Virocana Jataka (#143)

temple painting of Virocana Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a lion. One day he met a jackal in the forest, and being unable to escape, the jackal threw himself at the Bodhisatta’s feet and said he would be his servant if he spared his life. The Bodhisatta agreed and they made an arrangement that the jackal would find elephants, horses, buffalo, or other animals to eat, then the lion would kill them and they would share the meat. The jackal was ordered to say, “Shine forth in thy might, Lord,” each time they hunted.

The jackal grew large with this arrangement and got arrogant, wanting to kill an elephant by himself and have the Bodhisatta tell him, “Shine forth in thy might, jackal.” The Bodhisatta replied that no jackal could kill an elephant, but when the jackal insisted, he let him pursue his folly. When the time came, the jackal lunged at the elephant, but missed and landed at its feet. The elephant stomped his head, crushing the skull into powder, and defecated on the corpse. The Bodhisatta commented that this showed the jackal’s true might.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The jackal was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. He left the Buddha’s sangha with many disciples to set up his own order and declared that he too was a Buddha. The real Buddha sent two of his top disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, to preach to those wayward disciples; and while Devadatta was asleep, most of them returned to the Buddha’s fold. This so angered Kokalika, a disciple of the Buddha who became one of Devadatta’s most devoted followers, that he kicked Devadatta in the chest and caused him to spit up blood.

The Buddha told this story to let his disciples know this was not the first time Devadatta had imitated him and suffered for it.

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