Jataka 115

Anusāsika Jātaka

Anusāsika’s Story

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 simple story about greed. It is one of the few stories that is about a misbehaving nun. Most of the time it is the men who are the offenders. But in true Buddhist fashion, no one group of people can lay claim to either the moral high ground or the moral low ground. It is not by membership in any group that one claims superiority. This happens only through the quality of your actions.

The greed-denouncing bird.” This story was told by the Master while he was at Jetavana. It is about a nun who gave a warning to others. We are told that she came from a good Sāvatthi family. (Sāvatthi is the ancient Indian city in which Jetavana Monastery was located.) But from the day that she joined the Saṇgha she was undisciplined, and she was consumed with greed and gluttony. She used to get alms in a section of the city that was usually avoided by other nuns.

She was given very good food there. Her greed made her afraid that other nuns might go there as well and reduce the amount of food that she would get. After thinking about how to stop them from going there, she warned the other nuns that it was a dangerous place that was threatened by a fierce elephant, a fierce horse, and a fierce dog. Accordingly, not a single nun gave so much as a look in that direction.

Now one day she went to this district for alms. As she was hurrying into a house there, a fierce ram butted her with such violence that he broke her leg. People ran to help her. They set her leg and brought her on a litter to the monastery. All the nuns tauntingly said that she broke her leg because she had gone where she had warned them not to go.

Not long after the monks heard about this. One day in the Dharma Hall the monks discussed how this sister had her leg broken by a fierce ram in a section of the city that she had warned the other nuns not to visit. They condemned her conduct. Entering the Dharma Hall at this moment, the Master asked what they were discussing. When they told him he said, “Just as now, monks,” he said, “so too in the past she warned people against doing things that she did not follow herself. And then as now she came to harm.” 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 bird. When he grew up he became the King of the Birds. He lived in the Himalayas with thousands of birds under his protection.

During their time there, a certain fierce bird used to go looking for food along a highway. There she found rice, beans, and other grain that had been dropped by passing wagons. She thought about how to keep the others from finding her bounty. She told them, “The highway is very dangerous. Elephants and horses travel there. There are wagons drawn by fierce oxen. Since it is impossible to take off quickly enough, don’t go there at all.” And because of her warning, the other birds called her “The Warner.”

Now one day when she was feeding along the highway, she heard the sound of a carriage coming swiftly along the road. She turned her head to look at it and thought “Oh it's quite a long way off,” and went on as before. But the carriage came up as swiftly as the wind, and before she could get away, the wheel crushed her and sped off.

Figure: The Price of Greed and Mindlessness

Figure: The Price of Greed and Mindlessness

At the next gathering of the birds, the King noted her absence and ordered that a search be made for her. She was found cut in two on the highway, and the news was brought to the King. “Through not following her own warning to the other birds she has been cut in two,” he said, and he uttered this stanza:

The greed-denouncing bird became prey to greed,

The chariot wheels left her mangled on the road.

His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “The warning nun was “The Warner” bird of those times, and I was the King of the Birds.”