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Jataka 142

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


In this story the wise being is a lowly jackal and the fool is a human.

The tightening grip.” This story was told by the Master while he was at the Bamboo Grove. It is about Devadatta’s going there to kill him. The Master heard the monks talking about this in the Dharma Hall. He said that, just as Devadatta acted now, so he acted in times gone by. And then as now he failed to achieve his wicked purpose and also suffered the consequences of his evil acts. 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 jackal. He lived in a charnel ground as the king of a great following of jackals.

At that time there was a festival being held in Rājagaha. It was a very wet festival with a lot of drinking. Now a group of scoundrels got hold of lots of food and drink. They put on their best clothes and sang and made merry over their fare. By midnight the meat was all gone, but the liquor still held out.

Then one of them asked for more meat. He was told that there was none left. The fellow said, “We will never lack for food while I am about. I’ll go to the charnel ground, kill a jackal, and bring back some meat.”

So saying he grabbed a club and made his way out of the city by way of the sewer. There he lay down, club in hand, pretending to be dead. Just then, followed by the other jackals, the Bodhisatta came up and saw the pretend corpse. Suspecting the deceit, he determined to investigate the matter. So he went around to the lee side and knew by the scent that the man was not really dead.

Deciding to make the man look foolish, the Bodhisatta crept near to him, grabbed the club with his teeth, and tugged at it. The rascal did not let go, and he tightened his grip. The Bodhisatta stepped back a step or two and said, “My good man, if you had been dead, you would not have tightened the grip on your club when I was tugging at it. You have betrayed yourself.” Then he uttered this stanza:

Your tightening grip on thy club does show

Your rank deceit. You are no corpse, I know.

Figure: The Deceit Is Discovered

Figure: The Deceit Is Discovered

Seeing that he was discovered, the rogue sprang to his feet and threw his club at the Bodhisatta. But his aim was off. “Be off, you brute,” he said. “I missed you this time.”

Turning around, the Bodhisatta said, “It is true you missed me, but be assured you will not miss the torments of the Great Hell and the sixteen Lesser Hells.”

Empty-handed, the rogue left the cemetery and, after bathing in a ditch, went back into the city by the way from which he had come.


His lesson ended, the Master identified the birth by saying, “Devadatta was the rogue of those times, and I was king of the jackals.”