The Bodhisatta was once a monkey, one of a thousand who lived in the royal park. One day, after the king’s chaplain had gone there to bathe, a mischievous monkey sitting on the gateway arch defecated on the chaplain’s head as he passed below. And when the chaplain looked up, the monkey dropped more into his mouth. The chaplain was furious and vowed revenge on the park’s monkeys. When the Bodhisatta heard about this, he told the monkeys that it’s dangerous to live near an enemy and said they should all leave. Half the monkeys went with the Bodhisatta, but the other half listened to a rebellious monkey who chose to stay.
Later, a slave smacked a goat that had eaten some of her rice with a burning torch. He ran away with his hair on fire and rubbed himself on a grass hut to put out the flames, setting the building ablaze. The flames spread, and the nearby elephant stable caught fire, burning the backs of 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, his recommended cure was monkey fat. So the king ordered his archers to kill and collect all the park’s monkeys. After getting shot, one of them managed to escape and reached the Bodhisatta’s new home moments before dying, and he told him what had happened. The Bodhisatta used the opportunity to give a sermon about the risk of living near one’s enemies. It so impressed the others that they made him their king.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The rebellious monkey was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, and the monkeys who remained in the park with him were earlier births of Devadatta’s disciples. When the Buddha heard some of his own disciples discussing how Devadatta had been swallowed by the earth into the flames of hell, he told them this story so they knew that Devadatta had also been destroyed after being rebellious in the past.