Vanarinda Jataka (#57)

painting of Vanarinda Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a monkey. Every day he went to eat fruit on an island in the river by hopping onto a lone rock between the island and the shore. A pair of crocodiles lived near the island and the female, being pregnant, got an urge to eat a monkey’s heart, and she told her mate to get it for her. He promised he would, and went to lie on the rock waiting for the Bodhisatta to cross over that evening.

The clever Bodhisatta always kept close watch on the river’s height, and when he prepared to return home he noticed that the rock was higher than normal. He suspected a crocodile could be on top of it. To find out, he called, “Hello Rock” three times. When he got no response he asked, “Rock, my friend, why do you not answer me today?” The crocodile, now thinking the rock actually could talk, replied, “Yes, monkey. What do you want?”

The Bodhisatta told the crocodile how he’d tricked him, and the crocodile admitted he was there to eat him. With no other way off the island, the Bodhisatta knew he had to outwit the crocodile. He claimed that since he was trapped, he would give himself up. “Open your mouth and catch me when I jump,” he said, knowing that crocodiles shut their eyes when they open their mouths.1This does not happen in real life. As soon as the crocodile’s jaws opened, the Bodhisatta jumped onto his head and reached the shore. The crocodile told the Bodhisatta he was so wise he would not try to catch him again.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The male crocodile was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. When he was advised that Devadatta had made plans to kill him, the Buddha told his disciples this story so they knew that Devadatta had also tried unsuccessfully to kill him in the past.

The female crocodile was an earlier birth of Cinca-Manavika, a woman who had falsely claimed the Buddha impregnated her.

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