Jataka 20

Naḷapāna Jātaka

The Monkey King and the Ogre

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

Another common theme in the Jātaka Tales is cleverness, an ability to solve problems creatively. This is a practical lesson for life. Now we would call it thinking outside the box, although the Bodhisatta had the advantage of magical powers!

I found the footprints.” The Master told this story while traveling on an alms pilgrimage through Kosala. He came to the village of Naḷakapāna (bamboo drink), and he was living at Ketakavana near the pool of Naḷakapāna. In those days the monks, after bathing in the pool of Naḷakapāna, made the novices get them bamboo for needle cases. (In the Vinaya [Cv 5.11] the monks are allowed “the use of a needle case made of bamboo.”) But, seeing that they were hollow, they went to the Master and said, “Sir, we have bamboo with which to make needle cases, and from top to bottom they are hollow. How can that be?”

“Monks,” said the Master, “I made this decree in times gone by.” And, so saying, he told this story of the past.

In past times, we are told, there was a thick forest on this spot. And in the lake a water ogre lived. He would devour everyone who went down into the water. In those days the Bodhisatta had come to life as the king of the monkeys. He was as big as the fawn of a red deer. He lived in that forest at the head of a troop of no less than 80,000 monkeys who he protected. He counseled his subjects, “My friends, in this forest there are trees that are poisonous and lakes that are haunted by ogres. Always ask me first before you eat any fruit that you have not eaten before, or drink water where you have not drunk before.”

“Certainly,” they said.

One day they came to a spot they had never visited before. As, they were searching for water to drink after their day’s wanderings, they came on this lake. But they did not drink. On the contrary, they sat down and waited for the Bodhisatta.

When he arrived, he said, “Well, my friends, why aren’t you drinking?”

“We waited for you to come.”

“Quite right, my friends,” he said. Then he walked around the lake and looked for the footprints. When he did this he discovered that all the footprints led down into the water but none came back up. “Without doubt,” he thought to himself, “this is the haunt of an ogre.” So he said to his followers, “You are quite right, my friends, to not drink this water, for the lake is haunted by an ogre.”

When the water ogre realized that they were not going to go into his lake, he assumed the shape of a horrible monster with a blue belly, a white face, and bright red hands and feet. Then he came out from the water, and said, “Why are you sitting here? Go down into the lake and drink.” But the Bodhisatta said to him, “Aren’t you the ogre of this water?”

“Yes, I am,” the ogre replied.

“Do you kill all those who go down into this water?”

“Yes, I do, from small birds upwards. I never let anything go that comes down into my water. I will eat the lot of you too.”

“But we will not let you eat us.”

“Just drink the water.”

“Yes, we will drink the water, and yet we will not fall into your power.”

“How are you going to drink the water, then?”

“Ah, you think we will have to go down into the water to drink. But we will not enter the water at all. The whole 80,000 of us will take a bamboo stick and drink from your lake as easily as we could through the hollow stalk of a lotus. And so you will not be able to eat us.” And he repeated the following stanza:

I found the footprints all lead down, none back.

With bamboo we’ll drink; you shall not take my life.

So saying, the Bodhisatta had a stalk of bamboo brought to him. Then, calling to mind the Ten Perfections displayed by him, he recited them in a solemn declaration, and blew down the cane. Immediately the bamboo became hollow. In this way he had another and another bamboo stick brought to him and he blew down them. Next the Bodhisatta made the tour of the lake, and commanded, saying, “Let all bamboo growing here become hollow throughout.” Now, thanks to the great virtues of the saving goodness of Bodhisattas, their commands are always fulfilled. And so every single piece of bamboo that grew round that lake became hollow.

After giving this command, the Bodhisatta seated himself with a bamboo stick in his hands. All the other 80,000 monkeys also seated themselves round the lake, each with a piece of bamboo in his hands. And at the same moment when the Bodhisatta sucked the water up through his stick, they all drank too in the same manner. This was the way they drank, and the water ogre could not get any of them. He went into a rage. And the Bodhisatta went with his following back into the forest.

The Wise Monkey King and the Angry Ogre

Figure: The Wise Monkey King and the Angry Ogre

When the Master ended his lesson, he repeated what he had said about the hollowness of the bamboo being the result of a former decree of his. He showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Devadatta was the water ogre of those days. My disciples were the 80,000 monkeys, and I was the monkey king, so fertile in resource.”