Ja 364 Khajjopanakajātaka
The Story about the Firefly (5s)

Alternative Title: Devatāpucchitapañhā (Comm)

The Devas who lived in the king’s parasol asked the king four questions, and he agreed to ask his brahmin seers, but they did not know the answers. Only the wise Mahosadha could answer correctly.

The Bodhisatta = (paṇḍita) Mahosadha.

Past Source: Ja 546 Mahā-ummagga,
Quoted at: Ja 364 Khajjopanaka.

Keywords: Wisdom, Clever answers.

This question about a fire-fly will be set forth in full in the Mahā-ummagga [Ja 546].

Now the deity that dwelt in the royal parasol no longer hearing the voice of the Bodhisatta’s discourse wondered what might be the cause, and when she had found it out determined to bring the sage back. So at night she appeared through a hole in the circuit of the parasol, and asked the king four questions... The king could not answer, and said so, but offered to ask his wise men, asking a day’s delay.

Next day he sent a message summoning them, but they replied, “We are ashamed to show ourselves in the street, shaven as we are.” So he sent them four skullcaps to wear on their heads. (That is the origin of these caps, so they say.) Then they came, and sat where they were invited to go, and the king said: “Senaka, last night the deity that dwells in my parasol asked me four questions, which I could not solve but I said I would ask my wise men. Pray solve them for me.” And then he recited the first verse:

1. “He strikes with hands and feet, and beats on the face; yet, O king, he is dear, and grows dearer than a husband.”

Senaka stammered out whatever came first, “Strikes how, strikes whom,” and could make neither head nor tail of it; the others were all dumb. The king was full of distress. When again at night the Devatā asked whether he had found out the riddle, he said: “I asked my four wise men, and not even they could say.” She replied, “What do they know? Save wise Mahosadha there is none can solve it. If you do not send for him and get him to solve these questions, I will cleave your head with this fiery blade.” After thus frightening him she went on, “O king, when you want fire don’t blow on a firefly, and when you want milk don’t milk a horn.” Then she repeated the Firefly Question of the Fifth Book:

2. “When light is extinguished, who that goes in search of fire ever thinks a firefly to be fire, if he sees it at night?

3. If he crumbles over it cow-dung and grass, it is a foolish idea; he cannot make it burn. So also a beast gets no benefit by wrong means, if it milks a cow by the horn where milk will not flow.

4. By many means men obtain benefit, by punishment of enemies and kindness shown to friends.

5. By winning over the chiefs of the army, and by the counsel of friends, the lords of the earth possess the earth and the fulness thereof.”

“They are not like you, blowing at a firefly in the belief that it is a fire: you are like one blowing at a firefly when fire is at hand, like one who throws down the balance and weighs with the hand, like one who wants milk and milks the horn, when you ask deep questions of Senaka and the like of him. What do they know? Like fireflies are they, like a great flaming fire is Mahosadha blazing with wisdom. If you do not find out this question, you are a dead man.” Having thus terrified the king, she disappeared.