Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

right click to download mp3

25. The Story of the Śarabha (Anukampā)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 483, Fausböll IV, 267 – 275.)

Even to him who attempts their life the intensely compassionate show pity in his distress; they will not disregard such a one. This will be taught in the following.

One time, it is said, the Bodhisattva was a śarabha, Not the common deer of that name seems to be meant, but the fabulous animal śarabha, said to be eight-legged, very strong, and a match for lions and elephants. living in a remote part of a certain forest. That region, lying beyond the path and the noise of men, was a dwelling-place of manifold tribes of forest-animals. Its many roots, trees, and shrubs were immersed in the thick and high grass which covered its soil, untrodden by travellers and showing nowhere any trace of vehicles and carriages, the tracks of whose [228] feet or wheels might have beaten something like a road or borderline; yet, it was intersected with channels and full of anthills and holes.

That śarabha had a solid body, endowed with strength, vigour, and swiftness; he was distinguished by the beautiful colour of his skin. As he was addicted to practising compassion, he cherished friendly feelings towards all animals. Possessing the virtue of contentment, he subsisted only on grasses, leaves and water, and was pleased with his residence in the forest. So he adorned that part of the forest, longing, like a Yogin, for complete detachment.

1. Bearing the shape of a forest-animal, but possessing the intellectual faculties of a man, he lived in that solitary wilderness, showing, like an ascetic, mercy to all living beings, and contenting himself like a Yogin, with blades of grass.

Now once upon a time it happened that the king who was the ruler of that country came near that place. Mounted on his excellent horse, holding his bent bow and arrow in his hand, and being eager to try his skill of arms on the game, he was pursuing the deer with speed, indulging in the excitement (of the chase). So he was carried away by his horse, an animal of extraordinary swiftness, and separated by no small distance from his retinue, a body of elephants, horse, chariots, and footmen. As soon as he saw the Great Being from afar, he was resolved on killing him, and keeping ready his bow strung with a sharp arrow, spurred his horse to chase the High-minded One. But the Bodhisattva had no sooner perceived the king on horseback assailing him, than he took to flight with the utmost swiftness: not because he would have been powerless to stand and fight his aggressor, but because he had desisted from acts of violence and anger.

While being pursued by the king, meeting with a large hole on his way, he quickly jumped over it, as if it were a small puddle, and continued his flight. When the excellent horse, running after the śarabha in the same direction as swiftly as ever he could, arrived at that hole, [229] he hesitated to risk the leap, and of a sudden stood still.

2. Then the king, as he was, his bow in his hands, tumbled down from horseback and fell headlong into the large hole, as a warrior of the Daityas sinks into the Ocean.

3. Keeping his eyes fixed on the śarabha, he had not noticed that chasm. So he fell by the fault of his want of circumspection, as he lost his balance by the sudden stopping of his horse from his great swiftness.

Now, the sound of the trampling of hoofs ceasing, the Bodhisattva began to think: ‘has that king, perhaps, really turned back?’ Then, turning his head and looking behind, he saw the horse without his rider standing on the brink of that chasm. On perceiving this, his thoughts turned to this reasoning: “No doubt, the king must have fallen into this chasm. No tree is here spreading its thick foliage, the sheltering shade of which might invite to sit down and rest, nor is here any lake to be found fit for bathing in its water as blue and as pure as a petal of a blue lotus.

Nor, since he entered this wild forest-region haunted by ferocious animals, is he likely to have dismounted and left his excellent horse in some place, that he might either take his rest or continue hunting alone. No more is there here any jungle in which he might be hidden. Surely, that king must have fallen into this hole.” After he had convinced himself of this, the High-minded One felt the utmost commiseration for him who sought his life.

4, 5. “But lately this monarch possessed the enjoyments of royalty, being worshipped like the Lord of the Devas by crowds of people revering him with clasped hands. His army attended him, a mixed host of chariots, horsemen, footmen, and elephants, adorned with gay banners, glittering in their armour and weapons, and marching to the brisk tones of music.

His head was sheltered by the lovely umbrella, and the chowries fanning him made a beautiful effect with the shine of their (jewelled) handles. [230]

6. And now at this moment he is lying below in this large chasm. By the shock of his fall he must have broken his bones, he has swooned or pines with sorrow. Alas! To what a distress has he come!

7. Common people, whose mind has grown callous with suffering, so to speak, are not so much afflicted by their sorrows, as men of high rank, when calamities visiting them plunge them into grief, something new to such as are accustomed to great delicacy.

He will never be able to escape from thence by himself. If there is still some remnant of life in him, then it is not right to abandon him to his fate.”

So considering, the High-minded One, impelled by his compassion went to the brink of the precipice and perceived him struggling there. His armour, covered with dust, had lost its splendour, his diadem and his garments were utterly disarranged, and the pain caused by the blows he had got in falling down afflicted his mind, and brought him to despondency.

8. Having seen the king in that wretched situation, he forgot that it was his enemy, and affected with pity felt an equal pain to his; tears welled up in his eyes.

9. And he addressed him with modest and kind language, manifesting his innate pious disposition and comforting him by the proper and respectful words he used in a distinct and lovely-sounding voice.

10. “Thou hast received no hurt, Your Majesty, I hope, coming into this hell-resembling chasm? Thou hast broken no limb, I hope? Do thy pains grow less already?

11. I am no goblin, O most distinguished of men, I am a forest-animal living within thy realm, reared upon thy grass and water. So thou mayst put confidence in me.

12. Do not despond, then, because of thy fall into the precipice. I have the power to rescue thee from thence. If thou thinkest me trustworthy, then quickly command me and I come.”

This marvellous speech of the animal roused the [231] admiration of the king. Shame arose within his mind and he began, in truth, to reflect in this manner:

13. “How is it possible that he shows pity towards me, his enemy, of whose prowess he perceived himself to be the goal? And how could I act so unbecomingly to this innocent one?

14. Oh! How he confounds me by the sharp reproach of his softness! It is I who am the animal, the brute, he is some being bearing only the shape of a śarabha.

He deserves, therefore, to be honoured by my acceptance of his friendly offer.” Having thus made up his mind, he spoke:

15-17. “My body being covered by my armour has not been too heavily injured, and the pain I feel from being crushed in this chasm is at least bearable.

Yet, that grievance caused by my fall does not torment me so much as my offence against a being so pure-hearted and holy as thou.

Do not mind it, I pray thee, that relying on thy outward shape I took thee for a forest-animal, not being aware of thy real nature.”

Then the śarabha, inferring from these friendly words of the king, that he agreed to his proposal, exercised himself with the object of rescuing him, bearing on his back a stone of a man’s weight. Having learnt the extent of his strength, determined upon rescuing the king, he went down into the hole and drawing near to him, spoke in a respectful tone:

18. “Pray, put up for a while with the necessity of touching this body of mine, that, with the object of obtaining my own happiness, I may make thy face resplendent with contentment and joy.

Your Majesty, deign therefore to mount upon my back and cling fast to me.” And he, after declaring his approval, mounted his back, as if it were a horse’s.

19. Then, with the king on his back, he climbed aloft with surpassing vigour and swiftness, and holding high the forepart of his body, resembled some (stone-)elephant rising in the air, as is represented on arches. [232]

20. After carrying the king out of that inaccessible place and making him rejoin his horse, he was much rejoiced and told him the way to his capital, and himself prepared to retire to his forest.

But the king, moved with gratitude for his kind service, so modestly rendered, embraced the śarabha affectionately, saying:

21. “This life of mine is at thy disposal, O śarabha. It is, therefore, unnecessary to add that thou must consider as thy property all that is within my power. Give me, then, the pleasure of visiting my capital, and if thou likest it, take up thy residence there.

22. Is it not unbecoming to me that I should set out for home alone, leaving thee in this dreadful forest haunted by hunters, where thou art exposed to suffering because of cold, heat, rain, and other calamities?

Well then, let us go together.”

Then the Bodhisattva eulogized him in modest, soft and respectful terms,
answering thus:

23. “In lovers of virtues, like thee, O most excellent of men, a behaviour like thine is the proper one. For virtues, constantly practised by pious persons, turn out to be an essential part of their very nature.

24. But since thou thinkest, that I who am accustomed to the forest might be favoured by taking up my residence at thy home, pray, no more of this. Of one kind is the pleasure of men, of another that of the forest-animals conformable to the habits of their kind.

25. If, however, thou wantest to do something pleasant to me, then desist from hunting, O hero, for ever. The poor beasts of the forest, being brute and dull of intellect, are worth pitying for this very reason.

26. With respect to the pursuit of happiness and the removal of mischief, the animals, thou shouldst know, are subject to the same feelings as men. Keeping this in mind, deem it improper to do to others what would be a cause of displeasure, if done to thyself.

27. Understanding that evil deeds entail loss of [233] reputation, censure by the virtuous, and moreover suffering, thou must extirpate the evil within thee, considering it thy adversary. It never becomes thee to overlook it, no more than illness.

28. It is by pursuing meritorious actions that thou obtainedst the royal dignity, a thing highly esteemed by men and the abode of bliss. That very store of merit thou must enlarge, thou shouldst not enfeeble the ranks of the benefactors.

29. Gather meritorious actions, the instruments of glory and happiness, by munificent gifts, (taking care) to enhance their charm by (distributing them at the right) time and in a respectful manner; by a moral conduct, the right laws of which thou mayst learn by intercourse with virtuous persons; In the original two short syllables are wanting in the second pāda of this stanza. I imagine it should be read thus, śīlena sādhu(jana)-saṁgataniścayena. and by succeeding in making thy dispositions towards all creatures as well-wishing as to thyself.”

In this manner the High-minded One favoured the king, firmly establishing him in the matters relating to the future life. And the king accepted his words. After which he entered his dwelling-place in the forest, followed with respectful looks by the king.

In this manner the intensely compassionate show pity even to him who attempts their life, when he is in distress; they will not disregard such a one.

[This story is to be told also when treating of commiseration, when discoursing on the high-mindedness of the Tathāgata and on the subject of listening with attention to the preaching of the Law.

Likewise it is to be propounded when demonstrating that enmities are appeased by means of friendliness, also when treating of the virtue of forbearance. “In this way it is seen that the High-minded, even when in the state of beasts, behave mercifully towards those who attempt their life. How, indeed, should it become [234] a human being or one who has taken the vow of a homeless life to be wanting in mercy towards the animals? For this reason a pious man (ārya) must show mercy to living beings.”]