Jataka 32

Nacca Jātaka

The Animals Choose Kings

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

The Buddhist texts are not shy about telling graphic stores. In this one, a misbehaving monk exposes himself defiantly to the Buddha. This just shows that life is life, even for a Buddha.

A pleasing note.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana, about a monk who had many possessions. The incident is the same as in the Devadhamma Jātaka (Jātaka 6).

“Is this report true, Brother,” the Master said, “that you have many possessions?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why do you have so many possessions?”

Without listening further, the monk tore off his clothes and stood stark naked before the Master, crying, “I’ll go about like this!”

“My goodness!” everyone exclaimed. The man ran away and went back to his life as a layperson. Gathering together in the Dharma Hall, the monks talked of his impropriety in behaving that way in front of the Master. Just then the Master came in and asked what they were talking about. “Sir,” they answered, “we were discussing the impropriety of that monk, and saying that in your presence and right before all the four classes of your followers (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen) he lost all sense of shame and stood there stark naked as a mischievous child. Then seeing that he was repudiated by everyone, he lost the faith and lapsed back into a low life.”

The Master said, “Monks, this is not the only loss his shamelessness has caused him. In bygone days he lost a jewel of a wife just as he now has lost the jewel of the faith.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time, in the first cycle of the world’s history, the four-legged animals chose the lion as their king, the fish chose the monster fish, and the birds chose the golden mallard.

Now the King Golden Mallard had a lovely young daughter, and her royal father granted her any favor that she might ask. The request she made was to be allowed to choose a husband for herself. The King in fulfillment of his promise gathered all the birds together in the country of the Himalayas. All kinds of birds came, swans and peacocks and all other birds. They flocked together on a great plateau of bare rock. Then the King sent for his daughter and told her to go and choose a husband after her own heart.

As she looked over the crowd of birds, her eye landed on the peacock with his neck of jeweled sheen and tail of different colors. She chose him, saying, “Let this be my husband.” Then the assembly of the birds went up to the peacock and said, “Friend peacock, this princess has chosen you from among all these birds.”

Carried away by his extreme joy, the peacock exclaimed, “Until today you have never seen how excited I am!” And in defiance of all decency he spread his wings and began to dance, and in dancing he exposed himself.

The Peacock’s Embarrassing Dance

Figure: The Peacock’s Embarrassing Dance

Filled with shame, King Golden Mallard said, “This fellow has neither modesty within his heart nor decency in his outward behavior. I certainly will not give my daughter to one who is so shameless.” And there in the midst of all the birds, he repeated this stanza:

A pleasing note is yours, a lovely back,

A neck in hue like a precious stone.

Your outstretched feathers reach the height of a man.

But your dancing loses you, my child.

In front of the whole gathering King Royal Mallard gave his daughter to a young mallard, a nephew of his. Covered with shame at the loss of the mallard princess, the peacock rose straight up from the place and fled away. And King Golden Mallard too went back to his dwelling place.

“Thus, monks,” the Master said, “this is not the only time his breach of modesty has caused him a loss. Just as it has now caused him to lose the jewel of the faith, so in bygone days it lost him a jewel of a wife.” When he ended this lesson, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “The monk with the many possessions was the peacock of those days, and I myself the Royal Mallard.”