Babbu Jataka (#137)

temple painting of Babbu Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a stone cutter. His village was once home to a wealthy merchant who made it 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, 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 decided to take a coin to the Bodhisatta in her mouth for him to buy lunch for himself and some meat for her. He happily agreed 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 once, 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 this 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 and told the mouse to get inside. When a cat came by, he told her, 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, who was 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 return. The mother, insisting it would be rude to return without a gift, baked a cake to send back with her daughter. A disciple on his alms round passed the house and the mother gave him the cake, and then began to bake another. The disciple told another 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 and so she couldn’t leave. The husband’s third-day message said that if she did not come back right away, he was going to get a new wife. Again the 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, and when the Buddha heard some other disciples discussing the woman’s fate, he told them this story so they knew this was not the first time these four had made misery for the mother by eating her food.

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