Samudda Jataka (#296)

temple painting of Samudda Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a spirit of the sea. One time he heard a “water crow” flying over the ocean telling schools of fish and flocks of birds to not drink too much water. The Bodhisatta asked the water crow why it was doing this and it answered that it was worried they would drink up all the water. Realizing the bird was a greedy fool, the Bodhisatta took a terrifying shape and chased it away.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The “water crow” was an earlier birth of Upananda, a hypocritical disciple of the Buddha known for eating a lot and being extremely greedy while simultaneously preaching to others the importance of living a simple, virtuous life. Once during a rains retreat, Upananda left one of his belongings—an umbrella, shoe, walking stick, etc.—in several different monasteries so he could collect robes from each of them.

At the monastery where he actually resided for the rains retreat, Upananda encouraged the other disciples to replace their nice robes and alms bowls with rags and clay pots in order to develop their practice. Then Upananda took all the discarded good robes and bowls for himself, and at the end of the rains retreat he carried everything he had gathered to his regular monastery in a cart.

Many disciples were displeased with Upananda, and when the Buddha heard them discussing his greed, he said not only were Upananda’s actions wrong, but one should not preach until they have mastered the lesson themselves. Then he told them this story so they knew that Upananda had been similarly greedy in the past.

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