Godha Jataka (#141)

temple painting of Godha Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an iguana. He lived in a massive burrow with hundreds of other iguanas who followed his leadership. His young son was close friends with a chameleon, and the Bodhisatta disapproved because chameleons are low-class creatures, and mingling with them would bring misery to their entire iguana clan. Though ordered to end the friendship, his son refused. Anticipating danger from the chameleon, the Bodhisatta dug a new tunnel out of their burrow to use in case of an emergency.

The iguana grew large, while the chameleon stayed small. Eventually their hugs began to hurt the chameleon and he realized they would soon kill him. So he ended their friendship and wanted to help a hunter kill all the iguanas.

One time after a thunderstorm, the chameleon saw an iguana hunter walking through the forest with his spade and dogs, and he led them to his former friend’s burrow. He told the hunter where to start a fire to smoke the iguanas out, and the plan worked. As the iguanas fled the fire, the hunter smashed as many as he could with a big stick and let his dogs catch the rest. As the slaughter took place, the Bodhisatta escaped through his secret tunnel. Knowing this must be the work of the chameleon, he remarked that “bad company can never end in good.”

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The disobedient young iguana was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s disciples who had been persuaded by a friend to skip his morning alms rounds and eat fancy meals at the monastery of Devadatta (the chameleon was an earlier birth of him), a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. The Buddha told this story to the traitorous disciple and those who had reported his misbehavior so they knew that not listening to wise people can have bad results for an entire group.

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