Ja 399 Gijjhajātaka
The Story about the Vulture (who Supported his Mother) (7s)

Alternative Title: Mātuposakagijjhajātaka (Cst)

In the present one monk supports his parents. When the Buddha finds out he tells a story of a vulture who supported his parents, and when caught by a hunter lamented their loss, not his own. The hunter, astonished at his virtue, set him free.

The Bodhisatta = the king of the vultures (gijjharājā),
Channa = the hunter’s son (nesādaputta),
members of the royal family = the mother and father (mātāpitaro).

Present Source: Ja 540 Sāma,
Quoted at: Ja 164 Gijjha, Ja 398 Sutano, Ja 399 Gijjha, Ja 455 Mātiposaka, Ja 484 Sālikedāra, Ja 513 Jayaddisa, Ja 532 Sonananda.

Keywords: Filial piety, Virtue, Animals, Birds.

“How will the old folks.” [3.204] The Teacher told this when dwelling in Jetavana, concerning a monk who supported his mother.

They say that there was a wealthy merchant at Sāvatthi, who was worth eighteen crores; and he had a son who was very dear and winning to his father and mother. One day the youth went upon the terrace of the house, and opened a window and looked down on the street; and when he saw the great crowd going to Jetavana with perfumes and garlands in their hands to hear the Dhamma preached, he exclaimed that he would go too.

So having ordered perfumes and garlands to be brought, he went to the monastery, and having distributed robes, medicines, drinks, etc. to the assembly and honoured the Fortunate One with perfumes and garlands, he sat down on one side. After hearing the Dhamma, and perceiving the evil consequences of desire and the blessings arising from adopting the ascetic life, when the assembly broke up he asked the Fortunate One for ordination, but he was told that the Tathāgatas do not ordain anyone who has not obtained the permission of his parents; so he went away, and lived a week without food, and having at last obtained his parents’ consent, he returned and begged for ordination. The Teacher sent a monk who ordained him; and after he was ordained he obtained great honour and gain; he won the favour of his teachers and preceptors, and having received full orders he mastered the Dhamma in five years.

Then he thought to himself, “I live here distracted – it is not suitable for me,” and he became anxious to reach the goal of spiritual insight; so having obtained instruction in meditation from his teacher, he departed to a frontier village and dwelt in the forest, and there having entered a course of insight, however much he laboured and strove for twelve years, he failed to attain any special insight.

His parents also, as time went on, became poor, for those who hired their land or carried on merchandise for them, finding out that there was no son or brother in the family to enforce the payment, seized what they could lay their hands upon and ran away as they pleased, and the servants and labourers in the house seized the gold and coin and made off therewith, so that at the end the two were reduced to an evil plight and had not even a jug for pouring water; and at last they sold their dwelling, and finding themselves homeless, and in extreme misery, they wandered begging for alms, clothed in rags and carrying potsherds in their hands.

Now at that time a monk came from Jetavana to the son’s place of abode; he performed the duties of hospitality and, as he sat quietly, he first asked whence he was come; and learning that he was come from Jetavana he asked after the health of the Teacher and the principal disciples and then asked for news of his parents, “Tell me, sir, about the welfare of such and such a merchant’s family in Sāvatthi.” “O friend, don’t ask for news of that family.” “Why not, sir?” “They say that there was one son in that family, but he has become an ascetic in this dispensation, and since he left the world that family has gone to ruin; and at the present time the two old people are reduced to a most lamentable state and beg for alms.”

When he heard the other’s words he could not remain unmoved, but began to weep with his eyes full of tears, and when the other asked him why he wept, “O sir,” he replied, “they are my own father and mother, I am their son.” “O friend, your father and mother have come to ruin through you – do you go and take care of them.” “For twelve years,” he thought to himself, “I have laboured and striven but never been able to attain the Path or the Fruit; I must be incompetent; what have I to do with the ascetic life? I will become a householder and will support my parents and give away my wealth, and will thus eventually become destined for heaven.”

So having determined he gave up his abode in the forest to the elder, and the next day departed and by successive stages reached the monastery at the back of Jetavana which is not far from Sāvatthi. There he found two roads, one leading to Jetavana, the other to Sāvatthi. As he stood there, he thought: “Shall I see my parents first or the One with Ten Powers?” Then he said to himself, “In old days I saw my parents for a long time, from henceforth I shall rarely have the chance of seeing the Buddha; I will see the Fully Awakened One today and hear the Dhamma, and then tomorrow morning I will see my parents.” So he left the road to Sāvatthi and in the evening arrived at Jetavana.

Now that very day at daybreak, the Teacher, as he looked upon the world, had seen the potentialities of this young man, and when he came to visit him he praised the virtues of parents in the Mātiposakasutta [SN 7.19]. As he stood at the end of the assembly of elders and listened, he thought: “If I become a householder I can support my parents; but the Teacher also says, ‘A son who has become an ascetic can be helpful,’ I went away before without seeing the Teacher, and I failed in such an imperfect ordination; I will now support my parents while still remaining an ascetic without becoming a householder.” So he took his ticket and his ticket-food and gruel, and felt as if he had committed a wrong deserving expulsion after a solitary abode of twelve years in the forest. In the morning he went to Sāvatthi and he thought to himself, “Shall I first get the gruel or see my parents?” He reflected that it would not be right to visit them in their poverty empty-handed; so he first got the gruel and then went to the door of their old house.

When he saw them sitting by the opposite wall after having gone their round for the alms given in broth, he stood not far from them in a sudden burst of sorrow with his eyes full of tears. They saw him but knew him not; then his mother, thinking that it was someone standing for alms, said to him, “We have nothing fit to be given to you, be pleased to pass on.” When he heard her, he repressed the grief which filled his heart and remained still standing as before with his eyes full of tears, and when he was addressed a second and a third time he still continued standing.

At last the father said to the mother, “Go to him; can this be your son?” She rose and went to him and, recognising him, fell at his feet and lamented, and the father also joined his lamentations, and there was a loud outburst of sorrow. To see his parents he could not control himself, but burst into tears; then, after yielding to his feelings, he said: “Do not grieve, I will support you,” so having comforted them and made them drink some gruel, and sit down on one side, he went again and begged for some food and gave it to them, and then went and asked for alms for himself, and having finished his meal, took up his abode at a short distance off.

From that day forward he watched over his parents in this manner; he gave them all the alms he received for himself, even those at the fortnightly distributions, and he went on separate expeditions for his own alms, and ate them; and whatever food he received as provision for the rainy season he gave to them, while he took their worn-out garments and dyed them with the doors fast closed and used them himself; but the days were few when he gained alms and there were many when he failed to win anything, and his inner and outer clothing became very rough.

As he watched over his parents he gradually grew very pale and thin and his friends and intimates said to him, “Your complexion used to be bright, but now you have become very pale – has some illness come upon you?” He replied, “No illness has come upon me, but a hindrance has befallen me,” and he told them the history. “Sir,” they replied, “the Teacher does not allow us to waste the offerings of the faithful, you do an unlawful act in giving to laymen the offerings of the faithful.” When he heard this he shrank away ashamed.

But not satisfied with this they went and told it to the Teacher, saying: “So and so, sir, has wasted the offerings of the faithful and used them to feed laymen.” The Teacher sent for the young man of family and said to him, “Is it true that you, an ascetic, take the offerings of the faithful and support laymen with them?” He confessed that it was true. Then the Teacher, wishing to praise what he had done and to declare an old action of his own, said: “When you support laymen whom do you support?” “My parents,” he answered. Then the Teacher, wishing to encourage him still more said: “Well done, well done,” three times, “You are in a path which I have traversed before you; I in old time, while going the round for alms, supported my parents.” The ascetic was encouraged thereby. At the request of the monks the Teacher, to make known his former actions, told them a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born of a vulture. When he grew up he put his parents, now old and dim of eye, in a vulture’s cave and fed them by bringing them flesh of cows and the like. At the time a certain hunter laid snares for vultures all about a Benares cemetery. One day the Bodhisatta seeking for flesh came to the cemetery and caught his foot in the snares. He did not think of himself, but remembered his old parents. “How will my parents live now? I think they will die, ignorant that I am caught, helpless and destitute, wasting away in that hill-cave,” so lamenting he spoke the first verse;

1. “How will the old folks manage now within the mountain cave?
For I am fastened in a snare, cruel Nilīya’s slave.” {3.331}

The son of a hunter, hearing him lament, spoke the second verse, the vulture spoke the third, and so on alternately;

2. “Vulture, what strange laments of yours are these my ears that reach?
I never heard or saw a bird that uttered human speech.”

3. “I tend my aged parents within a mountain cave,
How will the old folks manage now that I’ve become your slave?”

4. “Carrion a vulture sights across a hundred leagues of land;
Why do you fail to see a snare and net so close at hand?”

5. “When ruin comes upon a man, and fates his death demand,
He fails to see a snare or net although so close at hand.”

6. “Go, tend your aged parents within their mountain cave,
Go, visit them in peace, you have from me the leave you crave.”

7. “O hunter, happiness be thine, with all your kith and kin;
I’ll tend my aged parents their mountain cave within.”

Then the Bodhisatta, freed from the fear of death, joyfully gave thanks and speaking a final verse took his mouthful of meat, and went away and gave it to his parents.

After the lesson, the Teacher declared the Truths and identified the Jātaka, After the Truths, the monk was established in the fruition of the First Path. {3.332} “At that time, the hunter was Channa, the parents were king’s kin, the vulture-king myself.”