Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


15. The Story of the Fish (Satya)
(Compare Pāli Jātaka, No. 75, Fausböll I, 331-32; Cariyāpiṭaka III, 10)

The designs of those who practise good conduct will be successful and thrive even in this world, how much more in the next. For this reason perfect pureness of conduct ought to be striven after, as will be taught by the following.

The Bodhisattva, it is said, was once a chief of fishes, living in a certain small lake, the lovely water of which was embellished with various lotuses and water-lilies, white, red, and blue, adorned with couples of swans, ducks, and geese, and covered with the blossoms of the trees growing on its borders. Yet, owing to his constant practice of (the virtue of) helping others in many previous births, he was wholly given up to the business of procuring for others what would be good and agreeable to them, even in this fish-existence.

1. By the power of a long practice, actions good or [135] wicked become inherent in mankind to such an extent that they will perform them in a new existence without any effort and, as it were, while sleeping. The technical name for that imbibing of good qualities is sātmībhāva.01

The Great Being, then, had set his heart on those fishes, as if they were his own dear offspring, and showed them his favour in various ways: by gifts, kind words, attending to their interests, and the like.

2. He restrained them from desiring to injure each other and made their mutual affection grow. Owing to this, and his efforts, and his knowledge of every expedient, he made them forget their habit of feeding in the (cruel) manner of fishes.

3. Duly protected by him, that shoal of fishes came to great prosperity, just as a town, when ruled by a king that acts in the proper manner, enjoys freedom from every kind of mishap.

One time, because of the deficiency of good fortune in the creatures and the neglect of the angels who have the charge of rain, the (rain)god did not rain his due amount. In consequence of this scantiness of rain, the lake was not filled up as before with new water yellow-coloured by the expanding flowers of the kadamba-trees. Afterwards, when the hot season arrived, the rays of the sun, burning more ardently and being, as it were, exhausted with fatigue, drank from that lake day after day; so did Earth heated by those rays; likewise Wind, who being, as it were, accompanied by flames, would long for refreshment. All three assuaging their thirst in the lake, so to speak, made it at last turn into a pool.

4. In the hot season the flaming Sun, the pungent Wind who seems to send forth flames, and heat-wearied Earth sick with fever, dry up the waters, as if they would allay their wrath.

That shoal of fishes, then, had come into a miserable condition. Not only the crowds of birds haunting the borders of the lake, but even troops of crows commenced [136] to look upon them as their prey, for they could do nothing but lie and gasp. The Bodhisattva perceived the affliction and grief of his tribe, and moved with compassion entered upon this reflection: “Oh! these wretched fishes, what a calamity has befallen them!

5. The water is decreasing every day, as if it vied with the life of mortals, and as yet clouds are not to be expected to come at all for a long time.

6, 7. There is no opportunity of withdrawing; and if there were, who should lead us elsewhere? Besides, our enemies, invited by our calamity, throng together against us. No doubt, they do but wait for the remainder of the water to dry up to devour these prostrate fishes under my very eyes.

Now, what may be the proper act to be done here?” Thus considering, the Great Being saw but one means for relief, if he should avail himself of his veracity. Accordingly, while grieved by compassion in his mind and heaving a long and deep sigh, he looked upwards to the sky and spoke:

8. “As truly as I do not recollect, however pondering, that I ever did harm to any living being, not even in the highest distress, by the power of this truth may the King of the Devas fill the water-basins with the water of his rains.”

When the Great Being had pronounced these words, there happened a miracle, occasioned by the power of his veracity joined to the store of his merit and to the favour shown to him by Devas, Snakes and Yakṣas, who put into effect their might. In all parts of the sky there appeared rain-clouds, though out of season yet in the proper time. Or ‘rain-clouds, out of season and black.’ The pun is in the word kālamegha.02 They were hanging low, being loaded with rain; the deep and soft sound of approaching thunder was heard out of them; while flashes of lightning adorned their big and dark-blue tops, they were spreading over the sky, as if they embraced each other with their heads and arms gradually approaching. [137]

9. Like the shadows of mountains projected in the mirror of the sky, the black clouds appeared, diminishing like those the circumference of the horizon and occasioning darkness with their tops.

10. The rumbling noise of the thunderclaps now resounded around, inducing the peacocks to utter cries of gladness and to perform various dancing movements, as if they praised the clouds. These accessories together with the incessant illumination by lightning gave the effect of great merriness and laughter irradiating those cloud-masses.

11. Then the clouds let loose streams of rain, which fell down like pearls loosened from their shells. The dust subsided, and a strong smell extended itself, carried about by means of the wind which accompanied the thunder-shower.

12. The sun-rays, though their power had reached its highest degree because of the hot season, were now hidden, and currents of water ran down from the mountains, troubling their banks with the rows of foam which they deposited.

13. And it was as if the slender figure of Lightning, illuminating the firmament again and again with her gold-yellow light-appearances, performed her dances, rejoiced at the music of the cloud-instruments.

Now, while the currents of palish water flowing to the lake from all sides were filling it, the crows and other birds had flown away at the very outset of the thunderstorm. The crowds of fishes recovering the hope of life, were much rejoiced. Yet the Bodhisattva, though his heart was pervaded with gladness. fearing lest the rain should cease, thus spoke to Parjanya again and again:

14. “Roar, Parjanya, roar a roaring, loud and deep; dispel the joy of the crows, pouring out thy waters like jewels endowed with the flaming brilliancy of lightning, their companion.” The corresponding gāthā in the Pali Jātaka (Fausb. I, p. 332) is also found in the Cariyāpiṭaka (III, 10, 7) with some preferable various readings. In both redactions the birds have already begun to kill and devour the fishes, when the Bodhisatta performs his saccakiriyā and addresses Pajjunna, commanding him, says the Jātaka prose-writer, ‘as a man would do his attendant slave.’ This exhortation is uttered before the appearance of the clouds, which I suppose to be the older version of our story.03 [138]

When Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, heard this, he became highly astonished and went in person to him. And eulogizing him, he spoke:

15. “Surely, it is thy power, the effect of thy transcendent veracity, O mighty lord of fishes, that makes these rain-clouds pour out their waters with the lovely noise of thunder, as if they were waterpots bent down.

16. But I should incur the blame of great inattention if I neglected to approve of the exertions of such beings as thou, intent on performing such deeds for the benefit of the world.

17. Therefore, thou must be henceforth no more anxious. I am bound to assist the virtuous in carrying out their designs. Never shall this region, since it is the abode of thy virtues, be visited another time by a similar plague.”

After thus praising him in kind terms, he disappeared on the spot. And that lake obtained a very large increase of water.

In this manner the designs of those who practise good conduct will be successful and thrive even in this world, how much more in the next. For this reason entire pureness of conduct ought to be striven after.