Catumatta Jataka (#187)

temple painting of Catumatta Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy. Two young geese who lived in the mountains always perched in his tree to rest when they came to his forest looking for food. They became friends with the Bodhisatta and used to discuss religion before returning home. One day as they talked with the Bodhisatta, a jackal stopped below the tree and asked the geese to come down to the ground so he could join their conversation. The geese were disgusted and immediately flew back home. The Bodhisatta told the jackal that the geese were beautiful creatures worthy of talking to, while the jackal was not, so he should leave and go back to his den.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The jackal was an earlier birth of an elderly disciple who lacked manners, and the geese were earlier births of Sariputta and Moggallana, two of the Buddha’s top disciples. One time while Sariputta and Moggallana sat discussing dharma with each other, the elderly disciple walked up without being invited and tried to join their conversation. But the elders were disgusted by his intrusion, so they got up and left.

After this, the people who had been listening to Sariputta and Moggallana speak went to see the Buddha, and he asked why they had come so early. When they explained the reason, the Buddha told them this story so they knew that the same thing had happened between the three disciples in the past.

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