Week 2: Jataka Tales (Birth Stories of the Buddha)

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Munika-Jataka. "Then envy not poor Munika..."

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

There is an Aesop's fable that is quite similar to this story, where a young bullock makes fun of a hard-working bull, but this is only because the bullock does not realize that he is about to be sacrificed! In another Aesop's fable, the donkey is angry that the pig is making so much noise on the way to market, and the pig explains that is because he knows that he is going to die. There are many connections between Aesop's fables and the Buddhist jataka tales, and it is not impossible that some of the old Buddhist stories spread to Greece, having originated in India.

This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana about a Brother being seduced by a plump young woman.

The Master asked that Brother, saying, "Is it true, Brother, as they say, that you are passion-tossed?"

"It is true, sir," was the reply.

"Brother," said the Master, "she is your bane; even in bygone days, you met your end and were made into a relish for the company on her marriage day."

And so saying, he told the story of the past.

Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life as an ox, named Big Red, on the squire’s estate in a certain hamlet. And he had a younger brother who was known as Little Red. There were only these two brothers to do all the draught-work of the family.

Also, the squire had an only daughter, whose hand was asked in marriage for his son by a gentleman of the town. And the parents of the girl, with a view to furnishing dainty fare for the wedding guests, began to fatten up a pig named Munika.

Observing this, Little Red said to his brother, "All the loads that have to be drawn for this household are drawn by you and me, my brother; but all they give us for our pains is sorry grass and straw to eat. Yet here is the pig being victualled on rice! What can be the reason why he should be treated to such fare?"

Said his brother, "My dear Little Red, envy him not; for the pig eats the food of death. It is but to furnish a relish for the guests at their daughter’s wedding that the family are feeding up the pig. Wait but a little time and the guests will be coming. Then you will see that pig lugged out of his quarters by the legs, killed, and in process of conversion into curry." And so saying, he repeated this stanza:

Then envy not poor Munika; ‘tis death
He eats. Contented munch your frugal chaff,
The pledge and guarantee of length of days.

Not long afterwards the guests did arrive; and Munika was killed and cooked into all manner of dishes. Said the Bodhisatta to Little Red, "Did you see Munika, dear brother?" "I have indeed seen, brother, the outcome of Munika’s feasting. Better a hundred, nay a thousand, times than such food is ours, though it be but grass, straw, and chaff; for our fare harms us not, and is a pledge that our lives will not be cut short."

When he had ended his lesson to the effect that the Brother had thus in bygone days been brought to his doom by that young woman and had been made into a relish for the company, he preached the Truths, at the close whereof the passion-tossed Brother reached the First Path of Salvation.

Also the Master showed the connexion and identified the Birth by saying, "The passion-tossed Brother was the pig Munika of those days, the young woman is the same in both cases, Ananda was Little Red, and I myself Big Red."

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why was Little Red jealous of the pig?
  • how did Big Red console his brother?
  • what happened to the pig in the end?

Source: Jataka #30. The Jataka, or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births (in six volumes). Editor: E.B. Cowell. 1895.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM