Ja 141 Godhajātaka
The Birth Story about the Iguana (1s)

In the present a monk ordained under the Buddha is easily persuaded to partake of Devadatta’s good food, rather than go on almsround. He is brought to the Buddha who tells a story about an iguana who made friends with a chameleon, to his own and his friends’ destruction.

The Bodhisatta = the king of the iguanas (godhārājā),
the treacherous monk = the lizard’s son, who was hard to advise (anovādako godhāpillako),
Devadatta = the chameleon (kakaṇṭaka).

Present Source: Ja 26 Mahilāmukhajātaka,
Quoted at: Ja 141 Godhajātaka, Ja 184 Giridantajātaka, Ja 186 Dadhivāhanajātaka, Ja 397 Manojajātaka.

Keywords: Treachery, Animals.

“Associating with the wicked.” {1.487} This story was told by the Teacher while at the Bamboo Grove, about a traitorous monk. The introductory incident is the same as that told in the Mahilāmukhajātaka [Ja 26].

This story was told by the Teacher while at the Bamboo Grove, about Devadatta, who, having secured the adherence of prince Ajātasattu, had attained both gain and honour. Prince Ajātasattu had a monastery built for Devadatta at Gayāsīsa, and every day brought to him five hundred pots of perfumed three-year-old rice flavoured with all the choicest flavourings. All this gain and honour brought Devadatta a great following, with whom Devadatta lived on, without ever stirring out of his monastery.

At that time there were living in Rājagaha two friends, of whom one had taken the vows under the Teacher, while the other had taken them under Devadatta. And these continued to see one another, either casually or by visiting the monasteries. Now one day the disciple of Devadatta said to the other, “Sir, why do you daily go round for alms with the sweat streaming off you? Devadatta sits quietly at Gayāsīsa and feeds on the best of fare, flavoured with all the choicest flavourings. There’s no way like his. Why create misery for yourself? Why should it not be a good thing for you to come the first thing in the morning to the monastery at Gayāsīsa and there drink our rice-gruel with a relish after it, try our eighteen kinds of solid victuals, and enjoy our excellent soft food, flavoured with all the choicest flavourings?”

Being pressed time after time to accept the invitation, the other began to want to go, and thenceforth used to go to Gayāsīsa and there eat and eat, not forgetting however to return to the Bamboo Grove at the proper hour. Nevertheless he could not keep it secret always; and in a little while it came out that he used to go to Gayāsīsa and there regale himself with the food provided for Devadatta. Accordingly, his friends asked him, saying: “Is it true, as they say, that you regale yourself on the food provided for Devadatta?” “Who said that?” said he. “So-and-so said it.” “It is true, sirs, that I go to Gayāsīsa and eat there. But it is not Devadatta who gives me food; others do that.” “Sir, Devadatta is the foe of the Buddhas; in his wickedness, he has secured the adherence of Ajātasattu and by unrighteousness got gain and honour for himself. Yet you who have taken the vows according to this dispensation which leads to safety, eat the food which Devadatta gets by unrighteousness. Come; let us bring you before the Teacher.” And, taking with them the monk, they went to the Dhamma Hall.

When the Teacher became aware of their presence, he said: “Monks, are you bringing this monk here against his will?” “Yes, sir; this monk, after taking the vows under you, eats the food which Devadatta gets by unrighteousness.” “Is it true, as they say, that you eat the food which Devadatta gets by unrighteousness?” “It was not Devadatta, sir, that gave it me, but others.” “Raise no quibbles here, monk,” said the Teacher. “Devadatta is a man of bad conduct and bad principle. Oh, how could you, who have taken the vows in the Buddha’s dispensation, eat Devadatta’s food, while living in the Teacher’s presence? But you have always been prone to being led away, and have followed in turn every one you meet.” And, so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born an iguana. When he grew up he dwelt in a big burrow in the river bank with a following of many hundreds of other iguanas. Now the Bodhisatta had a son, a young iguana, who was great friends with a chameleon, whom he used to clip and embrace. This intimacy being reported to the iguana king, he sent for his young son and said that such friendship was misplaced, for chameleons were low creatures, and that if the intimacy was persisted in, calamity would befall the whole of the tribe of iguanas. And he enjoined his son to have no more to do with the chameleon. But the son continued in his intimacy. Again and again did the Bodhisatta speak with his son, but finding his words of no avail, and foreseeing danger to the iguanas from the chameleon, he had an outlet cut on one side of their burrow, so that there might be a means of escape in time of need.

Now as time went on, the young iguana grew to a great size, while the chameleon never grew any bigger. And as these mountainous embraces of the young giant grew painful indeed, the chameleon foresaw [1.303] that they would be the death of him if they went on a few days longer, and he resolved to combine with a hunter to destroy the whole tribe of iguanas.

One day in the summer the ants came out after a thunder-storm, Makkhikā may refer to the wings which the ants get in India at the beginning of the rainy season; cf. p. 297. and {1.488} the iguanas darted here and there catching them and eating them. Now there came into the forest an iguana trapper with spade and dogs to dig out iguanas; and the chameleon thought what a haul he would put in the trapper’s way. So he went up to the man, and, lying down before him, asked why he was about in the forest. “To catch iguanas,” was the reply. “Well, I know where there’s a burrow of hundreds of them,” said the chameleon, “bring fire and brushwood and follow me.” And he brought the trapper to where the iguanas dwelt. “Now,” said the chameleon, “put your fuel in there and smoke the iguanas out. Meantime let your dogs be all round and take a big stick in your hand. Then as the iguanas dash out, strike them down and make a pile of the slain.” So saying, the treacherous chameleon withdrew to a spot nearby, where he lay down, with his head up, saying to himself, “This day I shall see the rout of my enemy.”

The trapper set to work to smoke the iguanas out; and fear for their lives drove them helter-skelter from their burrow. As they came out, the trapper knocked them on the head, and if he missed them, they fell a prey to his dogs. And so there was great slaughter among the iguanas. Realising that this was the chameleon’s doing, the Bodhisatta cried, “One should never make friends with the wicked, for such bring sorrow in their train. A single wicked chameleon has proved the bane of all these iguanas.” So saying, he escaped by the outlet he had provided, uttering this verse:

1. Na pāpajanasaṁsevī accantaṁ sukham-edhati,
Godhā kulaṁ kakaṇṭā va kaliṁ pāpeti attānan-ti.

Associating with the wicked doesn’t bring endless happiness, like the chameleons who brought the iguana clan disaster. {1.489}

His lesson ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka by saying: “Devadatta was the chameleon of those days; this traitorous monk was the disobedient young iguana, the son of the Bodhisatta; and I myself the king of the iguanas.”