Tittira Jataka (#438)

temple painting of Tittira Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a partridge. He lived inside the leaf hut of a world-renowned teacher who taught the sacred texts to five hundred students. A lizard and her two children also lived in the teacher’s home, a dairy cow and her calf stayed outside, and a lion and tiger who were friends with the teacher lived nearby in the surrounding forest.

When the teacher died, his students performed funeral rites and built a mound over his ashes. They wondered how they could continue their studies. The Bodhisatta was very wise, and from listening to the teacher’s lessons he had mastered the three Vedas, so he took over teaching the students. The Bodhisatta was an excellent teacher; his explanations of complex issues flowed like a stream down a mountain, and his students were delighted. They built him a golden cage and served him honey and parched grains.

When a festival was being celebrated, all the students left the school to join in with their families. While they were away, a wicked ascetic wandering through the region came to their school. Not knowing his true nature, the lizard invited him to stay and told him where to find rice and oil, then she went out to find her own food. During the day, the ascetic killed and ate the Bodhisatta, the young lizards, and the cows; then, in the late afternoon, he fell fast asleep.

The lizard returned and searched frantically for her children. A tree fairy told the lizard what the wicked ascetic had done and urged her to bite him on the neck and kill him. But the lizard feared he would wake up and eat her, so she fled into the forest.

Shortly after the lizard left, the tiger stopped by to visit his friend the Bodhisatta. He saw the wretched ascetic sleeping with feathers stuck to his matted hair and a pile of bones at his side and realized what must have happened. He woke the ascetic up with a kick and asked if he had killed these creatures. Hoping his life would be spared, the frightened ascetic admitted to killing the lizards and cows, but denied killing the Bodhisatta. The tiger didn’t believe him and marched him off to see the lion, and then the ascetic made a full confession. The lion wanted to let him go, but the tiger felt he deserved to die and tore him apart.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The wicked ascetic was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. When he heard some of his disciples discussing the three times Devadatta had tried to kill him, the Buddha told them this story so they knew that Devadatta had also tried to kill him in the past.

The teacher, lizard, tiger, and lion were earlier births of Maha Kassapa, Kisagotami, Moggallana, and Sariputta, four of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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