Mora Jataka (#159)

temple painting of Mora Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a golden peacock. For safety’s sake, he lived in the remote Dandaka Forest. Every morning at sunrise, and again at sunset, the Bodhisatta sat on a hilltop and recited two protection spells, one in worship of the sun and the other in honor of past Buddhas.

One night, one of the king’s wives dreamed of a golden peacock preaching, and the next day she told the king she wanted to hear it in real life. The king consulted his chaplains, who confirmed such birds existed, and then he sent a hunter out to capture one. The hunter set snares around the feeding grounds, but the Bodhisatta was protected, and even when he stepped into one it wouldn’t close. For seven years the hunter failed, and the queen died of grief over her wish going unfulfilled. This so upset the king that he wrote an inscription on a golden tablet telling people that a golden peacock lived in the Dandaka Forest and anyone who ate its flesh would be forever young and immortal.

The king’s successor read the inscription and sent a hunter to the forest, but the quest for a golden peacock proved equally futile for him, and also for the following four kings. But the hunter sent by the next king was quite clever. When he saw that snares would not close on the Bodhisatta’s legs, he came up with a new plan. He caught a peahen and trained it to dance when he clapped his hands and cry out when he snapped his fingers, then he took it to the forest. First thing in the morning, before the Bodhisatta chanted his spells, the hunter snapped his fingers. Desire rose in the Bodhisatta’s heart when he heard the peahen and he went off to find her; and when he did, he got caught in the hunter’s net.

The hunter brought the golden peacock to the delighted king, who sat down to talk with the Bodhisatta before killing him. The Bodhisatta learned why he had been captured, and that he was about to die, but he told the king his special golden color was not an enchantment and eating him would not give immortality since he himself was not immortal. He explained that he had once been the king of this same realm, and after living in heaven he was reborn on earth as a peacock due to some sin. But he got a gorgeous golden hue because when he had worn the crown, he faithfully kept the five precepts and made his subjects do the same.

The king was astounded and wanted proof, so the Bodhisatta said his jeweled chariot lay buried in the royal lake. The king had the lake drained and found the carriage, just as the Bodhisatta had said he would. The king, now knowing the truth, sat to listen to a sermon from the Bodhisatta, and from then on his heart was filled with peace and he kept the precepts. The king even offered his kingdom to the Bodhisatta, but he refused and flew back to his forest home.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One of the Buddha’s disciples began lusting for a woman he saw wearing beautiful clothes, and he could no longer focus on studying dharma. The Buddha told this story so the disciple knew it was very easy to be led astray by women, and it had even happened to himself in the past.

The king who met the Bodhisatta was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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