Jataka 113

Sigāla Jātaka

The Jackal

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

Another story with a tree sprite (fairy). Yay! Another story with Devadatta. Boo!

The historical story is that Devadatta convinced 500 of the Buddha’s youngest and most vulnerable monks to leave the Buddha’s Saṇgha and follow him to Gayāsīsa. But while Devadatta was sleeping, the Buddha’s two chief disciples, Sāriputta and Moggallāna, convinced them to return. According to the Vinaya, when Devadatta woke up and realized the 500 monks had returned to the Buddha, “hot blood came forth from Devadatta's mouth.” [Cv 7.4.3] Devadatta’s co-conspirator, King Ajātasattu, later built a monastery for Devadatta at Gayāsīsa.

The drunken jackal.” This story was told by the Master while he was at the Bamboo Grove. It is about Devadatta. The monks had assembled in the Dharma Hall and were discussing how Devadatta had gone to Gayāsīsa with 500 followers. There he was misleading them by declaring that the truth was manifested in him “and not in the ascetic Gotama.” His lies were causing a schism in the Saṇgha. They discussed how he kept two fast-days a week. (While Buddhist monastics do not eat after noon, complete days of fasting are considered an ascetic practice and therefore not part of the “middle way” taught by the Buddha.) And as they sat there discussing the wickedness of Devadatta, the Master entered and was told the subject of their conversation. “Monks,” he said, “Devadatta was as great a liar in past times as he is now.” 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 tree sprite in a cemetery grove. In those days a festival had been proclaimed in Benares, and the people decided to make sacrifices to the ogres. So they spread fish and meat around the courtyards, streets, and other places, and they put out great pots of strong liquor.

At midnight a jackal came into the town through the sewer, and he regaled himself on the meat and liquor. Crawling into some bushes, he fell fast asleep just before dawn.

When he woke up, he saw that it was broad daylight. He know that he could not sneak back out at that time. So he lay down quietly near the roadside where he could not be seen. He waited until he saw a solitary brahmin on his way to rinse his mouth in the water tank. The jackal thought to himself, "Brahmins are a greedy lot. I will play on his greed in order to get him to carry me out of the city hidden under his outer robe.” So, with a human voice, he cried “Brahmin.”

“Who calls me?” the brahmin said, turning around.

“I, brahmin.”

“What for?”

“I have 200 gold pieces, brahmin. If you will hide me under your outer robe and get me out of the city without my being seen, you shall have them all.”

Agreeing to the offer, the greedy brahmin hid the jackal and carried the beast a little way out of the city.

“Where are we, brahmin?” said the jackal.

“Oh, it's such and such a place,” said the brahmin.

“Go on a bit farther,” said the jackal. He kept urging the brahmin on a little farther and then farther still until at last they reached the cremation park.

“Put me down here,” the jackal said, and the brahmin did so.

“Spread your robe out on the ground, brahmin.” And the greedy brahmin did so.

“And now dig up this tree by the roots,” he said. And while the brahmin was at work the jackal walked on to the robe and excreted on it in five places: the four corners and the middle. He then went off into the woods.

Seeing this, the Bodhisatta, standing in the fork of the tree, uttered this stanza:

The drunken jackal, brahmin, betrayed your trust!

You will not find here a hundred mollusk shells,

Much less 200 gold coins.

Figure: The Foolish Brahmin

Figure: The Foolish Brahmin

When he had said these verses, the Bodhisatta said to the brahmin, “Go now. Wash your robe and bathe, and then go about your business.” So saying, he disappeared from sight. The brahmin did as he was instructed. He departed, mortified at having been so badly deceived.

His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “Devadatta was the jackal of those days, and I was the tree sprite.”