This past-life story is one of eight told by the Bodhisatta in the Kunala Jataka (#536) as examples of why men should never trust women.1There is a mistake in the original text of Jataka #536. It says the story is recounted in full in the Kakati Jataka (#327), but in that story the Bodhisatta is the human king rather than the garuda. Either he should be identified as the human there, or the referral should be to this Jataka, which tells a very similar tale with the Bodhisatta as the garuda. I have assumed the latter.
The Bodhisatta was once a garuda king. He would often take the form of an extremely handsome young man and join games of dice with a human king. Word of his beauty spread around the palace, and one day the gorgeous queen consort came to see him. They caught each other’s gaze and fell in love. By his supernatural powers, the garuda stirred up a raging storm over the city and fled with the queen in the darkness to his remote island home, where they lived happily together. Nobody knew what had happened to the queen, so the Bodhisatta continued to play dice with the unsuspecting king.
The king sent one of his minstrels out in search of his missing queen, ordering him to explore every land and sea until he found her. Eventually he took passage on a merchant ship, and while out on the ocean the men asked him to play his lute for them. He warned them that his songs were so good they would excite the fish and the ship would be wrecked, but they did not believe him and they insisted. As he sang and played, fish splashed about and a giant sea creature leaped out of the water, falling on the ship and splitting it in two.
Blown by the wind, the minstrel floated on a plank and came to the Bodhisatta’s island home, where the runaway queen recognized and welcomed him. He told her his story of how he got to the island, and she brought him back to her home to take care of him. They became lovers, he hiding away whenever the Bodhisatta was at home.
After a month and a half, some merchants landed on the island to gather water and firewood, and the minstrel sailed back home with them. The king and garuda were playing dice when he arrived at the palace, and he told of his adventure and confessed his love for the queen in a song. The Bodhisatta was full of regret for not guarding his love from other men sufficiently and, now knowing what a wicked woman she was, gave her back to the king. He never returned to the palace.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples considered quitting the sangha after falling for the charms of a woman. The Buddha explained that it’s easy to be led astray by women, and then he told this story as an example of how there is no place one can escape temptation.
The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.