Mahakapi Jataka (#516)

temple painting of Mahakapi Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a monkey. A farmer’s oxen had wandered off into the forest while he worked in his field with a spade. Overcome with grief, he searched for seven days without stopping even to eat, but he couldn’t find them and got hopelessly lost deep in the Himalayas. Eventually he climbed a Malabar ebony tree to eat the fruit, but a branch broke, and he fell into a pond at the bottom of a deep, hell-like gorge. After ten days, the Bodhisatta saw the man and carried him out of the gorge on his back.

After the rescue, the Bodhisatta was exhausted and took a nap. The farmer, ravished by hunger, smashed the Bodhisatta’s head with a rock to kill and eat him. But the farmer was so weak he only injured him. Covered in blood and in great pain, the Bodhisatta sprang up into the safety of a high branch. Instead of getting angry, he told the farmer he would walk in the treetops to lead him out of the forest.

Because of his sin against the Bodhisatta, the man became a wretched leper, mere skin and bone and always in pain. For seven years he wandered to and fro. One day, as the man rested in a park, the king came there and asked what sinful deed he had done to bring such suffering upon himself. The man told the king his whole story, and as it ended, the earth opened up and swallowed him into hell. So the king went home.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The leper was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the time Devadatta had tried to kill him by rolling a boulder down a hill, he told them this story so they knew that Devadatta had also tried to kill him with a rock in the past.

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