Ja 502 Haṁsajātaka
The (Short) Story about the (Golden) Goose (20s)

Alternative Title: Cūḷahaṁsajātaka (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 hunter who caught a golden goose, and his general who stood by him, and the lessons he gave to the king.

The Bodhisatta = the king of the geese (haṁsarājā),
Ānanda = (the goose) Sumukha,
the group of Sakiyans = the group of geese (haṁsaparisā),
Sāriputta = the king (of Benares) (rājā),
the nun Khemā = the queen (devī),
Channa = the hunter (ludda).

Present Source: Ja 533 Cullahaṁsa,
Present Quoted: Ja 389 Suvaṇṇakakkaṭa, Ja 501 Rohantamiga, Ja 502 Haṁsa, Ja 534 Mahāhaṁsa,
Past Compare: Ja 533 Cullahaṁsa, Ja 534 Mahāhaṁsa, Jm 22 Haṁsa,
Past Quoted: Ja 502 Haṁsa.

Keywords: Friendship, Self-sacrifice, Animals, Birds.

“There go the birds.” [4.264] This story the Teacher told while dwelling in the Bamboo Grove, about elder Ānanda’s renunciation of life. [Ja 533 Cullahaṁsajātaka. I include the story 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 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.

Then also the monks were talking in the Dhamma Hall about the elder’s good qualities, when the Teacher came in and asked them what they sat talking about there. He said: “This is not the first time, monks, that Ānanda has renounced his life for my sake, but he did the same before.” And then he told them a story.

In the past, there reigned in Benares a king named Bahuputtaka, or the Father of Many Sons, and his queen consort was Khemā. At that time the Great Being dwelt on Mount Cittakūṭa, and he was the chief of ninety thousand wild geese, having come to life as a golden goose. {4.424} And at that time, as already recounted, the queen saw a dream, and told the king she had conceived a woman’s craving to hear a golden goose discourse on the Dhamma. When the king enquired, were there any such creatures as golden geese, he was told Yes, there were on Mount Cittakūṭa. Then he had made a lake which he called Khemā, and caused to be planted all manner of food-corn, and daily in the four quarters made proclamation of immunity to be cried, and sent forth a hunter to catch geese. How this man was sent forth, and his watching of the birds, and how news was told the king when the golden geese came, and in what manner the snare was set and the Great Being was caught in the snare, how Sumukha chief captain of the geese saw him not in the three divisions of the geese, and returned, all this will be set forth in the Mahāhaṁsajātaka [Ja 534]. Where the king of the geese is named Dhataraṭṭha.

He summoned his wise brahmins and after telling them that there were golden geese on Cittakūṭa, he asked if they knew any way to catch them. They said: “Sire, what need for us to go and catch them? By a stratagem we will bring them down close to the city and catch them.” “What is this stratagem?” “On the north of the city, sire, you are to have a lake dug, three leagues in extent, a safe and peaceful spot, and filling it with water, plant all manner of grain and cover the lake with the five kinds of lotus. Then hand it over to the care of a skilful fowler and suffer no one to approach it, and by means of men stationed at the four corners have it proclaimed as a sanctuary lake, and on hearing this all manner of birds will alight there. And these geese, hearing one from another how safe this lake is, will visit it and then you can have them caught, trapping them with hair nooses.”

The king, on hearing this, had a lake such as they described formed in the place they mentioned, and summoning a skilled fowler he presented him with a thousand pieces of money and said: “Henceforth give up your occupation: I will support your wife and family. Carefully guarding this peaceful lake and driving everyone away from it, have it proclaimed at the four corners as a sanctuary, and say that all the birds that come and go are mine, and when the golden geese arrive you shall receive great honour.” With these words of encouragement the king put him in charge of the sanctuary lake. From that day the fowler acted just as the king bade him and watched over the place, and as one that kept the lake in peace he came to be known as the fowler Khema (Peace).

Thenceforth all manner of birds alighted there, and from its being proclaimed from one to another that the lake was peaceful and secure, different kinds of geese arrived. First of all came the grass-geese, then owing to their report came the yellow geese, followed in like manner by the scarlet geese, the white geese and the Oka geese. On their arrival Khemaka thus reported to the king, “Five kinds of geese, sire, have come, and they are continually feeding in the lake. Now that the pāka geese have arrived, in a few days the golden geese will be coming: cease to be anxious, sire.”

The king on hearing this made proclamation in the city by beat of drum that no one was to go there, and whosoever should do so should suffer mutilation of hands and feet and spoliation of his household goods; and from that time no one went there. Now the pāka geese dwell not far from Cittakūṭa in Golden Cave. They are very powerful birds and as with the Dhataraṭṭha family of geese the colour of their body is distinctive, but the daughter of the king of the pāka geese is gold-coloured. So her father, thinking she was a fitting match for the Dhataraṭṭha king, sent her to be his wife. She was dear and precious in her lord’s eyes, and owing to this the two families of geese became very friendly.

Now one day the geese that were in attendance on the Bodhisatta inquired of the pāka geese, “Where are you getting your food just now?” “We are feeding near Benares, on a safe piece of water; but where are you roaming?” “To such and such a place,” they answered. “Why do you not come to our sanctuary? It is a charming lake, teeming with all manner of birds, covered over with five kinds of lotus, and abounding with various grains and fruits, and buzzing with swarms of many different bees. At its four corners is a man to proclaim perpetual immunity from danger. No one is allowed to come near: much less to injure another.” After this manner did they sing the praises of the peaceful lake.

On hearing what the pāka geese said, they told Sumukha, saying: “They tell us, near Benares is a peaceful lake of such and such a kind: there the pāka geese go and feed. Do you tell the Dhataraṭṭha king, and, if he allows us, we too will go and feed there.” Sumukha told the king, who thought: “Men, verily, are full of wiles and have skill in means, there must be some reason for this. All this long time past there was no such lake: it must have been made now to catch us.” And he said to Sumukha, “Let not this going there meet with your approval. This lake was not constructed by them in good faith; it was made to catch us. Men surely are cruel minded and have skill in means, keep still in your own feeding grounds.”

The golden geese a second time told Sumukha they were anxious to visit the lake of Peace and he reported their wishes to the king. The Great Being thought: “My kinsfolk must not be vexed by reason of me: we will go there.” So accompanied by ninety thousand geese he went and browsed there, disporting himself after the manner of geese and then returned to Cittakūṭa.

Khemaka, after they had fed and taken their departure, went and reported their arrival to the king of Benares. The king was highly pleased and said: “Friend Khemaka, try and catch one or two geese and I will confer great honour on you.” With these words he paid his expenses and sent him away. Returning there the fowler seated himself in a skeleton pot and watched the movements of the geese.

Bodhisattas verily are free from all greed. Therefore the Great Being, starting from the spot where he alighted, went on eating the paddy in due order. All the others wandered about, eating here and there. So the fowler thought: “This goose is free from greed: this is the one I must catch.” The next day before the geese had alighted on the lake, he went to the place nearby and concealing himself in the framework of his pot he remained there sitting in it and looking through a chink in the frame. At that moment the Great Being escorted by ninety thousand geese came down on the same spot where he had alighted the day before, and sitting down at the limit of yesterday’s feeding ground he went on browsing. The fowler, looking through a chink in his cage and marking the extraordinary beauty of the bird, thought: “This goose is as big as a wagon, gold-coloured and with its neck encircled with three stripes of red. Three lines running down the throat pass along the middle of the belly, while other three stripes run down and mark off the back, and its body shines like a mass of gold poised on a string made of the thread of red wool. This must be their king, and this is the one I will seize.” And the goose-king, after feeding over a wide field, disported himself in the water and then surrounded by his flock returned to Cittakūṭa. For six days he fed after this manner. On the seventh day Khemaka twisted a big stout cord of black horse-hair and fixed a noose upon a stick, and, knowing for certain the goose-king would alight tomorrow on the same spot, he set the stick on which the snare was mounted in the water.

The next day the goose-king coming down stuck its foot, as it alighted, into the snare, which grasping the bird’s foot as it were with a band of iron held it fast in its grip. The bird, thinking to sever the snare, dragged at it and struck it with all its force. First its gold-coloured skin was bruised, next its flesh of the colour of red wool was cut, then the sinew was severed and last of all its foot would have been broken, but thinking a maimed body was unbefitting a king, it ceased to struggle.

As severe pains set in, it thought: “If I should utter a cry of capture, my kinsfolk would be alarmed and without feeding properly they would fly away, and being half-starved they would drop into the water.” So putting up with the pain it remained in the power of the snare, pretending to be feeding on the paddy, but when the flock had eaten their fill, and were now disporting themselves after the manner of geese, it uttered a loud cry of capture. The geese on hearing it flew away, just as previously described. Sumukha, too, considering the matter, just as related before, searched about and not finding the Great Being in the three main divisions of the geese, thought: “Verily this must be something terrible that has come upon the king,” and he turned back, saying: “Fear not, sire, I will release you at the sacrifice of my own life,” and sitting down on the mud he comforted the Great Being.

Now as then the Great Being was caught in the noose and stick; and even as he hung in the noose at the end of the stick, he stretched forth his neck looking along the way that the geese had gone, and espying Sumukha as he came, thought: “When he comes I will put him to the test.” So when he came, the Great Being repeated three verses:

1. “There go the birds, the ruddy geese, all overcome with fear:
O golden-yellow Sumukha, depart! What want you here?

2. My kith and kin deserted me, away they all have flown,
Without a thought they fly away: why are you left alone?

3. Fly, noble bird! With prisoners no fellowship can be:
Sumukha, fly! Nor lose the chance while you may yet be free.” [4.265] {4.425}

To which Sumukha replied, sitting on the mud:

4. “No, I’ll not leave you, royal goose, when trouble draweth nigh:
But stay I will, and by your side will either live or die.”

Thus Sumukha, with a lion’s note; and Dhataraṭṭha answered with this verse:

5. “A noble heart, brave words are these, Sumukha, which you say:
’Twas but to put you to the test I bade you fly away.”

As they were thus conversing together, up came the huntsman, staff in hand, at the top of his speed. Sumukha encouraged Dhataraṭṭha, and flew to meet the man, respectfully declaring the virtues of the royal bird. Immediately the hunter’s heart was softened; which Sumukha perceiving, went back, and stood encouraging the king of the geese. And the hunter approaching the king of the geese, recited the sixth verse:

6. “They foot it by unfooted ways, birds flying in the sky:
And did you not, O noble goose, afar the snare espy?”

The Great Being said:

7. “When life is coming to an end, and death’s hour draws anigh,
Though you may close upon it come nor trap nor snare you spy.” This couplet occurs in ii. 52 (p. 35 of translation), and iii. 331 (p. 204, “When ruin…”). {4.426}

The hunter, pleased with the bird’s remark, then addressed three verses to Sumukha.

8. “There go the birds, the ruddy geese, all overcome with fear:
And you, O golden-yellow fowl, are still left waiting here.

9. They ate and drank, the ruddy geese: uncaring, they are flown;
Away they scurry through the air, and you are left alone.

10. What is this fowl, that when the rest deserting him have flown,
Though free, you join the prisoner – why are you left alone?”

Sumukha replied:

11. “He is my comrade, friend, and king, dear as my life is he:
Forsake him – no, I never will, until death calls for me.”

On hearing this the hunter was much pleased, and thought within him, “If I should harm virtuous creatures like these, the earth would gape open and swallow me up. What care I for the king’s reward? I will set them free.” And he repeated a verse:

12. “Now seeing that for friendship’s sake you are prepared to die,
I set your king and comrade free, to follow where you fly.”

This said, he drew down Dhataraṭṭha from the stick, and loosed the noose, and took him to the bank, and pitifully washed the blood from him, {4.427} and set the dislocated muscles and tendons. And by reason of his [4.266] kindness of heart, and by the might of the Great Being’s Perfections, The Ten Perfections of the Bodhisatta are given in Childers’ Dictionary, p. 335 a. [There described as: “...perfect exercise of alms-giving, morality, abnegation of the world and of self, wisdom, energy, patience, truth, resolution, kindness and resignation.”] on the instant his foot became whole again, and not a mark showed where he had been caught. Sumukha beheld the Great Being with joy, and gave thanks in these words:

13. “With all your kindred and your friends, O hunter, happy be, This line occurs in iii. 331 (p. 204 of translation, “O hunter…”).
As I am happy to behold the king of birds set free.”

When the hunter heard this, he said: “Now you may depart, friend.” Then the Great Being said to him, “Did you capture me for your own purposes, my good sir, or at the bidding of another?” He told him the facts. The other wondered whether it were better to return to Cittakūṭa, or go to the town. “If I go to the town,” he thought, “the hunter will be rewarded, the queen’s craving will be appeased, Sumukha’s friendship will be made known, then also by virtue of my wisdom I shall receive the lake Khemā, as a free gift. It is better therefore to go to the city.” This determined, he said: “Huntsman, take us on your carrying-pole to the king, and he shall set me free if he will.” “My lord, kings are hard; go your ways.” “What! I have softened a hunter like you, and shall I not find favour with a king? Leave that to me; your part, friend, is to convey us to him.” The man did so.

When the king set eyes on the geese, he was delighted. He placed both the geese on a golden perch, gave them honey and fried grain to eat and sweetened water to drink, and holding his hands out in supplication prayed them to speak of the Dhamma. The king of the geese seeing how eager he was to hear first addressed him in pleasant words. These are the verses expressing the conversation of king and goose one with another.

14. “Now has his honor, health and wealth, and is the kingdom full
Of welfare and prosperity, and does he justly rule?” {4.428}

15. “O here is health and wealth, O goose, and here’s a kingdom full
Of welfare and prosperity, with just and righteous rule.”

16. “Is there no blemish seen amid your court, and are your foes
Far off; and like the shadow on the south, which never grows?” The last three words come from the commentator’s note.

17. “There is no blemish seen amid my courtiers, and my foes
Far off are like the shadow on the south, which never grows.”

18. “And is your queen of equal birth, obedient, sweet of speech,
Fruitful, fair, famous, waiting on your wishes, doing each?”

19. “O yes, my queen’s of equal birth, obedient, sweet of speech,
Fruitful, fair, famous, waiting on my wishes, doing each.”

20. “O fostering ruler! Have you sons a many, nobly bred,
Quickwitted, easy men to please whatever thing be sped?” [4.267]

21. “O Dhataraṭṭha! Sons I have of fame, five score and one:
Tell them their duty: they’ll not leave your good advice undone.”

On hearing this, the Great Being gave them admonition in five verses:

22. “He that puts off until too late the effort to do good,
Though nobly bred, with virtue dowered, yet sinks beneath the flood. {4.429}

23. His knowledge fades, great loss is his; as one moonblind at night Nyctalops.
Sees all things swollen twice their size with his imperfect sight.

24. Who sees the truth in falsity no wisdom gains at all,
As on a rugged mountain-path the deer will often fall.

25. If any strong courageous man loves virtue, follows right,
Though but a low-born churl, he burns like bonfires in the night.

26. By using this similitude all wisdom’s truths explain,
Cherish your sons till wise they grow, like seedlings in the rain.” {4.430}

Thus did the Great Being discourse to the king the livelong night. The queen’s craving was appeased. By sunrise he established him in the virtues of kings, and exhorted him to be vigilant, then with Sumukha flew out of the northern window and away to Cittakūṭa.

After this discourse, the Teacher said: “Thus, monks, this man offered his life for me before,” and then he identified the Jātaka, “At that time Channa was the huntsman, Sāriputta the king, a sister was queen Khemā, the Sākiya tribe was the flock of geese, Ānanda was Sumukha, and I was the goose king myself.”