The Monkey and the Brahmin - Jataka Stories

Our Bodhisatta*, in one of his lives, became the king of monkeys. One day he found a Brahmin who had fallen down a precipice in the jungle and was helpless and certainly going to die down there. This Brahmin was lamenting his fate and crying, “Oh poor me, I have fallen into a chasm a hundred yards deep. I shall certainly die down here. Oh, poor me, Oh oh oh.... My relatives and friends, my wife and children, don't know about my misfortune. Nobody is here to help me!” and he cried.

Now, noble beings are always concerned about the welfare of all beings, without exception. And as the Bodhisatta is such a noble being, he who was then the monkey king, felt pity for the Brahmin, in the same way he would have felt pity for his own children. And so, he climbed down the precipice and went up to the Brahmin. “Do not fear. Do not despair, I won't let you die. I shall take you back to the place you want to go,” he said to the Brahmin to reassure him and to cheer him up.

But he wasn't ready yet to put him on his shoulders and carry him up the precipice because he was afraid that he might fall and that the Brahmin might be hurt. He took a big rock of about the same weight as the Brahmin, put it on one shoulder and tried to carry it up the precipice, jumping from rock to rock. Only after having passed this test did he carefully take the Brahmin on his shoulders and climb back up jumping from one boulder to the next.

After this great effort, the monkey king was exhausted. He was happy while performing this good action, but he was still happier when he had accomplished it and had saved a life. He was confident that the Brahmin he had saved from certain death was trustworthy, and said, “After carrying you up, I am a little tired. Please keep watch for a while so that I can rest,” and he placed his head in the Brahmin's lap thinking himself well protected from all the dangers of the jungle. But while the king of the monkeys slept, the Brahmin thought, “I shall go back home soon, but I have nothing to give to my wife and children. I shall kill this big monkey and give his flesh to them as gift”. He took the rock the Bodhisatta had carried up for the practice run and dealt the Bodhisatta's head a deadly blow.

When the Bodhisatta felt the pain of the blow, he quickly climbed the next tree and he asked himself who or what had attacked him. He then saw that there was no enemy around but that the Brahmin himself had tried to kill him, and he thought to himself, “Yes, there are people like this in the world too.” As the Bodhisatta was thinking this, the Brahmin started lamenting again, exclaiming that he was lost in this big jungle and that he would perish after all. But the monkey king said to him, speaking from the tree, “Don't worry. Don't be afraid. I have promised to take you back to your home and I shall not break this promise. I shall take you home. I can't carry you on my shoulder anymore, but as you opened my skull, there is blood dripping to the ground continuously. Just follow the track of blood I shall make for you from up in the trees.”

So, we can see how the monkey king practised loving kindness and compassion in saving the brahmin, how he practised equanimity when the brahmin attacked him, paying no attention to his pain, and how he practised sympathetic joy when he saw that the brahmin was safe and sound on his way home.

* Bodhisatta: Buddha to be. An individual who, inspired by a Buddha, took a vow to work for the attainment of Buddhahood. From then onwards, existence after existence, the Bodhisatta conserves mental energies of the highest order through the practice of the ten pāramīs (or Virtues towards Perfection). U Ba Khin, What Buddhism Is, Rangoon 1954, p.6)

Mark HedigerJataka