Jataka 129

Aggika Jātaka

The Fire Worshipper

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 basically the same story as the previous one. But in this one, the story uses an old bit of Indian social custom, and that is that many brahmin priests in India have a hair knot as a symbol of their religious orientation.

It was greed.” This story was told by the Master while he was at Jetavana. It is about another hypocrite.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was the king of the rats, and he lived in the forest. Now a fire broke out in the forest, and a jackal who could not run away put his head against a tree as the flames sweep by him. The fire singed the hair off of his body everywhere. It left him completely bald except for a knot of hair where the crown of his head had pressed against the tree.

One day, when he was drinking from a rocky pool, he caught sight of this hair knot reflected in the water. “I now have a way to fool those rats,” he thought. He went to the rats’ cave where he said to himself, “I’ll trick those rats and eat them,” and with this purpose in mind he took up his position, just as in the foregoing story.

On his way out in search of food, the Bodhisatta saw the jackal. He crediting the beast with virtue and goodness and went up to him and asked him what his name was.

“Bhāradvāja, Priest of the Fire God.”

“Why have you come here?”

“In order to guard you and yours.”

“What will you do to guard us?”

"I know how to count, and I will count your numbers both morning and evening to make sure that everyone has returned safely. That is how I will guard you.”

“Then stay and watch over us.”

Accordingly, as the rats were starting out in the morning, he counted them, “One, two, three…” and likewise he did so when they came back at night. And every time he counted them, he seized and ate the last one.

Figure: Oh, That Evil Jackal!

Figure: Oh, That Evil Jackal!

Everything came to pass as in the previous story, except that here the king of the rats turned and said to the jackal, "It is not goodness, Bhāradvāja, Priest of the Fire God, but gluttony that has decked your crown with that hair knot.” So saying, he uttered this stanza:

It was greed, not virtue, that gave you this hair knot.

Our dwindling numbers do not add up.

We’ve had enough, Fire Priest, of you.

His lesson ended, the Master identified the Birth by saying, “This monk was the jackal of those days, and I was the king of the rats.”