Book XVII. Cattālīsanipāto
The Section with Forty Verses (521-525)

Ja 521 Tesakuṇajātaka
The Story about the Three Birds (40s)

In the present the Buddha advises the king of Kosala to live righteously, and he tells a story of a childless king who adopted three foundling birds. When mocked by his court, he had them brought one by one to court and asked them for advice on ruling his kingdom, and all agreed they should be promoted to positions of honour.

The Bodhisatta = the bird Jambuka (Jambukasakuṇa),
Sāriputta = (the owl) Vessantara,
Uppalavaṇṇā = (the mynah) Kuṇḍalinī,
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā).

Present Source: Ja 521 Tesakuṇa,
Quoted at: Ja 334 Rājovāda, Ja 396 Kukku, Ja 520 Gaṇḍatindu.

Keywords: Wisdom, Righteousness.

“ ’Tis this I ask.” [5.59] {5.109} This story the Teacher, while dwelling at Jetavana, told by way of admonition to the king of Kosala. Now this king came to hear the preaching of the Dhamma and the Teacher addressed him in the following terms, “A king, sire, ought to rule his kingdom righteously, for whenever kings are unrighteous, then also are his officers unrighteous.” And admonishing him in the right way as related in the Catukkanipāta (4th Book) [Ja 334] he pointed out the suffering and the blessing involved in following or abstaining from evil courses, and expounded in detail the misery resulting from sensual pleasures, comparing them to dreams and the like, saying: “In the case of these men,

No bribe can move relentless death, no kindness mollify,
No one in fight can vanquish death. For all are doomed to die.

And when they depart to another world, except their own virtuous action they have no other sure refuge, so that they must inevitably forsake low associations, and for their reputation’s sake they must not be careless, but be earnest and exercise rule in righteousness, even as kings of old, before Buddha arose, abiding in the admonition of the wise, ruled righteously and departing attained to the heavenly city,” and at the request of the king he told a story of the past.

In the past Brahmadatta ruled in Benares and had no heir, and his prayer for a son or daughter was not answered. Now one day he went with a large escort to his park and after amusing himself a part of the day in the grounds {5.110} he had a couch spread for him at the foot of the royal Sāl tree, and after a short nap he awoke and, looking up to the Sāl tree, he beheld a bird’s nest in it, and at the sight of it a desire to possess it sprang up in his heart, and summoning one of his attendants he said: “Climb the tree and see if there is anything in the nest or not.” The man climbed up and finding three eggs in it told the king. “Then mind you do not breathe over them,” he said, and, spreading some cotton in a casket, he told the man to come down gently, and place the eggs in it. When they had been brought down, he took up the casket and asked his courtiers to what bird these eggs belonged. They answered, “We do not know: hunters will know.” The king sent for the hunters and asked them. “Sire,” they said, “one is an owl’s egg, another is a mynah bird’s, and the third is a parrot’s.” “Pray are there eggs of three different birds in [5.60] one nest?” “Yes, sire, when there is nothing to fear, what is carefully deposited does not perish.” The king being pleased said: “They shall be my children,” and committing the three eggs to the charge of three courtiers, he said: “These shall be my children. Do you carefully watch over them and when the young birds come out of the shell, let me know.” They took good care of them.

First of all the owl’s egg was hatched, and the courtier sent for a hunter and said: “Find out the sex of the young bird, whether it is a chicken or a hen bird,” and when he had examined it and declared it to be a chicken bird, the courtier went to the king and said: “Sire, a son is born to you.” The king was delighted and bestowed much wealth on him and saying, {5.111} “Watch carefully over him and call his name Vessantara,” he sent him away. He did as he was told.

Then a few days afterwards the egg of the mynah bird was hatched, and the second courtier likewise, after getting the huntsman to examine it, and hearing it was a hen bird, went to the king and announced to him the birth of a daughter. The king was delighted, and gave to him also much treasure and saying: “Watch carefully over my daughter and call her name Kuṇḍalinī,” he sent him away. He also did what he was told.

Then after a few days the parrot’s egg was hatched and the third courtier, when told by the huntsman who examined it that it was a chicken bird, went and announced to the king the birth of a son. The king was delighted and paying him liberally said: “Hold a festival in honour of my son with great pomp, and call his name Jambuka,” and then sent him away. He too did as he was told.

The Story of Vessantara’s Question

And these three birds grew up in the houses of the three courtiers with all the ceremony due to royalty. The king speaks of them habitually, as ‘my son’ and ‘my daughter.’ His courtiers made merry, one with another, saying: “Look at what the king does: he goes about speaking of birds as his son and his daughter.” The king thought: “These courtiers do not know the extent of my children’s wisdom. I will make it evident to them.” So he sent one of his ministers to Vessantara to say, “Your father wishes to ask you a question. When shall he come and ask it?” The minister came and bowing to Vessantara delivered the message. Vessantara sent for the courtier who looked after him and said: “My father,” they tell me, “wants to ask me a question. When he comes, we must show him all respect,” and he asked, “When is he to come?” The courtier said: “Let him come on the seventh day from this.” Vessantara on hearing this said: “Let my father come on the seventh day from this,” and with these words he sent the minister away. He went and told the king.

On the seventh day the king ordered a drum to be beaten through the city and went to the house where his son lived. Vessantara treated the king with great respect and had great respect paid even to the slaves and hired servants. The king, after partaking of food in the house of Vessantara, and enjoying great distinction, returned to his [5.61] own dwelling-place. Then he had a big pavilion erected in the palace-yard, and, having made proclamation by beating a drum through the city, he sat in his magnificent pavilion surrounded by a great retinue {5.112} and sent word to a courtier to conduct Vessantara to him. The courtier brought Vessantara on a golden stool. The bird sat on his father’s lap and played with his father, and then went and sat on the stool. Then the king in the midst of the crowd of people questioned him as to the duty of a king and spoke the first verse:

1. “ ’Tis this I ask Vessantara – dear bird, may you be blessed
To one that’s fain o’er men to reign, what course of life is best?”

Vessantara, without answering the question directly, reproved the king for his carelessness and spoke the second verse:

2. “Kaṁsa my sire, of Kāsi lord, so careless long ago,
Urged me his son, though full of zeal, still greater zeal to show.”

Rebuking the king in this verse and saying: “Sire, a king ought to rule his kingdom righteously, abiding in the three truths,” and telling of a king’s duty he spoke these verses:

3. “First of all should a king put away all falsehood and anger and scorn;
Let him do what a king has to do, or else to his vow be forsworn.

4. By passion and wrong led astray, should he err in the past, it is plain
He will live to repent of the deed, and will learn not to do it again.

5. When a prince in his rule groweth slack, untrue to his name and his fame,
Should his wealth all at once disappear, of that prince it is counted as shame.

6. ’Twas thus that Good Fortune and Luck, when I asked, made reply unto me,
In a man energetic and bold we delight, if from jealousy free. {5.113}

7. Ill Luck, ever wrecking good fortune, delighteth in men of ill deeds,
The hard-hearted creatures in whom a spirit of jealousy breeds.

8. To all, O great king, be a friend, so that all may your safety insure,
Ill Luck put away, but to Luck that is good be a dwelling secure.

9. The man that is lucky and bold, O you that o’er Kāsi do reign,
His foes will destroy root and branch, and to greatness will surely attain.

10. Great Sakka all courage in man ever watches with vigilant eyes,
For courage as virtue he holds and in it true goodness espies.

11. Gandhabbas, Petas, Devas, one and all, emulate such a king,
They all appearing stand by, of his zeal and his vigour to sing.

12. Be zealous to do what is right, nor, however reviled, yield to wrong,
Be earnest in efforts for good – no sluggard can bliss ever win.

13. Herein is the text of your duty, to teach you the way you should go:
’Tis enough to win bliss for a friend or to work grievous ill for a foe.” {5.115}

Thus did the bird Vessantara in a single verse rebuke the carelessness of the king, and then in telling the duty of a king in eleven verses answered his question with all the charm of a Buddha. The hearts of the multitude were filled with wonder and amazement and innumerable shouts of applause were raised. The king was transported with joy and addressing his courtiers asked them what was to be done for his son, for [5.62] having spoken thus. “He should be made a general in the army, sire.” “Well, I give him the post of general,” and he appointed Vessantara to the vacant post. Thenceforth placed in this position he carried out his father’s wishes. {5.116}

The Story of Kuṇḍalinī’s Question

Again the king after some days, just as before, sent a message to Kuṇḍalinī, and on the seventh day he paid her a visit and returning home again he seated himself in the centre of a pavilion and ordered Kuṇḍalinī to be brought to him, and when she was seated on a golden stool, he questioned her as to the duty of a king and spoke this verse:

14. “Kuṇḍalinī, of royal birth, could you resolve my quest,
To one that’s fain o’er men to reign, what course of life is best?”

When the king thus asked her as to the duties of a king, she said: “I suppose, sir, you are putting me to the test, thinking: “What will a woman be able to tell me?” so I will tell you, putting all your duty as a king into just two maxims,” and she repeated these verses:

15. “The matter, my friend, is set forth in a couple of maxims quite plain:
To keep whatsoever one has, and whatever one has not to gain.

16. Take as counsellors men that are wise, your interests clearly to see,
Not given to riot and waste, from gambling and drunkenness free.

17. Such a one as can guard you aright and your treasure with all proper zeal,
As a charioteer guides his car, he with skill steers the realm’s common weal.

18. Keep ever your folk well in hand; and duly take stock of your pelf,
Ne’er trust to another a loan or deposit, but act for thyself.

19. What is done or undone to your profit and loss it is well you should know,
Ever blame the blameworthy and favour on them that deserve it bestow. {5.117}

20. You thyself, O great king, should instruct your people in every good way,
Lest your realm and your substance should fall to unrighteous officials a prey.

21. See that nothing is done by thyself or by others with overmuch speed,
For the fool that so acts without doubt will live to repent of the deed.

22. To wrath one should never give way, for should it due bounds overflow,
It will lead to the ruin of kings and the proudest of houses lay low.

23. Be sure that you never as king your people mislead to their cost,
Lest all men and women alike in an ocean of trouble be lost.

24. When a king from all fear is set free, and the pleasures of sense are his aim,
Should his riches and all disappear, to that king it is counted as shame.

25. Herein is a text of your duty, to teach you the way you should go,
Be an adept in every good work, to excess and to riot a foe,
Study virtue, for vice ever leads to a state full of suffering and woe.” {5.120}

Thus did Kuṇḍalinī also teach the king his duty in eleven verses. The king was delighted and addressing his courtiers asked them, saying: “What is to be given to my daughter as a reward for her having spoken thus?” “The office of treasurer, sire.” “Well then, I grant her the post of treasurer,” and he appointed Kuṇḍalinī to the vacant post. Thenceforth she held the office and acted for the king. [5.63]

The Story of Jambuka’s Question

Again the king after the lapse of a few days, just as before, sent a messenger to the wise Jambuka, and going there on the seventh day and being magnificently entertained he returned home and in the same manner took his seat in the centre of a pavilion. A courtier placed the wise Jambuka on a stool bound with gold, and came bearing the stool on his head. The wise bird sitting on his father’s lap and playing with him at length took his seat on the golden stool. Then the king, asking him a question, spoke this verse:

26. “We’ve questioned both your brother prince, and also fair Kuṇḍalinī;
Now, Jambuka, do you in turn the highest power declare to me.”

Thus did the king, in asking a question of the Great Being, not ask him in the way in which he had asked the others, but asked him in a special way. Then the wise bird said to him, “Well, sire, listen attentively, and I will tell you all,” and like a man placing a purse containing a thousand pieces of money into an outstretched hand, he began his exposition of a king’s duty:

27. “Amidst the great ones of the earth a fivefold power we see;
Of these the power of limbs is, sure, the last in its degree,
And power of wealth, O mighty lord, the next is said to be.

28-29. The power of counsel third in rank of these, O king, I name;
The power of caste without a doubt is reckoned fourth in fame,
And all of these a man that’s wise most certainly will claim. {5.121}

30. Of all these powers that one is best, as power of learning known,
By strength of this a man is wise and makes success his own.

31. Should richest realm fall to the lot of some poor stupid wight,
Another will by violence seize it in his despite.

32. However noble be the prince, whose lot it is to rule,
He is hard put to live at all, if he should prove a fool.

33. ’Tis wisdom tests reports of deeds and makes men’s fame to grow,
Who is with wisdom gifted still finds pleasure e’en in woe.

34. None that are heedless in their ways to wisdom can attain,
But must consult the wise and just, or ignorant remain.

35. Who early rising shall betimes unweariedly give heed
To duty’s varied calls, in life is certain to succeed.

36. No one that’s bent on hurtful things or acts in listless mood
In aught that he may undertake will come to any good.

37. But one that will unweariedly a rightful course pursue,
Is sure to reach perfection in whatever he may do.

38. To safeguard one’s store is to gain more and more,
And these are the things I would have you to mind;
For the fool by ill deeds, like a house built of reeds,
Collapses and leaves rack and ruin behind.” {5.123}

Thus did the Bodhisatta in all these points sing the praises of the five powers, and exalting the power of wisdom, like to one striking the orb of the moon with his words, he admonished the king in eleven verses: [5.64]

39. “To wives and to children, warrior king, do righteously; and so,
By living according to Dhamma to heaven the king shall go. Here follow nine similar couplets already given in vol. iv. No. 501, Rohantamigajātaka, p. 263, English version; see also Senart’s Mahāvastu, vol. i. p. 282. [I include the verses here.] {5.124}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After uttering ten verses about the way of righteousness, still further admonishing the king he spoke the concluding verse:

48. “Herein is the text of your duty, to teach you the way you should go:
Follow wisdom and ever be happy, the truth in its fulness to know.”

Thus did the Great Being, as though he were letting down the heavenly Ganges, teach the Dhamma with all the charm of a Buddha. And the multitude paid him great honour and raised innumerable shouts of applause. The king was delighted and addressing his councillors asked, {5.125} “How ought my son, wise Jambuka, with a beak like the fresh fruit of the Jambu plum, to be rewarded for having spoken thus?” “With the post of commander-in-chief, sire.” “Then I offer him this post,” he said, and appointed him to the vacant office, and thenceforth in the position of commander-in-chief he carried out the orders of his father. Great honour was paid to the three birds, and all three of them gave instruction in temporal and spiritual matters. The king, abiding in the admonition of the Great Being, by generosity and other good works became destined to heaven. The councillors after performing the king’s obsequies, speaking to the birds said: “My lord, Jambu, the king ordered the royal umbrella to be raised over you.” The Great Being said: “I have no need of the kingdom, do you exercise rule with all vigilance,” and after establishing the people in the precepts, he said: “Execute justice,” and he had righteous judgment inscribed on a golden plate and disappeared in the forest. And his admonition continued in force forty thousand years.

The Teacher by means of his admonition of the king taught this lesson and identified the Jātaka, “At that time the king was Ānanda, Kuṇḍalinī was Uppalavaṇṇā, Vessantara was Sāriputta, the bird Jambu was myself.”