Ja 389 Suvaṇṇakakkaṭajātaka
The Story about the Golden Crab (6s)
In the present Ven. Ānanda tries to protect the Buddha when Devadatta sends an elephant to kill him. The Buddha tells a story of how a farmer befriended a crab, and when a crow and a snake conspired to kill the farmer the crab had saved him and killed his enemies.
The Bodhisatta = the brahmin (brāhmaṇa),
Ānanda = the crab (kakkaṭaka),
Māra = the cobra (kaṇhasappa),
Devadatta = the male crow (kāka),
Ciñcamāṇavikā = the female crow (kākī).
Present Source: Ja 533 Cullahaṁsa,
Quoted at: Ja 389 Suvaṇṇakakkaṭa, Ja 501 Rohantamiga, Ja 502 Haṁsa, Ja 534 Mahāhaṁsa.
Keywords: Friendship, Self-sacrifice, Devas, Animals, Birds.
“Gold-clawed creature.” The Teacher told this tale when dwelling in the Bamboo Grove, of Ānanda’s dying for his sake. The occasion is told in the Khaṇḍahālajātaka [Ja 542] about the hiring of bowmen, and in the Cullahaṁsajātaka [Ja 533] [In fact both stories are told at Ja 533. I include them here.]
This was a story told by the Teacher, while dwelling in the Bamboo Grove, as to how the venerable Ānanda renounced his life. For when archers were instigated to slay the Tathāgata, and the first one that was sent by Devadatta on this errand returned and said: “Venerable sir, I cannot deprive the Fortunate One of life: he is possessed of great supernatural powers,” Devadatta replied, “Well, sir, you need not slay the ascetic Gotama. I myself will deprive him of life.” And as the Tathāgata was walking in the shadow cast westward by the Vulture’s Peak, Devadatta climbed to the top of the mountain and hurled a mighty stone as if shot from a catapult, thinking: “With this stone will I slay the ascetic Gotama,” but two mountain peaks meeting together intercepted the stone, and a splinter from it flew up and struck the Fortunate One on the foot and drew blood, and severe pains set in. Jīvaka, cutting open the Tathāgata’s foot with a knife, let out the bad blood and removed the proud flesh, and anointing the wound with medicine, healed it.
The Teacher moved about just as he did before, surrounded by his attendants, with all the great charm of a Buddha. So on seeing him Devadatta thought: “Verily no mortal beholding the excellent beauty of Gotama’s person dare approach him, but the king’s elephant Nāḷāgiri is a fierce and savage animal and knows nothing of the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha. He will bring about the destruction of the ascetic.” So he went and told the matter to the king. The king readily fell in with the suggestion, and, summoning his elephant-keeper, thus addressed him, “Sir, tomorrow you are to make Nāḷāgiri mad with drink, and at break of day to let him loose in the street where the ascetic Gotama walks.” And Devadatta asked the keeper how much arrack the elephant was wont to drink on ordinary days, and when he answered, “Eight pots,” he said: “Tomorrow give him sixteen pots to drink, and send him in the direction of the street frequented by the ascetic Gotama.” “Very good,” said the keeper. The king had a drum beaten throughout the city and proclaimed, “Tomorrow Nāḷāgiri will be maddened with strong drink and let loose in the city. The men of the city are to do all that they have to do in the early morning and after that no one is to venture out into the street.”
And Devadatta came down from the palace and went to the elephant stall and, addressing the keepers, said: “We are able, I tell you, from a high position to degrade a man to a lowly one and to raise a man from a low position to a high one. If you are eager for honour, early tomorrow morning give Nāḷāgiri sixteen pots of fiery liquor, and at the time when the ascetic Gotama comes that way, wound the elephant with spiked goads, and when in his fury he has broken down his stall, drive him in the direction of the street where Gotama is wont to walk, and so bring about the destruction of the ascetic.” They readily agreed to do so.
This rumour was noised abroad throughout the whole city. The lay disciples attached to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha, on hearing it, drew near to the Teacher and said: “Venerable sir, Devadatta has conspired with the king and tomorrow he will have Nāḷāgiri let loose in the street where you walk. Do not go into the city tomorrow for alms but remain here. We will provide food in the monastery for the monastics, with Buddha at their head.” The Teacher without directly saying: “I will not enter the city tomorrow for alms,” answered and said: “Tomorrow I will work a miracle and tame Nāḷāgiri and crush the heretics. And without going around for alms in Rājagaha I will leave the city, attended by a company of the monks, and go straight to the Bamboo Grove, and the people of Rājagaha shall repair there with many a bowl of food and tomorrow there shall be a meal provided in the refectory of the monastery.” In this way did the Teacher grant their request.
And on learning that the Tathāgata had acceded to their wishes, they set out from the city, carrying bowls of food, and saying: “We will distribute our gifts in the monastery itself.” And the Teacher in the first watch taught the Dhamma, in the middle watch he solved hard questions, in the first part of the last watch he lay down lion-like on his right side, and the second part he spent in the Attainment of Fruition, in the third part, entering into a trance of deep pity for the sufferings of humanity, he contemplated all his kinsfolk that were ripe for conversion and seeing that as the result of his conquest of Nāḷāgiri eighty-four thousand beings would be brought to a clear understanding of the Dhamma, at daybreak, after attending to his bodily necessities, he addressed Ānanda and said: “Ānanda, today bid all the monks that are in the eighteen monasteries that are round about Rājagaha to accompany me into the city.” The elder did so, and all the monks assembled at the Bamboo Grove.
The Teacher attended by a great company of monks entered Rājagaha and the elephant-keepers proceeded according to their instructions and there was a great gathering of people. The believers thought: “Today there will be a mighty battle between the Buddha Nāga and this elephant Nāga of the brute world. We shall witness the defeat of Nāḷāgiri by the incomparable skill of the Buddha,” and they climbed up and stood upon the upper storeys and roofs and house-tops. But the unbelieving heretics thought: “Nāḷāgiri is a fierce, savage creature, and knows nothing of the merits of Buddhas and the like. Today he will crush the glorious form of the ascetic Gotama and bring about his death. Today we shall look upon the back of our enemy.” And they took their stand on upper storeys and other high places.
And the elephant, on seeing the Fortunate One approach him, terrified the people by demolishing the houses and raising his trunk he crushed the wagons into powder, and, with his ears and tail erect with excitement, he ran like some towering mountain in the direction of the Fortunate One. On seeing him the monks thus addressed the Fortunate One, “This Nāḷāgiri, venerable sir, a fierce and savage creature, and a slayer of men, is coming along this road. Of a truth he knows nothing of the merit of Buddhas and the like. Let the Fortunate One, the Auspicious One, withdraw.” “Fear not, monks,” he said: “I am able to overcome Nāḷāgiri.” Then the venerable Sāriputta prayed the Teacher, saying: “Venerable sir, when any service has to be rendered to a father, it is a burden laid on his eldest son. I will vanquish this creature.” Then the Teacher said: “Sāriputta, the power of a Buddha is one thing, that of his disciples is another,” and he rejected his offer, saying: “You are to remain here.” This too was the prayer of the eighty chief elders for the most part, but he refused them all.
Then the venerable Ānanda by reason of his strong affection for the Teacher was unable to acquiesce in this and cried, “Let this elephant kill me first,” and he stood before the Teacher, ready to sacrifice his life for the Tathāgata. So the Teacher said to him, “Go away, Ānanda, do not stand in front of me.” The elder said: “Venerable sir, this elephant is fierce and savage, a slayer of men, like the flame at the beginning of a cycle. Let him first slay me and afterwards let him approach you.” And though he was spoken to for the third time, the elder remained in the same spot and did not retire. Then the Fortunate One by the exercise of his Supernormal Powers made him fall back and placed him in the midst of the monks.
At this moment a certain woman, catching sight of Nāḷāgiri, was terrified with the fear of death, and as she fled she dropped her child, which she was carrying on her hip, between the Tathāgata and the elephant and made her escape. The elephant, pursuing the woman, came up to the child, who uttered a loud cry. The Teacher, having spread his special loving-kindness, and uttering the honeyed accents of a voice like that of Brahmā, called to Nāḷāgiri, saying: “Ho! Nāḷāgiri, those that maddened you with sixteen pots of arrack did not do this that you might attack someone else, but acted thus thinking you would attack me. Do not tire out your strength by rushing about aimlessly but come here.”
On hearing the voice of the Teacher he opened his eyes and beheld the glorious form of the Fortunate One, and he became greatly agitated and by the power of Buddha the intoxicating effects of the strong drink passed off. Dropping his trunk and shaking his ears he came and fell down at the feet of the Tathāgata. Then the Teacher addressing him said: “Nāḷāgiri, you are a brute elephant, I am the Buddha elephant. Henceforth be not fierce and savage, nor a slayer of men, but cultivate thoughts of generosity.” So saying he stretched forth his right hand and coaxed the elephant’s forehead and taught the Dhamma to him in these words:
“This elephant should you presume to assail,
An awful doom you would erelong bewail.
To strike this elephant would destine you
To state of suffering in worlds to be.
From mad and foolish recklessness abstain,
The reckless fool to heaven will ne’er attain.
If in the next world you would win heaven’s bliss,
See that you do what is right in this.”
The whole body of the elephant constantly thrilled with joy, and had he not been a mere animal, he would have entered on the fruition of the First Path. The people, on beholding this miracle, shouted and snapped their fingers. In their joy they cast upon him all manner of ornaments and covered therewith all the body of the elephant. Thenceforth Nāḷāgiri was known as Dhanapālaka (keeper of treasure).
Now on the occasion of this encounter with Dhanapālaka eighty-four thousand beings drank the nectar of immortality. And the Teacher established Dhanapālaka in the Five Precepts. With his trunk taking up dust from the feet of the Fortunate One the elephant sprinkled it on his head, and retiring with bent body he stood bowing to the One with Ten Powers as long as he was in sight, and then he turned and entered the elephant stall. Thenceforth he was quite tame and harmed no man.
The Teacher, now that his desire was fulfilled, decided that the treasure should remain the property of those by whom it had been thrown upon the elephant and thinking: “Today I have wrought a great miracle. It is not seemly that I should go my rounds for alms in this city,” and after crushing the heretics, surrounded by a band of the monks, he sallied forth from the city like a victorious warrior chief and made straight for the Bamboo Grove. The citizens, taking with them a quantity of boiled rice, drink, and some solid food, went to the monastery and gave an almsgiving on a grand scale.
Then they began a discussion in the Dhamma Hall, “Sirs, has the elder Ānanda, Treasurer of the Dhamma, who attained to the analytic knowledges of one still in training, given up his life for the Perfect Buddha when Dhanapāla came?” The Teacher came and was told the subject of their discussion: he said: “Monk, in former times also Ānanda gave up his life for me,” and so he told a story of the past.
In the past there was a brahmin village called Sālindiya on the east side of Rājagaha. The Bodhisatta was born there in that village in a brahmin farmer’s family. When he grew up he settled down and worked a farm of a thousand karīsas According to Childers, Pali Dictionary s.v. ammaṇam, this would be about eight thousand acres. in a district of Magadha to the north-east of the village.
One day he had gone to the field with his men, and giving them orders to plough he went to a great pool at the end of the field to wash his face. In that pool there lived a crab of golden hue, beautiful and charming. The Bodhisatta having chewed his toothpick went down into the pool. When he was washing his mouth,
The Bodhisatta came to the field constantly. Now in his eyes were seen the five graces and the three circles very pure. A female crow in a nest on a palm in that corner of the field saw his eyes, and wishing to eat them said to her male crow, “Husband, I have a longing.” “A longing for what?” “I wish to eat the eyes of a certain brahmin.” “Your longing is a bad one: who will be able to get them for you!” “I know that you can’t: but in the ant-hill near our tree there lives a black snake, wait on him, he will bite the brahmin and kill him, then you will tear out his eyes and bring them to me.” He agreed and afterwards waited on the black snake. The crab was grown great at the time when the seed sown by the Bodhisatta was sprouting.
One day the snake said to the crow, “Friend, you are always waiting on me: what can I do for you?” “Sir, your female slave has taken a longing for the eyes of the master of this field, I wait on you in hopes of getting his eyes through your favour.” The snake said: “Well, that is not difficult, you shall get them,” and so encouraged him.
Next day the snake lay waiting for the brahmin’s coming, hidden
1. “Gold-clawed creature with projecting eyes,
Lake-bred, hairless, clad in bony shell,
He has caught me: hear my woeful cries!
Why do you leave a mate that loves you well?”
The snake hearing him, made its hood large and came consoling the crow.
The Teacher explaining the case after Fully Awakening spoke the second verse:
2. “The snake fell on the crab amain, his friend he’d not forsake:
Puffing his mighty hood he came: but the crab turned on the snake.”
The crab being weary then loosed him a little. The snake thinking: “Crabs do not eat the flesh of crows nor of snakes, then for what reason does this one seize us?” in enquiry spoke the third verse:
3. “ ’Tis not for the sake of food
Crabs would seize a snake or crow:
Tell me, you whose eyes protrude,
Why you take and grip us so?”
Hearing him, the crab explaining the reason spoke two verses:
4. “This man took me from the pool,
Great the kindness he has done;
If he dies, my grief is full:
Serpent, he and I are one.
5. Seeing I am grown so great
All would kill me willingly:
Fat and sweet and delicate,
Crows at sight would injure me!”
Hearing him, the snake thought: “By some means I must deceive him and free myself and the crow.” So to deceive him he spoke the sixth verse:
6. “If you have seized us only for his sake,
I’ll take the poison from him: let him rise.
Quick! From the crow and me your pincers take;
Till then the poison’s sinking deep, he dies.”
Hearing him the crab thought: “This one wishes to make me let these two go by some means and then run away, he knows not my skill in device; now I will loosen my claw so that the snake can move, but I will not free the crow,” so he spoke the seventh verse:
7. “I’ll free the snake, but not the crow;
The crow shall be a hostage bound:
Never shall I let him go
Till my friend be safe and sound.”
So saying he loosened his claw to let the snake go at his ease. The snake took away the poison and left the Bodhisatta’s body free from it. He rose up well and stood in his natural hue. The crab thinking: “If these two be well there will be no prosperity for my friend, I will kill them,” crushed both their heads like lotus-buds with his claws and took the life from them. The female crow fled away from the place. The Bodhisatta spiked the snake’s body with a stick and threw it on a bush, let the golden crab go free in the pool, bathed and then went to Sālindiya. From that time there was still greater friendship between him and the crab.
The lesson ended, the Teacher declared the Truths, and identifying the Jātaka spoke the last verse:
8. “Māra, was the dusky serpent, Devadatta was the crow,
Good Ānanda was the crab, and I the brahmin long ago.”
At the end of the Truths many reached the First Path and the other Paths. The female crow was Ciñcamāṇavikā, though this is not mentioned in the last verse.
last updated: November 2021