Sattigumba Jataka (#503)

temple painting of Suka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a parrot. He and his brother were born to a parrot king in a high, remote forest. One day a whirlwind arose and blew the young brothers away; the Bodhisatta landed amidst flowers in a monastery and his brother fell into a village full of thieves. They grew up in these new homes.

Later, the king went deer hunting with a large group of people. Their servants beat bushes to rouse up animals, and a deer rushed right past the king before he could shoot it. The other hunters mocked the king for his failure. Unable to tolerate their jokes, the conceited king took after the deer in his chariot, determined to catch it. The king and his charioteer rode until midday before giving up and turning back. They stopped in a little valley near the thieves’ village; taking a bath and a nap. All the thieves were away, leaving only their cook and the parrot behind. The parrot saw the king and brought the cook over to help rob and kill him. The king awoke and overheard the two discussing their plans from afar. He woke the charioteer, and they quickly left.

The king then came upon the monastery and was welcomed warmly by the Bodhisatta (all the ascetics were out gathering roots and fruits at that time) with leaves and seeds to eat and cool cave water to drink. The king returned the parrot’s kind words and told of the evil parrot he’d just encountered. The Bodhisatta revealed that they were brothers, absorbing the habits of the people around them: one violence and deceit, the other kindness and self-control. It was an insightful lesson for the king, and when the ascetics returned, he invited them to come live under his care in the royal park. He also declared immunity from capture for all parrots across the kingdom. The king provided for this band of ascetics until his final days, and so did his descendants through seven generations.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The wicked parrot was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, and the band of thieves were Devadatta’s disciples. The second time (out of three) that Devadatta tried to kill the Buddha was by hurling a mighty rock at him from atop a mountain. The rock got blocked by two outcrops, but a splinter broke off and pierced the Buddha’s foot, causing great pain. His disciples carried the Buddha to Jivaka, the Buddha’s doctor, who healed the wound.

When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing the incident and how Devadatta surrounded himself with wicked people, he told them this story so they knew that this was not the first time Devadatta kept sinful company.

The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the band of ascetics were earlier births of the Buddha’s followers.

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