The Bodhisatta was once a rat. He lived in the forest and was the leader of a big pack of rats. One time a forest fire swept through and a jackal did not have time to flee, so he pressed his head against a tree and stood still as the flames approached. The fire didn’t kill or injure him, it just singed off all his fur; except for a tuft on the crown of his head, which the tree had covered.
As he drank water from a pond one time, and saw the hair on his head in his reflection, the jackal devised a scheme to eat the rats by pretending to be holy and staying near their cave. When the Bodhisatta saw the jackal, he assumed he was holy because of his hair and went to speak with him. The jackal explained that he was a worshipper of the fire god and he had come here to guard the rats, which he would do by counting them each time they left the cave in the morning and returned in the evening so the Bodhisatta would know if any were missing.
The Bodhisatta believed him and was pleased to accept his help. But each time the jackal counted the rats, he ate the last one in line. Eventually the rats noticed their group had grown smaller, and they told the Bodhisatta. Hearing this news, he suspected it was the jackal, so the next time they passed him, the Bodhisatta walked at the end of the line. When the jackal poised to strike, the Bodhisatta yelled out, “Your topknot comes from greed, not virtue. We are through with you!” and sprang at the jackal’s throat, biting hard into his windpipe and killing him. The other rats came back and devoured the entire body.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The jackal was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who had been exposed as a hypocrite. The Buddha told this story so the other disciples knew he had been the same way in the past.