Sigala Jataka (#148)

temple painting of Sigala Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a jackal. He came upon a dead elephant out in the forest, but it was too tough to eat—except for the anus. He ate his way from there into the belly and then continued to dine on the kidneys, heart, and the rest, and he drank blood instead of water. He decided to live inside the elephant, eating away day by day. When he had devoured all the meat and needed to leave, he found that the sun had shrunk the elephant’s skin and his rear entrance had closed up. He rushed around, heaving his body against the skin trying to escape, but he could not break out. Then a storm came and the rain moistened the skin, stretching it out enough to reopen his path. The Bodhisatta backed into the head and ran at the hole as fast as he could, just barely squeezing through. But it was so tight that all his fur got scraped off in the process. Now smooth as a palm-stem, he knew that this misfortune was his own fault and he vowed to never again be greedy or to climb inside an elephant carcass. And for the rest of his life, he never did.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Five hundred rich friends, sons of merchants, renounced the world and became disciples of the Buddha. One night the lusts and desires they had renounced suddenly returned. The Buddha divined what had happened and decided he should talk to them straightaway rather than wait until morning. Realizing that if he only aroused these five hundred men their shame of having been discovered would prevent their understanding, so he had every disciple in the monastery woken and brought to assembly.

The Buddha preached the importance of avoiding the three evil thoughts—lust, hatred, and cruelty—because they can grow and cause destruction. Desire must be shunned and feared, like an itch or Indra’s thunderbolt; and if desire arises, it needs to be expelled like a raindrop rolling off a lotus leaf. Then he told them this story so they knew that he himself was once filled with desire and it led to a bad result. Hearing the truth, the five hundred struggling disciples won arahantship.

The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.

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