sunset

Jataka 153

Sūkara Jātaka

The Pig 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


A curious tale about muck and sewage (!). In this story, a pig actually gets the better of the Bodhisatta.


You have four feet.” This is a story told by the Master while he was at Jetavana. It is about a certain Elder who was very old.

Once, we are told, there happened to be a gathering at night-time. The Master preached while standing upon a slab of the jeweled staircase at the door of his scented cell. After the Blessed One delivered the discourse, he retired into his scented chamber, and the Captain of the Faith (Sāriputta), saluting his Master, went back to his own cell again. Mahāmoggallāna also retired to his cell. After a moment’s rest he returned to ask the Elder Sāriputta some questions.

(Mogallāna presumably did this for the benefit of the community. He was already an arahant and knew the answers to the questions. He was – presumably - trying to demonstrate Sāriputta’s wisdom.)

After he asked each question, the Captain of the Faith made it all clear as though he were making the moon rise in the sky. There were present the four classes of disciples (monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen). They sat and heard it all.

Then a thought came into the mind of one aged Elder. “Suppose,” he thought, “I can bewilder Sāriputta before this crowd by asking him some question? They will all think, ‘What a clever fellow!’ and I shall gain great credit and reputation.”

So he stood up in the crowd, and stepping near to the Elder Sāriputta, stood on one side. He said, “Friend Sāriputta, I too have a question for you. Will you let me speak? Give me a decision in discrimination or in non-discrimination, in refutation or in acceptance, in distinction or in non-distinction.” (This is a philosophical question that may simply be nonsense.)

The Elder Sāriputta looked at him. “This old man,” he thought, “still lives in the realm of sense desire. He is empty and knows nothing.” He shamed him by not saying a single word. He lay down his fan, rose from his seat, and returned to his cell. The Elder Moggallāna likewise returned to his cell. The bystanders jumped up, crying, “Seize this wicked old fellow who wouldn’t let us hear the sweet words of the discourse!” and they mobbed him.

He ran off and fell through a hole in the corner of a cesspool just outside the monastery. When he got up he was covered in filth. When the people saw him, they felt sorry for him and want to see the Master. He asked, “Why have you come at this unseasonable hour, laymen?”

They told him what had happened. “Laymen,” he said, “this is not the only time this old man has been put to shame. Long, long ago he did not know his limits. He pitted himself against the strong and was covered with filth as he is covered now.” Then, at their request, he told them a story of the past.


Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was the King of Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as a lion. He lived in a mountain cave in the Himalayas. Nearby there were many wild pigs. They lived by a lakeside. A group of recluses lived beside the same lake. They lived in huts made from leaves and the branches of trees.

One day it so happened that the lion had killed a buffalo or elephant or some such game. After eating what he wanted, he went down to drink at the lake. Just as he came out, a sturdy pig happened to be feeding by the side of the water. “He'll make a meal for me some other day,” the lion thought.

But afraid that if the pig saw him he might never come there again, the lion slunk away to the side as he came up out of the water. The pig saw this. The pig thought, “This is because he has seen me and is afraid! He dares not come near me, and off he runs in fear! This day shall see a fight between me and a lion!” So he raised his head and challenged the lion in this stanza:

"You have four feet… so do I. Thus, friend, we’re both alike, you see;

Turn, lion, turn. Are you afraid? Why do you run away from me?”

The lion responded, “Friend pig,” he said, “today there will be no fight between you and me. But next week on this day let us fight it out on this very spot.” And with these words, he left.

The pig was delighted to think how he was going to fight a lion. He told his entire family about it. But the story only terrified them. “You will be the ruin of us all,” they said, “and yourself to boot. You do not know what you can do, or you would not be so eager to fight a lion. When the lion comes, he’ll be the death of you and all of us as well. Do not be so happy to fight!”

These words made the pig afraid.

“What am I to do, then?” he asked.

Then the other pigs advised him to roll around in the recluses’ dunghill for the next seven days and let the muck dry on his body. Then on the seventh day he should moisten himself with water and be first at the meeting place. Then he must determine the direction of the wind and get to the windward side. Because lions are very clean, he would spare his life when he got a whiff of him.

The Lion Concedes. Yuck!

Figure: The Lion Concedes. Yuck!

So he did this. On the appointed day, there he was. No sooner had the lion smelled him and smelled the filth, he said, “Friend pig, this is a good trick! If you were not covered in filth, I would have your life this very day. But as it is, I cannot bite you, or even so much as touch you with my foot. Therefore I spare your life.” And then he repeated this stanza:

“O dirty pig, your hide is foul, the stench is horrible to me.

If you would fight I would concede, and say you have the victory.”

Then the lion turned away. He went off to get his day’s food. And after a drink at the lake, he went back again to his cave on the mountain.

And the pig told his family how he had beaten the lion! But they were terrified that the lion would come another day and be the death of them all. So they ran away and went to another place.


When the Master ended this story, he identified the birth: “The pig of those days is now the ancient Elder, and I was the lion.”