Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

right click to download mp3

27. The Story of the Great Monkey (Anuvartinā)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 407, Fausböll III, 370-375)

Those who follow the behaviour of the virtuous win over even the hearts of their enemies. This will be taught as follows.

In the heart of the Himavat there is a blessed region, whose soil is covered with many kinds of herbs of different efficacious properties, and abounds in hundreds of forest-trees with their great variety and manifold arrangement of boughs, twigs, flowers, and fruits. It is irrigated by mountain-currents whose water possesses the limpidity of crystals, and resounds with the music of manifold crowds of birds. In that forest the Bodhisattva lived, it is said, a chief of a troop of monkeys. But even in that state - in consequence of his constant practice of charity and compassion - jealousy, selfishhness, and cruelty, as if they were at war with him [245] because he attended on their enemies (the virtues), would not enter his mind.

There he had his residence on a large banian tree, which by its height, standing out superior against the sky like the top of a mountain, might pass for the lord of that forest, and by the thickness of its branches beset with dark foliage, resembled a mass of clouds. Those branches were somewhat curved, being loaded with excellent fruits of a size surpassing that of palmyra-nuts, and distinguished by an exceedingly sweet flavour and a lovely colour and smell.

1. The virtuous, even when they are in the state of animals, have still some remainder of good fortune In other words it is said, that though their store of merit, producing good fortune, must have been exhausted according to their being born beasts, yet there is left some remainder, the effect of which may assuage them in that low state. Cp. Story 33, stanza 2.01 which tends to the happiness of their friends, for whose sake they employ it, in the same manner as the remainder of the wealth of people abroad may serve the wants of their friends.

Now one branch of that tree hung over a river which passed by that place. In the Pāli redaction that river is the Ganges and the king Brahmadatta of Benares.02
Now the Bodhisattva, far-sighted as he was, had instructed his flock of monkeys in this manner: “Unless ye prevent this banian-branch from having fruit, none of you will ever be able to eat any fruit from the other branches.” Considering the abruptness of the narration, it seems there is something wanting in the text. In the Pāli redaction it is told that the Bodhisattva, having warned the monkeys that a fruit of that tree would fall in the water and bring them mischief, causes them to destroy all germs of fruit on that branch in blossom-time. 03

Now it once happened that the monkeys overlooked one young, and for this reason not very big, fruit, hidden as it was in the cavity of some leaf crooked by ants. So that fruit grew on, and in time developed its fine colour, smell, flavour, and softness; when it had ripened and its stalk became loose, it dropped into the river. Being carried down the stream, it stuck at last [246] in the network of a fence (let down in the river by the orders) of a certain king, who, with his harem, was sporting at that time in the water of that river.

2. Spreading about its delicious smell of great excellency and delightful to the nose, that fruit made the different other odours disappear, that exhaled there from the garlands, the rum, and the perfumes of the bathing women, however those scents were intensified by the union of the women interlacing each other.

3. This smell soon enchanted the women; they enjoyed it with prolonged inhalations and half-shut eyes. And being curious to know its origin, they cast their eyes in all directions.

And while casting their eyes, stirred by curiosity, all around, the women perceived that banian fig, surpassing by its size a ripe palmyra-nut, as it stuck to the network of the fence, and having once discovered it, they could not keep their eyes from it. Nor was the king less curious to know the nature of that fruit. He had it brought to him, and after examination by reliable physicians tasted it himself.

4. Its marvellous flavour (rasa) raised the king's amazement, as (in a dramatic composition) the marvellous sentiment (rasa), ravishing (the mind of the spectators) by a good representation, rouses their admiration.

5. Had its extraordinary colour and smell stirred his surprise before, now its flavour filled him with the highest admiration, and agitated him with lust.

Though accustomed to dainties, the king became so eager to enjoy that relish that this thought came to him:

6. “If one does not eat those fruits, in truth, what fruit does one enjoy from his royalty? But he who gets them is really a king, and this without the toil of exercising royal power.”

Accordingly, having made up his mind to find out its origin, he reasoned in this way to himself. “Surely, the excellent tree, whence came this fruit, cannot be far from here and it must stand on the riverside. For [247] it cannot have been in contact with the water for a long time, since it has kept its colour, smell, and flavour intact, and is moreover undamaged and shows no trace of decomposition. For this reason, it is possible to pursue its origin.”

Having so resolved, as he was possessed by a strong desire for that delicious flavour, he ceased that water-sport, and, after taking such measures as were suitable for the maintenance of order in his capital (during his absence), set
out, accompanied by a great body of armed people equipped for expedition. With them he marched up the river and enjoyed the different and various sensations proper to journeying in a forest-region, clearing his way through thickets haunted by ferocious animals, beholding woodlands of great natural beauty, and frightening elephants and deer by the noise of his drums. At last he reached the neighbourhood of that tree, a place difficult for men to approach.

7. Like a mass of clouds hanging down by the burden of their water, this lord of trees appeared from afar to the eyes of the king dominating the other trees which seemed to look up to it as to their sovereign, and, though it stood near a steep mountain, resembling a mountain itself.

The exceedingly lovely smell, more fragrant than that of ripe mango fruits, which was spreading from it and met the army as if it went to receive it, made the king sure that this was the tree he sought for. Coming near, he saw many hundreds of apes filling its boughs and branches and occupied in eating its fruits.

The king became angry with those monkeys who robbed him of the objects so ardently longed for, and with harsh words as “Hit them! hit them! drive them away, destroy them all, these scoundrels of monkeys!” he ordered his men to assail them. And those warriors made themselves ready to shoot off the arrows from their bows (strung), and uttered cries to frighten away the monkeys; others lifted up clods and sticks and spears to throw at them. They invaded the tree, as if they were to attack a hostile fortress. [248]

But the Bodhisattva had perceived the approach of that noisy royal army moving with loud tumult and uproar, like the billows of a sea roused by the violence of the wind; he had seen the assault made on all sides of his excellent tree with a shower of arrows, spears, clods, sticks, which resembled a shower of thunderbolts; and he beheld his monkeys unable to do anything but utter discordant cries of fear, while they looked up to him with faces pale with dejection. His mind was affected with the utmost compassion.

Being himself free from affliction, sadness, and anxiety, he comforted his tribe of monkeys, and having resolved upon their rescue, climbed to the top of the tree, desirous to jump over to the mountain-peak near it. And although that place could be reached only by many successive leaps, the Great Being, by dint of his surpassing heroism, passed across like a bird and held the spot.

8. Other monkeys would not be able to traverse that space even in two successive leaps, but he, the courageous one, swiftly crossed it with one single bound, as if it were a small distance.

9. His compassion had fostered his strong determination, but it was his heroism which brought it to its perfection. So he made his utmost effort to carry it out, and by the earnestness of his exertion he found the way to it in his mind.

Having mounted, then, on some elevated place of the mountain-slope, he found a cane, tall and strong, deep-rooted and strong-rooted, the size of which surpassed the distance (between the mountain and the tree). This he fastened to his feet, after which he jumped back to the tree. But as the distance was great and he was embarrassed by his feet being tied, the Great Being hardly succeeded in seizing with his hands the nearest branch of the tree.

10. Then holding fast that branch and keeping the cane stretched by his effort, he ordered his tribe, making them the signal proper to his race, to come quickly off the tree. [249]

And the monkeys, as they were bewildered by fear, having found that way of retreat, hastened to make use of it, wildly rushing over his body without regard to him, and safely escaped along that cane.

11. While being incessantly trodden by the feet of those fear-bewildered monkeys, his body lost the solidity of its flesh, but his mind did not lose its extraordinary firmness.

On beholding this, the king and his men were overcome with the utmost astonishment.

12. Such a splendid display of strength and wisdom, combined with such great self-denial and mercy to others, must rouse wonder in the minds of those who hear of it; how much more did it affect the bystanders who witnessed it?

Then the king commanded his men in this manner: “This chief of apes,” he said, “having his limbs shaken and bruised by the feet of the multitude of monkeys who, agitated by fear, ran over his body, and remaining in that same position for a long time, must be excessively tired. Surely, he will be unable to retire from this difficult posture by himself. Therefore, quickly dress a canopy underneath the place where he is, which being done, the cane and the banian branch must be shot off simultaneously, with one arrow each.” And they did so.

Then the king ordered the monkey to be gently lifted off the canopy and placed on a soft couch. There he lay without consciousness, for in consequence of the pain of his wounds and his exhaustion he had swooned. After his wounds had been salved with clarified butter and other ointments suitable for the relief of fresh bruises, his faintness grew less. When he had recovered his senses, he was visited by the king, who, affected with curiosity, admiration, and respect, after asking him about his health, continued thus:

13. “Thou madest thy body a bridge for those monkeys, and feeling no mercy for thy own life, rescuedst them. What art thou to them or what are they to thee? [250]

14. If thou deemest me a person worth hearing this matter, pray, tell it me, foremost of monkeys. No small fetters of friendship, methinks, should fasten one's mind to enable it to do the like performances.”

In reply to these words the Bodhisattva, in return for the king's wish to relieve him, made himself known in a proper manner. He said:

15. “Those, always prompt to act up to my orders, charged me with the burden of being their ruler. And I, for my part, bound to them with the affection of a father for his children, engaged myself to bear it; so I did.

16. This, mighty sovereign, is the kind of relation existing between them and me. It is rooted by time and has increased the friendly feelings existing between animals of the same species. Our dwelling together has strengthened it to the mutual affection of kinsmen.”

On hearing this, the king affected with great admiration replied:

17. “The ministers and the rest of his officials are to serve the interest of their lord, not the king to serve theirs. For what, then, did Your Honour sacrifice yourself in behalf of your attendants?”

The Bodhisattva spoke: “Verily, such is the lore of Political Wisdom (rājanīti), Your Majesty, but to me it seems something difficult to follow.

18. It is excessively painful to overlook heavy and unbearable pain, even if the sufferer be somebody unacquainted with us. How much more, if those suffer who, having their minds intent on worshipping us, are like dear relations to us!

19. So, on seeing distress and despair overwhelming the monkeys in consequence of their sudden danger, a great sorrow overcame me, which did not leave me room to think of my personal interest.

20. Perceiving the bows bent and the glittering arrows fly upward on all sides, and hearing the dreadful noise of the strings, hastily and without further consideration I jumped over from the tree to the mountain.

21. Then - for the distress of my poor comrades, [251] overcome with the highest degree of terror, drew me back to them - I tied a cane fast to my feet, a well-rooted reed, suitable for the effort at which I aimed.

22. So I jumped once more, leaping from the mountain-side to the tree, in order to rescue my comrades, and with my hands I attained its nearest branch stretched out like a hand to meet me.

23. And while I was hanging there with extended body between that cane and that outstretched branch of the tree, those comrades of mine happily made their escape, running without hesitation over my body.”

The king, perceiving the ecstasy of gladness, which even in that miserable condition pervaded the Great Being, and much wondering at it, again spoke to him:

24. “What good has Your Honour obtained, thus despising your own welfare and taking upon yourself the disaster which threatened others?”

The Bodhisattva spoke:

25. “Verily, my body is broken, O king, but my mind is come to a state of the greatest soundness, since I removed the distress of those over whom I exercised royal power for a long time.

26. As heroes who have vanquished their proud enemies in battle wear on their limbs the beautiful marks of their prowess like ornaments, so I gladly bear these pains.

27. Now I have requited them that long succession of prosperity which I got by the chieftaincy over my tribe, that showed me not only their reverence and other marks of worship, but also their affectionate attachment.

28. For this reason, this bodily pain does not grieve me, nor the separation from my friends, nor the destruction of my pleasure, nor my approaching death which I have incurred by thus acting. It seems to me rather the approach of a high festival.

29, 30. Self-satisfaction gained by requital of former benefits, appeasement of the solicitude (caused thereby), a spotless fame, honour on the part of a king, fearlessness of death, and the approbation which my grateful behaviour will meet with from the virtuous: [252] these good qualities, O thou who, like a tree, This simile is not improper, the speaker being a monkey.04 art the residence of excellent virtues! have I obtained by falling in with this wretched state. But the vices opposite to these virtues will be met by such a king as is without mercy for his dependents.

31. For, if a king be devoid of virtues, if he have destroyed his good renown and vices have taken up their abode in him, say, what else may he expect than to go to the fierce-flaming fires of hell?

32. For this reason I have explained to thee, powerful prince, the power of virtues and vices. Rule, therefore, thy realm with righteousness. For Fortune shows in her affections the fickle nature of a woman.

33. His army, not only the military men but also the animals of war; his officials; his people, both townsmen and landsmen; those who have no protector; and both (classes of religious people) Śramaṇas and Brāhmans; all of them must a king endeavour to endow with such happiness as is conducive to their good, as if he were their father.

34. In this manner increasing in merit, wealth, and glory, thou mayst enjoy prosperity both in this world and in the next. With this kind of felicity proper to the holy kings of old (rājarṣis) and attainable by practising commiseration towards thy subjects, mayst thou be illustrious, O king of men!”

35. After thus instructing the king who, like a pupil, listened to him with devout attention and set a high value on his words, he left his body paralysed in its functions by the excess of his pains, and mounted to Heaven.

In this manner, then, those who imitate the behaviour of the virtuous win over even the hearts of their enemies. Thus considering, he who is desirous of gaining the affection of men ought to imitate the behaviour of the virtuous.

[This story is also to be propounded, when discoursing on the Tathāgata. “The [253] creatures are not as able to bring about their own profit, as the Lord was to bring about the profit of others.”

Likewise, when treating of listening with attention to the preaching of the Law, when discoursing on compassion, and also when instructing princes, in which case this is to be said: “In this manner a king must be merciful towards his subjects.”

It may be adduced also, when treating of gratitude. “In this manner the virtuous show their gratitude.”]