Jataka 43

Veḷuka Jātaka

Bamboo’s Father

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 part of the “headstrong and stubborn series” of Jātaka Tales, this being the third story in a row with this theme. In this story a monk takes the Buddhist compassion for animals and puts a practical spin on it. You can befriend certain animals – and people – and you can have compassion for them and love them, but you should not necessarily trust them. This story could also be called, “It is good to be kind but let’s not get carried away.”

The headstrong man.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a certain headstrong monk. For the Blessed One asked him whether it was true that he was headstrong, and the monk admitted that he was. “Brother,” said the Master, “this is not the first time you have been headstrong. You were just as headstrong in former days. And as the result of your stubborn refusal to follow the advice of the wise and good, you were killed by the bite of a snake.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a wealthy family in the Kingdom of Kāsi. Having come to the years of discretion, he saw how pain springs from passion and how true bliss comes by abandoning passion. So he abandoned sensual desire and went to the Himalayas to became a recluse. There, by mastering the ordained mystic meditations, he won the five orders of the Higher Knowledge (presumably the “five trainee’s powers”, i.e., the power of faith, the power of moral shame, the power of moral dread, the power of energy, and the power of wisdom) and the eight Attainments (the 8 jhānas). And because he lived his life in the rapture of insight, he came to have a large following of five hundred recluses, and he was their teacher.

Now one day a young poisonous viper, wandering about as vipers do, came to the hut of one of the hermits. And that monk grew as fond of the creature as if it were his own child. He housed it in a piece of bamboo and showed kindness to it. And because it was lodged in a piece of bamboo, the viper was known by the name of “Bamboo.” Moreover, because the monk was so fond of the viper and because he treated it as if it were his own child, they called him “Bamboo’s Father.”

Hearing that one of the monks was keeping a viper, the Bodhisatta sent for that monk and asked him whether this was true. When told that it was true, the Bodhisatta said, “A viper can never be trusted. Do not keep it any longer.”

“But,” pleaded the monk, “my viper is as dear to me as a pupil to a teacher. I could not live without him.”

“Well then,” the Bodhisatta answered, “know that this very snake will cost you your life.” But heedless of the master’s warning, that monk still kept the pet he could not bear to part with.

A few days later all the monks went out to gather fruits. They came to a spot where all kinds grew bountifully, so they stayed there two or three days. “Bamboo’s Father” went with them, leaving his viper behind in his bamboo prison. Two or three days afterwards, when he came back, he went to feed the creature. Opening the cane, he stretched out his hand, saying, “Come, my son. You must be hungry.” But the viper was angry because he had not eaten, so the viper bit his outstretched hand, killing him on the spot, and then he escaped into the forest.

Biting the Hand That Feeds You

Figure: Biting the Hand That Feeds You

Seeing him lying there dead, the monks went and told the Bodhisatta. He told them to cremate the body. Then, seated in their midst, he exhorted the monks by repeating this stanza:

The headstrong man, who, when exhorted, pays

No heed to friends who kindly give their counsel,

Like ‘Bamboo’s father,’ they shall come to nothing.

Thus did the Bodhisatta exhort his followers, and he developed within himself the four Noble States (the first four jhānas), and at his death he was reborn into the Brahma Realm.

The Master said, “Brother, this is not the first time you have been headstrong. You were just as stubborn in times gone by, and because of it you met your death from a viper’s bite.” Having ended his lesson, the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “In those days, this headstrong monk was ‘Bamboo’s Father,’ my disciples were the band of recluses, and I was their teacher.”