Jataka 16

Tipallattha-miga Jātaka

The Cunning Deer

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 story is about the Buddha’s son Rāhula. When Rāhula was born, the Buddha left that day on his spiritual quest. He returned seven years later, and Rāhula immediately ordained as a novice monk. In this story he must still be very young because he is still a novice.

In the last Jātaka we hear the story of a young monk who will not listen to his elders. As a result, he was killed in a previous life. But in this story we see the same situation, but here the young monk is determined to be respectful, listen to his elders, and learn the ways of the wise.

In all three postures.” This story was told by the Master while he was living at the Badarika Monastery in Kosambī. It is about the Elder Rāhula whose heart was intent on observing the rules of the Saṇgha.

Once when the Master was living in the Aggāḷava Temple near the town of Āḷavi, he used to teach in the evenings, after which the senior monks retired to their own huts. But the novice monks and the male lay-disciples lay down to rest in the Dharma hall. When they fell asleep, the snoring was loud and there was snorting and the gnashing of teeth. After a short rest some got up and went to the Blessed One and told him about this improper behavior. He said, “If a monk sleeps in the company of novices, it is a Pācittiya offence (requiring confession and absolution).” And after declaring this precept, he went away to Kosambī.

The senior monks said to Rāhula, “Sir, the Blessed One has laid down this precept and now you must find quarters of your own.” Before this, the monks, out of respect for the father and because of the anxious desire of the son to observe the rules of the Saṇgha, had welcomed Rāhula as if the place were his. They had fitted up a little bed for him and had given him a cloth to make a pillow with. But on the day of our story they would not give him any space because they were so afraid of breaking the new rule.

However, the excellent Rāhula did not go to the Buddha as his father, nor did he go to Sāriputta (the Buddha’s chief disciple), Captain of the Faith, who was his preceptor, nor to the Great Moggallāna (the Buddha’s other chief disciple) who was his teacher, nor to the Elder Ānanda who was his uncle. Instead, he went to the Buddha’s outhouse and took up residence there as though it was a heavenly mansion. Now in a Buddha’s outhouse the door is always closed. The floor is perfumed earth. The walls are decorated with flowers and garlands, and a lamp burns all night long. But it was not this splendor that prompted Rāhula to take up his residence here. It was simply because the senior monks had told him to find quarters for himself, and because he respected his elders and longed to observe the rules of the Saṇgha.

Indeed, from time to time the senior monks used to test him. When they saw him coming they would throw down a hand-broom or a little dust and then ask who had thrown it down after Rāhula had come in. “Well, Rāhula came that way,” would be the accusation, but Rāhula never said that he did not know about it. On the contrary, he used to remove the mess and humbly ask for forgiveness, and he would not leave until he was forgiven. This is how anxious he was to observe the rules. And it was solely this anxiety which made him take up his dwelling in the outhouse.

Now, one early morning the Master halted at the door of the outhouse and coughed “Ahem.”

“Ahem,” responded Rāhula.

“Who is there?” said the Buddha.

“It is I, Rāhula,” was the reply. The young man came out and bowed low.

“Why are you sleeping here, Rāhula?”

“Because I had nowhere else to go. Up until now, sir, the senior monks have been very kind to me. But they are so afraid of committing an offense that they will not give me shelter any more. So I took up residence here, because I thought it was a spot where I would not come into contact with anybody else.”

The Master thought to himself, “If they treat Rāhula like this, what will they do to other novices who join the Saṇgha?” His heart was moved. So, at an early hour he gathered the monks and asked the Captain of the Faith, “I suppose, Sāriputta, you know where Rāhula is now living.”

“No, sir, I do not.”

“Sāriputta, Rāhula was living in the outhouse. Sāriputta, if you treat Rāhula like this, how will you treat other youths who you admit to the Saṇgha? If you treat them like this they will not want to stay. In the future, keep your novices in your own hut for a day or two, and only let them find their own quarters on the third day, and take care to know where they are staying.” With this new provision, the Master laid down the precept.

Gathering together in the Dharma hall, the monks spoke of the goodness of Rāhula. “See, sirs, how anxious Rāhula was to observe the rules. When told to find his own lodging, he did not say, ’I am the son of the Buddha. You get out!’ No. He did not do this to a single monk. Instead he lived in the outhouse.”

As they were talking about this, the Master came to the hall and took his seat saying, “What are you talking about, monks?”

“Sir,” they replied, “we were talking of the determination of Rāhula to keep the rules.”

Then the Master said, “Rāhula has not just shown this determination now. He also did this in the past when he was born as an animal.” And he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time a certain king of Magadha was reigning in Rājagaha. In those days the Bodhisatta, having been born a buck, was living in the forest at the head of a herd of deer. Now his sister brought her son to him, saying, “Brother, teach your nephew the skills of deer.” “Certainly,” said the Bodhisatta. “Now go away, my boy, and come back at such and such a time and I will teach you.” Punctually at the time his uncle mentioned, the young buck was there and he received instruction in the skills of deer.

One day as he was ranging the woods, he was caught in a trap, and he cried out. The herd ran away and told the mother that her son had been captured. She ran to her brother and asked him whether his nephew had been taught the skills of deer. “Do not be afraid. Your son is not at fault,” said the Bodhisatta. “He has learned well the skills of deer, and he will come back to your great rejoicing.” Having said this, he repeated this poem:

In all three postures - on his back or sides

Your son is versed. He’s trained to use his hoofs.

And except at midnight never satisfies his thirst.

As he lies down on earth, he seems lifeless,

And only breathes with his under-nostril.

My nephew knows six tricks to cheat his foes.

Thus the Bodhisatta consoled his sister by showing her how thoroughly her son had mastered the skills of deer.

Meanwhile the young buck did not struggle in the trap. Rather he lay down on his side with his legs stretched out taut and rigid. He pawed up the ground around his hoofs to scatter the grass and earth. He let his head fall, rolled out his tongue; spit saliva all over his body, swelled himself up by breathing in deeply. He turned up his eyes, breathing only with the lower nostril, holding his breath with the upper one. He made himself so rigid and so stiff he looked like a corpse. Even the flies swarmed around him, and some crows flew overhead.

The hunter came up and smacked the buck on the belly with his hand, remarking, “He must have been caught early this morning. He’s going bad already.” The man untied the buck from his bonds and said to himself, “I’ll cut him up here and take the flesh home with me.” But as the man unsuspectingly went to gather sticks and leaves (to make a fire with), the young buck rose to his feet, shook himself, stretched out his neck, and, like a little cloud sailing before a mighty wind, sped swiftly back to his mother.

The Cunning Deer

Figure: The Cunning Deer

After repeating what he had said about Rāhula’s having shown no less determination in time past to keep rules than in the present, the Master made the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Rāhula was the young stag of those days. Uppalavaṇṇā (the nun) his mother, and I was his uncle.”