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

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Veluka-Jataka. "The headstrong man..."

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

I can relate to this story because I used to have two pet snakes - but they were pythons, not poisonous vipers! So I am sympathetic to this monk who becomes attached to his pet snake... but you just know that keeping a poisonous snake as a pet is probably not going to turn out to be a good idea, right? The frametale for this story is very vague - we do not know what the "headstrong" monk was doing wrong exactly, but the "story ob fhe past" is very vivid and detailed!

This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana, about a certain headstrong Brother.

For the Blessed One asked him whether the report was true that he was headstrong, and the Brother admitted that it was.

"Brother," said the Master, "this is not the first time you have been headstrong; you were just as headstrong in former days also, and, as the result of your headstrong refusal to follow the advice of the wise and good, you met your end by the bite of a snake."

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

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born into a wealthy family in the kingdom of Kasi.

Having come to years of discretion, he saw how from passion springs pain and how true bliss comes by the abandonment of passion. So he put lusts from him, and going forth to the Himalayas became a hermit, winning by fulfillment of the ordained mystic meditations the five orders of the Higher Knowledge and the eight Attainments.

And as he lived his life in the rapture of Insight, he came in after times to have a large following of five hundred hermits, whose teacher he was.

Now one day a young poisonous viper, wandering about as vipers do, came to the hut of one of the hermits; and that Brother grew as fond of the creature as if it were his own child, housing it in a joint of bamboo and showing kindness to it.

And because it was lodged in a joint of bamboo, the viper was known by the name of "Bamboo." Moreover, because the hermit was as fond of the viper as if it were his own child, they called him, "Bamboo’s Father."

Hearing that one of the Brethren was keeping a viper, the Bodhisatta sent for that Brother and asked whether the report was true. When told that it was true, the Bodhisatta said, "A viper can never be trusted; keep it no longer."

"But," urged the Brother, "my viper is dear to me as a pupil to a teacher; I could not live without him."

"Well then," answered the Bodhisatta, "know that this very snake will lose you your life." But heedless of the master’s warning, that Brother still kept the pet he could not bear to part with.

Only a very few days later, all the Brethren went out to gather fruits, and coming to a spot where all kinds grew in plenty, they stayed there two or three days. With them went Bamboo’s Father, leaving his viper behind in its bamboo prison.

Two or three days afterwards, when he came back, he bethought him of feeding the creature, and opening the cane, stretched out his hand, saying, "Come, my son; you must be hungry." But angry with its long fast, the viper bit his outstretched hand, killing him on the spot, and made its escape into the forest.

Seeing him lying there dead, the Brethren came and told the Bodhisatta, who bade the body be burned. Then, seated in their midst, he exhorted the Brethren by repeating this stanza:

The headstrong man, who, when exhorted, pays
No heed to friends who kindly counsel give,
Like Bamboo’s Father shall be brought to naught.

Thus did the Bodhisatta exhort his followers; and he developed within himself the four Noble States, and at his death was reborn into the Brahma Realm.

Said the Master, "Brother, this is not the first time you have shown yourself headstrong; you were no less headstrong in times gone by, and thereby met your death from a viper’s bite."

Having ended his lesson, the Master showed the connexion and identified the Birth by saying, "In those days, this headstrong Brother was Bamboo’s Father, my disciples were the band of disciples and I myself their teacher."

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

  • why did the monk have a snake in his house? where did he keep the snake?
  • what advice did the Buddha give to him? why did he reject this advice?
  • what happened to the monk in the end?

Source: Jataka #43. 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