Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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34. The Story of the Woodpecker (Kṣānti)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 308, Fausböll III, 25-27)

Even though provoked, a virtuous person is incapable of betaking himself to wickedness, having never learnt to do so. This will be taught as follows.

The Bodhisattva, it is said, lived in some place of a forest as a woodpecker distinguished by his beautiful [320] and lovely feathers of manifold colours. But though in that state, owing to his habitual compassion, he did not follow the way of living of his kind, a sinful one since it involves injuries to living beings.

1. With the young shoots of the trees, with the sweet and delicious flavours of their flowers. and with their fruits of different hue, scent, and relish he kept such diet as was dictated by his contentment.

2. He manifested his care for the interests of others by preaching to others the precepts of righteousness on proper opportunities, by helping the distressed according to his power, and by preventing the base-minded from immodest actions.

The whole multitude of animals in that part of the forest, being thus protected by the Great Being, thrived and were happy; for in him they possessed a teacher, as it were, a kinsman, a physician, a king.

3. In the same degree as they, being well protected by the greatness of his mercy, increased in virtues, in the very same degree his protection endowed them, though making up a collection of substances, with increase of their qualities. The point of this stanza is lost in translation. The term sattvakāya admits of two acceptations, according to its being applied to the philosophical and to the ordinary use of the word sattva. So the same compound may signify ‘a body of animals’ and ’a collection of substances.’ Similarly the term guṇa means 'virtue’ as well as 'quality.’01

Now one time, when the Great Being, according to his pity for the creatures, was rambling through parts of the forest, it happened that he saw in some part of the wood a lion who, overcome by an exceedingly heavy pain, was lying on the earth, as if he were hit with a poisonous arrow, having his mane disarranged and dirty with dust. And drawing near to him, moved by compassion, he asked him: “What is the matter, king of the quadrupeds? Thou art seriously ill, indeed, I see.

4. Is this illness caused by exhaustion after indulging too much in boldness against elephants? or [331] in excessive running after deer? or art thou hit with an arrow by a hunter? or has some disease seized thee?

5. Say then, what ails thee, if at least it may be told to me. Likewise tell me what may be done for thee in this case. And if perhaps I possess some power for the benefit of my friends, thou must enjoy the profit I may bring about by it and recover thy health.” The last pāda of this śloka looks corrupt in the original, yet without encumbrance of the main sense which is evident. 02

The lion spoke: “Thou, virtuous and best of birds, this illness is not the effect of exhaustion nor is it caused by disease nor occasioned by a hunter's arrow. But it is the fragment of a bone that sticks here in my throat and, like the point of an arrow, causes grievous pain to me. I can neither swallow it down nor throw it up. Therefore, it is now the time of assistance by friends. Now, if you know the way to make me sound, well, do it.”

Then the Bodhisattva, owing to the keenness of his intellect, thought out some means of extracting the object which was the cause of his pain. Taking a piece of wood large enough to bar his mouth, he spoke to the lion: “Open thy mouth as wide as ever thou canst.” After he had done so, the Bodhisattva having placed the log tightly between the two rows of his teeth, entered the bottom of his throat. With the top of his beak he seized that fragment of bone sticking athwart in it by one edge, and having loosened it, took it by another edge, and at last drew it out. And while retiring, he dropped the log which barred the lion's mouth.

6. No wound-healer, however skilled in his art and clever, would have succeeded even with great effort in extracting that extraneous substance, yet he pulled it out, thanks to his keen intellect, though not exercised by professional training, Cp. the beginning of Story XIV, p. 125. 03 but proper to him through hundreds of existences. [332]

7. After taking away together with the bone the pain and anguish caused by it, he felt no less gladness at having relieved his suffering fellow-creature, than the lion at being released from the pain-causing object.

This, indeed, is the essential property of a virtuous person.

8. A virtuous person having effected the happiness of another or stopped his mischief even with difficulty, will enjoy a greater amount of excessive gladness, than he would on account even of prosperity happening to himself and easily obtained.

So the Great Being having relieved his pain, was rejoiced in his heart. He took leave of the lion, and having received his thanks went his way.

Now some time after it happened that the woodpecker flying about with his outspread wings of exquisite beauty, could nowhere get any suitable food, so that he was caught by hunger which burnt his limbs. Then he saw that same lion feasting on the flesh of a young antelope fresh killed. His mouth and claws and the lower end of his mane being tinged with the blood of that animal, he resembled a fragment of a cloud in autumn, immersed in the glow of twilight.

9. Yet, though he was his benefactor, he did not venture to address him with words of request, disagreeable to the ear; for however skilled in speech, shame imposed upon him a temporary obligation of silence.

10. Nevertheless, as his wants required satisfaction, he walked up and down before his eyes in a bashful attitude. But that scoundrel, though well aware of him, did not at all invite him to join in the repast.

11. Like seed sown on a rock, like an oblation poured out on ashes that have lost their heat, of that very nature is, at the time of fruit, a benefit bestowed on an ungrateful person, and the flower of the vidula-reed.

Then the Bodhisattva thought: “Surely, he does not know me again,” and approaching him with a little [333] more confidence, asked him for a share, supporting his demand with a proper benediction after the manner of mendicants.

12. “Much good may it do thee, lord of the quadrupeds, who procurest thy livelihood by thy prowess! I beg thee to honour a mendicant, which is an instrument for thee to gather good repute and merit.”

But the lion disregarding this kind blessing, unacquainted as he was with the behaviour of the pious (ārya), owing to his habitual cruelty and selfishness, fixed a sidelong look on the Bodhisattva, as if he were willing to burn him down with the flame of the anger blazing out of his fiery eyes, and said: “No more of this.

13. Is it not enough that thou art alive, after entering the mouth of a creature like me, a devourer of fresh killed deer who does not know of unmanly mercy?

14. Is it to insult me that thou darest molest me thus another time with a demand. Art thou weary of thy life? Thou wishest to see the world hereafter, I suppose.”

This refusal and the harsh words expressing it, filled the Bodhisattva with shame. He flew directly upward to the sky, telling him in the language of his extended wings he was a bird, and went his way.

Now some forest-deity who was indignant at this injury, or who wanted to know the extent of his virtuous constancy, mounted also to the sky, and said to the Great Being: “Excellent one among birds, for what reason dost thou suffer this injury inflicted by that scoundrel on thee, his benefactor, though thou dost possess the power of revenge? What is the profit of overlooking that ungrateful one in this manner?

15. He may be ever so strong, thou art still able to blind him by a sudden assault on his face. Thou mayst also rob the flesh of his repast from between his very teeth. Why then dost thou suffer his insolence?”

At that moment the Bodhisattva, though having [334] been ill-treated and insulted, and notwithstanding the provocation of the forest-deity, manifested the extreme goodness of his nature, saying: “Enough, enough of this manner of proceeding. This way is not followed by such as me.

16. It is out of mercy, not with the desire of gain, that the virtuous take care of a person in distress, nor do they mind whether the other understands this or not. What opportunity for anger is there in such a case?

17. Ingratitude cannot but tend to the deception of the ungrateful one himself. Who, indeed, wishing a service in return, will do good to him a second time?

18. As to the benefactor, he obtains merit and the result of it in the world hereafter in consequence of his self-restraint, and an illustrious renown still in this world.

19. Moreover, if the benefit has been performed in order to practise a righteous action, why should it be regretted afterwards? If done with the purpose of receiving something in return, it is a loan, not a benefit.

20. He who because of the ingratitude of his neighbour prepares to do him harm, such a one, in truth, after first earning a spotless reputation by his virtues, will subsequently act after the manner of elephants.

21. If my neighbour by the infirmity of his mind does not know how to return the benefit, he will also never obtain the lovely lustre inherent in virtues; but, say, what reason should there exist for a sentient being to destroy, on account of that, his own lofty renown?

But this seems to me most becoming in this case.

22. He in whose heart a service done by a virtuous person did not rouse a friendly disposition, such a one is to be left, but gently, without harshness and anger.”

Then the deity, rejoiced at his well-said sentences, praised him, exclaiming repeatedly: “Well said! well said!” and adding many kind words.

23. “Though exempt from the toil caused by [334] matted hair and a bark garment, thou art a Ṛṣi, thou art a holy ascetic knowing the future! It is not the dress, truly, that makes the Muni, but he who is adorned by virtues is the real Muni here.”

After thus distinguishing him and honouring him, he disappeared on the spot.

In this manner, then, a virtuous person is incapable of betaking himself to wickedness, even though provoked, having never learnt to do so. [So is to be said when eulogising the virtuous.

And when discoursing on forbearance, this is to be propounded: “In this manner a man practising forbearance will rarely meet with enmity, rarely with reproach, and will be beloved and welcome to many people.”

When praising adherence to tranquillity, this is to be said: “In this manner the wise being great in preserving their tranquillity preserve their own lustre of virtues.”

Likewise, when glorifying the Tathāgata and praising the cultivation of an excellent nature: “In this manner a good nature being always striven after does not pass away, even when in the state of a beast.”]