Ja 407 Mahākapijātaka This story is figured in Cunningham’s Stūpa of Bharhut, plate xxxiii, fig. 4 (explained by Mr. Tawney in Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for August, 1891). cf. Jātakamālā, no. 27 (The Great Monkey).
The Story about the Great Monkey (7s)
In the present the Sākiyans deceive the king of Kosala and send him the daughter of a slave girl as his new queen. When the son of this arrangement finds out he determines to destroy the clan. The Buddha tries to save them, but in the end he cannot. The Buddha then tells a story of how a great monkey-king laid down his life to save his troop.
The Bodhisatta = the king of the monkeys (kapirājā),
the Buddha’s disciples = his followers (parisa),
Devadatta = the corrupt monkey (duṭṭhakapi).
Present Source: Ja 465 Bhaddasālajātaka,
Compare: Ja 7 Kaṭṭhahārijātaka, Dhp-a IV.3 Viḍūḍabha,
Quoted at: Ja 22 Kukkurajātaka, Ja 407 Mahākapijātaka,
Past Compare: Jm 27 Mahākapi.
Keywords: Self-sacrifice, Leadership.
“You made yourself.”
At Sāvatthi in the house of Anāthapiṇḍika there was always unfailing food for five hundred monks, and the same with Visākhā and the king of Kosala. But in the king’s palace, various and fine as was the fare given, no one was friendly to the monks. The result was that the monks never ate in the palace, but they took their food and went off to eat it at the house of Anāthapiṇḍika or Visākhā or some other of their trusted friends.
One day the king said: “A present has been brought; take this to the monks,” and sent it to the refectory. An answer was brought that no monks were there in the refectory. “Where are they gone?” he asked. They were sitting in their friends’ houses to eat, was the reply. So the king after his morning meal came into the Teacher’s presence, and asked him, “Good sir, what is the best kind of food?” “The food of friendship is the best, great king,” said he, “even sour rice-gruel given by a friend becomes sweet.” “Well, sir, and with whom do the monks find friendship?” “With their kindred, great king, or with the Sakya families.” Then the king thought, what if he were to make a Sakya girl his queen-consort; then the monks would be his friends, as it were with their own kindred.
So rising from his seat, he returned to the palace, and sent a message to Kapilavatthu to this effect, “Please give me one of your daughters in marriage, for I wish to become connected with your family.” On receipt of this message the Sakyas gathered together and deliberated. “We live in a place subject to the authority of the king of Kosala; if we refuse a daughter, he will be very angry, and if we give her, the custom of our clan will be broken. What are we to do?” Then Mahānāma said to them, “Do not trouble about it. I have a daughter, named Vāsabhakhattiyā. Her mother is a slave woman, Nāgamuṇḍā by name; she is some sixteen years of age, of great beauty and auspicious prospects, and by her father’s side noble. We will send her, as a girl nobly born.” The Sakyas agreed, and sent for the messengers, and said they were willing to give a daughter of the clan, and that they might take her with them at once. But the messengers reflected: “These Sakyas are desperately proud, in matters of birth. Suppose they should send a girl who was not of them, and say that she was so? We will take none but one who eats along with them.” So they replied, “Well, we will take her, but we will take one who eats along with you.”
The Sakyas assigned a lodging for the messengers, and then wondered what to do. Mahānāma said: “Now do not trouble about it; I will find a way. At my mealtime bring in Vāsabhakhattiyā dressed up in her finery; then just as I have taken one mouthful, produce a letter, and say, ‘My lord, such a king has sent you a letter; be pleased to hear his message at once.’ ”
They agreed; and as he was taking his meal they dressed and adorned the maid. “Bring my daughter,” said Mahānāma, “and let her take food with me.” “In a moment,” they said, “as soon as she is properly adorned,” and after a short delay they brought her in. Expecting to take food with her father, she dipped her hand into the same dish. Mahānāma had taken one mouthful with her, and put it in his mouth; but just as he stretched out his hand for another, they brought him a letter, saying: “My lord, such a king has sent a letter to you; be pleased to hear his message at once.” Said Mahānāma, “Go on with your meal, my dear,” and holding his right hand in the dish, with his left took the letter and looked at it. As he examined the message the maiden went on eating. When she had eaten, he washed his hand and rinsed out his mouth. The messengers were firmly convinced that she was his daughter, for they did not divine the secret.
So Mahānāma sent away his daughter in great pomp. The messengers brought her to Sāvatthi, and said that this maiden was the true-born daughter of Mahānāma. The king was pleased, and caused the whole city to be decorated, and placed her upon a pile of treasure, and by a ceremonial sprinkling made her his chief queen. She was dear to the king, and beloved.
In a short time the queen conceived, and the king caused the proper treatment to be used; and at the end of ten months, she brought forth a son whose colour was a golden brown. On the day of his naming, the king sent a message to his grandmother, saying: “A son has been born to Vāsabhakhattiyā, daughter of the Sakya king; what shall his name be?” Now the courtier who was charged with this message was slightly deaf; but he went and told the king’s grandmother. When she heard it, she said: “Even when Vāsabhakhattiyā had never borne a son, she was more than all the world; and now she will be the king’s darling.” The deaf man did not hear the word, “darling” aright, but thought she said: “Viḍūḍabha,” so back he went to the king, and told him that he was to name the prince Viḍūḍabha. This, the king thought, must be some ancient family name, and so named him Viḍūḍabha. After this the prince grew up and was treated as a prince should be.
When he was at the age of seven years, having observed how the other princes received presents of toy elephants and horses and other toys from the family of their mothers’ fathers, the lad said to his mother, “Mother, the rest of them get presents from their mothers’ family, but no one sends me anything. Are you an orphan?” Then she replied, “My boy, your grandfathers are the Sakya kings, but they live a long way off, and that is why they send you nothing.” Again when he was sixteen, he said: “Mother, I want to see your father’s family.” “Don’t speak of it, child,” she said. “What will you do when you get there?” But though she put him off, he asked her again and again. At last his mother said: “Well, go then.” So the lad got his father’s consent, and set out with a number of followers. Vāsabhakhattiyā sent on a letter before him to this effect, “I am living here happily; let not my masters tell him anything of the secret.” But the Sakyas, on hearing of the coming of Viḍūḍabha, sent off all their young children into the country. “It is impossible,” they said, “to receive him with respect.”
When the prince arrived at Kapilavatthu, the Sakyas had assembled in the royal rest-house. The prince approached the rest house, and waited. Then they said to him, “This is your mother’s father, this is her brother,” pointing them out. He walked from one to the other, saluting them. But although he bowed to them till his back ached, not one of them vouchsafed a greeting; so he asked, “Why is it that none of you greet me?” The Sakyas replied, “My dear, the youngest princes are all in the country,” then they entertained him grandly.
After a few days stay, he set out for home with all his retinue. Just then a slave woman washed the seat which he had used in the rest house with milk-water, saying insultingly, “Here’s the seat where sat the son of Vāsabhakhattiyā, the slave girl!” A man who had left his spear behind was just fetching it, when he overheard the abuse of prince Viḍūḍabha. He asked what it meant. He was told that Vāsabhakhattiyā was born of a slave to Mahānāma the Sakya. This he told to the soldiers; a great uproar arose, all shouting, “Vāsabhakhattiyā is a slave woman’s daughter, so they say!” The prince heard it. “Yes,” he thought, “let them pour milk-water over the seat I sat in, to wash it! When I am king, I will wash the place with the blood of the hearts!”
When he returned to Sāvatthi, the courtiers told the whole matter to the king. The king was enraged against the Sakyas for giving him a slave’s daughter to marry. He cut off all allowances made to Vāsabhakhattiyā and her son, and gave them only what is proper to be given to slave men and women.
Some few days later the Teacher came to the palace, and took a seat. The king approached him, and with a greeting said: “Sir, I am told that your clansmen gave me a slave’s daughter to marry. I have cut off their allowances, mother and son, and grant them only what slaves would get.” Said the Teacher, “The Sakyas have done wrong, O great king! If they gave any one, they ought to have given a girl of their own blood. But, O king, this I say; Vāsabhakhattiyā is a king’s daughter, and in the house of a noble king she has received the ceremonial sprinkling; Viḍūḍabha too was begotten by a noble king. Wise men of old have said, what matters the mother’s birth? The birth of the father is the measure; and to a poor wife, a picker of sticks, they gave the position of queen consort; and the son born of her obtained the sovereignty of Benares, twelve leagues in extent, and became king Kaṭṭhavāhana, the wood-carrier,” whereupon he told him the story of the Kaṭṭhahārijātaka [Ja 7].
When the king heard this speech he was pleased; and saying to himself, “The father’s birth is the measure of the man,” he again gave mother and son the treatment suited to them.
Now the king’s commander-in-chief was a man named Bandhula. His wife, Mallikā, was barren, and he sent her away to Kusināra, telling her to return to her own family. “I will go,” said she, “when I have saluted the Teacher.” She went to Jetavana, and greeting the Tathāgata stood waiting on one side. “Where are you going?” he asked. She replied, “My husband has sent me home, sir.” “Why?” asked the Teacher. “I am barren, sir, I have no son.” “If that is all,” said he, “there is no reason why you should go. Return.” She was much pleased, and saluting the Teacher went home again. Her husband asked her why she had come back. She answered, “The One with Ten Powers sent me back, my lord.” “Then,” said the commander-in-chief, “the Tathāgata must have seen good reason.” The woman soon after conceived, and when her cravings began, told him of it. “What is it you want?” he asked. “My lord,” said she, “I desire to go and bathe and drink the water of the tank in Vesāli City where the families of the kings get water for the ceremonial sprinkling.” The commander-in-chief promised to try. Seizing his bow, strong as a thousand bows, he put his wife in a chariot, and left Sāvatthi, and drove his chariot to Vesālī.
Now at this time there lived close to the gate a Licchavi named Mahāli, who had been educated by the same teacher as the king of Kosala’s general, Bandhula. This man was blind, and used to advise the Licchavis on all matters temporal and spiritual. Hearing the clatter of the chariot as it went over the threshold, he said: “The noise of the chariot of Bandhula the Mallian! This day there will be fear for the Licchavis!” By the tank there was set a strong guard, within and without; above it was spread an iron net; not even a bird could find room to get through. But the general, dismounting from his carriage, put the guards to flight with the blows of his sword, and burst through the iron network, and in the tank bathed his wife and gave her to drink of the water; then after bathing himself, he set Mallikā in the chariot, and left the town, and went back by the way he came.
The guards went and told all to the Licchavis. Then were the kings of the Licchavis angry; and five hundred of them, mounted in five hundred chariots, departed to capture Bandhula the Mallian. They informed Mahāli of it, and he said: “Go not! For he will slay you all.” But they said: “Nay, but we will go.” “Then if you come to a place where a wheel has sunk up to the nave, you must return. If you return not then, return back from that place when you hear the noise of a thunderbolt. If then you turn not, turn back from that place where you shall see a hole in front of your chariots. Go no further!” But they did not turn back according to his word, but pursued on and on.
Mallikā espied them and said: “There are chariots in sight, my lord.” “Then tell me,” said he, “when they all look like one chariot.” When they all in a line looked like one, she said: “My lord, I see as it were the head of one chariot.” “Take the reins, then,” said he, and gave the reins into her hand; he stood upright in the chariot, and strung his bow. The chariot-wheel sank into the earth nave-deep. The Licchavis came to the place, and saw it, but turned not back. The other went on a little further, and twanged the bow string; then came a noise as the noise of a thunderbolt, yet even then they turned not, but pursued on and on. Bandhula stood up in the chariot and sped a shaft, and it cleft the heads of all the five hundred chariots, and passed right through the five hundred kings in the place where the girdle is fastened, and then buried itself in the earth. As they did not perceive that they were wounded they pursued still, shouting, “Stop, holloa, stop!” Bandhula stopped his chariot, and said: “You are dead men, and I cannot fight with the dead.” “What!” they said, “dead, such as we now are?” “Loose the girdle of the first man,” said Bandhula.
They loosed his girdle, and at the instant the girdle was loosed, he fell dead. Then he said to them, “You are all of you in the same condition; go to your homes, and set in order what should be ordered, and give your directions to your wives and families, and then doff your armour.” They did so, and then all of them gave up the ghost.
And Bandhula conveyed Mallikā to Sāvatthi. She bore twin sons sixteen times in succession, and they were all mighty men and heroes, and became perfected in all manner of accomplishments. Each one of them had a thousand men to attend him, and when they went with their father to wait on the king, they alone filled the courtyard of the palace to overflowing.
One day some men who had been defeated in court on a false charge, seeing Bandhula approach, raised a great outcry, and informed him that the judges of the court had supported a false charge. So Bandhula went into the court, and judged the case, and gave each man his own. The crowd uttered loud shouts of applause. The king asked what it meant, and on hearing was much pleased; all those officers he sent away, and gave Bandhula charge of the judgement court, and thenceforward he judged aright. Then the former judges became poor, because they no longer received bribes, and they slandered Bandhula in the king’s ear, accusing him of aiming at the kingdom himself. The king listened to their words, and could not control his suspicions. “But,” he reflected, “if he be slain here, I shall be blamed.” He instigated certain men to harry the frontier districts; then sending for Bandhula, he said: “The borders are in a blaze; go with your sons and capture the brigands.” With him he also sent other men sufficient, mighty men of war, with instructions to kill him and his two-and-thirty sons, and cut off their heads, and bring them back.
While he was yet on the way, the hired brigands got wind of the general’s coming, and took to flight. He settled the people of that district in their homes, and quieted the province, and set out for home. Then when he was not far from the city, those warriors cut off his head and the heads of his sons.
On that day Mallikā had sent an invitation to the two chief disciples along with five hundred of the monks. Early in the forenoon a letter was brought to her, with news that her husband and sons had lost their heads. When she heard this, without a word to a soul, she tucked the letter in her dress, and waited upon the company of the monks. Her attendants had given rice to the monks, when bringing in a bowl of ghee they happened to break the bowl just in front of the elders. Then the Captain of the Dhamma said: “Pots are made to be broken; do not trouble about it.” The lady produced her letter from the fold of her dress, saying: “Here I have a letter informing me that my husband and his two-and-thirty sons have been beheaded. If I do not trouble about that, am I likely to trouble when a bowl is broken?” The Captain of the Dhamma now began, “Unseen, unknown,” and so forth, then rising from his seat uttered a discourse [Sallasutta, Snp 3.8], and went home.
She summoned her two-and-thirty daughters-in-law, and to them said: “Your husbands, though innocent, have reaped the fruit of their former deeds. Do not you grieve, nor commit a wrong worse even than the king’s.” This was her advice. The king’s spies hearing this speech brought word to him that they were not angry. Then the king was distressed, and went to her dwelling, and craving pardon of Mallikā and her sons’ wives, offered a boon. She replied, “Be it accepted.” She set out the funeral feast, and bathed, and then went before the king. “My lord,” said she, “you granted me a boon. I want nothing but this, that you permit my two-and-thirty daughters-in-law and me to go back to our own homes.” The king consented. Each of her two-and-thirty sons’ wives she sent away to her home, and herself returned to the home of her family in the city of Kusināra. And the king gave the post of commander-in-chief to one Dīghakārāyana, sister’s son to the general Bandhula. But he went about picking faults in the king and saying: “He murdered my uncle.”
Ever after the murder of the innocent Bandhula the king was devoured by remorse, and had no peace of mind, felt no joy in being king.
At that time the Teacher dwelt near a country town of the Sakyas, named Uḷumpa. There went the king, pitched a camp not far from the park, and with a few attendants went to the monastery to salute the Teacher. The five symbols of royalty he handed to Kārāyana, and alone entered the Perfumed Chamber. All that followed must be described as in the Dhammacetiyasutta [MN 89]. When he entered the Perfumed Chamber, Kārāyana took those symbols of royalty, and made Viḍūḍabha king; and leaving behind for the king one horse and a serving woman, he went to Sāvatthi.
After a pleasant conversation with the Teacher, the king on his return saw no army. He enquired of the woman, and learned what had been done. Then set out for the city of Rājagaha, resolved to take his nephew with him, and capture Viḍūḍabha. It was late when he came to the city, and the gates were shut; and lying down in a shed, exhausted by exposure to wind and sun, he died there.
When the night began to grow brighter, the woman began to wail, “My lord, the king of Kosala is past help!” The sound was heard, and news came to the king. He performed the obsequies of his uncle with great magnificence.
Viḍūḍabha once firmly established on the throne remembered that grudge of his, and determined to destroy the Sakyas one and all; to which end he set out with a large army. That day at dawn the Teacher, looking forth over the world, saw destruction threatening his kin. “I must help my kindred,” thought he. In the forenoon he went in search of alms, then after returning from his meal lay down lion-like in his Perfumed Chamber, and in the evening-time, having past through the air to a spot near Kapilavatthu, sat beneath a tree that gave scanty shade. Hard by that place, a huge and shady banyan tree stood on the boundary of Viḍūḍabha’s realms. Viḍūḍabha seeing the Teacher approached and saluting him, said: “Why, sir, are you sitting under so thin a tree in all this heat? Sit beneath this shady banyan, sir.” He replied, “Let be, O king! The shade of my kindred keeps me cool.” “The Teacher,” thought the other, “must have come here to protect his clansmen.” So he saluted the Teacher, and returned again to Sāvatthi. And the Teacher rising went to Jetavana.
A second and a third time the king called to mind his grudge against the Sakyas, a second and a third time he set forth, and again saw the Teacher seated in the same place, then again returned.
A fourth time he set out; and the Teacher, scanning the former deeds of the Sakyas, perceived that nothing could do away with the effect of their evildoing, in casting poison into the river; so he did not go there the fourth time. Then king Viḍūḍabha slew all the Sakyas, beginning with babes at the breast, and with the blood of the hearts washed the bench, and returned.
The monks began talking in the Dhamma Hall, saying: “The supreme Buddha does good works towards his relatives.”
In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a monkey’s womb. When he grew up and attained stature and stoutness, he was strong and vigorous, and lived in the Himālayas with a retinue of eighty thousand monkeys. Near the Ganges bank there was a mango tree (others say it was a banyan), with branches and forks, having a deep shade and thick leaves, like a mountaintop. Its sweet fruits, of divine fragrance and flavour, were as large as waterpots; from one branch the fruits fell on the ground, from one into the Ganges water, from two into the main trunk of the tree. The Bodhisatta, while eating the fruit with a troop of monkeys, thought: “Someday danger will come upon us owing to the fruit of this tree falling on the water,” and so, not to leave one fruit on the branch which grew over the water, he made them eat or throw down the flowers at their season from the time they were of the size of a chick-pea. But notwithstanding, one ripe fruit, unseen by the eighty thousand monkeys, hidden by an ant’s nest, fell into the river, and stuck in the net above the king of Benares, who was bathing for amusement with a net above him and another below.
When the king had amused himself all day and was going away in the evening, the fishermen, who were drawing the net, saw the fruit and not knowing what it was, showed it to the king. The king asked, “What is this fruit?” “We do not know, sire.” “Who will know?” “The foresters, sire.” He had the foresters called, and learning from them that it was a mango, he cut it with a knife, and first making the foresters eat of it, he ate of it himself
Possessed by desire of the flavour, he asked the foresters where that tree stood, and hearing that it was on a river bank in the
When the men had fallen asleep, the Bodhisatta came at midnight with his retinue. Eighty thousand monkeys moving from branch to branch ate the mangoes. The king, waking and seeing the herd of monkeys, roused his men and calling his archers said: “Surround these monkeys that eat the mangoes so that they may not escape, and shoot them; tomorrow we will eat mangoes with monkey’s flesh.” The archers obeyed, saying: “Very well,” and surrounding the tree stood with arrows ready. The monkeys seeing them and fearing death, as they could not escape, came to the Bodhisatta and said: “Sire, the archers stand round the tree, saying: “We will shoot those vagrant monkeys,” what are we to do?” and so stood shivering. The Bodhisatta said: “Do not fear, I will give you life,” and so comforting the herd of monkeys, he ascended a branch that rose up straight, went along another branch that stretched towards the Ganges, and springing from the end of it, he passed a hundred bow-lengths and lighted on a bush on the bank. From the figure on the Bharhut Stūpa, it appears that he jumped across the Ganges. Coming down, he marked the distance, saying: “That will be the distance I have come,”
From not reckoning the part fastened to his waist, he failed to reach the tree; so seizing a branch firmly with both hands he gave signal to the troop of monkeys, “Go quickly with good luck, treading on my back along the bamboo shoot.” The eighty thousand monkeys escaped thus, after saluting the Bodhisatta and getting his leave. Devadatta was then a monkey and among that herd; he said: “This is a chance for me to see the last of my enemy,” so climbing up a branch he made a spring and fell on the Bodhisatta’s back. The Bodhisatta’s heart broke and great pain came on him. Devadatta having caused that maddening pain went away; and the Bodhisatta was alone.
The king being awake saw all that was done by the monkeys and the Bodhisatta; and he lay down thinking: “This animal, not reckoning his own life, has seen to the safety of his troop.” When day broke, being pleased with the Bodhisatta, he thought: “It is not right to
1. “You made yourself a bridge for them to pass in safety through;
What are you then to them, monkey, and what are they to you?”
Hearing him, the Bodhisatta instructing the king spoke the other verses;
2. “Victorious king, I guard the herd, I am their lord and chief,
When they were filled with fear of you and stricken sore with grief.
3. I leapt a hundred times the length of bow outstretched that lies,
When I had bound a bamboo-shoot firmly around my thighs;
4. I reached the tree like thunder-cloud sped by the tempest’s blast;
I lost my strength, but reached a bough; with hands I held it fast.
5. And as I hung extended there held fast by shoot and bough,
My monkeys passed across my back and are in safety now.
6. Therefore I fear no pain of death, bonds do not give me pain,
The happiness of those was won o’er whom I used to reign.
7. A parable for you, O king, if you the truth would read;
The happiness of kingdom and of army and of steed
And city must be dear to you, if you would rule indeed.”
The Bodhisatta, thus instructing and teaching the king, died. The king, calling his ministers, gave orders that the monkey-king should have obsequies like a king, and he sent to the harem, saying: “Come to the cemetery, as retinue for the monkey-king, with red garments, and dishevelled hair, and torches in your hands.”
After the lesson, the Teacher declared the Truths and identified the Jātaka, “At that time the king was Ānanda, the monkey’s retinue the assembly, and the monkey-king myself.”
last updated: November 2021