Ja 501 Rohantamigajātaka
The Story about (the King of the Deer) Rohanta (20s)

Alternative Title: Rohaṇamigajātaka (Cst)

In the present Ven. Ānanda tries to protect the Buddha when Devadatta sends an elephant to kill him. The Buddha tells a story of a golden deer who was caught in a trap, and how his brother and sister would not desert him. Eventually he taught the hunter Dhamma, and the hunter taught the king.

The Bodhisatta = the king of the deer Rohanta (Rohanto migarājā),
Ānanda = the deer Citta (Cittamiga),
Uppalavaṇṇā = (the deer) Sutanā,
members of the royal family = the mother and father (mātāpitaro),
the group of Sakiyans = the 80,000 deer (asīti migasahassāni),
Sāriputta = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
the nun Khemā = the queen (devī),
Channa = the hunter (ludda).

Present Source: Ja 533 Cullahaṁsa,
Quoted at: Ja 389 Suvaṇṇakakkaṭa, Ja 501 Rohantamiga, Ja 502 Haṁsa, Ja 534 Mahāhaṁsa.

Keywords: Friendship, Self-sacrifice, Animals.

“In fear of death.” {4.413} This story the Teacher told while dwelling in the Bamboo Grove, about the venerable Ānanda, who made renunciation of his life. This renunciation will be described in Book XXI, under the Cullahaṁsajātaka [Ja 533], the Subduing of Dhanapāla.

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 Supernormal 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.

When this venerable man had renounced his life for the Teacher’s sake, they gossiped about it in the Dhamma Hall, “Sirs, the venerable Ānanda, having attained to the analytic knowledges of the one still in training, renounced his life for the One with Ten Powers.” The Teacher came in, asking what they spoke of as they sat there. They told him. Said he, “Monks, this is not the first time he has laid down his life for my sake; he has done it before.” Then he told them a story.

In the past, when Brahmadatta was king in Benares, his chief consort’s name was Khemā. At that time the Bodhisatta was born in the Himālayas region, as a stag: he was golden-hued and beautiful, and his younger brother, named Cittamiga, or Dapple Deer, was also of the colour of gold, and so also his younger sister Sutanā. Now the Great Being’s name was Rohanta, and he was king of the deer. Traversing two ranges of the mountains, in the third he lived beside a lake called lake Rohanta, and surrounded by a herd of eighty thousand deer. He used to support his parents, who were old and blind.

Now a hunter, who lived in a village of hunters near Benares, came to the Himālayas, and saw the Great Being. He returned to his [4.258] village, and on his death-bed told his son, “My boy, in such a part of our hunting-ground there is a golden deer; if the king should ask, you may tell him of it.”

One day queen Khemā, in the dawn, saw a dream, and this was the manner of that dream. A gold-coloured stag sat on a golden seat, and he discoursed to the queen on the Dhamma with a honey-sweet voice, like the sound of a golden bell tinkling. She listened with great delight to this discourse, but before the discourse was ended the deer rose and went away; and she awoke, crying out, “Catch me the stag!” The attendants, hearing her cry, burst out laughing. “Here’s the house shut close, door and window; not even a breath of air can get in, and at such a time my lady calls out to catch her the stag!” {4.414}

By this time she understood that it was a dream. But she said to herself, “If I say, it is a dream, the king will make no account of it; but if I say, it is my woman’s craving, he will attend to it with all care. I will hear the discourse of the golden stag!” Then she lay down as though sick. The king came in, “What is wrong with my queen?” said he. “Oh, my lord, only my natural craving.” “What do you wish?” “I wish to hear the discourse of a righteous golden stag.” “Why, my lady, what you crave does not exist: there is no such thing as a golden stag.” She said: “If I don’t get it, I must die on the spot.” She turned her back on the king, and lay still. “If there is one, it shall be caught,” said the king. Then he questioned his courtiers and brahmins, just as in the Morajātaka [Ja 129], whether there were such things as golden deer. Finding that there were, he summoned the huntsmen, and asked, “Which of you has seen or heard of such a creature?” The son of the hunter we spoke of told the story as he heard it. “My man,” said the king, “when you bring me this deer I will reward you richly; go and bring it here.” He gave the money for his expenses, and dismissed him. The man said: “Never fear: if I cannot bring the stag I will bring his skin; if I can’t get that I will bring his hair.” Then the man returned home, and gave the king’s money to his family. Then he went out and saw the royal stag. “Where shall I lay my snare,” he mused, “so as to catch him?” He saw his chance at the drinking-place. He twisted a stout cord of leather thongs, and set it with a pole at the place where the Great Being went down to drink water.

Next day, the Great Being with the eighty thousand deer during his search for food came there to drink water at the usual ford. Just as he was going down, he was caught in the noose. Then he thought: “If I cry out the cry of capture, all my troop will flee in [4.259] terror without drinking.” {4.415} Although he was fast at the end of the pole, he stood pretending to drink, as if he were free. When the eighty thousand deer had drunk, and now stood clear of the water, he thrice jerked at the noose, to break it if possible. The first time he cut his skin, the second time cut into his flesh, and the third time he strained a tendon, so that the snare touched the bone. Then, unable to break it, he uttered the cry of capture: all the herd of deer being terrified fled in three troops. Cittamiga could not see the Great Being in any of the three troops, “This danger,” he thought, “which has come upon us, has fallen on my brother.” Then returning, he saw him there fast caught. The Great Being caught sight of him, and cried, “Don’t stand there, brother, there is danger here!” Then, urging him to flee, he repeated the first verse:

1. “In fear of death, O Cittaka, those herds of creatures flee:
Go you with them, and linger not, for they shall live with you.”

The three verses which follow are said by the two alternately:

2. “No, no, Rohanta, I’ll not go; my heart has drawn me near;
I’m ready to lay down my life, I will not leave you here.”

3. “Then blind, with none to care for them, our parents The word “parents” is supplied by the commentator: it is “those” in the text. both must die:
O go, and let them live with you: O do not linger nigh!”

4. “No, no, Rohanta, I’ll not go; my heart has drawn me near;
I’m ready to lay down my life, I will not leave you here.” {4.416}

He took his stand, supporting the Bodhisatta on the right side, and cheering him.

Sutanā also, the young doe, ran about among the deer, but could not find her brothers anywhere. “This danger,” she thought, “must have fallen upon my brothers.” She turned back and came to them; and the Great Being, as he saw her come, repeated the fifth verse:

5. “Go, timid doe, and run away; an iron snare holds me:
Go with the rest, and linger not, and they shall live with you.”

The three next verses are said alternately as before:

6. “No, no, Rohanta, I’ll not go; my heart has drawn me near;
I’m ready to lay down my life, I will not leave you here.”

7. “Then blind, with none to care for them, our parents both must die:
O go, and let them live with you: O do not linger nigh!”

8. “No, no, Rohanta, I’ll not go; my heart has drawn me near;
I’ll lose my life, but never leave you snared and captured here.”

Thus she also refused to obey; and stood by his left side consoling him.

Now the huntsman saw the deer scampering off, and heard the cry of capture. “It must be the king of the herd is caught!” he said; and, tightening his girdle, he grasped the spear to kill him, [4.260] and ran quickly up. The Great Being repeated the ninth verse as he saw him coming:

9. “The furious hunter, arms in hand, see him approaching near!
And he will slay us here today with arrow or with spear.” {4.417}

Citta did not flee, though he saw the man. But Sutanā, not being strong enough to stand still, ran a little way for fear of death. Then with the thought: “Where shall I flee if I desert my two brothers?” she returned again, renouncing her own life, i.e. accepting death as her fate (written on the forehead). with death on her brow, and stood by the left side of her brother.

To explain this, the Teacher recited the tenth verse:

10. “The tender doe in panic fear a little way did fly,
Then did a thing most hard to do, for she returned to die.”

When the hunter came up, he saw these three creatures standing together. A pitiful thought arose in his heart, as he guessed they were brothers and sister born of one womb. “Only the king of the herd,” he thought, “is caught in the snare; the other two are bound with the ties of honour. What kin can they be to him?” which question he asked thus:

11. “What are these deer that wait upon the prisoner, though free,
Nor for the sake of very life will leave him here, and flee?”

Then the Bodhisatta answered:

12. “My brother and my sister these, of one same mother born:
Nor for the sake of very life will leave me here forlorn.”

These words made his heart more exceedingly soft. Citta, that royal stag, perceiving that his heart grew soft, said: “Friend hunter, do not imagine that this creature is a deer and no more. He is king of fourscore thousand deer, one of virtuous life, tenderhearted to all creatures, of great wisdom; he supports his sire and dam, now blind and old. If you slay a righteous being like this, in slaying him you slay dam and sire, my sister and me, all five; but if you grant my brother his life, you bestow life on the five of us.” {4.418} Then he repeated a verse:

13. “Grown blind, with none to care for them, they both will perish so:
O grant you life to all the five, and let my brother go!”

When the hunter heard this pious discourse, he was glad at heart. “Fear not, my lord,” said he, and repeated the next verse:

14. “So be it: see I now set free the parent-fostering deer:
His parents when they find him safe shall make a merry cheer.” [4.261]

As he said this, he thought: “What do I want with the king and his honours? If I hurt this royal deer, either the earth will gape and swallow me up, or a thunderbolt will fall and strike me. I will let him go.” So approaching the Great Being, he pulled down the pole, and cut the leather thong; then he embraced the deer, and laid him close to the water, tenderly and gently loosed him out of the noose, joined the ends of the tendon, and the lips of the flesh-wound, and the edges of the skin, washed off the blood with water, pitifully massaged him again and again. By the power of his love and the Great Being’s perfection all grew whole again, sinews, flesh, and skin, hide and hair covered the foot, no one could have guessed where he had been wounded. The Great Being stood there, full of happiness. Citta looked on him and rejoiced, and rendered thanks to the hunter in this verse:

15. “Hunter, be happy now, and may your kindred happy be,
As I am happy to behold the mighty stag set free.”

Now the Great Being thought: “Is it of his own doing this hunter snared me, or at the bidding of another?” and he asked the cause of his capture. The huntsman said: “My lord, I have nothing to do with you; but the king’s consort, Khemā, desires to hear you discourse on righteousness; therefore I snared you at the king’s bidding.” “That being so, my good friend, you did a bold thing to set me free. {4.419} Come, bring me to the king, and I will discourse before the queen.” “Indeed, my lord, kings are cruel. Who knows what may come of it? I don’t care for any honour the king might show me: go where you will.” But again the Great Being thought it was a bold thing to set him free; he must give him a chance of winning the promised honour. So he said: “Friend, massage my back with your hand.” He did so; his hand became covered with golden hairs. “What shall I do with these hairs, my lord?” “Take them, my friend, show them to the king and queen, tell them here are hairs from that golden stag; take my place, and discourse to them in the words of these verses I shall repeat: when she hears you, that will alone be sufficient to satisfy her craving.” “Recite the Dhamma, O king!” said the man; and the other taught him ten verses of the holy life, and described the five precepts, and dismissed him with a warning to be vigilant. The hunter treated the Great Being as one would treat a teacher: thrice he walked round him right-wise, did the four obeisances, and wrapping the hairs in a lotus leaf went away. The three animals accompanied him for a little way, then after feeding and drinking, returned to their parents.

Father and mother questioned him, “Rohanta, my son, we heard you were caught, and how came you free?” They put the question in a verse:

16. “How did you win your liberty when life was nearly done:
How did the hunter set you free from treacherous trap, my son?” [4.262]

In answer to which the Bodhisatta repeated three verses:

17. “Cittaka won me liberty with words that charmed the ear,
That touched the heart, that pierced the heart, words uttered sweet and clear.

18. Sutanā won me liberty with words that charmed the ear,
That touched the heart, that pierced the heart, words uttered sweet and clear. {4.420}

19. The hunter gave me liberty, these charming words to hear,
That touched the heart, that pierced the heart, words uttered sweet and clear.”

His parents expressed their gratitude, saying:

20. “He with his wife and family, O happy may they be,
As we are happy to behold Rohanta now set free!”

Now the huntsman came out of the wood, and went to the king; then saluting him stood on one side. The king when he saw him said:

21. “Come tell me, hunter: do you say, ‘See the deer’s hide I bring’:
Or have you no deer’s hide to show because of any thing?”

The hunter replied:

22. “Into my hands the creature came, into my privy snare,
And was fast caught: but others, free, attended on him there.

23. Then pity made my flesh to creep, a pity strange and new.
If I should slay this deer (thought I) then I shall perish too.”

24. “What were these deer, O hunter, what their nature and their ways,
What colour theirs, what quality, to merit such high praise?”

The king put this question several times over, as one much astonished. The hunter replied in this verse: {4.421}

25. “With silvery horns and graceful shape, with hide and fell most bright,
Red slot, and shining brilliant eyes all lovely to the sight.”

As he repeated this verse, the huntsman placed in the king’s hand those golden hairs of the Great Being, and in another verse summed up the description of the character of these deer:

26. “Such is their nature and their ways, my lord, and such these deer:
They used to find their parents food: I could not fetch them here.”

In these words he described the qualities of the Great Being, and of the stag Citta, and of Sutanā the doe; adding this, “The royal stag, O king, showed me his hairs, commanding me to take his place, and to declare the Dhamma before the queen in ten verses of a holy life.” The Burmese recension reads: Then the king seated him on his royal throne inlaid with seven kinds of jewels; and sitting himself with his queen on a lowly seat, placed to one side, with a reverential obeisance, he begged him to speak. The hunter spoke thus, declaring the Dhamma: Unto your parents, warrior king, do righteously; and so by following a righteous life to heaven the king shall go. To wife and child, O warrior king, do righteously; and so by following a righteous life to heaven the king shall go. {4.422} Then sitting upon a golden throne, he declared the Dhamma in these verses. [In the translation the following verses were relegated to a footnote following the Jātaka. I bring them in to the text here.] [4.263]

“To friends and courtiers, warrior king, do righteously; and so
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

In war and travel, warrior king, do righteously; and so
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

In town and village, warrior king, do righteously; and so
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

In every land and realm, O king, do righteously; and so
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

To brahmins and ascetics all, do righteously; and so
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

To beasts and birds, O warrior king, do righteously; and so
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

Do righteously, O warrior king; from this all blessings flow:
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go.

With watchful vigilance, O king, on paths of goodness go:
The brahmins, Sakka, and the gods have won their godhead so.

These are the maxims told of old: and following wisdom’s ways
The goddess of all happiness herself to heaven did raise.”

In this manner did the huntsman declare the Dhamma, as the Great Being had shown him, with a Buddha’s skill, as though he were bringing down to earth the heavenly Ganges. The crowd with a thousand voices cried approval. The queen’s longing was satisfied when she heard the discourse.

The king was pleased, and repeated these verses, as he rewarded the huntsman with great honour.

27. “A jewelled earring give I you, a hundred drachms of gold,
A lovely throne like flower of flax, with cushions laid fourfold, catussado is so explained by the commentator. On p. 309. 26 (=p. 195 note 2 above) he paraphrases it as “rich in four different things” there specified. The word ussado is derived by Childers from Skt. utsad and rendered “protuberance.” It also may mean “sprinkled” or “covered” (Skt. utsādita), iii. 512. 10, iv. 60. 6.

28. Two wives of equal rank and worth, a bull and kine five score,
My benefactor! And I’ll rule with justice evermore.

29. Trade, farming, gleaning, The MS. uñchācariyāya gives a syllable too many, and should perhaps be uñchācariyā, then the sentence is anacoluthic. usury, whate’er your calling be,
See that you do no wrong, but by these support your family.” {4.423}

When he heard these words of the king’s, he answered, “No house or home for me; grant me, my lord, to become an ascetic.” The king’s consent given, he handed over the king’s rich gifts to his wife and family, and went away to the Himālayas, where he embraced the ascetic life, and cultivated the Eight Attainments, and became destined for the Brahmā Realm. And the king clave to the Great One’s teaching, and went to swell the hosts of heaven. The teaching endured for a thousand years.

This discourse ended, the Teacher said: “Thus, monks, long ago as now Ānanda renounced life for my sake.” Then he identified the Jātaka, “At that time, Channa was the huntsman and Sāriputta the king, the sister was queen Khemā; some of the king’s family were the father and mother, Uppalavaṇṇā was Sutanā, Ānanda was Citta, the Sākiya clan were the eighty thousand deer, and I was myself the royal stag Rohanta.”