Ja 146 Kākajātaka
The Birth Story about the Crows (emptying the Sea) (1s)
Alternative Title: Samuddakākajātaka (Cst)
In the present some people ordain late in life and persist in going to their families for alms, and lamenting the passing of their wives, but making no progress in the monastic life. The Buddha tells how, in the past, a pair of crows had got drunk on the remains of a sacrifice, and had lost his wife in the ocean, and how he and his friends had tried to empty the ocean with their beaks.
The Bodhisatta = the Sea Devatā (Samuddadevatā),
the old monk = the crow (kāka),
his former wife = the female crow (kākī),
the aged monks = the other crows (sesakākā).
Past Compare: Dhp-a XX.8 Sambahulamahallakatthera.
Keywords: Attachment, Wasted effort, Devas, Animals, Birds.
“Our jaws are tired.”
So they shared all their belongings amongst their children and families, and, leaving their tearful kindred, they came to ask the Teacher to receive them into the Saṅgha. But when admitted, they did not live the life of monks;
As in their life as householders, so now too when they were monks they lived together, building themselves a cluster of neighbouring huts on the skirts of the monastery. Even when they went in quest of alms, they generally made for their wives’ and children’s houses and ate there. In particular, all these old men were maintained by the bounty of the wife of one of their number, to whose house each brought what he had received and there ate it, with sauces and curries which she furnished.
An illness having carried her off, the aged monks went their way back to the monastery, and falling on one another’s necks walked about bewailing the death of their benefactress, the giver of sauces. The noise of their lamentation brought the monks to the spot to know what ailed them. And the aged men told how their kind benefactress was dead, and that they wept because they had lost her and should never see her like again.
Shocked at such impropriety, the monks talked together in the Dhamma Hall about the cause of the old men’s sorrow, and they told the Teacher too, on his entering the Hall and asking what they were discussing. “Ah, monks,” said he, “in times past, also, this same woman’s death made them go about weeping and wailing; in those days she was a crow and was drowned in the sea, and these were toiling hard to empty all the water out of the sea in order to get her out, when the wise of those days saved them.” And so saying he told this story of the past.
In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was a Sea Devatā. Now a crow with his mate came down in quest of food to the sea-shore
“Oh, my poor wife is dead,” cried the crow, bursting into tears and lamentations. Then a crowd of crows were drawn by his wailing to the spot to learn what ailed him. And when he told them how his wife had been carried out to sea, they all began with one voice to lament. Suddenly the thought struck them that they were stronger than the sea and that all they had to do was to empty it out and rescue their comrade! So they set to work with their bills to empty the sea out by mouthfuls, betaking themselves to dry land to rest so soon as their throats were sore with the salt water. And so they toiled away till their mouths and jaws were dry and inflamed and their eyes bloodshot, and they were ready to drop for weariness. Then in despair they turned to one another and said that it was in vain they laboured to empty the sea,
1. Api nu hanukā santā, mukhañ-ca parisussati,
Oramāma, na pārema, pūrate va mahodadhī ti.
Our jaws are tired, our mouths are dry, we must stop, not try to empty, the sea which is full to the brim.
Then all the crows fell to praising the beauty of her beak and eyes, her complexion, figure and sweet voice, saying that it was her excellencies that had provoked the sea to steal her from them. But
His lesson ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka by saying: “The aged monk’s wife was the female crow of those days, and her husband the male crow; the other aged monks were the rest of the crows, and I the Sea Devatā.”
last updated: August 2023