Ja 216 Macchajātaka
The Story about the (Lamenting) Fish (2s)

In the present one monk is wavering because of having thoughts of his former wife. The Buddha tells a story of a fish who was caught, but whose lament over what his wife might think of him saved him from being roasted.

The Bodhisatta = the family priest (purohita),
the dissatisfied monk = the fish (maccha),
his former wife = the fish’s wife (macchī).

Present Source: Ja 102 Paṇṇika,
Quoted at: Ja 216 Maccha.

Keywords: Attachment, Lamentation, Animals, Fish.

“ ’Tis not the fire.” [2.125] This story the Teacher told during a stay in Jetavana, about one who hankered after a former wife. The Teacher asked this monk, “Is it true, monk, what I hear, that you are lovesick?” “Yes, sir.” “For whom?” “For my late wife.” Then the Teacher said to him, “This wife, monk, has been a mischief to you. Long ago by her means you came near being spitted and roasted for food, but wise men saved your life.” Then he told a tale of the past.

In the past, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was his family priest. Some fishermen drew out a fish [Some of the elements of this story have been lost, making it hardly understandable for the moral it puports to illustrate. The story is told better in Ja 34 Macchajātaka, in the first book.] which had got caught in their net, and cast it upon hot sand, saying: “We will cook it in the embers, and eat.” So they sharpened a spit. And the fish fell weeping over his mate, and said these two verses:

1. “ ’Tis not the fire that burns me, nor the spit that hurts me sore;
But the thought my mate may call me a faithless paramour.

2. ’Tis the flame of love that burns me, and fills my heart with pain;
Not death is the due of loving; O fishermen, free me again!” {2.179}

At that moment the Bodhisatta approached the river bank; and hearing the fish’s lament, he went up to the fishermen and made them set the fish at liberty.

This discourse ended, the Teacher declared the Truths and identified the Jātaka, at the conclusion of the Truths the lovesick monk reached the Fruit of the First Path. “The wife was in those days the fish’s mate, the lovesick monk was the fish, and I myself was the family priest.”