Sigala Jataka (#152)

temple painting of Sigala Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a lion. He lived with his six younger brothers and one sister in a golden cave. The males did the hunting and brought back food for their sister to eat. One day a jackal saw the sister and fell in love at first sight. He waited patiently until she was home alone and then went to tell her, “O Lioness, I am a four-footed creature, the same as you. Please be my wife and we will love each other forever.” She was so disgusted that a vile, low-caste animal would speak to a regal species such as her she decided to immediately kill herself by holding her breath. But she quickly realized it would be improper to do this without telling her brothers the reason, so she waited to kill herself until after her brothers returned home. She did not acknowledge the jackal in any way. Understanding her true feelings about him, he went home to his crystal cave and lay down in misery.

One of the brother lions returned home with some meat for her, but she told him she would not eat because she was waiting to die and told him the reason. The angry brother went to kill the jackal for his terrible behavior. The lion did not realize the jackal was in a perfectly transparent crystal cave (he assumed he was floating in the sky), so he leapt in attack and his body smashed against the crystal. His heart burst into pieces and he fell down dead at the foot of the mountain. One by one the Bodhisatta’s other five brothers returned and all died in the same way.

When at last the Bodhisatta returned home and heard the story, he set out with the same purpose as his brothers, but he guessed correctly that the jackal was in a crystal cave. He approached the mountain and saw his six dead brothers and knew they died because they were foolish and impulsive. Instead of biting the jackal, the Bodhisatta roared three times so loudly his voice was heard in heaven, and this so frightened the jackal that his heart burst and he died. The Bodhisatta laid his brothers in a grave and then comforted his sister.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The barber who did all the hairdressing, braiding, and shaving for the royal family took his son to work with him one day, and the boy fell in love at first sight with one of the palace women. As they left, he told his father he must have her or he would die. His father and all his friends and other family explained to the foolish son that she was out of his class and he should stop thinking of her. But the son grew so depressed he stopped eating and died.

When the funeral was over, the barber went to visit the Buddha, who asked why he had not been around for such a long time. The barber told him what had happened, and then the Buddha told him this story so he knew that his son had once before died from wanting what he could not have.

The jackal and the lioness were earlier births of the barber’s son and his palace crush, and the six other lions were earlier births of some of the Buddha’s elder disciples.

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