Jataka 117

Tittira Jātaka

The Partridge 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

In both the story in the present and the Jātaka we learn a lesson about talking too much!

As the partridge died.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about Kokālika, whose story will be found in the Takkāriya Jātaka. (Kokālika was a disciple of the rogue monk Devadatta.)

(In the Takkāriya Jātaka – Jātaka 481 - King Brahmadatta has a chaplain whose wife was cheating on him with a “tawny-brown” brahmin. In order to get rid of the cheating brahmin, the chaplain devised a plan. He told Brahmadatta that he needed to build a new southern gate to the city. When the gate was completed, he told the King that he needed to sacrifice a “tawny-brown” brahmin and bury him at the gate or the city would suffer from bad luck. However, before the sacrifice could occur, the chaplain told his wife how he would soon get revenge on her and the brahmin. She then told the brahmin, who fled the city. When it came time for the sacrifice to occur, the only “tawny-brown” brahmin left was the chaplain himself. However, the Bodhisatta – who was the chaplain’s understudy - saved the chaplain and a goat was buried at the gate instead.)

Said the Master, “As now, monks, so likewise in former times, Kokālika’s tongue has brought his destruction.” (Kokālika’s “destruction” during the time of the Buddha was for helping to cause a schism in the Saṇgha.)

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 brahmin in the north country. When he grew up, he received a complete education at Takkasilā University. After graduating, he renounced sense pleasures and gave up the world to become a hermit. He won the Five Knowledges (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 (jhānas), and all the recluses of the Himalayas to the number of 500 assembled together and followed him as their master.

Insight was his as he lived with his disciples in the Himalayas.

In those days there was an ascetic suffering from jaundice who was chopping wood with an axe. And a chattering monk went and stood next to him telling him what to do. He told him to chop here and chop there until the jaundiced ascetic lost his temper. In a rage he cried, “Who are you to tell me how to chop wood!?” And lifting up his sharp-edged axe he killed him with a single blow. The Bodhisatta then had the body buried.

Figure: This Isn’t Going to End Well

Figure: This Isn’t Going to End Well

Now on an ant-hill near by the hermitage there lived a partridge. From dawn until dusk he was always chirping on the top of the ant-hill. Recognizing the note of a partridge, a sportsman killed the bird and took it away with him. Missing the bird’s chirp, the Bodhisatta asked the hermits why they did not hear their neighbor the partridge any longer. Then they told him what had happened. He linked the two events together in this stanza:

As the partridge died for her clamorous cry,

So long and annoying chatter doomed this fool to die.

Having developed within himself the four Perfect States (the “Brahma viharas” - love, compassion, empathetic joy, and wisdom), the Bodhisatta thus became destined to rebirth in the Brahma Realm.

Said the Master, “Monks, just as now, in past days Kokālika’s tongue has worked for his destruction.” And at the close of this lesson he identified the birth by saying, “Kokālika was the meddling ascetic of those days, my followers were the band of hermits, and I was their master.”