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

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Sumsumara-Jataka. "Rose-apple, jack-fruit..."

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

The frametale of this story is also about Devadatta and his plots to murder the Buddha, and the "story of the past" is also about a crocodile, the crocodile's wife, and the monkey. But the plot of the story is very different; you will see that this time the monkey uses a new strategy to escape from the deadly crocodile.

This story the Master told at Jetavana, about Devadatta's attempts to murder him. When he heard of these attempts, the Master said, "This is not the first time that Devadatta has tried to murder me; he did the same before, and yet could not so much as make me afraid."

Then he told this story.

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life at the foot of the Himalaya as a Monkey. He grew strong and sturdy, big of frame, well-to-do, and lived by a curve of the river Ganges in a forest haunt.

Now at that time there was a Crocodile dwelling in the Ganges. The Crocodile's mate saw the great fame of the Monkey, and she conceived a longing for his heart to eat. So she said to her lord: "Sir, I desire to eat the heart of that great king of the Monkeys!"

"Good wife," said the Crocodile, "I live in the water and he lives on dry land: how can we catch him?"

"By hook or by crook," she replied, "caught he must be. If I don't get him, I shall die."

"All right," answered the Crocodile, consoling her, "don't trouble yourself. I have a plan; I will give you his heart to eat."

So when the Bodhisatta was sitting on the bank of the Ganges, after taking a drink of water, the Crocodile drew near, and said: "Sir Monkey, why do you live on bad fruits in this old familiar place? On the other side of the Ganges there is no end to the mango trees, and labuja trees, with fruit sweet as honey! Is it not better to cross over and have all kinds of wild fruit to eat?"

"Lord Crocodile," the Monkey made answer, "deep and wide is the Ganges: how shall I get across?"

"If you will go, I will mount you on my back, and carry you over."

The Monkey trusted him, and agreed. "Come here, then," said the other, "up on my back with you!" and up the Monkey climbed. But when the Crocodile had swum a little way, he plunged the Monkey under the water.

"Good friend, you are letting me sink!" cried the Monkey. "What is that for?"

Said the Crocodile, "You think I am carrying you out of pure good nature? Not a bit of it! My wife has a longing for your heart, and I want to give it to her to eat!"

"Friend," said the Monkey, "it is nice of you to tell me. Why, if our heart were inside us when we go jumping among the tree tops, it would be all knocked to pieces!"

"Well, where do you keep it?" asked the other.

The Bodhisatta pointed out a fig tree, with clusters of ripe fruit, standing not far off. "See," said he, "there are our hearts hanging on yon fig tree."

"If you will give me your heart," said the Crocodile, "then I won't kill you."

"Take me to the tree, then, and I will point it out to you hanging upon it."

The Crocodile brought him to the place. The Monkey leapt off his back, and climbing up the fig tree sat upon it.

"O silly Crocodile!" said he, "you thought that there were creatures that kept their hearts in a tree top! You are a fool, and I have outwitted you! You may keep your fruit to yourself. Your body is great, but you have no sense."

And then to explain this idea he uttered the following stanzas:

Rose-apple, jack-fruit, mangoes too across the water there I see;
Enough of them; I want them not; my fig is good enough for me.

Great is your body, verily, but how much smaller is your wit!
Now go your ways, Sir Crocodile, for I have had the best of it.

The Crocodile, feeling as sad and miserable as if he had lost a thousand pieces of money, went back sorrowing to the place where he lived.

When the master had ended this discussion, he identified the Birth: "In those days Devadatta was the Crocodile, the lady Cinca was his mate, and I was the Monkey."

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

  • why did the lady crocodile want her husband to catch the monkey?
  • how did the crocodile try to trick the monkey is this version of the story?
  • what trick did the monkey play on the crocodile that allowed him to escape?

Source: Jataka #208. 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