Ja 164 Gijjhajātaka
The Story about the Vulture (who supported his Mother) (2s)

In the present one monk supports his parents who have fallen into poverty and have no one left at home to support them. When the Buddha finds out he tells a story about a merchant who saved some vultures and how they repaid his good deed.

The Bodhisatta = the vulture who supported his mother (mātuposakagijjha),
Sāriputta = the wealthy man of Benares (Bārāṇasiseṭṭhi),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā).

Present Source: Ja 540 Sāma,
Quoted at: Ja 164 Gijjha, Ja 398 Sutano, Ja 399 Gijjha, Ja 455 Mātiposaka, Ja 484 Sālikedāra, Ja 513 Jayaddisa, Ja 532 Sonananda.

Keywords: Filial piety, Gratitude, Animals, Birds.

“A vulture sees a corpse.” This story the Teacher told about a monk who had his mother to support. The circumstances will be related under the Sāmajātaka [Ja 540].

This story the Teacher told at Jetavana, about a certain monk who supported his mother. They say that there was a wealthy merchant at Sāvatthi, who was worth eighteen crores; and he had a son who was very dear and winning to his father and mother. One day the youth went upon the terrace of the house, and opened a window and looked down on the street; and when he saw the great crowd going to Jetavana with perfumes and garlands in their hands to hear the Dhamma preached, he exclaimed that he would go too.

So having ordered perfumes and garlands to be brought, he went to the monastery, and having distributed robes, medicines, drinks, etc. to the assembly and honoured the Fortunate One with perfumes and garlands, he sat down on one side. After hearing the Dhamma, and perceiving the evil consequences of desire and the blessings arising from adopting the ascetic life, when the assembly broke up he asked the Fortunate One for ordination, but he was told that the Tathāgatas do not ordain anyone who has not obtained the permission of his parents; so he went away, and lived a week without food, and having at last obtained his parents’ consent, he returned and begged for ordination. The Teacher sent a monk who ordained him; and after he was ordained he obtained great honour and gain; he won the favour of his teachers and preceptors, and having received full orders he mastered the Dhamma in five years.

Then he thought to himself, “I live here distracted – it is not suitable for me,” and he became anxious to reach the goal of spiritual insight; so having obtained instruction in meditation from his teacher, he departed to a frontier village and dwelt in the forest, and there having entered a course of insight, however much he laboured and strove for twelve years, he failed to attain any special insight.

His parents also, as time went on, became poor, for those who hired their land or carried on merchandise for them, finding out that there was no son or brother in the family to enforce the payment, seized what they could lay their hands upon and ran away as they pleased, and the servants and labourers in the house seized the gold and coin and made off therewith, so that at the end the two were reduced to an evil plight and had not even a jug for pouring water; and at last they sold their dwelling, and finding themselves homeless, and in extreme misery, they wandered begging for alms, clothed in rags and carrying potsherds in their hands.

Now at that time a monk came from Jetavana to the son’s place of abode; he performed the duties of hospitality and, as he sat quietly, he first asked whence he was come; and learning that he was come from Jetavana he asked after the health of the Teacher and the principal disciples and then asked for news of his parents, “Tell me, sir, about the welfare of such and such a merchant’s family in Sāvatthi.” “O friend, don’t ask for news of that family.” “Why not, sir?” “They say that there was one son in that family, but he has become an ascetic in this dispensation, and since he left the world that family has gone to ruin; and at the present time the two old people are reduced to a most lamentable state and beg for alms.”

When he heard the other’s words he could not remain unmoved, but began to weep with his eyes full of tears, and when the other asked him why he wept, “O sir,” he replied, “they are my own father and mother, I am their son.” “O friend, your father and mother have come to ruin through you – do you go and take care of them.” “For twelve years,” he thought to himself, “I have laboured and striven but never been able to attain the Path or the Fruit: I must be incompetent; what have I to do with the ascetic life? I will become a householder and will support my parents and give away my wealth, and will thus eventually become destined for heaven.”

So having determined he gave up his abode in the forest to the elder, and the next day departed and by successive stages reached the monastery at the back of Jetavana which is not far from Sāvatthi. There he found two roads, one leading to Jetavana, the other to Sāvatthi. As he stood there, he thought: “Shall I see my parents first or the One with Ten Powers?” Then he said to himself, “In old days I saw my parents for a long time, from henceforth I shall rarely have the chance of seeing the Buddha; I will see the Fully Awakened One today and hear the Dhamma, and then tomorrow morning I will see my parents.” So he left the road to Sāvatthi and in the evening arrived at Jetavana.

Now that very day at daybreak, the Teacher, as he looked upon the world, had seen the potentialities of this young man, and when he came to visit him he praised the virtues of parents in the Mātiposakasutta [SN 7.19]. As he stood at the end of the assembly of elders and listened, he thought: “If I become a householder I can support my parents; but the Teacher also says, ‘A son who has become an ascetic can be helpful,’ I went away before without seeing the Teacher, and I failed in such an imperfect ordination; I will now support my parents while still remaining an ascetic without becoming a householder.” So he took his ticket and his ticket-food and gruel, and felt as if he had committed a wrong deserving expulsion after a solitary abode of twelve years in the forest. In the morning he went to Sāvatthi and he thought to himself, “Shall I first get the gruel or see my parents?” He reflected that it would not be right to visit them in their poverty empty-handed; so he first got the gruel and then went to the door of their old house.

When he saw them sitting by the opposite wall after having gone their round for the alms given in broth, he stood not far from them in a sudden burst of sorrow with his eyes full of tears. They saw him but knew him not; then his mother, thinking that it was someone standing for alms, said to him, “We have nothing fit to be given to you, be pleased to pass on.” When he heard her, he repressed the grief which filled his heart and remained still standing as before with his eyes full of tears, and when he was addressed a second and a third time he still continued standing.

At last the father said to the mother, “Go to him; can this be your son?” She rose and went to him and, recognising him, fell at his feet and lamented, and the father also joined his lamentations, and there was a loud outburst of sorrow. To see his parents he could not control himself, but burst into tears; then, after yielding to his feelings, he said: “Do not grieve, I will support you,” so having comforted them and made them drink some gruel, and sit down on one side, he went again and begged for some food and gave it to them, and then went and asked for alms for himself, and having finished his meal, took up his abode at a short distance off.

From that day forward he watched over his parents in this manner; he gave them all the alms he received for himself, even those at the fortnightly distributions, and he went on separate expeditions for his own alms, and ate them; and whatever food he received as provision for the rainy season he gave to them, while he took their worn-out garments and dyed them with the doors fast closed and used them himself; but the days were few when he gained alms and there were many when he failed to win anything, and his inner and outer clothing became very rough.

As he watched over his parents he gradually grew very pale and thin and his friends and intimates said to him, “Your complexion used to be bright, but now you have become very pale – has some illness come upon you?” He replied, “No illness has come upon me, but a hindrance has befallen me,” and he told them the history. “Sir,” they replied, “the Teacher does not allow us to waste the offerings of the faithful, you do an unlawful act in giving to laymen the offerings of the faithful.” When he heard this he shrank away ashamed.

But not satisfied with this they went and told it to the Teacher, saying: “So and so, sir, has wasted the offerings of the faithful and used them to feed laymen.”

The Teacher asked him whether he, a monk, was really supporting persons who were still living in the world. This the monk admitted, “How are they related to you?” the Teacher went on. “They are my parents, sir.” “Excellent, excellent,” the Teacher said; and bade the monks not be angry with this monk. “Wise men of old,” said he, “have done service even to those who were not of kin to them; but this man’s task has been to support his own parents.” So saying, he told them this story of bygone days.

In the past, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life as a young vulture on Vulture Peak, and had his mother and father to nourish. [2.35]

Once there came a great wind and rain. The vultures could not hold their own against it; half frozen, they flew to Benares, and there near the wall and near the ditch they sat, shivering with the cold.

A merchant of Benares was issuing from the city on his way to bathe, when he spied these miserable vultures. He got them together in a dry place, made a fire, sent and brought them some cowflesh from the cattle’s burning-place, and put someone to look after them.

When the storm fell, {2.51} our vultures were all right and flew off at once among the mountains. Without delay they met, and thus took counsel together. “A Benares merchant has done us a good turn; and one good turn deserves another, as the saying is: This seems to be another form of the “Grateful Beasts” incident which so often occurs in folk-tales. so after this when any of us finds a garment or an ornament it must be dropped in that merchant’s courtyard.” So thenceforward if they ever noticed people drying their clothes or finery in the sun, watching for an unwary moment, they snatched them quickly, as hawks swoop on a bit of meat, and dropped them in the merchant’s yard. But he, whenever he observed that they were bringing him anything, used to cause it to be laid aside.

They told the king how vultures were plundering the city. “Just catch me one vulture,” says the king, “and I will make them bring it all back.” So snares and traps were set everywhere; our dutiful vulture was caught. They seized him with intent to bring him to the king. The merchant aforesaid, on the way to wait upon his majesty, saw these people walking along with the vulture. He went in their company, for fear they might hurt the vulture. They gave the vulture to the king, who examined him.

“You rob our city, and carry off clothes and all sorts of things,” he began.” “Yes, sire.” “Whom have they been given to?” “A merchant of Benares.” “Why?” “Because he saved our lives, and they say one good turn deserves another; that is why we gave them to him.”

“Vultures, they say,” said the king, “can spy a corpse a hundred leagues away; and can’t you see a trap set ready for you?” And with these words he repeated the first verse:

1. “A vulture sees a corpse that lies one hundred leagues away:
When you alight upon a trap do you not see it, pray?” {2.52}

The vulture listened, then replied by repeating the second verse:

2. “When life is coming to an end, and death’s hour draws anigh,
Though you may come close up to it, nor trap nor snare you spy.”

After this response of the vulture, the king turned to our merchant. “Have all these things really been brought to you, then, by the vultures?” [2.36]

“Yes, my lord.” “Where are they?” “My lord, they are all put away; each shall receive his own again – only let this vulture go!” He had his way; the vulture was set at liberty, and the merchant returned all the property to its owners.

This lesson ended, the Teacher declared the Truths, and identified the Jātaka, at the conclusion of the Truths the dutiful monk was established in the fruition of the First Path, “Ānanda was the king of those days; Sāriputta was the merchant; and I myself was the vulture that supported his parents.”