Sabbadatha Jataka (#241)

temple painting of Sabbadatha Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a king’s chaplain. He was an expert at magic, and one day he went deep into the forest, where no person would hear him talking, to practice reciting the very powerful Subduing the World Spell. But a jackal lying in a hole near the Bodhisatta heard him and memorized the spell. As the Bodhisatta got up to leave, the jackal jumped up and yelled out, “I have learned the spell better than you!” and ran off. The Bodhisatta, knowing this could lead to trouble, chased after the jackal, but to no avail.

The jackal found a she-jackal he liked and performed the spell on her. Suddenly, this female was his consort, and thousands of other four-footed animals—jackals, elephants, horses, lions, tigers, wild boars, deer, rabbits, and more—came to serve him. The new king of the forest rode around standing on the back of a lion that stood on the backs of two elephants. The jackal became so arrogant he decided to become the ruler of people too. He marched his four-footed army to the kingdom’s capital and surrounded it many kilometers deep, then he sent a message to the king: surrender or fight.

The king and everybody else was alarmed, except for the Bodhisatta, who told the king he could defeat the jackal. The Bodhisatta climbed up one of the towers on the city wall and asked the jackal how he planned to conquer the city. The jackal told him he would make all the lions roar, and this would frighten people so much that they would not fight. So the Bodhisatta announced by the beat of a drum that everybody needed to fill their ears with flour; and the people did so. Then the Bodhisatta returned to the tower and again asked the jackal what his strategy was. Getting the same answer, the Bodhisatta told him he did not believe lions would follow the order of a lowly jackal. As a demonstration of his power, the jackal tapped the lion he stood on and it let out a mighty roar. The sound terrified the two elephants, so the jackal fell to the ground and was crushed to death under their feet. And in the mass panic that followed, every animal, except for the lions, died from being trampled or wounded.

The kingdom saved, the Bodhisatta threw open the city gates and told people to go collect the carcasses. They ate as much fresh meat as they could, but there was so much remaining that they invented the process of drying meat to preserve it.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The jackal 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 how Devadatta had previously had a good reputation and much support, he told them this story so they knew that Devadatta also had short-lived success in the past.

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

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