Jataka 42

Kapota Jātaka

The Greedy Crow

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 a warning story about the dangers of greed. One lovely detail is that the people of Benares had a custom of putting up baskets for the “shelter and comfort of the birds.”

A less appealing detail in the story is that the chef could have simply killed the crow, but instead he decided to torture him. Yikes!

The headstrong man.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a certain greedy monk. His greediness will be related in the Sixth Book in the Kāka Jātaka (Jātaka 395).

But on this occasion the monks said to the Master, “Sir, this monk is greedy.”

The Master said, “Is it true what they say, brother, that you are greedy?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

“So too in bygone days, brother, you were greedy, and because of your greediness, you lost your life. You also caused the wise and good to lose their home.” And so saying he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as a pigeon. Now the Benares people of those days, as an act of goodness, used to hang up straw baskets in various places for the shelter and comfort of the birds. And the cook of the Lord High Treasurer of Benares hung up one of these baskets in his kitchen. The Bodhisatta took up residence there, leaving at daybreak in search of food, and returning home in the evening. And so he lived his life.

But one day a crow, flying over the kitchen, smelled the wonderful aroma of the salt and fresh fish and meat there, and he was filled with longing to taste it. While he was pondering how to do this, he perched nearby, and in the evening he saw the Bodhisatta come home and go into the kitchen. “Ah!” he thought, “I can manage it through the pigeon.”

So he came back the next day at dawn, and, when the Bodhisatta left in search of food, he following him around from place to place like his shadow. So the Bodhisatta said, “Why are you following me, friend?”

“My lord,” answered the crow, “I admire your demeanor, and from now on I want to follow you.”

“But friend, your kind of food and mine is not the same,” the Bodhisatta said. “It will be difficult for you if you attach yourself to me.”

“My lord,” said the crow, “when you are looking for your food, I will feed too, by your side.”

“So be it, then,” the Bodhisatta said. “However, you must be sincere.” And with this warning to the crow, the Bodhisatta flew about pecking up grass seed, while the crow went about turning over cow dung and picking out the insects underneath until he was full.

When the Bodhisatta had eaten and reached home again in the evening, the crow flew in with him into the kitchen.

“Why, our bird has brought another one home with him,” exclaimed the cook, and he hung up a second basket for the crow. And from that time onward the two birds lived together in the kitchen.

Now one day the Lord High Treasurer brought in a store of fish which the cook hung up about the kitchen. Filled with a burning desire at the sight, the crow made up his mind to stay at home the next day and treat himself to this excellent fare.

So all the night long he lay groaning, and on the next day, when the Bodhisatta was about to leave in search of food, he said, “Come along, friend crow.” The crow replied, “Go without me, my lord, for I have a pain in my stomach.”

“Friend,” the Bodhisatta answered, “I have never heard of crows having pains in their stomachs before. True, crows feel faint in each of the three night-watches (in India they divided the night into three “watches”), but if they eat a lamp wick, this calms their hunger. You must be yearning for the fish in the kitchen here. Come now, man’s food will not agree with you. Do not behave like this. Come and find your food with me.”

“Indeed, I am not able to, my lord,” the crow said.

“Well, your true nature will show,” said the Bodhisatta. “But do not give in to greed. Be steadfast.” And with this admonition, he flew away to find his daily food.

Meanwhile the cook took several kinds of fish and dressed some one way and some another. Then lifting the lids off his sauce pans a little to let the steam out, he put a colander on the top of one and went outside the door. He stood there wiping the sweat from his brow. Just at that moment the crow’s head popped out from the basket. A glance told him that the cook was away, and he thought, “It is now or never. The only question is should I take chopped meat or a big lump?” Thinking that it takes a long time to make a full meal of chopped meat, he decided to take a large piece of fish and sit and eat it in his basket. So he flew out and landed on the colander. “Click” went the colander.

“What can that be?” the cook said, running in on hearing the noise. Seeing the crow, he cried, “Oh, there’s that rascally crow wanting to eat my master’s dinner. I have to work for my master, not for that rascal! What’s he to me, I should like to know?” So he shut the door, caught the crow, and plucked every feather off his body. Then he pounded up ginger with salt and cumin and mixed in sour buttermilk, soaked the crow in the pickle, and threw him back into his basket. And there the crow lay groaning, overcome by the agony of his pain.

The Greedy Crow is Caught!

Figure: The Greedy Crow is Caught!

In the evening the Bodhisatta came back and saw the wretched plight of the crow. “Ah! greedy crow,” he exclaimed, “you would not listen to my advice, and now your own greed has caused you trouble.” So saying, he repeated this stanza:

The headstrong man who, when warned, pays

No heed to friends who kindly give advice,

Shall surely perish, like the greedy crow,

Who laughed to scorn the pigeon’s warning words.

Then, exclaiming “I too can no longer live here,” the Bodhisatta flew away. But the crow died then and there, and the cook flung him, basket and all, on the dust-heap.

The Master said, “You were greedy, brother, in bygone times, just as you are now. And because of your greediness the wise and good of those days had to abandon their homes.” Having ended this lesson, the Master preached the Four Noble Truths, at the close of which that monk won the Fruit of the Second Path (once returner). Then the Master showed the connection and identified the birth as follows, “The greedy brother was the crow of those times, and I was the pigeon.”