The Introduction to the Story of the Cuckoo
(or: The Buddha goes to War)
(from Kuṇālajātakavaṇṇanā, Jā 536)

A Pāli and English line by line (interlinear) version of this Jātaka story which describes the Buddha’s teachings about resource shortage and war.

edited and translated by
Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
(August 2010)




Although the story recorded here is not found in the Pāḷi Canon, nor to my knowldege, anywhere in the Canonical texts of the other schools, it has a certain verisimilitude that gives it some authenticity. At the very least it is hard to think that it has been made up by fablers.

It is found in several places in the Pāḷi Commentarial texts. It forms the basis for the Story of the Cuckoo, which is what is translated here; then it is told in more or less the same words as the Introduction to the Mahāsamayasutta of the Dīghanikāya (also in the Commentary to a shorter version of that Discourse found in Sagāthavagga, SN 1.37); and in abbreviated form in the Dhammapada Commentary to verse 197, which opens the Sukhavagga.

The story, which is of resource shortages is, in our days, very topical. There is a river dividing two clans, one of whom is the Buddha’s own Sākiyan clan. The supply of water from the river is drying up at the end of the Hot Season, and the two clans, who normally have enough to share the water, start to argue and want to keep all the remaining water for themselves alone.

The Buddha sees what is happening and out of compassion decides to go and tell some moral stories to the potential protagonists, pointing out the disastrous consequences of conflict and the benefits of harmony. Although the two sides are angry with each other as soon as they see the Buddha they give up the fight; and after he has instructed them they are even more convinced and offer their sons up to the Sangha.

It wouldn’t be hard to substitute ‘oil’ for ‘water’, and ’nations’ for ‘clans’ and we would have a turned an old tale into a modern drama. One of the main morals of the story, and one that cuts deep, is that water is never worth more than blood; and nor is oil, of course, a lesson that would be well-learned if it were applied today.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
August 2010


Sākiya-Koliyā kira Kapilavatthunagarassa ca Koliyanagarassa ca antare
Between Kapilavatthu and Koliya, the (capital) cities of the Sākiyans and the Koliyans, These were two clans (gotta) in North-East India, who had established themselves just under the Himālayan mountains on the border of what is now Nepal.
This exact meaning is not given in PED., which says: shutting off, barring out, withstanding; nt. hindrance, obstruction, bar.
it seems,

Rohiṇiṁ nāma nadiṁ.
there was a river named the Rohiṇī.

Ekeneva āvaraṇena bandhāpetvā sassāni karonti.
Having bound the river in with a dike This normally falls in June, which is towards the end of the dry season in northern India. they grew their crops.

Atha Jeṭṭhamūlamāse, sassesu milāyantesu,
Then in the month of Jeṭṭha, Locative absolutive construction. when the crops were withering away, This is referring to their mythical origins; in the reply below the Sākiyans return the insult in a similar way by referring to the supposed origins of the Koliyans.

ubhayanagaravāsikānam-pi kammakarā sannipatiṁsu.
the workers from both cities assembled together.

Tattha Koliyanagaravāsino vadiṁsu:
There those who dwelt in Koliya city said:

“Idaṁ udakaṁ ubhato nihariyamānaṁ na tumhākaṁ na amhākaṁ pahossati,
“This water is not enough for both you and us to carry away,

amhākaṁ pana sassaṁ ekena udakeneva nipphajjissati,
(but) our crops will mature with a single watering,

idaṁ udakaṁ amhākaṁ dethā.” ti
(therefore) give us this water.”

Kapilavatthunagaravāsino vadiṁsu:
Those who dwelt in Kapilavatthu city said:

“Tumhesu koṭṭhe pūretvā ṭhitesu,
“After you have filled your stores,

mayaṁ rattasuvaṇṇanīlamaṇikāḷakahāpaṇe ca gahetvā,
taken our red gold, blue jewels and black coins,

na sakkhissāma pacchipasibbakādihatthā tumhākaṁ gharadvāre vicarituṁ,
we will not be able, with hand-baskets and sacks in our hands, to wander to the doors of your houses,

amhākam-pi sassaṁ ekeneva udakena nipphajjissati,
(but) our crops will mature with a single watering,

idaṁ udakaṁ amhākaṁ dethā” ti.
(therefore) give us this water.”

“Na mayaṁ dassāmā!” ti
“We will not give!”

“Mayam-pi na dassāmā!” ti
“We will not give either!”

Evaṁ kalahaṁ vaḍḍhetvā eko uṭṭhāya ekassa pahāraṁ adāsi,
After the quarrel had grown one of them rose up and gave another a blow,

so pi aññassā ti, evaṁ aññamaññaṁ paharitvā,
and he to another, thus after striking one another,

Rājakulānaṁ jātiṁ ghaṭṭetvā, kalahaṁ vaḍḍhayiṁsu,
and offending against the birth of the Kingly families, the quarrel grew,

Koliyakammakarā vadanti:
and the Koliyan workers said:

“Tumhe Kapilavatthuvāsike Sākiyadārake gahetvā, gajjatha!
“Having siezed you people of Kapilavatthu, sons of the Sākiyans, you can roar away!

Ye soṇasiṅgālādayo viya attano bhaginīhi saddhiṁ vasiṁsu!
Like dogs and jackals and others you have cohabited with your own sisters! These are rolls of cloth placed on the heads upon which are carried pots and the like.

Etesaṁ hatthi-assādayo ca phalakāvudhāni ca amhākaṁ kiṁ karissantī?” ti
What will they do to us with their elephants and horses, their shields and swords, and so on?”

Sākiyakammakarā pi vadanti:
The Sākiyan workers also said:

“Tumhe dāni kuṭṭhino dārake gahetvā, gajjatha!
“Now having siezed you sons of lepers, you can roar away!

Ye anāthā niggatikā tiracchānā viya Kolarukkhe vasiṁsu!
Like helpless and miserable animals they dwelt in Jujube trees!

Etesaṁ hatthi-assādayo ca phalakāvudhāni ca amhākaṁ kiṁ karissantī” ti?
What will they do to us with their elephants and horses, their shields and swords, and so on?”

Te gantvā tasmiṁ kamme niyuttāmaccānaṁ kathesuṁ,
Having left that place they related all that was done to the appointed councillors,

amaccā rājakulānaṁ kathesuṁ.
and they related it to the ministers of the Kingly clan.

Tato Sākiyā: “Bhaginīhi saddhiṁ saṁvāsikānaṁ thāmañ-ca balañ-ca dassessāmā!” ti
Then the Sākiyans said: “We will show them the power and strength of those who cohabited with their sisters!”

yuddhasajjā nikkhamiṁsu.
and that day they went out to fight.

Koliyā pi: “Kolarukkhavāsīnaṁ thāmañ-ca balañ-ca dassessāmā!” ti
The Koliyans also (said): “We will show them the power and strength of those who dwell in Jujube trees!”

yuddhasajjā nikkhamiṁsu.
and that day they went out to fight.

Apare panācariyā: “Sākiyakoliyānaṁ dāsīsu udakatthāya nadiṁ gantvā.
Other teachers (say): “Slaves of the Sākiyans and Koliyans, after going to the river for water,

cumbaṭāni bhūmiyaṁ nikkhipitvā,
and placing their head-rolls These are datives having infinitive sense. on the ground,

sukhakathāya sannisinnāsu.
sat around having a pleasant conversation.

Ekissā cumbaṭaṁ ekā sakasaññāya gaṇhi,
One of them took another’s head-roll, thinking it her own,

taṁ nissāya mama cumbaṭaṁ, tava cumbaṭan,-ti
and because of this, saying: (This is) my head-roll, this is your head-roll,

kalahe pavatte kamena ubhayanagaravāsino dāsakammakārā,
gradually a quarrel broke out between the slave-workers who dwelt in both cities,

ceva sevakagāmabhojakāmacca-uparājāno cā, ti
and also between the servants, headmen, ministers and princes,

sabbe yuddhasajjā nikkhamiṁsū” ti vadanti.
and that day they all went out to fight.”

Imamhā pana nayā purimanayo va bahūsu Aṭṭhakathāsu āgato,
But the former explanation has come down in many of the ancient Commentaries,

yuttarūpo cā ti sveva gahetabbo.
and it is considered suitable to uphold it.

Te pana sāyanhasamaye yuddhasajjā nikkhamissantī. ti
And so that day in the evening time they will go out to fight.

* * *

Tasmiṁ samaye Bhagavā Sāvatthiyaṁ viharanto
Then at that time the Fortunate One was living near Sāvatthī,

paccūsasamaye lokaṁ volokento
and towards the time of dawn he was looking around the world

ime evaṁ yuddhasajje nikkhante addasa.
and saw these (groups) going out to battle that day.

Disvā, “Mayi gate ayaṁ kalaho vūpasamissati nu kho udāhu no?” ti upadhārento:
Having seen (it), considering: “With my going (there) will this quarrel be pacified or will it not?”

“Aham-ettha gantvā kalahavūpasamatthaṁ, tīṇi Jātakāni kathessāmi,
(he knew): “Having gone there for the purpose of pacifying the quarrel, I will relate three Stories

tato kalaho vūpasamissati.
and the quarrel will be pacified through that.

Atha sāmaggidīpanatthāya dve Jātakāni kathetvā Attadaṇḍasuttaṁ desessāmi.
Then, for the purpose of illustrating (the benefits) of concord, after relating two Stories I will teach the Discourse on Taking up a Stick.

Desanaṁ sutvā, ubhayanagaravāsino pi
(Then) having heard that teaching, those people who dwell in both cities

aḍḍhatiyāni aḍḍhatiyāni kumārasatāni dassanti,
will give two-hundred and fifty young men each,

ahaṁ te pabbājessāmi, mahanto samāgamo bhavissatī,” ti sanniṭṭhānam-akāsi.
I will make them go forth, and there will be a Great Assembly,” at the conclusion.

Pāto va sarīrapaṭijagganaṁ katvā,
Then, after taking care of his body in the morning,

Sāvatthiyaṁ piṇḍāya caritvā, piṇḍapātapaṭikkanto.
and entering Sāvatthī for alms, he returned after the alms round.

Sāyanhasamaye Gandhakuṭito nikkhamitvā kassaci anārocetvā,
In the evening time, after leaving the Perfumed Cottage without having told anyone,

sayam-eva pattacīvaram-ādāya,
taking his robe and bowl,

dvinnaṁ senānaṁ antare ākāse, pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā,
in the sky between the two armies, after folding his legs crosswise,

tesaṁ saṁvegajananatthaṁ, divā andhakāraṁ kātuṁ,
to make it dark during the day, for the purpose of giving them spiritual anxiety,

kesaraṁsiyo vissajjento nisīdi.
he sat there emitting rays from his (dark-coloured) hair.

Atha nesaṁ saṁviggamānasānaṁ attānaṁ dassento
Then seeing their minds were anxious

chabbaṇṇā Buddharasmiyo vissajjessi.
he emitted the six-coloured Buddha rays.

Kapilavatthuvāsino Bhagavantaṁ disvā,
Having seen the Fortunate One those who resided at Kapilavatthu,

“amhākaṁ ñātiseṭṭho Satthā āgato,
° after thinking: “The Teacher, our foremost relative has come,

diṭṭho nu kho tena amhākaṁ kalahakāraṇabhāvo?” ti cintetvā,
has he seen the reason for our dispute?”

“Na kho pana sakkā Satthari āgate
(understood): “It is not possible, now the Teacher has come

amhehi parassa sarīre satthaṁ pātetuṁ,
to attack the bodies of others with spears,

Koliyanagaravāsino amhe hanantu vā bajjhantu vā!” ti āvudhāni chaḍḍesuṁ.
let the people dwelling in Koliya kill or capture us!” and they threw aside their weapons.

Koliyanagaravāsino pi tatheva akaṁsu.
The people dwelling in Koliya also did the same.

Atha Bhagavā otaritvā ramaṇīye padese,
Then the Fortunate One, having descended (from the sky) in that delightful place,

vālukapuline Paññattavarabuddhāsane nisīdi,
sat down on the appointed noble Buddha seat in a sandy bed,

anopamāya Buddhasiriyā virocamāno.
with his unmatched Buddha-glory shining.

Te pi Rājāno Bhagavantaṁ vanditvā, nisīdiṁsu.
Those Kings, having worshipped the Fortunate One, sat down.

Atha ne Satthā jānanto va: “Kasmā āgatattha, Mahārājā?” ti pucchi.
Then the Teacher, knowingly, asked: “Why have you come, Great Kings?”

“Neva, Bhante, nadidassanatthāya, na kīḷanatthāya,
“Not for seeing the river, venerable Sir, not for play, Jā 475; which tree this is is unclear, according to F&F it may be the Gardenia turgida tree; PED identifies it as a Dalbergia. I summarise the story below, but nothing in the comm. would lead us to believe the foes fought for an aeon.

apica kho pana imasmiṁ pana ṭhāne saṅgāmaṁ paccupaṭṭhapetvā āgatamhā” ti.
but having got ready for battle in this place, we have come.”

“Kiṁ nissāya vo kalaho Mahārājā?” ti
“This dispute is on account of what, Great Kings?”

“Udakaṁ nissāya, Bhante.” ti
“On account of water, venerable Sir.”

“Udakaṁ kiṁ agghati Mahārājā?” ti
“What is water worth, Great Kings?”

“Appagghaṁ, Bhante.” ti
“(It has) little worth, venerable Sir.”

“Pathavī nāma kiṁ agghati, Mahārājā?” ti
“And what is earth worth, Great Kings?”

“Anagghā, Bhante.” ti
“(It is) priceless, venerable Sir.”

“Khattiyā kiṁ agghanti Mahārājā?” ti
“What are Nobles worth, Great Kings?”

“Khattiyā nāma anagghā, Bhante.” ti
“Nobles are (also) priceless, venerable Sir.”

“Kasmā anagghe Khattiye nāsetha, Mahārājā? ti
“Why would you destroy Nobles, Great Kings?

Kalahasmiñ-hi assādo nāma natthi.
There is certainly no satisfaction in this quarrel.

Kalahavasena hi Mahārājā,
Because of a quarrel, Great Kings,

ekāya rukkhadevatāya kāḷasīhena saddhiṁ
a certain tree god and a black lion

baddhāghāto sakalam-pi imaṁ kappaṁ anuppatto yevā” ti
were bound by anger reaching through the whole aeon,”

vatvā Phandanajātakaṁ kathesi.
and having said (that), he related the Phandana Tree Story. This is a hard-skinned fruit (from the tree Aegle marmelos), that would make a fair noise when it dropped.

[A branch of a tree falls on a lion while he is lying under it, and he blames the tree spirit. He finds a cartwright looking for wood and guides him to the tree which he starts to chop down. The tree spirit convinces the wright that the skin of a lion is good for the rim, and he kills the lion. That way they both die.]

Tato: “Parapattiyena nāma Mahārājā na bhavitabbaṁ.
After that (he said): “There should certainly not be, Great Kings, this relying on (the word of) another.

Parapattiyā hi hutvā, ekassa sasassa kathāya,
Having relied on another, through the tale of one hare,

tiyojanasahassavitthate himavante catuppadagaṇā
a (great) crowd of four-footed (animals) stretching three thousand leagues

mahāsamuddaṁ pakkhandino ahesuṁ,
have jumped into the great ocean,

tasmā parapattiyena na bhavitabban,” ti
therefore one shouldn’t rely on (the word of) another,”

vatvā, Daddarajātakaṁ kathesi.
and having said (that), he related the Thud Story.

[A wood-apple fruit Laṭukikajātakaṁ, Jā 357. falls near where a hare is resting and he thinks an earthquake is coming, so he runs away. Other animals see him fleeing and asking why, learn that an earthquake is coming, so they all flee too, but all that happened, as the Bodhisatta shows, it that a fruit fell!]

Tato: “Kadāci, Mahārājā, dubbalo pi
After that (he said): “Sometimes the one who is weak, Great Kings,

mahabbalassa randhaṁ passati;
sees the strong one’s fault;

kadāci mahabbalo pi dubbalassa randhaṁ passati,
sometimes the strong one sees the weak one’s fault,

laṭukikā hi sakuṇikā Hatthināgaṁ ghātesī,” ti
therefore a quail bird once slaughtered a Nāga elephant,”

vatvā, Laṭukikajātakaṁ kathesi.
and having said (that), he related the Quail Story. Rukkhadhammajātakaṁ, Jā 74.

[A quail pleads with an elephant to be careful of her brood, but the elephant stomps on them and charges off. The quail befriends a crow, a fly and a frog. The first pecks out the elephant’s eyes, the second lays maggots in them and the third croaks and thereby deceives the elephant into falling over a precipice.]

Evaṁ kalahavūpasamatthāya tīṇi Jātakāni kathetvā,
Thus having related three Stories to pacify the quarrel,

sāmaggiparidīpanatthāya dve Jātakāni kathesi.
to illustrate (the value of) concord he related two Stories.

“Samaggānañ-hi Mahārājā koci otāraṁ nāma passituṁ na sakkotiī” ti,
“There is no one able to find fault in concord, Great Kings,”

vatvā, Rukkhadhammajātakaṁ kathesi.
and having said (that), he related the Righteous Tree Story. There are three Vaṭṭakajātakaṁ in our present text, Nos. 35, 118 and 394, but this is identified by the sub-commentary as being Jā 33, which is known to us as Sammodamānajātakaṁ.

[Tree spirits are given the chance to relocate their residences. Some stay in groups in the forests, other choose to live solitary near to villages and towns where they can get good offerings. When storms rage over the land the solitary trees are destroyed, while the communal ones survive.]

Tato: “Samaggānaṁ Mahārājā koci vivaraṁ passituṁ nāsakkhi.
After that (he said): “Nobody was able, Great Kings, to find an opening when there was concord.

Yadā pana aññamaññaṁ vivādam-akaṁsu,
But when a dispute had arisen amongst one another,

atha ne eko nesādaputto jīvitakkhayaṁ pāpetvā, ādāya gato.
then one hunter’s son, having destroyed their lives, took them away.

Vivāde assādo nāma natthī,” ti
There is certainly no satisfaction in disputes,”

vatvā, Vaṭṭakajātakaṁ kathesi.
and having said (that), he related the Quail Story. Only the first 5 of 20 verses are translated here.

[A hunter is always catching quails, one of whom has the bright idea that when the nets are thrown they should put their necks through the holes and all fly off together. All goes well and they escape the hunter, until one day they fall into a quarrel and he carries them all off.]

Evaṁ imāni pañca Jātakāni kathetvā,
Thus having related these five Stories,

avasāne Attadaṇḍasuttaṁ kathesi.
at the end he related the Discourse on Taking up a Stick. The dart of craving.

[Fear arises from one who has taken up a stick, look at people arguing,
I will explain my spiritual anxiety, the way I experienced it:
Having seen this generation trembling like fish in little water,
Having seen how they are opposed to each other fear came upon me.
The world is without essence, agitated in all directions,
Wishing for a place of safety for myself, I saw nowhere that was free,
Having seen how they are opposed to the end, I became detached,
Then I saw a dart Comm: sink into the four floods. here, hard to see, resting in the heart,
Affected by this dart one runs about in all directions,
Having pulled out the dart, one does not run nor sink.] Comm: sink into the four floods.

Atha Rājāno pasannā: “Sace Satthā nāgamissa,
Then the Kings, being pleased, (said): “If the Teacher had not come,

mayaṁ aññamaññaṁ vadhitvā, lohitanadiṁ pavattayissāma,
having slaughtered each other, we would have set flowing a river of blood,

Satthāraṁ nissāya no jīvitaṁ laddhaṁ!
because of the Teacher we have received (back) our lives!

Sace pana Satthā agāraṁ ajjhāvasissa,
If the Teacher had lived in the house,

dvisahassadīpaparivāresu catumahādīparajjaṁ hatthagataṁ abhavissa,
the four great island kingdoms, surrounded by the two-thousand islands would have gone into his hand,

atirekasahassaṁ kho panassa puttā abhavissaṁsu,
and he would have had more than a thousand children,

tato Khattiyaparivāro va avicarissa.
and would have gone about with a retinue of Nobles.

Taṁ kho panesa sampattiṁ pahāya nikkhamitvā, sambodhiṁ patto.
But after giving up his fortune and going forth, he attained Complete Awakening.

Idāni pi khattiyaparivāro va vicaratū!” ti
Now he should go around with a retinue of Nobles also!”

ubhayanagaravāsino aḍḍhateyyāni aḍḍhateyyāni kumārasatāni adaṁsu,
and those who dwelt in the two cities gave two-hundred and fifty young men each,

Bhagavā te pabbājetvā Mahāvanaṁ agamāsi.
and the Fortunate One, having given them the going-forth, returned to the Great Wood.