The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. The king was so talkative that nobody could get a word in. Near the city lived a tortoise who had befriended a pair of geese. One day they invited the tortoise to visit their beautiful Himalayan home. Though he couldn’t get there on his own, if the tortoise bit down on a stick, the geese could carry him between them as they flew—all the tortoise had to do was keep his mouth shut. As they flew, some excited children yelled out, “Two geese are carrying a tortoise by a stick!” The tortoise wanted to tell them to mind their own business, and when he started to speak, he fell into the palace courtyard and smashed in two. People were shocked, and the king came up with all his court to see what the commotion was about.
The Bodhisatta surmised (correctly, of course) exactly what had happened and saw this as the opportunity he had long been looking for to teach the king a lesson. He related the circumstances that led to the tortoise’s demise, and added that those who set no limit on their talking are bound to come to misfortune, as this tortoise did. The king figured the Bodhisatta was directing the message at him, and from then on he became a man of few words.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The tortoise was an earlier birth of Cula Kokalika, a greedy disciple of the Buddha, and the geese were earlier births of Sariputta and Moggallana, two of the Buddha’s top disciples. Sariputta and Moggallana spent one rainy season at Cula Kokalika’s home, with the instruction not to tell the locals they were there. After the three months had passed, they set off back to the Buddha’s monastery. Right after they departed, Cula Kokalika boasted to people about who had been staying with him. They quickly gathered food and robes to donate and rushed after the departed disciples to pay respect. Knowing that Sariputta and Moggallana were very frugal and would not accept the gifts, Cula Kokalika followed, expecting that the things would be given to him. But the elder disciples just told the people to keep everything, and this angered Cula Kokalika.
A short time later, Sariputta and Moggallana led a thousand disciples on an alms pilgrimage. When they passed through Cula Kokalika’s town, the laypeople greeted them enthusiastically and donated many robes and other things. Again, Sariputta and Moggallana gave nothing to Cula Kokalika, and this time he was so furious he began insulting them for being greedy and selfish. So the disciples left the town. People begged them to stay, but could not change their minds. The angry people told Cula Kokalika to fix the problem he had created; and if he could not convince Sariputta and Moggallana to return, he would have to go live elsewhere. Fearful of losing his home, he tried to persuade them. But he failed.
Forced to leave, Cula Kokalika went to the Buddha’s monastery. When he got there, he immediately began to tell the Buddha how wicked Sariputta and Moggallana were, not stopping even after being rebuked by the Buddha for his inappropriate words. Moments later, bloody boils erupted on his body and he fell over in pain. One of his former teachers heard his cries and came down from heaven, encouraging him to make peace with the elders. But Cula Kokalika would not let go of his anger, and he died and went to hell.
When the Buddha later heard some of his disciples discussing Cula Kokalika’s downfall, he told them this story so they knew that this was not the first time Cula Kokalika’s own words had caused his destruction.
The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, another of the Buddha’s top disciples.