Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Naughty Jataka

This is one of several ‘rude’ stories in the Jatakas and has, I think, never been translated into English before. Like other such stories, Cowell thought it best to render it into Latin so that only scholars could read it. The purpose of the story is to highlight the Bodhisattva’s equanimity and non-retaliation. But the author or authors uses the opportunity to poke fun at greedy brahmins who carry away more food than they can eat from various festivals and rituals, the tortoise’s shell looking something like a begging bowl. A ribald element is included to add to the fun and the tone of the story is generally light-hearted. In keeping with this ribald light-heartedness I have translated angajata as ‘dick’. The Kacchapa (Tortoise) and the Kondannas were two clans or tribes that usually did not intermarry. The monkey (makkata) in this story is a Rhesus Macaque, the most aggressive and mischievous of the several species of primates found in northern India. Interestingly, while the Bodhisattva is often depicted in the Jatakas as being reborn as one of these other types of monkeys, he is never reborn as a Macaque. One can well imagine village people roaring with laughter as a monk or learned lay person related this story to them at a religious festival or on a full-moon night.
I would like to thank Ven. Anandajoti for helping me with this translation.

Kacchapa Jataka

Once, when Brahmadatta was king of Banaras, the Bodhisattava was reborn into a brahman family in Kasi. After finishing his education at Taxila, he decided to give up sense pleasures and ordain as an ascetic. He established an ashram in the Himalayas on the banks of the Ganges and there attained spiritual powers and the jhanas. In this birth, it seems, the Bodhisattva was exceptional impartial, having developed equanimity to perfection. One day, while he was sitting at the door of his leaf hut, a mischievous and naughty monkey crept up on him and tried to put its dick in his ear. The Bodhisattva resisted this and being equinimous continued to calmly sit there. Then on another day, it happened that a tortoise, having come out of the water onto the bank of the river, went to sleep in the sun with its mouth open. Spying this, that lusty monkey stuck his dick in the tortoise’s mouth. Waking up, the tortoise snapped its mouth shut (like someone banging) a chest, causing the monkey great pain and gripping its dick tightly. Unable to bare the pain the monkey thought, ‘Who can free me from this pain? Only that ascetic. I will go to him.’ Carrying the tortoise in his hands the monkey approached the Bodhisattva and he, teasing the naughty monkey, spoke this first verse -

You have such a great meal (in that bowl),
Like a brahmin with a big handful of rice.
Where did you go for alms?
What funeral did you attend?
On hearing this, the naughty monkey spoke the second verse -

I am truly a foolish monkey,
In that I have touched the untouchable.
If you can release me
I will go back to the mountains.

The Bodhisattva, having compassion for him and addressing the tortoise, spoke this third verse

The Kassapa tribe are tortoises.
The Kondanna are monkeys.
Kassapa, please free Kondanna,
From having sex with you.

The tortoise, having heard the Bodhisattva’s words and pleased with his reasoning, let go of the monkey’s dick. The moment the monkey was free, he bowed to the Bodhisattva, then ran away so fast he didn’t even look back. The tortoise worshiped the Bodhisattva and returned to his own place. As for the Bodhisattva, without ever having fallen from the jhanas, he eventually passed away and was reborn in the Brahma world. Jataka No 273


Sundara said...

Thanks to Aesop, in the West we think of tortoises as ponderously slow, but that tortoise in the tale was certainly quick to bite that monkey's dick!

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Thanks Venerable, this really made me laugh!

You know in other areas of the Buddhist canon there are stories which make you howl with laughter.

I was shocked when I was reading the Dharmagupta Vinaya and came across the part where a certain bhiksu fed his leftovers to a female monkey and then got close enough to grab it. He proceeded to rape it, but then as time went on he established a mutually beneficial relationship with the money by giving it food and receiving sexual favours. The other bhiksu saw this and, confused, reported it to the Buddha who laid down the law and said bestiality is likewise prohibited.

Makes you wonder who was part of the early sangha... Still, that made me laugh.

yuri said...

Interesting cast of characters and their names. Kondanna was the first awakened one after Buddha's very first sermon. And Kassapa was one of the greatest disciples of Buddha who became Maha Kashyapa in Mahayana Buddhism. I think it added spice to this already quite spicy story. very funny!

kamleong said...

Translation of Jataka No. 273 from "The Jātaka or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births" by E.B. Cowell (editor)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Kamleong,
If you have a more careful look at Jataka 273 on the link you have given you will notice that it is in Latin. So like I said, I think this Jataka has not been translated into English before.

kamleong said...

yes, bhante. it is indeed in Latin :)

I happen to have an old copy of Cowell's Volume I & II (1990 reprint by Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi; someone left it in a local temple in Penang, together with "A Guide to Buddhism A to Z", where I picked that up last year). I have not yet finish reading them. I will certainly be puzzled by that Latin translation, if you have not mentioned that in this post.

Below is another web site that has the Cowell's edition.

p.s. I also very much enjoy reading your "A Guide to Buddhism A to Z". Somehow all these are connected indeed.

kamleong said...

by the way, I just found that there had been a long discussion about translating this Jataka back in 2008 at

It was mentioned that John Garrett Jones, "Tales and Teachings of the Buddha" 1979:194 f (Appendix)deals specifically with just this Jataka.

Virgin Man said...

Dear Venerable,

I'm having a dilemma illustrated in the story below that I would like to ask you for guidance. It may not related to this story.

Suppose there was a person who stood at the rim of the rooftop (being foolish or just being in a wrong place). He was there, minding his own business. Then, without provocation, another person ran into him, trying to push him over with an intention to hurt him. However, the first person, with quick reflex, just stepped aside to avoid the collision. The second person couldn't stop his momentum, fell and broke his leg.

My question :

1. By stepping aside, does the first person commit a bad karmic action ? If he didn't step aside, he would fall instead of the second person. And, he knew that the second person would definitely get hurt if he stepped aside.

2. If the first person only gave the second person a pat on shoulder which made him off balance and fell. The pat constitutes only 1% of the moving force. Would the karmic consequence be as bad as using 100% of force to throw second person ?

Thank you for reading. I'm looking forward to hear your answer.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Virgin, if you remember that intention (cetana) is kamma you should be able to answer the question for yourself. What was the first person’s intention? What was the second man’s? And although it is not specifically mentioned by the Buddha, we are probably being safe to say that the intensity of one’s intention would correspond to the strength of the kammic consequence (vipaka). However, I do think that the Buddhist fixation of wanting to know the exact kammic consequences of every conceivable (in this case hypothetical) situation may miss the point. Do good because it is the right thing to do. Shun evil because it is the right thing to do.

Ciprian said...

Venerable Sir,
Actually there is a translation of this Jataka tale published in "The Jataks: Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta" translated from Pali by Sarah Shaw - 2006 New Delhi Penguin Books. I have a copy of it. Very funny story. Thanks anyway for reminding me about it.
Best Wishes!
Ciprian Salagean