Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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26. The Story of the Ruru-Deer (Dayā)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 482, Fausböll IV, 255-263; Cariyāpiṭaka II, 6)

To the virtuous no suffering exists but that of others. It is this they cannot bear, not their own suffering, as will be taught by the following.

One time the Bodhisattva, it is said, lived in the forest as a ruru-deer. He had his residence in a remote part of a large wilderness, far from the paths of men and overgrown with a rich, manifold vegetation. There were a great number of sāls, bakulas, piyālas, hintālas, tamālas, naktamālas, of vidula and nicula reeds and of shrubs; thickets of śimśapās, tiniśas, śamīs, palāśas, śākas, of kuśa-grass, bamboo and reeds encumbered it; kadambas, sarjas, arjunas, dhavas, khadiras, and kuṭajas abounded in it; and the outstretched branches of many trees were covered as if by a veil with the tendrils of manifold creeping plants.

It was the abode of a great many forest-animals: deer of the ruru, pṛṣata and sṛmara varieties, yaks, elephants, gavaya-oxen, buffaloes, ante-lopes of the hariṇa and the nyaṅku kind, boars, panthers, hyenas, tigers, wolves, lions, bears, and others.

Among them that ruru-deer was conspicuous by its hue brilliant like pure gold and the very soft hair of his body, which was moreover adorned and resplendent with spots of different lovely colours, shining like rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and beryls. With his large blue eyes of incomparable mildness and brightness, with his horns and hoofs endowed with a soft splendour, as if they were made of precious stones, that ruru-deer of surpassing beauty had the appearance of a moving [235] treasury of jewels.

Then, knowing his body to be a much desirable object and being aware of the pitiless nature of man, he liked to frequent such forest-tracks as were free from human intercourse, and in consequence of his keen intellect, was careful to avoid such places as were unsafe by the artifices of huntsmen, their traps, nets, snares, holes, lime-twigs, and the seeds and other food they strew down. Moreover, he warned also the animals who followed after him to avoid them. He exercised his rule over them like a teacher, like a father.

1. Where on earth will not people, longing for their happiness, honour the combination of paramount beauty and paramount intelligence, hallowed by accomplished good actions?

Now once upon a time it happened that the High-minded One, residing in that wild part of the forest, heard cries for help uttered by some man who was being carried away by the current of a rapid stream flowing near and lately swollen by the rains.

2. “The rapid and swollen stream carries me away, and there is nobody to help, no vessel to take me. Come to me, pitiful people; come quickly to rescue a wretch.

3. My arms, exhausted from fatigue, are not able to keep my body on the water, and nowhere can I find a ford. Help me then and soon, there is no time to lose.”

These piteous cries of distress struck the Bodhisattva, and as if he were wounded by them in his heart, he rushed out of the thicket, exclaiming those comforting words he had been wont to use in hundreds of previous existences and by which he had banished fear, grief, sadness, and fatigue. So even now he succeeded in bringing forth the words “do not fear! do not fear!” in plain human voice repeatedly and loudly. And coming out of the forest he saw from afar that man, like a precious present brought to him by the stream.

4. Then, resolved upon rescuing him and without minding the risk of his own life, he entered the river [236] that was running with tremendous rapidity, like a brave warrior disturbing a hostile army.

5. He placed himself across his way, then told him to cling fast to him. And the man, who was in the paroxysm of fear and had almost lost the power of his limbs, his strength being exhausted, climbed on his back.

6. Nevertheless, though he was mounted by the man and forced out of his way by the violence of the current, the paramount excellence of his nature enabled him to keep his great vigour intact, and he reached the riverbank according to the wish of that man.

7. Having brought the man to the riverside and dispelled his weariness and pain, obtaining by this a very great rejoicing himself, he warmed his cold limbs with the warmth of his own body, then dismissed him. “Go,” he said, showing him the way.

This marvellous propensity for affording succour, such as is unparalleled in affectionate relations and friends, touched the man to the quick, and the beautiful shape of the ruru-deer roused his admiration and respect. Bowing his head to him, he addressed him with kind words like these:

8-10. “No friend from childhood nor kinsman is capable of performing such a deed as thou hast done for me. This life of mine, therefore, is thine.

If it were to be spent for some matter of thy interest, however small, I would esteem myself highly favoured.

Why, procure me that favour by ordering me to do something for thee, in whatever respect Thy Honour thinks me fit for employment.”

In reply to this the Bodhisattva said approvingly:

11. “Gratitude is not at all to be wondered at in a gentleman. For this quality proceeds from his very nature. But seeing the corruptness of the world, even gratitude is nowadays reckoned among the virtues.

For this reason, I tell thee this. Let thy grateful disposition not induce thee to relate to anybody, that [237] thou wast rescued by such an extraordinary animal. My beautiful figure makes me too desirable a prey. Lo, as a rule, the hearts of men, owing to their great covetousness, possess little mercy or self-restraint.

12. Therefore, take care to guard both thy own good properties and me. A treacherous behaviour towards a friend never tends to bliss.

Do not either trouble thy mind by anger because I speak so to thee. I am but a deer, unskilled in the deceitful politeness of men. Moreover,

13. It is the fault of such people as are clever in fallacy and possess the talent of assuming a show of feigned honesty that even those whose honesty is sincere are looked at with suspicion.

So then, thou wilt please me by doing as I said.” And the man promised to do so, and after bowing to the Great Being and circumambulating him, set out for his home.

Now at that time there lived in that country a queen of some king who saw true dreams. Whatever extraordinary dream she dreamt was realised. One time, being asleep she had this dream about day-break. She saw a ruru-deer of resplendent brilliancy, shining like a heap of jewels of every kind, standing on a throne and surrounded by the king and his assembly, preaching the Law in a human voice of an articulate and distinct sound. Affected with astonishment she awoke with the beating of drums which were to arouse her husband from sleep. It was the custom to awake the king by the sound of music and songs. See, for instance, Rāmāyaṇa II, sarga 65.01 And she took the first opportunity to go and see the king, who kindly received her not only with the honour she deserved but also with solicitous affection.

14. Then she, whose bright eyes enlarged with astonishment and whose lovely cheeks were trembling from gladness, presented her lord with the account of that marvellous dream as with a gift of homage. [238]

When she had told her wonderful dream to the king, she added this earnest request:

15. “Therefore, my lord, pray endeavour to obtain that deer. Adorned with this jewel-deer, your zenana would be as resplendent as the sky with the Deer-asterism.” Viz. Mṛgaśiras, corresponding with the head of Orion. 02

The king, who trusted by experience the visions of her dreams, readily complied with her desire, partly that he might do something agreeable to her, partly because he himself was covetous of obtaining that jewel-deer. Accordingly he ordered all his huntsmen to search for that deer, and had this proclamation made public in his capital day after day:

16. “There exists a deer gold-skinned and spotted with various colours shining like hundreds of jewels. It is celebrated in the holy texts, and some have got the sight of it. Whosoever will show that deer to him the king gives a very rich village and full ten lovely women.”

Now the man (who had been rescued by the Bodhisattva) heard that proclamation again and again.

17. As he was poor, the reflection on the sufferings of poverty afflicted his heart, but on the other hand he kept in mind the great benefit he had received from the ruru-deer. Distracted by cupidity and gratitude, he was moved in both directions as in a swing by different considerations like these:

“What, then, have I to do now? Shall I have regard to Virtue or Wealth? Shall I keep the promise to my benefactor rather than the duty of sustaining my family? Which must I esteem most highly, the other world or this? Which must I follow, the conduct of the pious or rather that of the world? Shall I strive after riches or rather after such good as is cherished by the virtuous? Whether to mind the present time or the time hereafter?”

At last his mind disturbed by covetousness came to this conclusion. “If I have once obtained great wealth,” so he [239] thought, “I shall be able by means of these riches to gain, while enjoying the pleasures of this world, also happiness in the other world, being intent on honouring my kinsmen and friends, guests and mendicants.” A similar reasoning is made by Śakra, when he tries the Bodhisattva in his Aviṣahya-existence, see Story 5, stanzas 18-21. 03

Having so resolved, putting out of his mind the benefit of the ruru-deer, he went up to the king and said: “I, Your Majesty, know that excellent deer and his dwelling-place. Pray, tell me to whom I shall show him.” On hearing this, the king much rejoiced answered him, “Well, friend, show him to myself,” and putting on his hunting-dress left his capital, accompanied by a large body of his army.

Conducted by the man, he went to the aforesaid riverside. Then he encircled the forest adjoining it with the whole of his forces, but himself bearing his bow, wearing his finger-guard The finger-guard (aṅgulitrāṇa) is a contrivance used by archers to protect the thumb and fingers from being injured by the bow-string.04 and surrounded by a select number of resolute and faithful men, entered the thicket, being shown the way by that man. As they went onward, the man discovering the ruru-deer who quietly and unsuspectingly was staying in his forest, showed him to the king, exclaiming: “Here, here is that precious deer, Your Majesty. May Your Majesty deign to look at him and be careful.”

18. So saying he raised his arm, eager as he was to point at the deer, and lo, his hand fell down off his arm, as if it had been cut off with a sword.

19. Indeed, when directed at such objects hallowed by their extraordinary performances, one's actions come immediately to ripeness, provided that they are of consequence and there is but little to counterbalance them. In other words, in such cases the evil karma has so great a strength that a considerable amount of good works would be required in order to check the rapidity of the development of its fruit. 05

Then the king, curious to get the sight of the ruru-deer, let his eyes pass along the way shown by the man. [240]

20. And in the midst of that wood, dark as clouds newly formed, he perceived a body shining with the lustre of a treasury of jewels, and saw that deer, dear by his illustrious properties. So does the fire of lightning appear out of the womb of the cloud.

21. Charmed by the beauty of his figure, the king, eagerly desirous of catching him, immediately curved his bow, made the arrow bite its string and went up to him that he might hit him.

But the Bodhisattva, on hearing the noise of people on every side, had thereby concluded that he must have been surrounded, to be sure. Afterwards perceiving the king coming up ready to shoot off his arrow at him, he understood there was no opportunity for running away. Then he uttered distinct articulate language, addressing the king in a human voice.

22-23. “Stop a moment, mighty prince, do not hit me, hero among men! Pray, first satisfy my curiosity, and tell me this. Who may have discovered my abode to thee, far as it is from the paths of men, saying that I, such a deer, dwell in this thicket?”

The king, touched by this wonderful address in a human voice and taking still more interest in him, showed him that man with the point of his arrow. “This man,” he said, “has disclosed thy extremely marvellous person to us.” But the Bodhisattva knowing again that man, spoke disapprovingly: “Fie upon him!

24, 25. It is a true saying, in truth ‘better is it to take a log out of the water than to save an ungrateful person from it.’ In this manner he returns that exertion made in his behalf!

How is it that he did not see that he destroyed his own happiness, too, at the same time?”

Now the king, being curious to know what he might thus reproach, vividly said to the ruru-deer:

26, 27. “On hearing thee censure somebody without catching the meaning of thy obscure words or knowing with respect of whom thou spokest them, my mind is [241] somewhat alarmed.

Therefore, tell me, wonderful deer, who is he on whose account thou speakest so?

Is it a man or a spirit, a bird or perhaps a forest animal?”

The Bodhisattva spoke:

28. “No desire of blaming prompted me, O king, to this utterance, but becoming aware of this blame-deserving action, I spoke sharp words in order to prevent him from attempting to do such a thing again.

29. For who would like to use harsh language to those who have committed a sin, strewing, so to speak, salt upon the wound of their fault? But even to his beloved son a physician is obliged to apply such medical treatment as is made necessary by his illness.

30. He whom I, moved by pity, rescued, when he was carried off by the current, is the man who made this danger arise for me, O best of men. Indeed, intercourse with wicked people does not tend to bliss.”

Then the king, casting on that man a stern look expressive of harsh reproach, asked him: “Oh, in truth, wast thou rescued before from such a distress by this deer?” And the man, who was pale and perspired with fear, sorrow, and dejection, answered in a low tone of shame: “Yes, I was.” Upon which the king revilingly exclaimed: “Fie upon thee!” and placing the arrow on the bowstring he continued: “Do not think it a trifle!

31. He whose heart was not even softened by an exertion like that employed in thy behalf, is a vile representative of his fellow-creatures and brings them into dishonour. Why should this lowest of men live any longer?”

With these words he grasped his bow in the middle and bent it in order to kill him. But the Bodhisattva, overpowered by his great compassion, placed himself between, saying to the king: “Stop, Your Majesty, stop, do not strike one already stricken!

32. At the very moment that he listened to the culpable enticement of Cupidity, his enemy, at that [242] moment surely, he was ruined both in this world, because of the loss of his good name, and in the next too, his righteousness being destroyed.

33. Yea, in this way, when their soundness of mind has faded away in consequence of unbearable sufferings, men fall into calamities, being allured by the prospect of rich profit, like foolish moths attracted to the shining of a light.

34. Thou must, therefore, rather pity him and restrain thy wrath. And if he wanted to obtain something by so acting, let not his rash deed lack that reward. For lo, I am standing here with bent head awaiting thy orders.”

This merciful and sincere desire to reward even the man who had ill-treated him excited the highest surprise of the king. His heart became converted, and looking up with veneration to the ruru-deer, he exclaimed: “Well said, well said, holy being.

35. Verily, showing such mercy to him whose cruel offence against thee is evident, thou art a human being by thy properties, we do bear but the shape of men.

36. Further, since thou deemest this knave worth commiseration, and since he has been the cause of my seeing a virtuous person, I give him the wealth he coveted and to thee the permission to go freely in this kingdom wherever it pleases thee.”

The ruru-deer said: “I accept this royal boon, illustrious king, which is not given in vain. Therefore, deign to give me thy orders, that our meeting here may afford thee profit and that I may be of some use to thee.” Then the king made the ruru-deer mount his royal chariot, worshipping him like his teacher, and led him with great pomp to his capital. And having given him the reception due to a guest·and invited him to place himself on the royal throne, he with his wives and the whole retinue of his officers exhorted him to preach the Law, and raising his eyes to him with a kind expression of gladness mixed with reverence, entreated him in this manner:

37. “There is a great diversity of opinions among [243] men concerning the Law, but thou possessest the certainty about the Law. Deign, therefore, to preach it to us.”

Upon which the Bodhisattva raised his voice and preached the Law to the king and his royal assembly in words distinctly spoken in a soft tone and elegantly composed.

38. “Of the Law with the manifold performances depending on it and with its subdivisions: abstaining from injuring others, from theft, and so on, this, I believe, is the brief summary ‘Mercy to the creatures.’

Look here, illustrious prince.

39. If mercy to all creatures should make men hold them like themselves or their own family, whose heart would ever cherish the baleful desire for wickedness?

40. But the lack of mercy is to men the cause of the greatest disturbance, as it corrupts the action of their minds and words and bodies no less with respect to their family than to strangers.

41. For this reason he who strives for Righteousness ought to keep to mercy, which will yield rich profit. Mercy, In the fourth pāda of this stanza sa is a misprint for sā. 06 indeed, engenders virtues, as a fructifying rain makes the crops grow.

42. Mercy, possessing a man's mind, destroys in it the passion for injuring one's neighbour; and his mind being pure, neither his speech nor his body will be perverted. So the love of one's neighbour's good always increases and becomes the source of many other virtues: charity, forbearance, and so on, which are followed by gladness of mind and are conducive to reputation.

43. The merciful one does not arouse apprehension in the mind of others because of his tranquillity. Owing to his mercy, everybody will hold him a person to be trusted, as if he were their kinsman. No agitation of passion will seize him whose heart has been made firm by mercy, nor does the fire of anger blaze within his mind which enjoys the coolness of water, thanks to mercy.

44. Why use many words? For this reason the wise firmly believe that in Mercy the whole of Righteousness is contained. What virtue, indeed, cherished by the pious does there exist which is not the consequence of Mercy? Having this in mind, be intent on ever fortifying thy mercy to all people, holding them like thy son, like thyself; and winning by thy pious conduct the hearts of thy people, mayst thou glorify thy royalty!”

Then the king praised these words of the ruru-deer, and with his townsmen and landsmen became intent on acting up to the Law of Righteousness. And he granted security to all quadrupeds and birds.

In this manner, then, for the virtuous no suffering exists but that of others. It is this they cannot bear, not their own suffering.

[This story is also to be told when discoursing on compassion, and may be adduced when treating of the high-mindedness of the virtuous, also when censuring the mischievous.]