Jataka 154

Uraga Jātaka

The Nāgā and the Garuḷa

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 story is reminiscent of the famous story from the Mahasamaya Sutta [DN 20]. The Mahasamaya Sutta is often chanted to invoke the favor of the devas. It is something like an inventory of the deva realms. In it – as in this story – the Buddha forms a truce between the nāgās and the garuḷas.)

Concealed within a stone.” The Master told this story while he was at Jetavana. It is about a quarrel between two soldiers.

Tradition tells how two soldiers, in the service of the King of Kosala, both of high rank and great persons at court, no sooner caught sight of one another than they started to argue. Neither the King nor their friends or their families could make them agree.

It happened that one day early in the morning the Master, looking around to see which of his friends were ripe for liberation, perceived that these two were ready to attain stream-entry. On the next day he went seeking alms alone in Sāvatthi. He stopped in front of the door of one of them who came out and took the Master’s bowl. Then he led him inside and offered him a seat. The Master sat and talked about the benefits of cultivating lovingkindness. When he saw the man’s mind was ready, he taught the Four Noble Truths. This established the man in the Fruit of the First Path.

Then rising, he proceeded to the house of the other. Out he came. After appropriate salutation, he begged the Master to enter and gave him a seat. He also took the Master’s bowl. The Master sang the praises of the Eleven Blessings of Lovingkindness. And perceiving that his heart was ready, he declared the Four Noble Truths. He too became established in the Fruit of the First Path.

(The blessings of mettā - lovingkindness - from AN 11.16: “1. He sleeps in comfort. 2. He awakes in comfort. 3. He sees no evil dreams. 4. He is dear to human beings. 5. He is dear to non-human beings. 6. Devas (gods) protect him. 7. Fire, poison, and sword cannot touch him. 8. His mind can concentrate quickly. 9. His countenance is serene. 10. He dies without being confused in mind. 11. If he fails to attain arahantship (the highest sanctity) here and now, he will be reborn in the brahma-world.”)

Thus they were both liberated. They confessed their faults to one another and asked forgiveness. Peaceful and harmonious, they were at one together. On that very same day they ate together in the presence of the Blessed One.

His meal over, the Master returned to the monastery. They both returned with him bearing a rich present of flowers, scents and perfumes, of ghee, honey, and sugar. The Master, having preached of duty before the Saṇgha, uttered a Buddha’s admonition and retired to his scented chamber.

On the next morning, the monks talked the matter over in the Dharma Hall. “Friend,” one would say to another, “our Master subdues the unsubdued. Why, here are these two grand persons, who have been quarreling all this time. They could not be reconciled by the King himself, or friends or family. And the Master has humbled them in a single day!”

The Master came in. “What are you discussing,” he asked, “as you sit here together?”

They told him. He said, “Monks, this is not the first time that I have reconciled these two.” And he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time, while Brahmadatta was the King of Benares, a great multitude gathered together in Benares to celebrate a festival. Crowds of men and of gods, of serpents and garuḷas (enormous mythical birds) came together to see the meeting.

It so happened that in one spot a nāgā (a serpent and enemy of garuḷas) and a garuḷa were watching the celebration together. The nāgā, not noticing that this was a garuḷa beside him, put a hand on his shoulder. And when the garuḷa turned and looked to see whose hand it was saw the nāgā. The nāgā looked too, and saw that this was a garuḷa. Frightened to death, he flew off over the surface of a river. The garuḷa gave chase to try and catch him.

Now the Bodhisatta was a recluse. He lived in a leaf-hut on the river bank. At that time he was trying to keep the sun’s heat off of him by using a wet cloth and wearing his garment of bark. Then he went bathing in the river. “I will use this recluse,” the nāgā thought, “to save my life.”

The nāgā assumed the form of a fine jewel and attached himself to the bark garment. The garuḷa saw where he had gone, but out of respect he would not touch the garment. So he addressed the Bodhisatta in this way:

“Sir, I am hungry. Look at your bark garment. There is a serpent there which I wish to eat.” And to make the matter clear, he repeated the first stanza:

“Concealed within a stone this wretched snake

Has taken refuge for safety’s sake.

And yet, in reverence to your holiness,

Though I am hungry, yet I will not take.

The Respectful Garuḷa

Figure: The Respectful Garuḷa

Standing where he was in the water, the Bodhisatta said a stanza in praise of the garuḷa:

“Live long, protected by Brahma, though pursued,

And may you never lack for heavenly food.

Do not, in reverence of my holiness,

Do not devour him, though in hungry mood.”

In these words the Bodhisatta expressed his approval, standing there in the water. Then he came out and took both creatures with him to his hermitage. There he explained the blessings of lovingkindness until they were both at one. From that day on they lived together happily in peace and harmony.

When the Master ended this discourse, he identified the birth, saying, “In those days, the two great people were the nāgā and the garuḷa, and I was the recluse.”