Ja 215 Kacchapajātaka Fausböll, Five Jātakas, p. 41; Dhp p. 418; cp. Benfey’s Panchatantra, i. p. 239; Babrius, ed. Lewis, i. 122; Phaedrus, ed. Orelli, 55, 128; Rhys Davids, Buddhist Birth Stories, viii.; Jacobs, Indian Fairy Tales, pp. 100 and 245.
The Story about the (Talkative) Tortoise (2s)

In the present Kokālika blames the two chief disciples, and because of what he says, falls into hell. The Buddha explains that it was ever so in the past, and tells a story of a tortoise who was being carried to the Himālayas, but opened his mouth, lost his grip and fell to his death.

The Bodhisatta = the wise minister (amaccapaṇḍita),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
the two senior monks = the two young geese (dve haṁsapotakā),
Kokālika = the tortoise (kacchapa).

Present Source: Ja 481 Takkāriya,
Quoted at: Ja 117 Tittira, Ja 215 Kacchapa, Ja 272 Vyaggha, Ja 331 Kokālika,
Past Compare: Dhp-a XXV.3 Kokālika.

Keywords: Slander, Talkativeness, Devas, Animals.

“The tortoise needs must speak.” [2.123] This is a story told by the Teacher while staying in Jetavana, about Kokālika. The circumstances which gave rise to it will be set forth under the Mahātakkārijātaka [Ja 481].

During one rainy season the two chief disciples, desiring to leave the multitude and to dwell apart, took leave of the Teacher, and went into the kingdom where Kokālika was. They repaired to the residence of Kokālika, and said this to him, “Monk Kokālika, since for us it is delightful to dwell with you, and for you to dwell with us, we would abide here three months.” “How,” said the other, “will it be delightful for you to dwell with me?” They answered, “If you tell not a soul that the two chief disciples are dwelling here, we shall be happy, and that will be our delight in dwelling with you.” “And how is it delightful for me to dwell with you?” “We will teach the Dhamma to you for three months in your home, and we will discourse to you, and that will be your delight in dwelling with us.” “Dwell here, monks,” said he, “so long as you will,” and he allotted a pleasant residence to them. There they dwelt in the fruition of the Attainments, and no man knew of their dwelling in that place.

When they had thus past the rains they said to him, “Monk, now we have dwelt with you, and we will go to visit the Teacher,” and asked his leave to go. He agreed, and went with them on the rounds for alms in a village over against the place where they were. After their meal the elders departed from the village. Kokālika leaving them, turned back and said to the people, “Lay brethren, you are like brute animals. Here the two chief disciples have been dwelling for three months in the monastery opposite, and you knew nothing of it: now they are gone.” “Why did you not tell us, sir?” the people asked.

Then they took ghee and oil and medicines, raiment and clothes, and approached the elders, saluting them and saying: “Pardon us, sirs we knew not you were the chief disciples, we have learned it but today by the words of the venerable monk Kokālika. Pray have compassion on us, and receive these medicines and clothes.” Kokālika went after the elders with them, for he thought: “The elders are frugal, and content with little; they will not accept these things, and then they will be given to me.” But the elders, because the gift was offered at the instigation of a monk, neither accepted the things themselves nor had them given to Kokālika. The lay folk then said: “Sirs, if you will not accept these, come here once again to bless us.” The elders promised, and proceeded to the Teacher’s presence.

Now Kokālika was angry, because the elders neither accepted those things themselves, nor had them given to him. The elders, however, having remained a short while with the Teacher, each chose five hundred monks as their following, and with these thousand monks went on pilgrimage seeking alms, as far as Kokālika’s country. The lay folk came out to meet them, and led them to the same monastery, and showed them great honour day by day.

Great was the store given them of clothes and of medicines. Those monks who went out with the elders dividing the garments gave of them to all the monks which had come, but to Kokālika gave none, neither did the elders give him any. Getting no clothes Kokālika began to abuse and revile the elders, “Sāriputta and Moggallāna are full of wicked desire; they would not accept before what was offered them, but these things they do accept. There is no satisfying them, they have no regard for another.” But the elders, perceiving that the man was harbouring evil on their account, set out with their followers to depart; nor would they return, not though the people begged them to stay yet a few days longer.

Then a young monk said: “Where shall the elders stay, laymen? Your own particular elder does not wish them to stay here.” Then the people went to Kokālika, and said: “Sir, we are told you do not wish the elders to stay here. Go to! Either appease them and bring them back, or away with you and live elsewhere!” In fear of the people this man went and made his request to the elders. “Go back, monk,” answered the elders, “we will not return.” So he, being unable to prevail upon them, returned to the monastery. Then the lay brethren asked him whether the elders had returned. “I could not persuade them to return,” said he. “Why not, monk?” they asked. And then they began to think it must be no good monks would dwell there because the man did wrong, and they must get rid of him. “Sir,” they said, “do not stay here; we have nothing here for you.”

Thus dishonoured by them, he took bowl and robe and went to Jetavana. After saluting the Teacher, he said: “Sir, Sāriputta and Moggallāna are full of wicked desire, they are in the power of wicked desires!” The Teacher replied, “Say not so, Kokālika; let your heart, Kokālika, have confidence in Sāriputta and Moggallāna; learn that they are good monks.” Kokālika said: “You believe in your two chief disciples, sir; I have seen it with my own eyes; they have wicked desires, they have secrets within them, they are wicked men.” So he said thrice (though the Teacher would have stayed him), then rose from his seat, and departed. Even as he went on his way there arose over all his body boils of the size of a mustard seed, which grew and grew to the size of a ripe seed of the wood apple tree, burst, and blood ran all over him. Groaning he fell by the gate of Jetavana, maddened with pain.

A great cry arose, and reached even to the Brahmā Realm, “Kokālika has reviled the two chief disciples!” Then his spiritual teacher, the Brahmā Tudu by name, learning the fact, came with the intent of appeasing the elders, and said while poised in the air, “Kokālika, a cruel thing this you have done; make your peace with the chief disciples.” “Who are you, brother?” the man asked. “Tudu Brahmā, is my name,” said he. “Have you not been declared by the Fortunate One,” said the man, “one of those who return not? That word means that such come not back to this earth. You will become a Yakkha upon a dunghill!” Thus he upbraided the Mahābrahmā. And as he could not persuade the man to do as he advised, he replied to him, “May you be tormented according to your own word.” Then he returned to his abode of bliss. And Kokālika after dying was born again in the Lotus Hell. That he had been born there the great and mighty Brahmā told to the Tathāgata, and the Teacher told it to the monks.

In the Dhamma Hall the monks talked of the man’s wickedness, “Monks, they say Kokālika reviled Sāriputta and Moggallāna, and by the words of his own mouth came to the Lotus Hell.” The Teacher came in, and said he, “What speak you of, monks, as you sit here?” They told him.

Here again the Teacher said: “This is not the only time, monks, that Kokālika has been ruined by talking; it was the same before.” And then he told the story as follows.

In the past Brahmadatta was king of Benares, and the Bodhisatta, being born to one of the king’s court, grew up, and became the king’s adviser in all things human and divine. But this king was very talkative; and when he talked there was no chance for any other to get in a word. {2.176} And the Bodhisatta, wishing to put a stop to his much talking, kept watching for an opportunity.

Now there dwelt a tortoise in a certain pond in the region of the Himālayas. Two young wild geese, searching for food, struck up an acquaintance with him; and by and by they grew close friends together. One day these two said to him, “Friend tortoise, we have a lovely home in the Himālayas, on a plateau of Mount Cittakūṭa, in a cave of gold! Will you come with us?”

“Why,” said he, “how can I get there?” “Oh, we will take you, if only you can keep your mouth shut, and say not a word to any body.” “Yes, I can do that,” says he, “take me along!”

So they made the tortoise hold a stick between his teeth; and themselves taking hold so of the two ends, they sprang up into the air.

The village children saw this, and exclaimed, “There are two geese carrying a tortoise by a stick!”

By this time the geese flying swiftly had arrived at the space above the palace of the king, at Benares. The tortoise wanted to cry out [2.124] “Well, and if my friends do carry me, what is that to you, you caitiffs?” and he let go the stick from between his teeth, and falling into the open courtyard he split in two. What an uproar there was! “A tortoise has fallen in the courtyard, and broken in two!” they cried. The king, with the Bodhisatta, and all his court, came up to the place, and seeing the tortoise asked the Bodhisatta a question. “Wise sir, what made this creature fall?’

“Now’s my time!” thought he. “For a long while I have been wishing to admonish the king, and I have gone about seeking my opportunity. No doubt the truth is this: the tortoise and the geese became friendly; the geese must have meant to carry him to the Himālayas, and so made him hold a stick between his teeth, and then lifted him into the air; then he must have heard some remark, and wanted to reply; and not being able to keep his mouth shut he must have let himself go; {2.177} and so he must have fallen from the sky and thus come by his death.” So thought he; and addressed the king, “O king, they that have too much tongue, that set no limit to their speaking, ever come to such misfortune as this,” and he uttered the following verses:

1. “The tortoise needs must speak aloud,
Although between his teeth
A stick he bit: yet, spite of it,
He spoke – and fell beneath.

2. And now, O mighty master, mark it well.
See you speak wisely, see you speak in season.
To death the tortoise fell:
He talked too much: that was the reason.”

“He is speaking of me!” the king thought to himself; and asked the Bodhisatta if it was so.

“Be it you, O great king, or be it another,” replied he, “whosoever talks beyond measure comes by some misery of this kind,” and so he made the thing manifest. And thenceforward the king abstained from talking, and became a man of few words. {2.178}

This discourse ended, the Teacher identified the Jātaka, “Kokālika was the tortoise then, the two famous elders were the two wild geese, Ānanda was the king, and I was his wise adviser.”