Ja 279 Satapattajātaka
The Story about the Woodpecker (3s)

In the present the group of six monks try to prevent others from correcting them in matters of Dhamma and Vinaya. The Buddha tells a story of a youth who collected a thousand pieces of money, and mistaking friends for foes, and foes for friends came into a forest full of thieves.

The Bodhisatta = the elder thief (corajeṭṭhaka).

Keywords: Opinionated, Stubborn, Animals, Birds.

“As the youth upon his way.” [2.264] This story the Teacher told in Jetavana, about Paṇḍuka and Lohita. Of the Group of Six, two – Mettiya and Bhummaja – lived nearby Rājagaha; two, Assaji and Punabbasu, near Kīṭāgiri, and at Jetavana near Sāvatthi the two others, Paṇḍuka and Lohita. They questioned matters laid down in the Dhamma; whoever were their friends and intimates, they would encourage, saying: “You are no worse than these, brother, in birth, lineage, or character; if you give up your opinions, they will have much the better of you,” and by saying this kind of thing they prevented their giving up their opinions, and thus strifes and quarrels and contentions arose.

The monks told this to the Fortunate One. The Fortunate One assembled the monks for that cause, to make explanation; and causing Paṇḍuka and Lohita to be summoned, addressed them, “Is it true, monks, that you really yourselves question certain matters, and prevent people from giving up their opinions?” “Yes,” they replied. “Then,” said he, “your behaviour is like that of the man and the crane,” and he told them a story.

In the past, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born to a certain family in a Kāsi village. When he grew up, instead of earning a livelihood by farming or trade, {2.388} he gathered five hundred robbers, and became their chief, and lived by highway robbery and housebreaking.

Now it so happened that a landowner had given a thousand pieces of money to someone, and died before receiving it back again.

Some time after, his wife lay on her deathbed, and addressing her son, said: “Son, your father gave a thousand pieces of money to a man, and died without getting it back; if I die too, he will not give it to you. Go, while I yet live, get him to fetch it and give it back.”

So the son went, and got the money.

The mother died; but she loved her son so much, that she suddenly reappeared The word implies a creature not born in the natural way, but taking shape without the need of parents. as a jackal on the road by which he was coming. At that time, the robber chief with his band lay by the road in wait to plunder travellers. And when her son had got to the entrance of the wood, the jackal returned again and again, and sought to stay him; saying: “My son, don’t enter the wood! There are robbers there, who will slay you and take your money!” [2.265]

But the man understood not what she meant. “Ill luck!” said he, “here’s a jackal trying to stop my way!” he said; and he drove her off with sticks and clods, and into the wood he went.

And a woodpecker [Rouse translated satapatta as Crane, but this seems to be unattested.] flew towards the robbers, crying out, “Here’s a man with a thousand pieces in his hand! Kill him, and take them!” The young fellow did not know what it was doing, so he thought: “Good luck! Here’s a lucky bird! Now there is a good omen for me!” He saluted respectfully, crying, “Give voice, give voice, my lord!”

The Bodhisatta, who knew the meaning of all sounds, observed what these two did, and thought: “That jackal must be the man’s mother; so she tries to stop him, and tell him that he will be killed and robbed; but the woodpecker must be some adversary, and that is why it says ‘Kill him, and take the money;’ and the man does not know what is happening, {2.389} and drives off his mother, who wishes his welfare, while the woodpecker, who wishes him ill, he worships, under the belief that it is a well-wisher. The man is a fool.”

(Now the Bodhisattas, even though they are great beings, sometimes take the goods of others by being born as wicked men; this they say comes from a fault in the horoscope.)

So the young man went on, and by and by fell in with the robbers. The Bodhisatta caught him, and, “Where do you live?” said he. “In Benares.” “Where have you been?” “There was a thousand pieces due to me in a certain village; and that is where I have been.” “Did you get it?” “Yes, I did.” “Who sent you?”

“Teacher, my father is dead, and my mother is ill; it was she sent me, because she thought I should not get it if she were dead.”

“And do you know what has happened to your mother now?” “No, master.”

“She died after you left; and so much did she love you, that she at once became a jackal, and kept trying to stop you for fear you should get killed. She it was that you scared away. But the woodpecker was an enemy, who came and told us to kill you, and take your money. You are such a fool that you thought your mother was an ill-wisher, when she wished you well, and thought the woodpecker was a well-wisher when it wished ill to you. He did you no good, but your mother was very good to you. Keep your money, and be off!” And he let him go. [2.266]

When the Teacher had finished this discourse, he repeated the following verses:

1. “As the youth upon his way
Thought the jackal of the wood
Was a foe, his path to stay,
While she tried to do him good:
That woodpecker his friend deeming
Which to ruin him was scheming.

2. Such another, who is here,
Has his friends misunderstood;
They can never win his ear
Who advise him for his good. {2.390}

3. He believes when others praise –
Awful terrors prophesying:
As the youth of olden days
Loved the crane above him flying.” The commentator adds the following lines: The friend who robs another without ceasing; He that protests, protests incessantly; The friend who flatters for the sake of pleasing; The boon companion in debauchery; These four the wise as enemies should fear, And keep aloof, if there be danger near. [The verses are from DN. 31.]

When the Teacher had enlarged upon this theme, he identified the Jātaka, “At that time the robber chief was I myself.”