Parantapa Jataka (#416)

temple painting of Parantapa Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a prince, respected by everyone except his father. During his education in Taxila, the Bodhisatta learned a spell to understand animal language. Late one night, while the Bodhisatta sat in his bedroom, a man lay down to sleep just outside the palace. A jackal saw the man and told her two hungry cubs to be quiet because she was going to sneak up and steal his shoes for the three of them to eat. The Bodhisatta, hearing the jackal talking, yelled out his window telling the man to take his shoes off the ground and hang them up high. The thwarted jackal was angry at the Bodhisatta.

Another night the same jackal saw a man who had drowned in a lotus pond. The mother jackal told her cubs to be quiet, the man had one thousand coins and wore a ring, and they were going to eat his body. Hearing the jackal’s plan, the Bodhisatta shouted out to a man nearby, ordering him to collect the man’s property and make the body sink to the bottom of the pond, again foiling the jackal. The angry jackal told the Bodhisatta that in three days a rival king would attack the city, and the Bodhisatta would be beheaded; then she would get her revenge by drinking his blood.

The jackal’s prediction came true, and as the city was encircled, the king ordered the Bodhisatta to fight. He explained that he could not go due to the prophecy, but the king answered, “I don’t care if you live or die. Go!” Following his father’s orders, the Bodhisatta took his soldiers and went quietly out a back gate to set up camp. Out of respect, every man in the city followed the Bodhisatta. The king now realized he would be killed, so he took his pregnant chief queen, chaplain, and a servant and fled in disguise. When the Bodhisatta learned of his father’s escape, he returned to the city, took the throne, and defeated the hostile king.

The four people who fled lived in the forest in leaf huts. The king and his chaplain gathered food while the pregnant queen and the servant stayed back and took care of their home. Eventually the queen and servant began an affair. The queen feared being discovered, which would surely result in their execution, so she told the servant to kill the king. The next time the king went to bathe, the servant sliced off his head, chopped his body into pieces, and buried them. The chaplain had been in a nearby tree picking wild fruit and saw the murder, so he quickly slid down and hid in a thicket. The servant heard the rustling of branches, but saw no one and assumed there was no witness.

Fearing for his life, when the chaplain returned home he pretended to be blind, claiming a snake had spit venom at his face. When the servant asked what had happened, the chaplain answered as if he were speaking with the king, and this feigned ignorance convinced the servant that the chaplain did not know about the murder. The chaplain missed his wife dearly, but remained living in the forest and feigning blindness, letting the servant care for him.

The queen gave birth, and her son grew up believing the servant was his father; he had no idea he was a prince. But when the son came of age, the chaplain revealed everything to him, taught him to use a sword, and told him to murder the servant; which he did in the same manner that his father had died. The prince rebuked his mother, then the three of them returned home where the Bodhisatta appointed the young prince, his half-brother, as viceroy.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The wicked king was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis and tried to kill him three times. When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the assassination attempts, he told them this story so they knew that Devadatta had also tried to kill him in the past, but had not even made him afraid.

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