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 fish and meat cooking and wanted to eat it. When he saw the Bodhisatta fly into the kitchen, he hatched a plan to get at the food. The next day, the crow followed the Bodhisatta from 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 wanted to stay with him always. That evening when the cook saw the Bodhisatta’s companion, he hung a basket for him to live in.

The two birds dwelled together in the kitchen for several days until finally the cook hung some fish there and the crow decided now was the time to get some of the splendid food he had come for. 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 over to take some fish. But he landed noisily on a colander, and the cook rushed back in. He grabbed the crow, plucked 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.

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