, "King, to all animals no one is dearer than self. It is not good to destroy oneself and abandon the honor one has gained for the sake of anything that is dear." So he spoke the sixth stanza:
A king, like thee, may have conceived desire
And yet renounced it if his life's the cost.
Life is the chief thing. What can man seek higher?
If life's secured, desires need ne'er be crossed.
So the Bodhisatta exhorted the king. The king, delighted, asked, "King of goats, whence come you?"
"I am Sakka, O king, come to save you from death out of pity for you."
"King of gods, I promised to give her the charm. What am I to do now?"
"There is no need for the ruin of both of you. You say, 'It is the way of the craft,' and have her beaten with some blows. By this means she will not get it."
The king said, "It is well," and agreed. The Bodhisatta after exhortation to the king went to Sakka's heaven. The king went to the garden, had the queen summoned and then said, "Lady, will you have the charm?"
"Then go through the usual custom."
"A hundred stripes on the back, but you must not make a sound."
She consented through greed for the charm. The king made his slaves take whips and beat her on both sides. She endured two or three stripes and then cried, "I don't want the charm."
The king said, "You would have killed me to get the charm," and so flogging the skin off her back he sent her away. After that she could not bear to talk of it again.
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a beautiful woman of the town, called Sulasa, whose price was a thousand pieces a night. There was in the same city a robber named Sattuka, as strong as an elephant, who used to enter rich men's houses at night and plunder at will. One day he was captured. Sulasa was standing at her window when the soldiers led Sattuka, his hands bound behind his back, down the street toward the place of execution.
She fell in love with him on sight, and said, "If I can free that stout fighting man, I will give up this bad life of mine and live respectably with him." She sent a thousand pieces to the chief constable, and thus gained his freedom. They lived together in delight and harmony for some time, but after three or four months, the robber thought, "I shall never be able to stay in this one place. But one can't go empty handed. Her ornaments are worth a hundred thousand pieces. I will kill her and take them."
So he said to her one day, "Dear, when I was being hauled along by the king's men, I promised an offering to a tree deity on a mountain top, who is now threatening me because I have not paid it. Let us make an offering."
She consented to accompany her husband to the mountain top to make the offering. She should, he said, to honor the deity, wear all of her ornaments.
When they arrived at the mountain top, he revealed his true purpose: "I have not come to present the offering. I have come with the intention of killing you and going away with all your ornaments. Take them all off and make a bundle of them in your outer garment."
"Husband, why would you kill me?"
"For your money."
"Husband, remember the good I have done you. When you were being hauled along in chains, I paid a large sum and saved your life. Though I might get a thousand pieces a day, I never look at another man. Such a benefactress I am to you. Do not kill me. I will give you much money and be your slave."
But instead of accepting her entreaties, he continued his preparations to kill her.
"At least let me salute you," she said. "I am going to make obeisance to you on all four sides." Kneeling in front of him, she put her head to his foot, repeated the act at his left side, then at his right side, then from behind. Once behind him, she took hold of him, and with the strength of an elephant threw him over a cliff a hundred times as high as a man. He was crushed to pieces and died on the spot. Seeing this deed, the deity who lived on the mountain top spoke this stanza:
Wisdom at times is not confined to men;
A woman can show wisdom now and then.
So Sulasa killed the robber. When she descended from the mountain and returned to her attendants, they asked where her husband was. "Don't ask me," she said, and mounting her chariot she went on to the city.
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was King of Benares, there was in a family of a certain village of Kasi an only son named Vasitthaka. This man supported his parents, and after his mother's death, he supported his father as has been described in the introduction. But there is this difference. When the woman [Vasitthaka's wife] said, "Look there! That is your father's doing! I am constantly begging him not to do this and that, and he only gets angry!" she went on, "My lord, your father is fierce and violent, forever picking quarrels. A decrepit old man like that, tormented with disease, is bound to die soon; and I can't live in the same house with him. He will die of himself before many days are out. Well, take him to a cemetery, and dig a pit, throw him in, and break his head with the spade; and when he is dead, shovel the earth upon him, and leave him there."
At last, by dint of this dinning in his ears, said he, "Wife, to kill a man is a serious matter. How can I do it?"
"I will tell you of a way," quoth she.
"Say on, then."
"Well, my lord, at break of day, go to the place where your father sleeps. Tell him very loud, that all may hear, that a debtor of his is in a certain village, that you went and he would not pay you, and that if he dies the man will never pay at all. And say that you will both drive there together in the morning. Then at the appointed time get up, and put the animals to the cart, and take him in it to the cemetery. When you get there, bury him in a pit, make a noise as if you had been robbed, wound and wash your head, and return."
"Yes, that plan will do," said Vasitthaka. He agreed to her proposal, and got the cart ready for the journey.
Now the man had a son, a lad of seven years, but wise and clever. The lad overheard what his mother said. "My mother," thought he, "is a wicked woman, and is trying to persuade father to murder his father. I will prevent my father from doing this murder." He ran quickly, and lay down beside his grandsire.
Vasitthaka, at the time suggested by the wife, prepared the cart. "Come, father, let us get that debt!" said he, and placed his father in the cart.
But the boy got in first of all. Vasitthaka could not prevent him, so he took him to the cemetery with them. Then, placing his father and his son together in a place apart, with the cart, he got down, took spade and basket, and in a spot where he was hidden from them began to dig a square hole. The boy got down and followed him, and as though ignorant what was afoot, opened a conversation by repeating the first stanza:
No bulbs are here, no herbs for cooking meat,
No cat-mint, nor no other plant to eat.
Than father, why this pit, if need be none,
Delve in Death's acre mid the woods alone?
This his father answered by repeating the second stanza:
Thy grandsire, son, is very weak and old,
Oppressed by pain from ailments manifold.
Him will I bury in a pit today.
In such a life I could not wish him stay.
Hearing this, the boy answered by repeating a half stanza:
Thou has done sinfully in wishing this,
And for the deed, a cruel deed it is.
With these words, he caught the spade from his father's hands, and at no great distance began to dig another pit. His father approaching asked why he dug that pit, to whom he made reply by finishing the third stanza:
I too, when thou art aged, father mine,
Will treat my father as thou treatest thine;
Following the custom of the family
Deep in a pit I too will bury thee.
To this the father replied by repeating the fourth stanza:
What a harsh saying for a boy to say,
And to upbraid a father in this way!
To think that my own son would rail at me,
And to his truest friend unkind should be!
When the father had thus spoken, the wise lad recited three stanzas, one by way of answer, and two as an holy hymn:
I am not harsh, my father, nor unkind,
Nay, I regard thee with a friendly mind.
But this thou dost, this act of sin, thy son
Will have no strength to undo again, once done.
Whoso, Vasittha, hurts with ill intent
His mother or his father, innocent,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In hell for his next life undoubtedly.
Whoso with meat and drink, Vasittha, shall
His mother or his father feed withal,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In heaven for his next life undoubtedly.
The father, after hearing his son thus discourse, repeated the eighth stanza:
Thou art no heartless ingrate, son, I see,
But kindly hearted, O my son to me.
'Twas in obedience to thy mother's word
I thought to do this horrid deed abhorred.
Said the lad, when he heard this, "Father, women, when a wrong is done and they are not rebuked, again and again commit sin. You must bend my mother, that she may never again do such a deed as this." And he repeated the ninth stanza:
That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Let us from out our dwelling far expel,
Lest she work other woe on thee as well.
Hearing the words of his wise son, well pleased was Vasitthaka, and saying, "Let us go, my son!" he seated himself in the cart with son and father.
Now the woman too, this sinner, was happy at heart; for, thought she, this ill-luck is out of the house now. She plastered the place with wet cow dung, and cooked a mess of rice porridge. But as she sat watching the road by which they would return, she espied them coming, "There he is, back with old ill-luck again!" thought she, much in anger. "Fie, good-for-nothing! cried she. "What, bring back the ill-luck you took away with you!"
Vasitthaka said not a word, but unyoked the cart. Then said he, "Wretch, what is that you say?" He gave her a sound drubbing, and bundled her head over heels out of doors, bidding her never darken his door again. Then he bathed his father and his son, and took a bath himself, and the three of them ate the rice porridge. The sinful woman dwelt for a few days in another house.
Then the son said to his father, "Father, for all this, my mother does not understand. Now let us try to vex her. You give out that in such and such a village lives a niece of yours, who will attend upon your father and your son and you. So you will go and fetch her. Then take flowers and perfumes, and get into your cart, and ride about the country all day, returning in the evening."
And so he did. The women in the neighbor's family told his wife this. "Have you heard," said they, "that your husband has gone to get another wife in such a place?"
"Ah, then I am undone!" quoth she, "and there is no place for me left."
But she would inquire of her son. So quickly she came to him, and fell at his feet, crying, "Save thee, I have no other refuge! Henceforward I will tend your father and grandsire as I would tend a beauteous shrine! Give me entrance into this house once more!"
"Yes, mother," replied the lad, "if you do no more as you did, I will. Be of good cheer!" And at his father's coming he repeated the tenth stanza:
That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Like a tamed elephant, in full control,
Let her return again, that sinful soul.
So said he to his father, and then went and summoned his mother. She, being reconciled to her husband and her husband's father, was thenceforward tamed, and endued with righteousness, and watched over her husband and his father and her son. And these two, steadfastly following their son's advice, gave alms and did good deeds, and became destined to join the hosts of heaven.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised March 30, 2013.