Jataka 152

Sigāla Jātaka

The Jackal (One More Time…)

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 one of those stories that does not feel very Buddhist. One theme is staying in your place, your rank, or your caste. The Buddha’s Saṇgha was famously even-handed when it came to such distinctions. And the idea that the “noble” Bodhisatta would kill the jackal also does not ring true. Still there is a lesson in here about succumbing to sense desire, and that is a very Buddhist theme, indeed. People do the craziest things for sexual desire.

The barber is also a nicely drawn character, a simple but noble and virtuous man. A barber was a very low person in Indian society, but one of the Buddha’s greatest disciples was Upāli, who recited the Vināya at the First Buddhist Council. Upāli had originally been a barber.

Who rashly undertakes.” The Master told this story while he was staying in his gabled chamber. It is about a barber who lived at Vesāli.

This man, as we are told, used to do shaving and hairdressing and hair braiding for the royal household: kings and queens, princes and princesses. Indeed he did all of that type of work that had to be done. He was a true believer in the Dharma. He took the Three Refuges, resolved to keep the Five Precepts, and from time to time he would listen to the Master’s discourses.

One day he set out to do his work in the palace, taking his son with him. On their way the young fellow saw a Licchavi girl dressed up fine and grand. He thought she looked like a goddess. He became infatuated with her. He said to his father as they left the palace, “There is a girl. If I get her, I shall live. But if I don’t, there’s nothing but death for me.”

He would not touch a morsel of food but lay down hugging the bedstead. His father found him and said, “Why, son, don’t set your mind on forbidden fruit. You are a nobody, a barber’s son. This Licchavi girl is a highborn lady. You’re no match for her. I'll find you somebody else, a girl of your own place and rank.”

But the boy would not listen to him. Then came his mother, his brother and sister, his aunt and uncle, everyone from his family. All his friends and companions tried to pacify him. But they could not. So he pined and pined away, and he lay there until he died.

The father performed his funeral rites and did what is usual to do for the spirits of the dead. By and by, when the first edge of grief had worn off, he thought he would call upon the Master. Taking a large present of flowers, scents, and perfumes, he went to Mahāvana (a woods near Vesāli). He paid homage to the Master, saluted him, and sat down on one side.

“Why have you kept out of sight all this time, layman?” the Master asked. Then the man told him what had happened. The Master said, “Ah, layman, this is not the first time he has perished by setting his heart on what he must not have. This is precisely what he has done before.” Then at the layman’s request, he told a story of the past.

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was the King of Benares, the Bodhisatta came into the world as a young lion in the region of the Himalayas. In the same family there were some younger brothers and one sister, and all of them lived in a Golden Cave.

Now nearby this cave was a Cave of Crystal on a silver hill where a jackal lived. By and by the lions’ parents died. Then they used to leave the lioness, their sister, behind in the cave while they hunted for food. When they got their food, they would bring it back for her to eat.

Now the jackal had seen this lioness, and he fell in love with her. When the old lion and lioness were alive, he could not win her. Now, when the seven brothers went to find food, he came out from his Crystal Cave and moved quickly to the Golden Cave. There he stood before the young lioness and attempted to seduce her with these tempting words:

“O Lioness, I am a four-footed creature, and so are you. Therefore be my mate, and I will be your husband! We will live together in friendship and amity, and you shall love me always!”

The Rascal Jackal

Figure: The Rascal Jackal

On hearing this the lioness thought to herself, “This jackal here is mean among beasts, vile, and like a man of low birth. I am of royal blood. That he should speak to me is improper and evil. How can I live after hearing such things said? I will hold my breath until I die.” But then she thought, “No, to die so would not be fitting. My brothers will soon be home again. I will talk to them first, and then I will put an end to myself.”

The jackal, receiving no answer, felt sure that she cared nothing for him. So he went back to his Crystal Cave and lay down in great misery.

Now one of the young lions, having killed a buffalo, or an elephant, or what not, ate some of it himself. Then he brought back a share for his sister. He gave it to her, inviting her to eat.

“No, brother,” she said, “I will not eat a single bite for I must die!”

“Why must you die?” he asked.

And she told him what had happened.

“Where is this jackal now?” he asked.

She saw him lying in the Crystal Cave, and thinking he was up in the sky (because the crystal of the cave was transparent), she said, “Why, brother, do you not see him above Silver Mountain, lying up in the sky?”

The young lion, unaware that the jackal lay in a Crystal Cave and deciding that he was truly in the sky, leapt as lions do and tried to kill him. But he struck against the crystal which burst his heart into pieces. He fell to the foot of the mountain and died.

Then another brother came in. The lioness told him the same story. This lion did precisely what the first one did, and likewise fell dead by the foot of the mountain.

When six of the brother lions had perished in this way, last of all the Bodhisatta entered. When she told her story, he asked where the jackal was now?

“There he is,” she said, “up in the sky above Silver Mountain!”

The Bodhisatta thought, “Jackals lying in the sky? Nonsense. I know what it is. He is lying in a Crystal Cave.”

So he went to the foot of the mountain. There he saw his six brothers lying dead.

“I see how it is,” he thought. “They were all foolish and lacked the fullness of wisdom. They did not know that this is the Crystal Cave. They beat their hearts out against it and were killed. This is what comes of acting rashly without due reflection.” And he repeated the first stanza:

“Who rashly undertakes an enterprise,

Not counting all things that may arise,

Like one who burns his mouth in eating food

Falls victim to the plans he did devise.”

After repeating these lines, the lion continued, “My brothers wanted to kill this jackal. But they did not know how to properly plan. They leapt up too quickly at him and so they were killed. I will not do what they did. But I will make the jackal burst his own heart as he lies there in the Crystal Cave.”

So he found the path the Jackal used to go up and down. He turned toward it and roared the lions roar three times so that earth and heaven together were all one great roaring! The jackal in the Crystal Cave was frightened and astounded so that his heart burst, and he died instantly.

The Master continued, “Thus did this jackal die when he heard the lion roar.” Then he repeated the second stanza:

On Daddara the Lion gave a roar,

And made Mount Daddara resound again.

Nearby a jackal lived; he feared full sore

To hear the sound, and burst his heart in two.

Thus did our lion send this jackal to his death. Then he laid his brothers together in one grave and told the sister they were dead. He comforted her. He lived the rest of his days in the Golden Cave until he passed away to the place which his merits had earned for him.

When the Master had ended this discourse, he taught the Four Noble Truths. At the conclusion of the teaching, the layman was established in the Fruit of the First Path (stream-entry). Then he identified the birth: “The barber’s son of today was the jackal. The Licchavi girl was the young lioness. The six younger lions are now six Elders; and I was the eldest lion.”