Jataka 107

Sālittaka Jātaka

The Stone Slinger

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 very funny story. One of the things that I love about the Pāli Canon is how much humor there is. In this story there is a man who is an obsessive talker and a King who is looking for a way to shut him up. The solution is quite ingenious!

In this story, the same skill is used in two different contexts. In one context, the skill is used wisely, in the other, it is not. Thus the Buddha’s admonishment that skills should only be developed by the wise.

Prize skill.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a monk who threw a stone and hit a swan. We are told that this monk, who came from a good family in Sāvatthi, had great skill in hitting things with stones. One day he heard the Dharma taught and he decided to give his heart to it, and, giving up the world, was admitted to Saṇgha.

However, he did not excel as a monk either in study or in practice. One day, he went to the river Aciravatī (the modern Rāpti River) with a young monk. He was standing on the bank after bathing when he saw two white swans flying by. He said to the young monk, “I’ll hit the trailing swan in the eye and bring it down.”

“Bring it down indeed!” the young monk said. “You can’t hit it.”

“Just you wait a moment. I'll hit it on the eye on this side and it will go out through the eye on the other side.”

“Oh, nonsense.”

“Very well. You wait and see.”

Then he took a three-cornered stone in his hand and threw it at the swan. The stone whizzed through the air and the swan, suspecting danger, stopped to listen. At once the monk grabbed a smooth round stone, and as the resting swan was looking in the other direction, he hit it right in the eye. That stone went in one eye and came out through the other. And with a loud scream the swan fell to the ground at their feet.

“That is a highly shameful action,” said the young monk, and he brought him before the Master and told him what had happened. After rebuking the monk, the Master said, “He had the same skill, monks, in past times as now.” And he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was one of the King’s courtiers. And the royal priest of those days was so talkative and longwinded that once he started, no one else could get a word in. So the King looked around for someone to cut the priest off. He looked high and low for someone.

Now at that time there was a cripple in Benares who was a wonderful marksman with stones. The boys used to put him on a little cart and take him to the gates of Benares where there is a large branching banyan tree covered with leaves. There they would gather round and give him a coin, saying “Make an elephant,” or “Make a horse.” And the cripple would throw stone after stone until he had cut the foliage into the appropriate shapes. And the ground was covered with fallen leaves.

One day, on his way to his pleasure garden the King came to that spot. All the boys scampered off in fear of the King, leaving the cripple there helpless. At the sight of the litter of leaves the King asked, as he rode by in his chariot, who had cut the leaves off. And he was told that the cripple had done it. Thinking that here might be a way to shut the priest’s mouth, the King asked where the cripple was. He was shown him sitting at the foot of the tree. Then the King had him brought to him and, motioning his retinue to stand apart, said to the cripple, “I have a very talkative priest. Do you think you could stop his talking?”

“Yes, sire. If I had a peashooter full of dry goat’s dung,” the cripple said. So the King took him to the palace. There he had him set up with a peashooter full of dry goat’s dung. He put him behind a curtain with a slit in it, facing the priest. When the priest came to wait upon the King, his majesty started a conversation. And the priest, as usual, monopolized the conversation. No one else could get a word in. The cripple started to shoot the pellets of goat’s dung one by one, like flies, through the slit in the curtain right into the priest’s mouth. And the brahmin swallowed the pellets down as they came, like so much oil, until all had disappeared.

When the whole peashooter-full of pellets was lodged in the priest’s stomach, they swelled to the size of a bushel basket. The King, knowing they were all gone, addressed the brahmin in these words, “Reverend sir, you are so talkative, that you have swallowed down a peashooter-full of goat’s dung without knowing it. That’s about as much as you will be able to take at one time. Now go home and take a dose of panic grass seed and water as an emetic (something that makes you vomit) and put yourself right again.”

Figure: Learning a Harsh Lesson

Figure: Learning a Harsh Lesson

From that day on the priest kept his mouth shut and sat as silent during conversation as though his lips were sealed.

“Well, my ears are indebted to the cripple for this relief,” the King said, and he bestowed on him four villages, one in the North, one in the South, one in the West, and one in the East. They produced a hundred thousand coins in income per year.”

The Bodhisatta drew near to the King and said, “In this world, sire, skill should be cultivated by the wise. Mere skill in aiming has brought this cripple all this prosperity.” So saying he uttered this stanza:

Prize skill, and the marksman is lame.

--Four villages reward his aim

His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “This monk was the cripple of those days, Ānanda was the King, and I was the wise courtier.”