Ja 412 Koṭisimbalijātaka
The Story about the Cotton Tree (7s)

Alternative Title: Koṭasimbalijātaka (Cst)

In the present some monks harbor defiled thoughts. The Buddha tells a story of how a Supaṇṇa had captured a Nāga who grabbed hold of a banyan tree which was then uprooted. The Supaṇṇa landed on another tree with the snake and the banyan. The Devatā there was frightened, not by the aggression of the Supaṇṇa, but by the fear of a banyan seed being lodged in his home and eventually destroying it.

The Bodhisatta = the Tree Devatā (Rukkhadevatā),
Sāriputta = the king of the Supaṇṇas (Supaṇṇarājā).

Present Source: Ja 408 Kumbhakāra,
Quoted at: Ja 370 Palāsa, Ja 412 Koṭisimbali, Ja 459 Pānīya,
Present Compare: Ja 305 Sīlavīmaṁsana.

Keywords: Caution, Distrust, Devas.

“I bore with me.” The Teacher told this tale while dwelling in Jetavana, concerning overcoming wrong. The incident leading to the tale will appear in the Paññājātaka [Ja 459]. [Otherwise known as Ja 459 Pānīyajātaka. I include the relevant section here.]

The Teacher regards his disciples three times a night and three times a day, six times every night and day, as a jay guards her egg, or a yak-cow her tail, or a mother her beloved son, or a one-eyed man his remaining eye; so in the very instant he overcame wrong which was beginning. He was observing Jetavana on that midnight and knowing the monks’ conduct and their thoughts, he considered, “This wrong among these monks if it grows will destroy the foundation for becoming an Arahat. I will this moment repudiate this wrong and show them how to become Arahats,” so leaving the perfumed chamber he called Ānanda, and bidding him collect all the monks dwelling in the place, he got them together and sat down on the seat prepared for Buddha.

On this occasion the Teacher, perceiving that five hundred monks were overcome by thoughts of desire in the House of the Golden Pavement, [3.240] gathered the assembly and said: “Monks, it is right to distrust where distrust is proper; defilements surround a man as banyans and such plants grow up around a tree; in this way of old a spirit dwelling in the top of a cotton tree saw a bird voiding the banyan seeds it had eaten among the branches of the cotton tree, and became terrified lest her abode should thereby come to destruction,” and so he told a story of the past.

In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was a Tree Devatā dwelling in the top of a cotton tree. A king of the Supaṇṇas assumed a shape a hundred and fifty leagues in extent, and dividing the water in the great ocean by the blast of his wings, he seized by the tail a king of Nāgas a thousand fathoms long, and making the Nāga disgorge what he had seized in his mouth, he flew along the tree tops towards the cotton tree. The Nāga king thought: “I will make him drop me and let me go,” so he stuck his hood into a banyan tree and wound himself round it firmly. Owing to the Supaṇṇa king’s strength and the great size of the Nāga king the banyan was uprooted. But the snake king would not let go the banyan. The Supaṇṇa king took the Nāga king, banyan tree and all, to the cotton tree, laid him on the trunk, opened his belly {3.398} and ate the fat. Then he threw the rest of the carcase into the sea.

Now in that banyan there was a certain bird, who flew up when the banyan was thrown away, and perched in one of the boughs high on the cotton tree. The Tree Devatā seeing the bird shook and trembled with fear, thinking: “This bird will let its droppings fall on my trunk; a growth of banyan or of fig will arise and go spreading all over my tree; so my home will be destroyed.” The tree shook to the roots with the trembling of the spirit. The Supaṇṇa king perceived the trembling, and spoke two verses in enquiry as to the reason;

1. “I bore with me the thousand fathoms length of that king snake;
His size and my huge bulk you bore and yet you did not quake.

2. But now this tiny bird you bear, so small compared to me;
You shake with fear and tremble; but wherefore, cotton tree?”

Then the Devaputta spoke four verses in explanation of the reason;

3. “Flesh is your food, O king; the bird’s is fruit;
Seeds of the banyan and the fig he’ll shoot
And Bodhi tree too, and all my trunk pollute;

4. They will grow trees in shelter of my stem,
And I shall be no tree, thus hid by them. {3.399}

5. Other trees, once strong of root and rich in branches, plainly show
How the seeds that birds do carry in destruction lay them low.

6. Parasitic growths will bury e’en the mighty forest tree;
This is why, O king, I quiver when the fear to come I see.” [3.241]

Hearing the Tree Devatā’s words, the Supaṇṇa king spoke the final verse:

7. “Fear is right if things are fearful; ’gainst the coming danger guard;
Wise men look on both worlds calmly if they present fears discard.”

So speaking, the Supaṇṇa king by his power drove the bird away from that tree.

After the lesson, the Teacher declared the Truths, beginning with the words, “It is right to distrust where distrust is proper,” and identified the Jātaka, after the Truths {3.400} five hundred monks became Arahats. “At that time Sāriputta was the Supaṇṇa king and I myself the Tree Devatā.”