Babbu Jataka (#137)

temple painting of Babbu Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a stone cutter. A wealthy merchant once lived in his village, and because of him, it was a bustling place. But over time, the merchant and his family died, and the village became destitute. The merchant’s wife, who loved money very much, was reborn as a mouse and lived amidst the family’s abandoned treasure.

The Bodhisatta worked at a quarry in the village, and the mouse, seeing him there often while she went about seeking food, struck up a friendship. Realizing that, as a mouse, she could do nothing with all her money, she started taking coins to the Bodhisatta in her mouth for him to buy lunch for himself and some meat for her, and this became their daily routine.

One day a cat caught the mouse. Just as it was about to eat her, she suggested that rather than eating her and getting only one meal, it could keep her alive and eat some of her daily meat. The cat agreed, and from then on the mouse had to divide her meat into two portions to share. Later, another cat caught the mouse, and to spare her life, she made the same deal. And then again, and again, until the mouse was splitting her daily meat into five portions and only eating one. She was reduced to skin and bone, and when the Bodhisatta noticed it, he asked what the problem was. She told him what had happened, and he said he would solve her cat problem.

The Bodhisatta hollowed out a block of pure, clear crystal so the mouse could sit inside. He told her that when a cat came by, she should insult and threaten it. When the first cat came and demanded his meat, the mouse called him vile and told him to go home and eat his kittens. Enraged, the cat jumped at the mouse and hit the unseen crystal with such force his chest broke and his eyes popped out of his head. He died instantly. The other three cats came and met the same end. The mouse was so grateful she began to bring the Bodhisatta two or three coins a day and eventually gave him the entire treasure.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

A woman left her village to visit her mother, a respected lay follower of the Buddha. After she’d stayed there several days, her husband sent a messenger telling her it was time to come back. The mother, insisting it would be rude to return without a gift, baked a cake to send with her daughter. A disciple on an alms round passed the house, and the mother gave him the cake, then began to bake another. The disciple told one of his companions about the cake, so he passed by the house and also got one. He told a third, and he told a fourth, and both also took cakes home that day. At this point, there was not enough time for her daughter to return, so she stayed one more night. The next day, the husband sent another message telling her to hurry back. But the same four disciples came for cakes again, so she couldn’t leave. The husband’s third-day message said that if she did not come back right away, he would get a new wife. Again these four disciples returned, and again the wife could not leave. The next message said the husband had already taken another wife, and the daughter wept with sadness.

The mouse and the cats were earlier births of the mother and the four thoughtless disciples. When the Buddha heard some other disciples discussing the woman’s fate, he told them this story so they knew that this was not the first time these four had made misery for the mother by eating her food.

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