Guna Jataka (#157)

temple painting of Guna Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a lion. One day while out hunting, he pursued a deer that was eating grass on the muddy shore of a lake. Rabbits, deer, and other animals could walk over the thick mud, but the large and heavy lion sank in so deep he was trapped. He remained stuck for seven days with no one who could help him passing by until a jackal out hunting saw him. The jackal ran off in fear, but the Bodhisatta called out to be saved and explained his situation. The jackal said he would not help because he would just get eaten once the Bodhisatta was free. But the Bodhisatta said he would not kill him, and promised to reward the jackal if he got him out. So the jackal started digging. He removed mud from around all four legs and then walked under the Bodhisatta’s body and pushed up with his head. The strength of the two working together freed the Bodhisatta.

The Bodhisatta cleaned himself in the lake and then killed a buffalo to eat, sharing the flesh with the jackal. The lion invited the jackal to move into a cave next to his own, and the pair became friends, regularly going out hunting. Their wives and children also grew close and lived happily together. Then one day, completely out of the blue, the lioness was stricken with jealousy over the she-jackal, imagining that something was up between her and the Bodhisatta. When the men were away hunting, she and her children went over and threatened the jackals, telling them they should leave. The she-jackal assumed the message, though delivered by the wife, was coming from the Bodhisatta, and she was terrified that they would be killed. When her husband returned, she told him what had happened and pleaded to return to their former home.

The jackal told the Bodhisatta he understood they had overstayed their welcome and were ready to leave, but it would have been much more polite to tell him directly rather than threatening his wife. But the Bodhisatta denied there was any issue between them, and he set his wife right by telling her how he befriended the jackal. He then ordered her to never disrespect the jackal family ever again, and peace was restored. The children remained friends after their parents died, and the friendship between the families continued unbroken through seven generations.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The jackal was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples. When a king received one thousand splendid, expensive robes, he gave one to each of his five hundred wives, and they, in turn, gave them to Ananda, who was their dharma teacher. The next morning when they had breakfast, the king asked his wives why they were not wearing their beautiful new clothes. When they told him, the king figured Ananda was secretly making money by selling them, and he got angry, so he went to confront him.

He asked Ananda why he took five hundred robes when the Buddha’s rules forbid his disciples from having more than three. Ananda explained that though he accepted the gift, he did not keep it; instead he gave robes to other disciples who needed new ones. Then, to explain to the king that no offerings were wasted, he told what happened to old robes when disciples got new ones. First they were turned into cloaks, which were later sewn into shirts, which then became bed sheets, then mats, then towels, then finally the worn fabric was chopped up into bits and mixed into mortar for building houses. The king was pleased with what he learned and gave Ananda the other five hundred robes.

Ananda passed on this new batch to a young disciple as a thank you for all the support he gave him—things like sweeping his room, serving him food and drink, cleaning the bathroom—and let him distribute them to other young disciples. Some disciples asked the Buddha if it had been proper for Ananda to give such a large gift to someone inferior to him. The Buddha explained that Ananda’s gift was acceptable because it was given out of gratitude: it was simply a matter of one good deed deserves another. Then the Buddha told them this story so they knew that in the past he himself had once rewarded someone of lower status for being helpful.

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