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Jataka 22

Kukkura Jātaka

The Dog’s Teaching

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 story in which the result of the Bodhisatta’s wisdom and compassion is that animals - in this case dogs - were protected from harm for “10,000 years.” For someone who grew up listening to these stories, it created a culture of kindness and compassion towards animals. By the time of King Ashoka - about 200 years after the Buddha died - this led to widespread vegetarianism in India as well as universal healthcare for animals. The descendants of those Ashokan veterinary clinics still exist in some places today.


The dogs that grow in the royal palace.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about acting for the good of kinsfolk, as is also told in the Bhaddasāla Jātaka (Jātaka 465). It was to drive home this lesson that he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was reborn as a dog because of his past karma, and he lived in a great cemetery as the leader of several hundred dogs.

Now one day the King set out for his pleasure garden in his chariot of state drawn by milk-white horses. After amusing himself all day in the grounds, he came back to the city after sunset. They left the carriage harness in the courtyard still hitched on to the chariot. During the night it rained and the harness got wet. In addition, the King’s dogs came down from the upper chambers and gnawed the leather work and straps.

The next day they told the King, “Sire, dogs have got in through the mouth of the sewer and have gnawed the leather work and straps of your majesty’s carriage.” Enraged at the dogs the King said, “Kill every dog you see.”

They began a great slaughter of dogs. The poor creatures, finding that they were being killed whenever they were seen, retreated to the refuge of the cemetery. The Bodhisatta asked them, “What is the meaning of this? Why are all of you gathering here?” They said, “The King is so angry that the leather work and straps of his carriage have been gnawed by dogs that he ordered all dogs to be killed. Dogs are being destroyed wholesale, and there is great danger.”

The Bodhisatta thought to himself, “No dogs can get into the palace because it is so closely watched. It must be the thoroughbred dogs inside the palace who have done it. Nothing is happening to the real culprits, while the guiltless are being put to death. What if I were to show the King who the real culprits are and save the lives of my kith and kin?” He comforted his kinsfolk by saying, “Have no fear. I will save you. Just wait here until I see the King.”

Guided by thoughts of loving-kindness and calling to mind the Ten Perfections, he went into the city alone and unattended, commanding, “Let no hand be lifted to throw sticks or stones at me.” Accordingly, when he made his appearance, no one grew angry when they saw him.

The King, meantime, after ordering the dogs’ destruction, took his seat in the hall of justice. The Bodhisatta ran straight to him, leaping under the King’s throne. The King’s servants tried to get him out but his majesty stopped them. Taking heart a little, the Bodhisatta came out from under the throne. He bowed to the King and said, “Is it you who ordered the dogs destroyed?”

“Yes, it is me.”

“What is their offense, King of men?”

“They have been gnawing the straps and the leather covering my carriage.”

“Do you know the dogs who actually did the mischief?”

“No, I do not.”

“But, your majesty, if you do not know for certain the real culprits, it is not right to order the destruction of every dog that is seen.”

“It was because dogs gnawed the leather of my carriage that I ordered them all to be killed.”

“Do your people kill all dogs without exception, or are there some dogs who are spared?”

“Some are spared - the thoroughbred dogs of my own palace.”

“Sire, just now you said that you ordered the universal slaughter of all dogs wherever they are found because dogs gnawed the leather of your carriage. But now you say that the thoroughbred dogs of your own palace escape death. Therefore you are following the four Evil Courses of partiality, dislike, ignorance, and fear. Such courses are wrong and not kinglike. When dispensing justice kings should be as unbiased as the beam of a balance. But in this instance, since the royal dogs go free while poor dogs are killed, this is not the impartial doom of all dogs alike. It is only the slaughter of poor dogs.”

And then the Great Being, lifting up his sweet voice, said, “Sire, it is not justice that you are performing,” and he taught the Dharma to the King in this stanza:

The dogs that live in the royal palace,

The well-bred dogs, so strong and fair of form,

Not these, but only we, are doomed to die.

There’s no impartial sentence given out

To all alike; it is slaughter of the poor.

After listening to the Bodhisatta’s words, the King said, “In your wisdom do you know who actually gnawed the leather of my carriage?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Who was it?”

“The thoroughbred dogs that live in your own palace.”

“Can you prove that they were the ones who gnawed the leather?”

“I can.”

“Do so, wise one.”

“Then send for your dogs and have a little buttermilk and kusa grass brought in.”

The King did so.

Then the Great Being said, “Mash this grass up in the buttermilk and make the dogs drink it.”

The King did so with the result that each dog, as he drank, vomited. And up came bits of leather!

“Why it is like a judgment of a Perfect Buddha himself,” cried the overjoyed King, and he did homage to the Bodhisatta by offering him the royal umbrella (the white umbrella which is the symbol of royal authority). Instead the Bodhisatta taught the Dharma in the ten stanzas on righteousness in the Tesakuṇa Jātaka (Jātaka 521), beginning with the words:

Walk righteously, great King of princely race.

The King and the Wise Dog

Figure: The King and the Wise Dog

Then having established the King in the Five Precepts, and having exhorted his majesty to be steadfast, the Bodhisatta handed the white umbrella of kingship back to the King.

At the close of the Great Being’s words, the King commanded that the lives of all creatures should be safe from harm. He ordered that all dogs from the Bodhisatta downwards should have a constant supply of the same food that he ate. And, abiding by the teachings of the Bodhisatta, he spent his life in charity and good deeds. When he died he was reborn in the Deva Heaven. The “Dog’s Teaching” endured for ten thousand years. The Bodhisatta also lived to a ripe old age and then passed away to fare according to his karma.


When the Master ended this lesson, he said, “Not only now, monks, does the Buddha do what benefits his kindred. In former times he also did this.” He showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Ānanda was the King of those days. The Buddha’s followers were the others, and I myself was the dog.”