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Jataka 157

Guṇa Jātaka

Unbreakable Virtue

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 gets a little muddled when the monastics ask the Buddha about being a “respecter of persons with their gifts.” However, I think you will see that in the end it is a story about unbreakable gratitude and friendship.


The strong will always have their way.” This story was told by the Master while he was at Jetavana. It is about how the Elder Ānanda received a gift of 1,000 robes. The Elder had been preaching to the ladies of the King of Kosala’s palace as described above in the Mahāsāra Birth (Jātaka 92).

As he taught there in the manner described, 1,000 robes, each one worth 1,000 gold coins, were brought to the King. The King gave 500 of them to as many of his Queens. The ladies gave these as a gift to our Elder. Then on the next day, wearing their old robes, they went to the palace where the King was eating his breakfast. The King remarked, “I gave you dresses worth 1,000 gold coins each. Why are you not wearing them?”

“My lord,” they said, “we gave them to the Elder Ānanda.”

“Does the Elder Ānanda have them all?” he asked.

They said, yes, he did.

“The Supreme Buddha,” he said, “only allows three robes. Ānanda is doing a little trade in cloth, I suppose!”

He was angry with the Elder. After breakfast, the King visited him in his cell. After greeting him, the King sat down with these words:

“Tell me, sir, do my ladies learn or listen to your teaching?”

“Yes, sire. They learn what they should. What they need to hear, they hear.”

“Oh, indeed? Do they only listen, or do they give you gifts of robes?”

“Today, sire, they have given me 500 robes worth 1,000 gold coins each.”

“And did you accept them, sir?”

“Yes, sire, I did.”

“Why, sir, doesn’t the Master have some rule about only having three robes?”

“That is true, sire. For every monastic three robes is the rule. That is what you can use for yourself. But no one is forbidden to accept what is offered, and that is why I took them. I will give them to monastics whose robes are worn out.”

“But when these monastics get them from you, what do they do with their old ones?”

“They make them into cloaks.”

“And what about the old cloaks?”

“Those they turn into shirts.”

“And the old shirts?”

“They turn those into bedspreads.”

“The old bedspreads?”

“They become mats.”

“The old mats?”

“The old mats becomes towels.”

“And what about the old towels?”

“Sire, it is not permitted to waste the gifts of the faithful. So they chop the old towels up into bits. They mix the bits with clay and use that for mortar in building their huts.”

“A gift, sir, should not be destroyed, not even a towel.”

“Well, sire, we do not destroy any gifts. Everything is used somehow.”

This conversation pleased the King so much that he sent for the other 500 robes that remained and he gave them to the Elder. Then, after receiving his thanks, he greeted the Elder solemnly and went on his way.

The Elder gave the first 500 robes to fully-ordained monastics whose robes were worn out. But there were only 500 fully-ordained monastics in the monastery. However, there was also a novice monk who was very useful to the Elder. He swept out his cell, served him with food and drink, gave him a toothbrush and water for cleaning his mouth, looked after the outhouses, living rooms, and sleeping rooms, and did everything. For all his great service, the Elder gave him the 500 additional robes that he had received from the King. The young monk in turn distributed them to his fellow students. They cut them up, dyed them as yellow as a kaṇikāra flower (a flowering plant indigenous to southern Asia), then dressed in them. They waited upon the Master, greeted him, and sat down on one side.

“Sir,” they asked, “is it possible for a holy disciple who has entered on the First Path to be a respecter of persons in his gifts?”

(It seems that they are asking if by giving these robes as a gift, Ānanda is doing so out of respect for each individual.)

“No, monks, it is not possible for holy disciples to be respecters of persons in their gifts.”

(Ananda is not implying that by giving these gifts that he has respect for them.)

“Sir, our spiritual teacher, the Treasurer of the Faith, gave 500 robes, each worth 1,000 gold coins, to a young monk. He, in turn, has divided them between us.”

“Monks, in giving these Ānanda was no respecter of persons. That young fellow was a very useful servant, so he made the gift to his attendant for his service, for the sake of goodness. He did so thinking that one good turn deserves another and wishing to do what gratitude demands. In former days, as now, wise men acted on the principle that one good turn deserves another.” And then, at their request, he told them this story of the past.

(So Ānanda was giving the gift specifically out of gratitude for the actions of the young monk.)


Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was the King of Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as a lion. He lived in a cave in the hills. One day he left his lair and looked towards the foot of the mountain. Now all around the foot of that mountain stretched a great body of water. Next to the water was some soft green grass growing on the thick mud. Over this mud ran rabbits and deer and light creatures eating the grass.

One day, as usual, there was a deer eating the grass. “I’ll have that deer!” the lion thought, and with a lion’s leap he sprang from the hillside towards it. But the deer, frightened to death, scampered away taunting the lion. The lion could not stop his momentum. Down he fell on the mud. He sank in and he could not get out. He remained there for seven days. His feet were fixed like four posts, and he did not have a single thing to eat.

Then a jackal, hunting for food, happened to see him. He set off running in great terror. But the lion called out to him: “I say, jackal, don't run. I am stuck here in the mud. Please save me!”

Up came the Jackal. “I could pull you out,” he said, “but then you might eat me.”

“Fear nothing, jackal, I won’t eat you,” the lion said. “On the contrary, I’ll will be of great service to you. Only get me out somehow.”

The jackal accepted this promise. He worked away the mud around the lion’s four feet. He dug the holes where his four feet were towards the water. Then the water ran in and made the mud soft. Then he got under the lion, saying, “Now, sir, make one great effort.” He made a loud noise and struck the lion’s belly with his head. The lion strained every muscle and scrambled out of the mud. He stood on dry land.

After a moment’s rest, the lion plunged into the lake and washed and scoured the mud from him. Then he killed a buffalo and tore up its flesh with his fangs. He offered some to the jackal, saying, “Eat, friend!” After the jackal ate he did, too. After this, the jackal took an additional piece in his mouth.

“What's that for?” the lion asked.

“For my humble servant, my mate, who awaits me at home.”

“All right,” said the lion, who also took some for his own mate.

“Come, friend,” he said again. “Let us stay for a while on the mountain top, and then we will go to the lady’s house.”

So there they went. The lion fed the she-jackal, and after they were both satisfied, he said, “Now I am going to take care of you.”

So he took them to the place where he lived. He settled them into a cave near to his own.

After that, he and the jackal used to go hunting together. They would kill all kinds of creatures and eat to their hearts’ content. Then they would bring back some for their two mates.

As time went on, the she-jackal and the lioness each had two cubs, and they all lived happily together.

One day, a sudden thought struck the lioness. “My lion seems very fond of the jackal and his mate and young ones. The jackal must have some hold on my lion. Well, I will torment her and frighten her and get her away from this place.”

So when the lion and the jackal were away hunting, she tortured and terrified the jackal’s mate. She asked her why she stayed there, why did she not run away? And her cubs frightened the young jackals in the same way. The she-jackal told her mate what had been said. “It is clear,” she said, “that the lion must have said something about us. We have been here a long time, and now he will be the death of us. Let us go back to the place where we lived before!”

On hearing this, the jackal approached the lion with these words. “Master, we have been here a long time. Those who stay too long overstay their welcome. While we are away, your lioness scolds and terrifies my mate. She asks her why she stays and tells her to go away. Your young ones do the same to mine. If any one does not like a neighbor, he should just tell him to go and send him on his way. What is the use of all this torment?” So saying, he repeated the first stanza:

“The strong will always have their way. It is their nature so to do.

Your mate roars loud, and now I say I fear what once I trusted to.”

The lion listened. Then turning to his lioness, he said “Wife, do you remember how I was once out hunting for a week and then brought back this jackal and his mate with me?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, do you know why I stayed away that whole week?”

“No, Sir.”

“My wife, in trying to catch a deer, I made a mistake. I got stuck in the mud. I stayed there for a whole week without food. This jackal saved my life. This – my friend - saved my life! A friend in need is a friend indeed, whether he is great or small. You must never again disrespect my friend or his wife or his family.” And then the lion repeated the second stanza:

“A friend who plays a friendly part, however small and weak he be,

He is my kinsman and my flesh and blood, a friend and comrade he.

Despise him not, my sharp-fanged mate! This Jackal saved my life for me.”

When she heard the story, the lioness made her peace with the jackal’s mate. And forever after she lived in harmony with her and her young ones. And the young of the two pairs played together in their early days, and when the parents died, they did not break the bond of friendship. They lived happily together as the old ones had lived before them. Indeed, the friendship remained unbroken through seven generations.

“A Friend and Comrade”

Figure: “A Friend and Comrade”


When the Master ended this discourse, he taught the Four Noble Truths at the end of which some entered on the First path, some on the Second, some on the Third, and some the Fourth. The Master then identified the birth: “Ānanda was the jackal in those days, and I was the lion.”