Kaka Jataka (#140)

temple painting of Kaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a crow. A mischievous crow sat on the archway of the city gate, and when he saw the king’s chaplain he decided to defecate on his head. The chaplain, who had just bathed in the river and was wearing his best clothes, was furious, and a deep hatred of crows was born.

At this same time, a slave guarding a granary fell asleep, and a shaggy goat came around and started to eat rice. The slave woke up and shooed it away, but each time she dozed off, the goat came back to eat more. Wanting the goat to stay away, the slave pretended to fall asleep; and when it returned, she hit it with a torch. The goat’s hair caught fire, and it ran into a shed and rolled in the hay, setting the building ablaze. The flames spread, and the nearby royal stables caught fire, severely injuring many elephants. Their injuries were so bad that the king’s veterinarians did not know what to do, so the king sought the chaplain’s advice.

Seeing an opportunity for vengeance, the chaplain recommended crow fat as a cure. The king ordered all crows killed, but even though no fat was found, the slaughter continued until there were piles of dead crows around the city. The Bodhisatta lived as the leader of eighty thousand crows in a large cemetery, and when he heard the news, he knew he was the only one who could stop the killing; and he would do so with kindness. He flew to the palace and reminded the king of the principle that leaders should rule by wisdom, not passion, and should only set a course of action after knowing all the facts. He then explained that crows have no fat because they live in constant fear of humans, and the chaplain was motivated to lie about the crows for revenge, not for the benefit of the king or the elephants.

The king was so impressed by the Bodhisatta that he seated him on a golden throne and offered to have him lead the kingdom. But he rejected the offer and just preached to the king, urging him to protect all living creatures. The king granted immunity to all animals, and from then on delivered six bushels of delicately flavored rice daily for the crows to eat, plus a separate special portion of the king’s own food for the Bodhisatta.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The Buddha knew an exceptionally wise counselor, and he told this story as a lesson on the importance of being thoughtful and careful before making decisions.

The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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