Kokalika Jataka (#331)

temple painting of Kokalika Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a king’s advisor. The king was very talkative and the Bodhisatta wanted to change this, but was waiting for the right time to discuss it. One day the king was relaxing in his park below a mango tree. In it was a crow’s nest that a cuckoo had laid an egg in. The mother crow raised the cuckoo hatchling as one of her own until it prematurely uttered its first cry. Hearing the strange sound, the crow pecked the baby cuckoo to death and threw it out of the nest. It fell at the king’s feet and he asked the Bodhisatta why this had happened. Finally finding his opportunity to teach the king a lesson, the Bodhisatta explained how the cuckoo speaking at the wrong time let the crow know it was not actually her offspring. Anyone, person or animal, he said, who speaks out of turn is bound to eventually suffer misery because of it. Upon hearing this advice, the king became more thoughtful before speaking.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The young cuckoo was an earlier birth of Cula Kokalika, a greedy disciple of the Buddha. Two of the Buddha’s top disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, spent one rains retreat at Cula Kokalika’s place 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 immediately took food and robes for donating 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 made Cula Kokalika angry.

A short time later, Sariputta and Moggallana led a thousand disciples on an alms pilgrimage, and when they passed through Cula Kokalika’s town the lay people greeted them enthusiastically and donated many robes and other things. Again they gave nothing to Cula Kokalika, and this time he was so furious he began insulting Sariputta and Moggallana for being greedy and selfish. So the disciples departed. People begged them to stay, but could not change their minds. The angry people told Cula Kokalika to fix the problem that 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, he 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 disciples discussing Cula Kokalika’s downfall, he told them this story so they knew this was not the first time Cula Kokalika’s own words had caused his destruction.

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