Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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1. The Story of the Tigress (Dāna)

Even in former births the Lord showed His innate, disinterested, and immense love towards all creatures, and identified himself with all beings. For this reason we ought to have the utmost faith in Buddha, the Lord. This will be instanced by the following great performance of the Lord in a previous birth, which has been celebrated by my guru, a venerator of the Three Jewels, an authority because of his thorough study of virtues, and beloved by his own guru by virtue of his religious practices.

In the time that the Bodhisattva, who afterwards became our Lord, benefited the world by manifold outpourings of his compassion: gifts, kind words, succour, and similar blameless deeds of a wisdom-cultivating mind, quite in accordance with the excessive engagements to which he had bound himself, he took his birth in a most eminent and mighty family of Brāhmans, distinguished by the purity of their conduct owing to their attachment to their (religious) duties. Being purified by the jātakarma and the other sacraments in due order, he grew up and in a short time, owing to the innate quickness of his understanding, the excellent aid in his studies, his eagerness for learning and his zeal, he obtained the mastership in the eighteen branches of science and in all the arts (kalās) which were not incompatible with the custom of his family.

5. To the Brāhmans he was (an authority) like the Holy Writ; to the Kṣatriyas as venerable as a king; to the masses he appeared like the embodied Thousand-eyed One; Viz. Śakra, the Indra or Lord of the Devas. to those who longed for knowledge he was a helpful father.

In consequence of his prosperous destiny (the result of merits formerly earned), a large store of wealth, distinction, and fame fell to his share. But the Bodhisattva took no delight in such things. His thoughts had been purified by his constant study of [3] the Law, and he had become familiar with world-renunciation.

6. His former behaviour had wholly cleared his mind, he saw the many kinds of sin which beset (worldly) pleasures. So he shook off the householder’s state, as if it were an illness, and retired to some plateau, which he adorned by his presence.

7. There, both by his detachment from the world and by his wisdom-brightened tranquillity, he confounded, as it were, the people in the world, who by attachment to bad occupations are disinclined for the calmness of the wise.

8. His calmness full of friendliness spread about, it seems, and penetrated into the hearts of the ferocious animals so as to make them cease injuring one another and live like ascetics.

9. By dint of the pureness of his conduct, his self-control, his contentment, and his compassion, he was no less a friend even to the people in the world, who were unknown to him, than all creatures were friends to him.

10. As he wanted little, he did not know the art of hypocrisy, and he had abandoned the desire for gain, glory, and pleasures. So he caused even the deities to be propitious and worshipful towards him.

11. On the other hand, those whose affection he had gained (in his former state) by his virtues, hearing of his ascetic life, left their families and their relations and went up to him as to the embodied Salvation, in order to become his disciples.

12. He taught his disciples as best he could, good conduct (śīla), chastity, purification of the organs of sense, constant attentiveness, detachment from the world, and the concentration of the mind to the meditation on friendliness (maitrī) and the rest. The four, or five, bhāvanās or ‘meditative rites’ are meant.

Most of his numerous disciples attained perfection in consequence of his teaching, by which this holy road (to salvation) was established and people were put on [4] the excellent path of world-renunciation. Now, the doors of evils being shut, as it were, but the ways of happiness widely opened like high roads, it once happened that the Great-minded One (mahātman) was rambling along the shrubby caverns of the mountain well adapted to the practices of meditation (yoga), in order to enjoy at his ease this existing order of things. Ajita, his disciple at that time, accompanied him.

13-15. Now, below in a cavern of the mountain, he beheld a young tigress that could scarcely move from the place, her strength being exhausted by the labour of whelping.

Her sunken eyes and her emaciated belly betokened her hunger, and she was regarding her own offspring as food, who thirsting for the milk of her udders, had come near her, trusting their mother and fearless; but she brawled at them, as if they were strange to her, with prolonged harsh roarings.

16, 17. On seeing her, the Bodhisattva, though composed in mind, was shaken with compassion by the suffering of his fellow-creature, as the lord of the mountains (Meru) is by an earthquake.

It is a wonder, how the compassionate, be their constancy ever so evident in the greatest sufferings of their own, are touched by the grief, however small, of another!

And his powerful pity made him utter, agitation made him repeat to his pupil, the following words manifesting his excellent nature: “My dear, my dear,” he exclaimed,

18. “Behold the worthlessness of Saṁsāra! This animal seeks to feed on her very own young ones. Hunger causes her to transgress love’s law.

19. Alas! Fie upon the ferocity of self-love, that makes a mother wish to make her meal with the bodies of her own offspring!

20. Who ought to foster the foe, whose name is self-love, by whom one may be compelled to actions like this?

Go, then, quickly and look about for some means of appeasing her hunger, that she may not injure her young ones and herself. I too shall endeavour to avert [5] her from that rash act.”

The disciple promised to do so, and went off in search of food. Yet the Bodhisattva had but used a pretext to turn him off. He considered thus:

21. “Why should I search after meat from the body of another, whilst the whole of my own body is available? Not only is the getting of the meat in itself a matter of chance, but I should also lose the opportunity of doing my duty.


22-24. This body being brute, frail, pithless, ungrateful, always impure, and a source of suffering, he is not wise who should not rejoice at its being spent for the benefit of another.

There are but two things that make one disregard the grief of another: attachment to one’s own pleasure and the absence of the power of helping. But I cannot have pleasure, whilst another grieves, and I have the power to help; why should I be indifferent?

And if, while being able to succour, I were to show indifference even to an evildoer immersed in grief, my mind, I suppose, would feel the remorse for an evil deed, burning like shrubs caught by a great fire.

25. Therefore, I will kill my miserable body by casting it down into the precipice, and with my corpse I shall preserve the tigress from killing her young ones and the young ones from dying by the teeth of their mother.

Even more, by so doing

26-29. I set an example to those who long for the good of the world; I encourage the feeble; I rejoice those who understand the meaning of charity; I stimulate the virtuous; I cause disappointment to the great hosts of Māra, but gladness to those who love the Buddha-virtues; I confound the people who are absorbed in selfishness and subdued by egotism and lusts; I give a token of faith to the adherents of the most excellent of vehicles, This best of vehicles (yānavara) is the Buddhayāna, the vehicle by which Buddhahood may be reached, or mahāyāna, for both appelations cover nearly the same ground. The other two are the Śrāvakayāna and the Pratyekabuddhayāna. See Dharmasaṁgraha II, with the annotation of Kenjiu Kasawara. but I fill with astonishment [6] those who sneer at deeds of charity; I clear the highway to Heaven in a manner pleasing to the charitable among men; and finally that wish I yearned for, ‘When may I have the opportunity of benefiting others with the offering of my own limbs?’ – I shall accomplish it now, and so acquire erelong Complete Wisdom.

30, 31. Verily, as surely as this determination does not proceed from ambition, nor from thirst of glory, nor is a means of gaining Heaven or royal dignity, as surely as I do not care even for supreme and everlasting bliss for myself, but for securing the benefit of others: Parārthasiddhi here and in st. 33 is a rather ambiguous term, as it may also convey this meaning: ‘the attainment of the highest object.’ Apparently this ambiguity is intentional. Cp. Story 30, verse 17. as surely may I gain by it the power of taking away and imparting for ever at the same time the world’s sorrow and the world’s happiness, just as the sun takes away darkness and imparts light!

32. Whether I shall be remembered, when virtue is seen to be practised, or made conspicuous, when the tale of my exploit is told; in every way may I constantly benefit the world and promote its happiness!”

33. After so making up his mind, delighted at the thought that he was to destroy even his life for securing the benefit of others, to the amazement even of the calm minds of the deities – he gave up his body.

The sound of the Bodhisattva’s body falling down stirred the curiosity and the anger of the tigress. She desisted from her disposition of making a slaughter of her whelps, and cast her eyes all around. As soon as she perceived the lifeless body of the Bodhisattva, she rushed hastily upon it and commenced to devour it.

But his disciple, coming back without meat, as he had got none, not seeing his teacher, looked about for [7] him.

Then he beheld that young tigress feeding on the lifeless body of the Bodhisattva. And the admiration of the extraordinary greatness of his performance driving back his emotions of sorrow and pain, he probably gave a fair utterance The text has śobheta, not aśobhata, as might have been expected. to his veneration for his teacher’s attachment to virtues by this monologue:

34-37. “Oh, how merciful the Great-minded One was to people afflicted by distress! How indifferent He was to His own welfare! How He has brought to perfection the virtuous conduct of the pious, and dashed to pieces the splendid glory of their adversaries!

How He has displayed, clinging to virtues, His heroic, fearless, and immense love! How His body, which was already precious for its virtues, has now forcibly been turned into a vessel of the highest veneration! And although by His innate kindness He was as patient as Earth, how intolerant He was of the suffering of others!

And how my own roughness of mind is evidenced by the contrast of this splendid act of heroism of His! Verily, the creatures are not to be commiserated now, having got Him as their Protector, and Manmatha, Manmatha, Kāma, Kandarpa and the other names of the gods of sensual love and pleasure are common equivalents of Māra. Cp. Buddhacarita XIII, 2. forsooth, is now sighing away, being disturbed and in dread of defeat.

In every way, veneration be to that illustrious Great Being (Mahāsattva), of exuberant compassion, of boundless goodness, the refuge of all creatures, yea, that Bodhisattva for the sake of the creatures.” And he told the matter over to his fellow-disciples.

38. Then his disciples and also the Gandharvas, the Yakṣas, the snakes, and the chiefs of the Devas, expressing by their countenance their admiration for his deed, covered the ground that held the treasure of his bones, with a profusion of wreaths, clothes, jewel ornaments, and sandal powder. [8]

So, then, even in former births the Lord showed His innate, disinterested, and immense love towards all creatures, and identified Himself with all creatures. For this reason we ought to have the utmost faith in Buddha, the Lord.

[And also this is to be propounded: “And having obtained this faith in Buddha the Lord, we ought to strive for feeling the highest gladness; in this manner our faith will have its sanctuary.” – “Likewise we must listen with attention to the preaching of the Law, since it has been brought to us by means of hundreds of difficult hardships.” Duṣkaraśatasamudānītatvāt, cp. Divyāvadāna, ed. Cowell, p. 490.

And in sermons on the subject of compassion, thus is to be said: “in this manner compassion, moving us to act for the benefit of others, is productive of an exceedingly excellent nature.”] Viz. as far as gathering merit, the consequence of good actions, improves our nature.

The story of the tigress, which does not appear either in the Pāli Jātaka or in the Cariyāpiṭaka, is alluded to in the Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā of Kṣemendra II, 108. There the Bodhisattva, on the occasion of a similar fact of self-denial and heroism in a later birth, says: “Formerly, on seeing a hungry tigress preparing to eat her whelps, I gave her my body, in order to avert this, without hesitation.” And in the fifty-first pallava the story is narrated at length, verses 28-50. It differs in some points from ours. So does also the redaction of the Southern Buddhists, told by Spence Hardy, Manual, p. 94 of the 2nd ed.