Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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6. The Story of the Hare (Dāna)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 316, Fausböll III, 51-56; Cariyāpiṭaka I,10;
Avadānaśataka in Féer’s transl. Ann. du Musée Guimet, XVIII, 142.)
In the Avadānakalpalatā the hare that gave up his body is No. 104. It is much akin to the version of the Avadānaśataka, as I ascertained from the two Cambridge MSS. of the Avadānakalpalatā.01

The practice of charity according to their power by the Great-minded, even when in the state of beasts, is a demonstrated fact; who then, being a man, should not be charitable? This is taught by the following.

In some inhabited region of a forest there was a spot frequented by ascetics. It was beset with thickets made up of lovely creepers, grasses, and trees; abounding in flowers and fruits; adorned on its boundary with a river, the stream of which was as blue and as pure as lapis lazuli; its ground, covered with a carpet of tender grass, was soft to the touch and handsome to look at. There the Bodhisattva lived a hare.

1. In consequence of his goodness, his splendid figure, his superior strength, and his great vigour, not suspected by the small animals nor fearing others, he behaved like the king of animals in that part of the forest.

2. Satisfying his wants with blades of grass, he bore the handsome appearance of a Muni. For the ascetics skin he wore his own, his bark-garment was the hairs of his body.

3. As everything he did in thought, speech, and action was purified by his friendliness, most of the animals given to wickedness were like his pupils and friends. The text is slightly corrupt here. The MSS. have sukhāḥ, the printed text mukhāḥ, but in the various readings the editor again adopts the reading of the MSS. But now Prof. Kern tells me he should rather suppose that the original reading was sakhāḥ, which suits the sense better.02

But more especially he had caught the hearts of an otter, a jackal, and an ape. They became his companions, attracted by the love and respect which his eminent virtues inspired in them. Like relations whose affection is founded on mutual relationship, like friends whose friendship has grown by the compliance to each other’s wishes, they passed their time rejoicing together. Opposed to the nature of the brutes, they showed compassion to living beings, and their cupidity being extinguished, they forgot to practise theft. By this behaviour and by their having regard to good renown conformably to (the precepts of) righteousness (dharma), by their keen understanding and, owing to this, by their close observance of religious obligations in the manner approved by the pious, they roused even the surprise of the deities.

4, 5. If out of the two lines of conduct – that which complies with pleasures and checks virtue, and that which is in accordance with virtue and obstructs pleasures – a man applies himself to the virtuous side, he is already illustrious, how much more a being that has the shape of a beast!

But among them, he who bore the figure of a hare and was their teacher, was so pious, he esteemed the practice of compassion for others so highly, and his excellent native character was accompanied by such a set of virtues, that their renown reached even the world of the Devas.

One day at evening-time, the Great-minded One was in the company of his friends, who had come to him to hear him preach the Law and reverentially sat down at his feet. The moon, then being at a great distance from the sun, showed its orb almost full and resembling by its bright beauty a silver mirror without handle. When the Bodhisattva beheld it showing its disc not fully rounded on one side, Instead of īṣatpārśvāpāvṛttabimbaṁ, the reading of the MSS., I think we should read – āpakṛttabimbaṁ. In the evening before full-moon’s day the disc of the moon is not completely round, presenting one side so as to seem a little flattened.03 and considered that it was the moon of the fourteenth of the bright half that had risen, he said to his comrades:

6. “See! The moon by the beauty of its almost complete orb is announcing with a laughing face as it were the holyday of sabbath (poṣadha) to the pious.

Surely, tomorrow is the fifteenth. Ye must perform accordingly the religious duties which are prescribed for the sabbath, and not satisfy the want of sustaining your body before honouring some guest at the time appearing with excellent food obtained in a right manner. Ye must consider thus:

7. 8. Every union has separation at its end, of high rank the conclusion is dreary downfall: life is as frail and fickle as a flash of lightning. It is for this very reason, that ye must be upon your guard against carelessness (in the fulfilment of your duties), and also endeavour to increase your merit by charity, which has good conduct (śīla) for its ornament.

Meritorious actions, indeed, are the strongest support for the creatures moving round in the troublesome succession of births.

9, 10. That the moon by its lovely brightness outdoes the lustre of the host of stars, that the sun’s splendour overpowers the (other) luminaries, is due to the sublimity of the qualities produced by merit.

It is also by the power of their merit that mighty kings cause presumptuous high officials and princes to bear, like excellent horses, willingly and with abated pride the yoke of their command. [40]

11. But if they are devoid of merit, misfortune goes after them, be they ever moving about on the road of political wisdom (nīti). The political wisdom, which aims at attaining wordly end by worldly means, and makes morals subordinate to self-interest, is taught is such books as Kāmandaki’s Nītiśāstra, Śukra’s Nītisāra, in the Pañcatantra and the Hitopadeśa. It is considered sinful by Buddhistic lore. The Jātakamālā often reproves it, see for instance, 9, 10; 23, 51.04 For that unhappiness, being rebuffed by the excess of merit, hovers, as if moved by wrath, round the possessors of demerit.

12. Leave then that path of demerit: suffering is underlying it, and it is connected with dishonour. But merit being the illustrious source and instrument of happiness, ye must keep your mind intent on all opportunities of gathering it.”

The others, after listening to his teaching, said amen, and saluting him with respect circumambulated him front left to right, then they went off each to his dwelling. When his comrades were not far off, the Great-minded One entered upon this reflection:

13-15. “They are able to honour with some food or other the guest that may happen to arrive, but I am here in a pitiful condition. It is in no way possible to present a guest with the very bitter blades of grass I cut off with my teeth.

Alas! how helpless I am! My powerlessness afflicts me. Of what use, then, is life to me, since a guest that ought to be a matter of joy to me, must in this manner become a matter of sorrow!

On what occasion, then, may this worthless body, which is not even able to attend on a guest, be given up so as to conduce to the profit of anybody?” When his reflection had come to that point, the Great-minded One recovered his keenness of thought. “Well!

16. The property which will suit the purpose of honouring any guest is easy to be got; for it is in my power; it is unobjectionable; it belongs to none but me; indeed, it is the property of my body.

Why, then, should I be in trouble? [41]

17. Yes, I have found proper food for my guest; now, my heart, abandon thy grief and thy sadness! With this vile body of mine I will practise hospitality and satisfy the want of my guest.”

Having thus resolved, the Great Being felt an extreme delight as though he had obtained a very great gain, and remained there (in his dwelling, waiting for some guest).

18. Now, when that sublime reflection had presented itself to the Great Being’s mind, the Celestials manifested their propitiousness and their power.

19-21. Earth shook with her mountains, as if from joy, nor was her garment, the Ocean, quiet; Read babhūvānibhṛtāo. Cp. supra, II, 38, and Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā II, 52.05 divine drums resounded in the sky; the regions of the horizon were ornamented with a placid sheen; all around clouds of a pleasant aspect, which were girded with lightnings and gave forth prolonged soft rattlings of thunder, strewed on him a shower of flowers falling close together, so as to spread the pollen through the air by their contact.

The god of wind, too, showed him his esteem; blowing steadily he bore to him the fragrant flower-dust from various trees, as if out of gladness he presented him with gauzy veils, bearing them up and so disarranging the figures interwoven in them.

As the deities, rejoiced and astonished, were praising everywhere the marvellous resolution of the Great Being, Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, became aware of it; and curiosity and surprise overtaking his mind, he was desirous of knowing the truth about his disposition. On the next day at noon-tide, when the sun, ascending in the midst of the sky, darts his sharpest beams; when the horizon, clothed in a net of trembling rays of light and veiled with the outburst of radiant heat, does not suffer itself to be looked upon; when shadows are contracting; when the interior of the woods resounds with the loud shrieks of the cicadae; when birds cease to [42] show themselves and the vigour of travelling people is exhausted by heat and fatigue: in that time of the day, then, Śakra, the chief (adhipati) of the Devas having assumed the figure of a Brāhman, cried out not far from the spot where the four animals were living. He wept and wailed aloud, like one who has lost his way, and as one worn out with hunger and thirst, weariness and sorrow.

22. “Alone and astray, having lost my caravan, I am roaming through the deep forest, exhausted by hunger and lassitude. Help me, ye pious!

23. Not knowing the right way nor the wrong, having lost my faculty of orientation, wandering at random, alone in this wilderness, I suffer from heat, from thirst, from fatigue. Who will rejoice me by friendly words of hospitality?”

The Great Beings, touched in their heart and alarmed by the sound of his piteous outcries for help, quickly went to that spot, and beholding him who offered the miserable appearance of a traveller gone astray, approached him and in a respectful manner spoke to him these words of comfort:

24, 25. “Be no more disturbed, thinking thou art astray in the wilderness; with us thou art altogether as if thou wert with thine own disciples. Therefore, grant us the favour of accepting today our attendance, gentle sir; tomorrow thou mayst go thy way according to thy wish.”

Then the otter, understanding from his silence that he accepted the invitation, went off hastily; joy and agitation quickened his pace. He came back with seven rohita-fishes, which he offered him, saying:

26. “These seven fishes I found on the dry ground, where they were lying motionless, as if asleep through lassitude; either they have been left there by fishermen who forgot them, or they have jumped upon the shore through fear. Feed on them, and stay here.”

Then the jackal also brought to him such food as he happened to have at that time, and after bowing reverentially, he spoke with deference thus: [43]

27. “Here, traveller, is one lizard and a vessel of sour milk, left by somebody; grant me the benefit of thy enjoying them, and take thy abode in this forest this night, O thou who art an abode of virtues!”

So speaking he handed them over to him with an extreme gladness of mind.

Then the monkey drew near. He brought mango-fruits, ripe and consequently distinguished by their softness, their strong orange colour, as if they were dyed with red orpiment, their very red stalk-ends, and their roundness; and performing the reverence of the añjali, he spoke:

28. “Ripe mangos, delicious water, shadow refreshing like the pleasure of good society, these things, O best of those who know the brahma, I have for thee. Enjoy them, and stay this night here.”

Then the hare approached, and as soon as he had made his reverence, he bade him accept the offer of his own body. Thus he spoke, looking up to him with great regard:

29. “A hare, who has grown up in the forest, has no beans nor sesamum seeds nor grains of rice to offer, but prepare this body of mine with fire, and having fed upon it stay over this night in this hermitage.

30. On the holiday of a mendicants arrival every one provides him with whatever of his goods may be a means of supplying his wants. But my wealth is limited to my body; take it, then, this whole of my possessions.”

Śakra answered:

31. “How is it possible that anybody like me should kill another living being? And how much less a being like thee, who hast shown friendship to me?”

The hare said: “Verily, this becomes well a Brāhman, inclined to compassion. Well then, thou must grant me at least the favour of resting here in this place; in the mean while I think I shall find in some way or other the means of showing my favour to thee.”

Now Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, understanding [44] his intention, created by magic a heap of charcoal burning without smoke; this mass had the colour of purified gold, very thin flames shot forth out of it, and a multitude of sparks were scattered about. The hare, who was looking around on all sides, perceived that fire. On seeing it, he said, rejoiced, to Śakra: “I have found that means of showing thee my favour. Thou, then, must fulfil the hope with which I give thee this boon, and enjoy my body. See, great Brāhman,

32. It is my duty to give in charity, and my heart is inclined to do so, and in a person like thee I have met with a worthy guest; such an opportunity for giving cannot be easily obtained. Let then my charity not be useless, inasmuch as it depends on thee.”

So saying the Great-minded One persuaded him, and after showing him by his salutation his esteem, his respect, and his hospitable mind -

33. Then, with the utmost gladness, like one desirous of wealth on suddenly beholding a treasure, he threw himself in that blazing fire, as the supreme haṁsa plunges into a pond with laughing lotuses.

When the chief of the Devas saw this deed, he was affected with the highest admiration. Reassuming his own shape, he praised the Great Being with words both agreeable to the mind and the ears and preceded by a shower of celestial flowers. Then with his delicate hands of a rich lustre, like that of the petal of the white lotus, and embellished with their fingers resplendent like jewel ornaments, he took him up himself and showed him to the Celestials. “Behold, ye Devas, inhabitants of the celestial residence, behold and rejoice at this astonishing deed, this heroic exploit of this Great Being.

34. Oh, how he has given away his body without hesitation today, to be charitable to his guest! But the fickle-minded Strength of mind, constancy, earnestness, wisdom and virtue are all implied by the Buddhistic term dhīra; its opposite, adhīra, denotes therefore those who possess the opposed qualities, the ‘fickle-minded’.06 are not even able to give up, without [45] trembling, faded flowers, the remainder of a sacrifice.

35. What a contrast between the animal species, which he belongs to, and the loftiness of his self-sacrifice, the sharpness of his mind! Indeed, he confounds all such as are slow in striving for meritorious actions, deities as well as men.

36. Oh, how his mind is impregnated with the fragrance of a constant practice of virtues! How he loves good conduct, as he manifested by his sublime deed!”

Then, in order to glorify that extraordinary fact, and having in view the good of the world, Śakra adorned with the image of the hare as a distinctive mark both peaks on the top of the belvederes – one on his most excellent palace Vaijayanta and the other on Sudharmā, the hall of the Devas – and likewise the disc of the moon.

37, 38. At full-moon even now that image of the hare (śaśa) appears in the moon’s disc in the sky, as a reflected image shines in a silver mirror.

From that time onward Candra (the Moon), named also the Ornament of the Night and the Cause of the Brilliancy of the Night-waterlilies, is famous in the world as the Hare-marked (Śaśāṅka).

And the others, the otter, the jackal, and the ape, disappeared thereafter (from the earth) and arrived in the world of the Devas, thanks to their possessing such a holy friend.

So then the practice of charity according to their power by Great Beings, even when in the state of beasts, is a demonstrated fact; who, then, being a man, should not be charitable?

[Moreover, this too is to be propounded: “Even beasts are honoured by the pious for their attachment to virtues; for this reason one must be intent on virtues.”] [46]