Jataka 34

Maccha Jātaka

The Slave of Passion

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

There is an interesting point made in this story. The Bodhisatta is concerned about the state of mind of the fish if he dies at that moment. This is a common theme in the Buddhist tradition. Our next rebirth is determined by our past karma as well as the state of mind at the moment of death. This is why Buddhists hope for a very calm, loving, supportive environment when they die.

’Tis not the cold.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a monk who was seduced by his wife from his worldly life before joining the Saṇgha. The Master said on this occasion, “Is it true, as I hear, brother, that you have succumbed to passion?”

“Yes, Blessed One.”

“Because of whom?”

“My former wife, sir, is sweet to touch. I cannot give her up!”

Then the Master said, “Brother, this woman is harmful to you. It was because of her that in bygone times you were about to meet your end when you were saved by me.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his family’s priest.

In those days some fishermen cast their net into the river. And a great big fish came along amorously toying with his wife. She, sensing the net as she swam ahead of him, circled around it and escaped. But her amorous spouse, blinded by passion, sailed right into the meshes of the net. As soon as the fishermen felt him in their net, they hauled it in and took the fish out.

They did not kill him at once but threw him alive on the sands. “We’ll cook him in the coals for our meal,” they said. Accordingly, they started to build a fire and carve a spit to roast him on. The fish lamented, saying to himself, “It’s not the torture of the fire or the anguish of the spit or any other pain that hurts me. It is the distressing thought that my wife will be unhappy in the belief that I have gone off with someone else.” And he repeated this stanza:

It’s not the cold, the heat, or wounding net.

It’s the fear my darling wife should think

Another’s love has lured her spouse away.

Just then the priest came to the riverside with his attendants to bathe. Now he understood the language of all animals. Therefore, when he heard the fish’s lament, he thought to himself, “This fish is suffering from passion. If he dies in this unhealthy state of mind, he cannot escape rebirth in hell. I will save him.” So he went to the fishermen and said, “My men, don’t you supply us with a fish every day for our curry?”

“What do you say, sir?” the fishermen said. “Take away any fish you want.”

“We don’t need any but this one. Only give us this one.”

“He’s yours, sir.”

Taking the fish in his two hands, the Bodhisatta sat down on the bank and said, “Friend fish, if I had not seen you today, you would have met your death. In the future stop being a slave of passion.” And with this exhortation he threw the fish into the water and went back into the city.

The Bodhisatta and the Love Lost Fish

Figure: The Bodhisatta and the Love Lost Fish

His lesson ended, the Master preached the Four Noble Truths, at the end of which the passionate monk won the First Path (stream-entry). Also, the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “The former wife was the female fish of those days, the passionate monk was the male fish, and I myself the family priest.”