Ja 43 Veḷukajātaka
The Story about (the Viper) Veḷuka (1s)

In the present one monk is disobedient and wilful. The Buddha tells a story about a previous life in which he had kept a viper as a pet, and even when advised against it, kept him on anyway. One day the viper turned on him and killed him.

The Bodhisatta = the teacher of a group (gaṇasatthā),
the disobedient monk = the disciple with the viper as son (veḷukapitā),
the Buddha’s disciples = the rest of the cast (sesaparisā).

Keywords: Disobedience, Willfulness, Animals.

“The wilful man.” This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a certain wilful monk. For the Fortunate One asked him whether the report was true that he was wilful, and the monk admitted that it was. “Monk,” said the Teacher, “this is not the first time you have been wilful: you were just so in former days also, {1.245} and, as the result of your refusal to follow the advice of the wise and good, you met your end by the bite of a snake.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a wealthy family in the kingdom of Kāsi. Having come to years of discretion, he saw how from passion springs pain and how true bliss comes by the abandonment of passion. So he threw off sensual desires, and going forth to the Himālayas became an ascetic, winning by focusing on the Meditation Object the five [1.115] Super Knowledges and the eight Attainments. And as he lived his life in the bliss of Absorption, he came in after times to have a large following of five hundred ascetics, whose teacher he was.

Now one day a young poisonous viper, wandering about as vipers do, came to the hut of one of the ascetics; and that monk grew as fond of the creature as if it were his own child, housing it in a joint of bamboo and showing kindness to it. And because it was lodged in a joint of bamboo, the viper was known by the name of “Veḷuka [Bamboo].” Moreover, because the ascetic was as fond of the viper as if it were his own child, they called him “Veḷuka’s Father.”

Hearing that one of the monks was keeping a viper, the Bodhisatta sent for that monk and asked whether the report was true. When told that it was true, the Bodhisatta said: “A viper can never be trusted; keep it no longer.”

“But,” urged the monk, “my viper is as dear to me as a pupil to a teacher; I could not live without him.” “Well then,” answered the Bodhisatta, “know that this very snake will lose you your life.” But heedless of the master’s warning, that monk still kept the pet he could not bear to part with. Only a very few days later all the monks went out to gather fruits, and coming to a spot where all kinds grew in plenty, they stayed there two or three days. With them went Veḷuka’s father, leaving his viper behind in its bamboo prison. Two or three days afterwards, when he came back, he bethought him of feeding the creature, and, opening the cane, stretched out his hand, saying: “Come, my son; you must be hungry.” But angry with his long fast, the viper bit his outstretched hand, killing him on the spot, and made its escape into the forest.

Seeing him lying there dead, the monks came and told the Bodhisatta, {1.246} who bade the body be burned. Then, seated in their midst, he exhorted the monks by repeating this verse:

1. “The wilful man, who, when exhorted, pays
No heed to friends who kindly counsel give –
Just like Veḷuka, shall be brought to nought.”

Thus did the Bodhisatta exhort his followers; and he developed within himself the four Divine Abidings, and at his death was reborn into the Brahmā Realm.

Said the Teacher, “Monk, this is not the first time you have shown yourself wilful; you were no less so in times gone by, and thereby met your death from a viper’s bite.” Having ended his lesson, the Teacher showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “In those days, this wilful monk was Veḷuka’s father, my disciples were the band of disciples, and I myself their teacher.”