Ja 345 Gajakumbhajātaka
The Story about the (Lazy) Tortoise (4s)

In the present one monk is very lazy and lax regarding his duties. The Buddha tells a story of the time he advised a king how a tortoise’s laziness could cause its demise, leading the king to become more diligent.

The Bodhisatta = the wise minister (paṇḍitāmacca),
the lazy monk = the tortoise (rājakumbha).

Keywords: Sloth, Laziness, Animals.

“Should a flame sweep.” This story was told by the Teacher at Jetavana, concerning a slothful monk. He was, it was said, of gentle birth and lived at Sāvatthi. And after giving his heart to the dispensation and taking ordination, he became slothful, and as regards questioning, enquiring, devotion and the round of monastic duties, he did not fully enter into them, being overcome by his hindrances, and was always to be found at public lounging-places.

The monks discussed his sloth in the Dhamma Hall, saying: “Such a one, sirs, after taking ordination in so excellent a dispensation that leads to safety, is continually slothful and indolent, and overcome by his hindrances.” {3.140} When the Teacher came and inquired what the monks were assembled to discuss, on being told what it was, he said: “Not only now, monks, but formerly too was he slothful.” And so saying he told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta became his valued minister. The king of Benares was of a slothful disposition, and the Bodhisatta went about considering some means to rouse the king. Now one day the king went to his garden, accompanied by his minister, and while wandering about there he espied a slothful tortoise. Lazy creatures like these, they say, though they are in motion a whole day, move only just an inch or two. [3.93]

The king on seeing it asked, saying: “Friend, what is its name?”

The Bodhisatta answered, “The creature is called a tortoise, great king; and is so lazy that though it is in motion all day, it only moves just an inch or two.” And addressing it he said: “Ho! Sir tortoise, yours is a slow motion. Supposing a conflagration arose in the forest, what would you do?” And herewith he spoke the first verse:

1. “Should a flame sweep through the grove,
Leaving blackened path behind,
How, sir waddler, slow to move,
Way of safety could you find?”

The tortoise on hearing this repeated the second verse:

2. “Holes on every side abound,
Chinks there be in every tree,
Here a refuge will be found
Or an end of us ’twill be.” {3.141}

On hearing this the Bodhisatta gave utterance to two verses:

3. “Whoso does hurry when he ought to rest,
And tarries long when utmost speed is best,
Destroys the slender fabric of his weal,
As withered leaf is crushed beneath the heel.

4. But they who wait betimes nor haste too soon,
Fulfil their purpose, as her orb the moon.”

The king, hearing the words of the Bodhisatta, thenceforth was no longer indolent.

The Teacher, having ended his lesson, identified the Jātaka, “At that time the slothful monk was the tortoise, and I myself was the wise councillor.”