Ja 144 Naṅguṭṭhajātaka
The Birth Story about the (Ox) Tail (1s)

In the present the heretics practice all sorts of austerities in hope of sanctity, but the Buddha says it is all to no effect, and tells a story of how once he had been a fire-worshipper till one day the fire god proved unable to protect his sacrifice, at which point he abandoned his old practices and took to the Himālayas.

The Bodhisatta = the ascetic who quenched the fire (nibbutaggitāpasa).

Present Source: Ja 144 Naṅguṭṭha,
Quoted at: Ja 162 Santhava.

Keywords: False asceticism.

“Wicked Jātaveda, this is a lot of tail.” This story was told by the Teacher while at Jetavana, touching the false austerity of the Ājīvikas, or naked ascetics. Tradition tells us that behind Jetavana they used to practise false austerities. See MN 12 Mahāsīhanādasutta, for a catalogue of ascetic austerities, to which early Buddhism was strongly opposed. A number of the monks seeing them there painfully squatting on their heels, swinging in the air like bats, reclining on thorns, scorching themselves with five fires, and so forth in [1.308] their various false austerities – were moved to ask the Fortunate One whether any good resulted therefrom. “None whatsoever,” answered the Teacher. “In days gone by, the wise and good went into the forest with their birth-fire, thinking to profit by such austerities; but, finding themselves no better for all their sacrifices to Fire and for all similar practices, straightaway doused the birth-fire with water till it went out. By focusing on the Meditation Object the Super Knowledges and Attainments were gained and a title won to the Brahma Realm.” So saying he told this story of the past. {1.494}

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a brahmin in the north country, and on the day of his birth his parents lit a birth-fire.

In his sixteenth year they addressed him thus, “Son, on the day of your birth we lit a birth-fire for you. Now therefore choose. If you wish to lead a family life, learn the Three Vedas; but if you wish to attain to the Brahma Realm, take your fire with you into the forest and there tend it, so as to win Mahābrahma’s favour and hereafter to enter into the Brahma Realm.”

Telling his parents that a family life had no charms for him, he went into the forest and dwelt in a hermitage tending his fire. An ox was given him as a fee one day in a border-village, and when he had driven it home to his hermitage, the thought came to him to sacrifice a cow to the Lord of Fire. But finding that he had no salt, and feeling that the Lord of Fire could not eat his meat-offering without it, he resolved to go back and bring a supply from the village for the purpose. So he tied up the ox and set off again to the village.

While he was gone, a band of hunters came up and, seeing the ox, killed it and cooked themselves a dinner. And what they did not eat they carried off, leaving only the tail and hide and the shanks. Finding only these sorry remains on his return, the brahmin exclaimed, “As this Lord of Fire cannot so much as look after his own, how shall he look after me? It is a waste of time to serve him, bringing neither good nor profit.” Having thus lost all desire to worship Fire, he said: “My Lord of Fire, if you cannot manage to protect yourself, how shall you protect me? The meat being gone, you must make shift to fare on this offal.” So saying, he threw on the fire the ox tail and the rest of the robbers’ leavings and uttered this verse:

1. Bahum-petaṁ asabbhi Jātaveda,
Yaṁ taṁ vāladhinābhipūjayāma,
Maṁsārahassa natthajja maṁsaṁ,
Naṅguṭṭham-pi bhavaṁ paṭiggahātū! ti

Wicked Jātaveda, this is a lot of tail that we greatly worship you with, {1.495} for the one deserving meat there’s no meat today, accept, venerable, this tail!

So saying the Great Being put the fire out with water and departed to become a recluse. And he won the Super Knowledges and Attainments, and ensured his rebirth in the Brahma Realm.

His lesson ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka by saying: “I was the ascetic who in those days quenched the fire.”