Ja 74 Rukkhadhammajātaka
The Story about the Way of Trees (1s)

In the present two kin tribes argue over the distribution of water. The Buddha tells a story of the past showing how, when trees stand together, they are strong and can withstand the winds, and when they are solitary, they are easily overthrown.

The Bodhisatta = the wise (Tree) Devatā (Paṇḍitadevatā),
the Buddha’s disciples = the other Devatās (Devatā).

Past Source: Ja 35 Vaṭṭaka,
Quoted: Ja 536 Kuṇāla (Present).

Keywords: Concord, Unity, Devas.

“United, forest-like.” This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a quarrel concerning water which had brought woe upon his kinsfolk. Knowing of this, he passed through the air, sat cross-legged above the river Rohiṇī, and emitted rays of darkness, startling his kinsfolk. Then descending from mid-air, he seated himself on the riverbank and told this story with reference to that quarrel. (Only a summary is given here; the full details will be related in the Kuṇālajātaka [Ja 536].) But on this occasion the Teacher addressed his kinsfolk, {1.328} saying: “It is meet, sire, that kinsfolk should dwell together in concord and unity. For, when kinsfolk are at one, enemies find no opportunity. Not to speak of human beings, even sense-lacking trees ought to stand together. For in bygone days in the Himālayas a tempest struck a Sāl-forest; yet, because the trees, shrubs, bushes, and creepers of that forest were interlaced one with another, the tempest could not overthrow even a single tree but passed harmlessly over their heads. But alone in a courtyard stood a mighty tree; and though it had many stems and branches, yet, because it was not united with other trees, the tempest uprooted it and laid it low. Wherefore, it is meet that you too should dwell together in concord and unity.” And so saying, at their request he told this story of the past. [1.182]

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the first king Vessavaṇa A name of Kuvera. died, and Sakka sent a new king to reign in his stead. After the change, the new king Vessavaṇa sent word to all trees and shrubs and bushes and plants, bidding the Tree Devatās each choose out the abode that they liked best. In those days the Bodhisatta had come to life as a Tree Devatā in a Sāl-forest in the Himālayas. His advice to his kinsfolk in choosing their habitations was to shun trees that stood alone in the open, and to take up their abodes all round the abode which he had chosen in that Sāl-forest. Hereon the wise Tree Devatās, following the Bodhisatta’s advice, took up their quarters round his tree. But the foolish ones said: “Why should we dwell in the forest? Let us rather seek out the haunts of men, and take up our abodes outside villages, towns, or capital cities. For Devatās who dwell in such places receive the richest offerings and the greatest worship.” So they departed to the haunts of men, and took up their abode in certain giant trees which grew in an open space.

Now it fell out upon a day that a mighty tempest swept over the country. Naught did it avail the solitary trees that years had rooted them deep in the soil and that they were the mightiest trees that grew. Their branches snapped; their stems were broken; and they themselves were uprooted and flung to earth by the tempest. But when it broke on the Sāl-forest of interlacing trees, its fury was in vain; for, attack where it might, not a tree could it overthrow.

The forlorn Devatās whose dwellings were destroyed, took their children in their arms and journeyed to the Himālayas. There they told their sorrows to the Devatās of the Sāl-forest, {1.329} who in turn told the Bodhisatta of their sad return. “It was because they hearkened not to the words of wisdom, that they have been brought to this,” said he; and he unfolded the truth in this verse:

1. “United, forest-like, should kinsfolk stand;
The storm o’erthrows the solitary tree.”

So spake the Bodhisatta; and when his life was spent, he passed away to fare according to his deeds.

And the Teacher went on to say, “Thus, sire, reflect how meet it is that kinsfolk at any rate should be united, and lovingly dwell together in concord and unity.” His lesson ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka by saying: “The Buddha’s followers were the fairies of those days, and I myself the wise Devatā.”