The Bodhisatta was once a tree fairy. One day a jackal’s mate had the urge to eat a carp, so he set off to find one. On the river bank he saw two otters catch a huge carp and work together to bring it to the shore and kill it. Then they began to quarrel about who should divide the fish, each wanting the other to do it. When the otters saw the jackal, they asked him to come divide it equally for them. The jackal assured them he was a fair and experienced arbiter and agreed to help. He gave the tail to one, the head to the other, and ran off with the middle for himself and his grateful wife. The Bodhisatta saw all this happen and commented that when there is strife between people they suffer and someone else benefits.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The jackal was an earlier birth of Upananda, a hypocritical disciple of the Buddha known for being extremely greedy while simultaneously preaching to others the importance of living a simple, virtuous life. Once during a rains retreat, Upananda left one of his belongings—an umbrella, shoe, walking stick, etc.—in several different monasteries so he could collect robes from each of them.
At the monastery where he actually resided for the rains retreat, Upananda encouraged the other disciples to replace their nice robes and alms bowls with rags and clay pots in order to develop their practice. Then Upananda took all the discarded good robes and bowls for himself, and at the end of the rains retreat he carried everything he had gathered to his regular monastery in a cart. On the way, he stopped at another monastery and met two old disciples (the otters were earlier births of them) with two course cloaks and one fine blanket. They didn’t know how to divide these between them and asked Upananda to decide. Upananda gave each man one cloak and kept the fine blanket for himself.
Many disciples were displeased with Upananda, and when the Buddha heard them discussing his greed, he said not only were Upananda’s actions wrong, but one should not preach until they have mastered the lesson themselves. Then he told them this story so they knew that Upananda had been similarly greedy in the past.