Ja 34 Macchajātaka
The Story about the Fish (1s)

In the present a monk is overcome by passion thinking about his former wife. When the Buddha hears about this he tells a story of the past in which, blinded by passion, a fish had almost lost his life, and grieved that his wife may think him unfaithful, while she herself had escaped capture. The Bodhisatta saved him from his fate.

The Bodhisatta = the family priest (purohita),
the lustful monk = the male fish (maccha),
his former wife = the female fish (macchī).

Past Compare: Ja 297 Kāmavilāpa.

Keywords: Regret, Lust, Animals, Fish.

“ ’Tis not the cold.” [1.87] This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about being seduced by the wife of one’s mundane life before joining the Saṅgha. Said the Teacher on this occasion, “Is it true, as I hear, monk, that you are overcome by passion?” “Yes, Fortunate One.” “Because of whom?” “My former wife, sir, is sweet to touch; I cannot give her up!” Then said the Teacher, “Monk, this woman is hurtful to you. It was through her that in bygone times too you were meeting your end, when you were saved by me.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his family priest.

In those days some fishermen had cast their net into the river. [For a similar, but less complete story, see Ja 216 Macchajātaka.] And a great big fish came along amorously toying with his wife. She, scenting the net as she swam ahead of him, made a circuit round it and escaped. But her amorous spouse, blinded by passion, sailed right into the meshes of the net. As soon as the fishermen felt him in their net, they hauled it in and took the fish out; they did not kill him at once, but flung him alive on the sands. {1.211} “We’ll cook him in the embers for our meal,” said they; and accordingly they set to work to light a fire and whittle a spit to roast him on. The fish lamented, saying to himself, “It’s not the torture of the embers or the anguish of the spit or any other pain that grieves me; but only the distressing thought that my wife should be unhappy in the belief that I have gone off with another.” And he repeated this verse:

1. “ ’Tis not the cold, the heat, or wounding net;
’Tis but the fear my darling wife should think
Another’s love has lured her spouse away.”

Just then the priest came to the riverside with his attendant servants to bathe. Now he understood the language of all animals. Therefore, when he heard the fish’s lamentation, he thought to himself, “This fish is lamenting the lament of passion. If he should die in this unhealthy state of mind, he cannot escape rebirth in hell. I will save him.” So he went to the fishermen and said: “My men, don’t you supply us with a fish every day for our curry?” “What do you say, sir?” said the fishermen, “pray take away with you any fish you may take a fancy to.” “We don’t need any but this one; only give us this one.” “He’s yours, sir.” [1.88]

Taking the fish in his two hands, the Bodhisatta seated himself on the bank and said: “Friend fish, if I had not seen you today, you would have met your death. Cease for the future to be the slave of passion.” And with this exhortation he threw the fish into the water, and went into the city. {1.212}

His lesson ended, the Teacher preached the Truths, at the close whereof the monk overcome by passion won the First Path. Also, the Teacher showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “The former wife was the female fish of those days, the monk overcome by passion was the male fish, and I myself the family priest.”