Jataka 45

Rohiṇī Jātaka

Rohiṇī’s Tale

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 story is almost identical to the previous one, but this one has a mother and daughter rather than a father and son.

Both stories emphasize that a worthy enemy is often less dangerous than a friend who lacks good sense. And if you think about all the times that “friends” talk someone into doing something stupid, or all the times that friends are a bad influence, this makes sense. There are many passages in the Pāli Canon that emphasize the importance of good friendship. And likewise, in one passage the Buddha says that if you cannot find good friends, you are better off being alone:

If, while on your way,

You meet no one your equal or better,

Steadily continue on your way alone.

There is no fellowship with fools.

- [Dhp 61]

Friends who lack sense.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a maid servant of the Lord High Treasurer, Anāthapiṇḍika. For he is said to have had a maid servant named Rohiṇī. Her aged mother came to where the girl was pounding rice and lay down. The flies came flying all around the old woman and stung her as with a needle, so she cried to her daughter, “The flies are stinging me, my dear. Do drive them away.”

“Oh! I’ll drive them away, mother,” said the girl, lifting her pestle up to swat the flies that had settled on her mother. Then, crying, “I’ll kill them!”, she hit her mother so hard that she killed the old woman outright. Seeing what she had done the girl began to weep and cry, “Oh! mother, mother!”

The news was brought to the Lord High Treasurer, who, after having the body cremated, went to the monastery. There he told the Master what had happened. “This is not the first time, layman,” said the Master, “that in Rohiṇī’s haste to kill the flies on her mother, she has struck her mother dead with a pestle. She did exactly the same in times past.” Then at Anāthapiṇḍika’s request, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as the son of the Lord High Treasurer. When the Lord High Treasurer died, he himself became the Lord High Treasurer. And he, too, had a maid servant whose name was Rohiṇī. And her mother, in like manner, went to where the daughter was pounding rice, and lay down, and called out, “Do drive these flies off me, my dear.” And in just the same way she struck her mother with a pestle, and killed her, and began to weep.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

Figure: “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!”

Hearing what had happened, the Bodhisatta reflected: “Here, in this world, even an enemy, with sense, would be preferable,” and he recited these lines:

Friends who lack sense are worse than enemies with sense,

Witness the girl whose reckless hand laid low

Her mother, who she now laments in vain.

In these lines in praise of the wise, the Bodhisatta taught the Dharma.

“This is not the first time, lay people,” the Master said, “that in Rohiṇī’s haste to kill flies she has killed her own mother instead.” This lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying: “The mother and daughter of today were also mother and daughter of those bygone times, and I myself was the Lord High Treasurer.”