Ja 133 Ghatāsanajātaka
The Birth Story about the Fire (1s)

In the present one monk goes for meditation, but when his hut burns down he is unable to make progress. He stays on in the village anyway. When he comes to the Buddha after the Rains Retreat, the latter tells him a story of how in a past life he had acted quickly to save his subjects when a Nāga had attacked them with fire.

The Bodhisatta = the king of the birds (sakuṇarājā),
the Buddha’s disciples = the obedient birds (vacanakarā sakuṇā).

Keywords: Promptitude, Discernment, Devas, Animals, Birds.

“Where there is safety.” [1.290] This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, about a certain monk who was given by the Teacher a subject for meditation, and, going to the borders, took up his abode in the forest near a hamlet. Here he hoped to pass the rainy season, but during the very first month his hut was burnt down while he was in the village seeking alms. Feeling the loss of its sheltering roof, he told his lay friends of his misfortune, and they readily undertook to build him another hut. But, in spite of their protestations, three months slipped away without its being rebuilt. Having no roof to shelter him, the monk had no success in his meditation. Not even the mental image had been vouchsafed to him when at the close of the rainy season he went back to Jetavana and stood respectfully before the Teacher. In the course of talk the Teacher asked whether the monk’s meditation had been successful. Then that monk related from the beginning the good and ill that had befallen him. Said the Teacher, “In days gone by, even brute beasts could discern between what was good and what bad for them and so quit betimes, ere they proved dangerous, the habitations that had sheltered them in happier days. And if beasts were so discerning, how could you fall so far short of them in wisdom?” So saying, at that monk’s request, the Teacher told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a bird. When he came to years of discretion, good fortune attended him and he became king of the birds, taking up his abode with his subjects in a giant tree which stretched its leafy branches over the waters of a lake. And all these birds, {1.472} roosting in the boughs, dropped their dung into the waters below. Now that lake was the abode of Caṇḍa, the Nāga king, who was enraged by this fouling of his water and resolved to take vengeance on the birds and burn them out. So one night when they were all roosting along the branches, he set to work, and first he made the waters of the lake to boil, then he caused smoke to arise, and thirdly he made flames dart up as high as a palm tree.

Seeing the flames shooting up from the water, the Bodhisatta cried to the birds, “Water is used to quench fire; but here is the water itself on fire. This is no place for us; let us seek a home elsewhere.” So saying, he uttered this verse:

1. Khemaṁ yahiṁ tattha arī udīrito,
Dakassa majjhe jalate ghatāsano,
Na ajja vāso mahiyā mahīruhe,
Disā bhajavho saraṇājja no bhayan-ti.

Where there is safety there are foes, is said, fire burns in the middle of the water. Not living today in this tree on earth, go away, there is danger from our refuge today. [1.291]

And hereupon the Bodhisatta flew off with such of the birds as followed his advice; but the disobedient birds, who stopped behind, all perished.

His lesson ended, the Teacher preached the Four Truths, at the close whereof that monk became an Arahat, and identified the Jātaka by saying: “The loyal and obedient birds of those days are now become my disciples, and I myself was then the king of the birds.”