Kapota Jataka (#42)

temple painting of Kapota Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a pigeon. In those days, people used to hang baskets around town for birds to live in, and the Bodhisatta had taken up residence in the kitchen of the king’s treasurer.

One day a crow smelled the fish and meat being cooked in the kitchen and wanted to eat it. When he saw the Bodhisatta fly into the kitchen at the end of the day, he hatched a plan to get at the food. The next day he followed the Bodhisatta place to place as he fed. Knowing they had very different diets, the Bodhisatta asked the crow why. The crow answered that he respected the pigeon’s demeanor and was going to stay with him always. That evening when the cook saw the Bodhisatta’s companion, he brought the crow a basket to live in.

Soon after, the crow saw fish hanging around the kitchen and decided it was time to get some. He spent the night moaning loudly, and the next morning when the Bodhisatta was leaving to search for food he said he had a stomach ache and could not go. The Bodhisatta knew that crows did not get stomach aches and so knew what the crow was really up to. He urged the crow not to do it, but to no avail.

When the crow saw the cook step out of the kitchen, he flew to the stove to take some fish and made some noise when he landed. The cook rushed back in and caught the crow. He plucked out all his feathers, covered him in sauce and spices, and tossed him into his basket to suffer a slow, painful death. When the Bodhisatta returned he scolded the crow for his greed and for not listening to good advice. Then the Bodhisatta flew off to find another dwelling.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One of the Buddha’s disciples, who had been the crow in an earlier birth, was greedy. The Buddha told him this story to explain how greed had once before led him to ruin and also caused an earlier birth of the Buddha to lose his home.

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