Jataka 14

Vātamiga Jātaka

The Greedy Antelope

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University

This is another Jātaka where the theme is the danger inherent in sense pleasures, or perhaps more subtly the lust for sense pleasures. Sometimes it is more the craving, not the actual sense pleasure, that is the problem. We are slaves to our sense desires, and this leads to a great deal of unskillful behavior and a lot of suffering.

There’s nothing worse.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about the Elder Tissa, also called The Forest Dweller. Tradition says that while the Master was living at the Bamboo-grove near Rājagaha, the descendent of a wealthy family, Prince Tissa by name, came to visit. The Master inspired him by giving a discourse, and so he decided to join the Saṇgha. But his parents refused to give their consent. He finally obtained it by following Raṭṭhapāla’s example and refusing food for seven days, after which they allowed him to take vows with the Master. (In MN 82 Raṭṭhapāla gained his reluctant parent’s approval to become a monk by refusing to eat or drink until either he died or they gave their permission.)

Two weeks after admitting this young man, the Master left the Bamboo-grove and went to Jetavana. There the young nobleman undertook the Thirteen Obligations (these are special, optional Precepts). He passed his time by going on alms rounds from house to house, omitting none. Under the name of Elder Tissa The Forest Dweller, he became as bright and shining a light in Buddhism as the moon in the vault of heaven.

At this time there was a festival at Rājagaha. The Elder Tissa’s mother and father put the trinkets he used to wear as a layman into a silver casket. They bemoaned, “At other festivals our son used to wear these fine clothes, but the sage Gotama took him, our only son, to the town of Sāvatthi. Where is our son sitting now or standing?”

Now a slave-girl who came to the house noticed the lady of the house weeping, and she asked her why she was crying. The lady told her everything.

“Madam, what did your son enjoy?”

The lady told her.

“Well, if you will give me authority in this house, I’ll get your son back.”

“Very good,” said the lady. She gave the girl some money and sent her with a large contingent, saying, “Go, and get my son back.”

The girl rode away in a palanquin (a litter for one person carried on shoulders with poles) to Sāvatthi, where she took up her residence in the street that the Elder often used for alms. Surrounding herself with servants of her own, and never allowing the Elder to see his father’s people, she watched until the Elder entered the street. She at once bestowed on him alms of fine food and drink. And once she had enticed him, she got him to come into the house. Then she knew that her gifts of food had put him in her power.

The next time that he came for alms, she pretended to be sick. Her people took the Elder’s bowl and invited him to sit down.

When he seated himself, he said, “Where is the lay-sister?”

“She’s ill, sir,” they said. “But it would make her very happy to see you.”

Because he had been seduced by his craving for food, he broke his vow and obligation and went to where the woman was lying. (The monastic code prohibits a monk from being in the presence of a woman unescorted.) She told him the reason she had come to Sāvatthi. He was so tempted by the wonderful food and other worldly things that she was able to convince him to leave the Saṇgha. She put him in the palanquin and went back with her large contingent to Rājagaha again.

This story quickly spread. The monks sat in the Dharma Hall discussing the matter, saying, “Sirs, we have heard that a slave-girl has carried off the Elder Tissa the Forest Dweller by tempting him with fine food.” Entering the Hall the Master sat down on his jeweled seat, and said, “What, brothers, is the subject of discussion in this gathering?” They told him what had happened.

“Brothers,” he said, “this is not the first time that he has fallen under her power in bondage to the craving of taste. In bygone days too, he fell under her power in the same way.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was the King in Benares, he had a gardener named Sañjaya. One day an antelope wandered into the King’s pleasure garden, but as soon as it saw Sañjaya it leapt away. But Sañjaya let it go without frightening the timid creature. After several visits the antelope started to roam about in the pleasure garden. Now the gardener was in the habit of gathering flowers and fruits and taking them to the King every day. The King said to him one day, “Have you noticed anything strange, friend gardener, in the pleasure garden?”

“Only, sir, that an antelope has come into the grounds.”

“Do you think you could catch it?”

“Oh, yes,” said the gardener. “If I had a little honey, I could bring it right into your majesty’s palace!”

The King ordered the honey to be given to the man, and he went off with it to the pleasure garden. He put the honey in the grass in spots often visited by the antelope and then hid. When the antelope came and tasted the honeyed grass, it was so seduced by the lust of taste that it stopped going anywhere other than the pleasure garden. Marking the success of his trap, the gardener began to show himself gradually. The first day or two that the antelope saw him, he once again leapt away. But he quickly grew used to seeing the gardener. He became more confident, and gradually he started to eat grass from the man’s hand. Seeing that he had won the creature’s trust, he covered the path as thick as a carpet with broken boughs. Then he tied a gourd full of honey on his shoulder, and sticking a bunch of grass in his waist-cloth, he kept dropping tufts of the honeyed grass in front of the antelope. Finally, he got it right inside the palace. No sooner was the antelope inside than they shut the door!

Seduced by the Lust of Taste

Figure: Seduced by the Lust for Taste

Seeing so many men, the antelope dashed back and forth around the hall in fear and trembling for his life. The King came down from his chamber above, and seeing the trembling creature said, “This antelope is so timid that for a whole week it will not revisit a spot where it has so much as seen a man. And if it has once been frightened anywhere, it never goes back there again for its whole life. Yet, seduced by the lust of taste, this wild thing from the jungle has actually come into the palace. Truly, my friends, there is nothing more disgraceful in the world than the lust of taste.” And he put his teaching into this stanza:

There’s no worse trap, men say, than taste,

Alone or with one’s friends. Lo! taste it was

That delivered up to Sañjaya

The wild, jungle-haunting antelope.

And with these words he let the antelope go back to its forest again.

When the Master had ended his lesson and had repeated what he had said about the monk having fallen into that woman’s power in bygone days as well as in the present time, he showed the connection. He identified the birth, by saying, “In those days this slave-girl was Sañjaya, The Forest Dweller was the antelope, and I myself was the King of Benares.”