Ja 205 Gaṅgeyyajātaka
The Story about the Ganges (Fish) (2s)

In the present two young monks are unsure which one of them is the most handsome, so they ask an old monk, who declares he is more handsome than they are. The Buddha tells a story of two fish who similarly asked a tortoise to decide which of them was more handsome, only for him to declare that he was the most handsome of all!

The Bodhisatta = the Tree Devatā (Rukkhadevatā),
the old man = the tortoise (kacchapa),
two young monks = the two fish (dve macchā).

Keywords: Vanity, Devas, Animals, Fish.

“Fine are the fish.” {2.151} This story the Teacher told while dwelling at Jetavana, about two young monks.

These two young fellows, we are told, belonged to a good family of Sāvatthi, and had embraced the dispensation. But they, not realising the impurity of the body, Reading an-anuyuñjitvā. sang the praises of their beauty, and went about bragging of it. [2.105]

One day they fell into a dispute on this point, “You’re handsome, but so am I,” said each of them; then, spying an aged elder sitting not far away, they agreed that he was likely to know whether they were handsome or not. Then they approached him with the question, “Sir, which of us is handsome?” The elder replied, “Friends, I am more handsome than either of you.” At this the young men reviled him, and went off, grumbling that he told them something they did not ask, but would not tell them what they did.

The Saṅgha became aware of this event; and one day, when they were all together in the Dhamma Hall, they began talking about it. “Friend, how the old elder shamed those two young fellows whose heads were full of their own beauty!” The Teacher came in, and asked what they were talking of now as they sat together. They told him. He rejoined: “This, is not the only time, monks, that our friends were full of the praises of their own beauty. In olden times they used to go about boasting of it as they do now.” And then he told them a story.

In the past, during the reign of Brahmadatta, king of Benares, the Bodhisatta became a Tree Devatā on the bank of the Ganges. At the point where Ganges and Jumna meet, two fish met together, one from the Ganges and one from the Jumna. “I am beautiful!” said one, “and so are you!” and then they fell to quarrelling about their beauty. Not far from the Ganges they saw a tortoise lying on the bank. “That fellow shall decide whether or no we are beautiful!” said they; and they went up to him. “Which of us is beautiful, friend tortoise,” they asked, “the Ganges fish or the Jumna fish? “The tortoise answered, “The Ganges fish is beautiful, and the Jumna fish is beautiful: but I am more beautiful than you both.” And to explain it, he uttered the first verse: {2.152}

1. “Fine are the fish of Jumna stream, the Ganges fish are fine,
But a four-footed creature, with a tapering neck like mine,
Round like a spreading banyan tree, must all of them outshine.”

When the fish heard this, they cried, “Ah, you rascally tortoise! You won’t answer our question, but you answer another one!” and they repeated the second verse:

2. “We ask him this, he answers that: indeed a strange reply!
By his own tongue his praise is sung: I like it not, not I!”

When this discourse was concluded, the Teacher identified the Jātaka, “In those days the young monks were the two fish, the old man was the tortoise, and I was the Tree Devatā who saw the whole thing from the Ganges bank.”