The Mahâkapi Jâtaka, the sacrifice of a virtuous monkey

- through Sophie Solere

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An integral part of the canonical Buddhist literature, the jâtaka (or "lives") recount the many previous lives of Buddha Shakyamuni, during which he experienced all the possible conditions of existence in the world of samsara. It thus happened to him, on many occasions, to be reborn in an animal form and these adventures often give rise, in the corpus of the jâtaka, to charming and very edifying tales, adapted to all audiences. In many cases, these stories are known to us by the Buddha himself. Appealing to this capacity specific to accomplished Buddhas to remember their previous existences, he often uses these episodes to support certain important teachings.

A long time ago stood on the banks of the Ganges, at some distance from the city of Varanasi, a superb mango tree. The fruits were of an exquisite flavor and their perfume had no equal. The bodhisattva was then the leader of a troop of monkeys who had taken up residence in this tree. Having once seen a mango fall to the ground, he perceived the danger likely to threaten his subjects: if one of these delicious fruits fell into the river, the current could then carry it towards the city. Realizing the existence of these delicious fruits, men would not fail to seek their provenance. It would then be the end of their peace. Endowed with great wisdom and an undeniable practical sense, our monkey ordered his troop to pick all the mangoes overlooking the river to avoid any risk.

The ace. One of them escaped their vigilance and, having reached maturity, detached itself from its branch to fall into the clear waters. And as the bodhisattva feared, she quickly reached under the city walls and got caught in a fisherman's net. The latter, amazed by its perfume, saw in it a king's fruit and carried it to the palace.

After having tasted it with delight, the sovereign asked to be told where it came from. No one could answer him with precision, but his advisers correctly presumed that the tree which had borne it must have been upriver from the city, on the banks of the river. Scouts were dispatched to investigate. When they returned, the king was very angry when he learned that a troop of monkeys were gorging themselves daily on the fruits that he considered to be rightfully his. The king set out at the head of a detachment of archers.

“To the virtuous sovereign, nothing is dearer than the happiness of his kingdom, of his cities and of his people, which must matter to him more than his own life”.

At the sight of these heavily armed men, the bodhisattva, our monkey, understood in a fraction of a second that the lives of his subjects were at stake. He scanned the surroundings in search of a possible escape route. But the mango tree was surrounded. He then noticed, on the opposite bank, another tree which he joined with a mighty leap. Hastily descended to the ground, he cut a thick vine, one end of which he tied firmly around the trunk of the tree and the other around his own waist. He leapt again in the opposite direction towards the mango tree, grabbing a branch of it before addressing his frightened subjects: “Climb! Pass on my back, then follow this vine which will lead you to safety, on the other bank, out of reach of the arrows. All the monkeys then rushed forward, each trying to pass over the body of their leader as quickly as possible, to spare him, and presenting their apologies. All but one. The last of the troop had in him only hatred and envy. He hated the bodhisattva and wanted only one thing: to oust him to take power. He thought his day had come. He quickly climbed a high branch and from there rushed at the bodhisattva with all his weight, before fleeing in triumph. The unfortunate animal, with broken kidneys, let go and fell heavily to the ground.

Dumbfounded by this scene, the King of Varanasi ordered his soldiers to lower their weapons and sent a few men to pick up the wounded man. He made him lie down with the greatest consideration on his own litter and brought in his own doctors. His lust for the divinely flavored mangoes had vanished, there was nothing but infinite respect for this brave monkey who, in defiance of his own life, had sacrificed himself for his people and bowed to him. . The dying bodhisattva addressed the sovereign, explaining to him that he did not fear death, for he had had the satisfaction of having saved his own. And to continue with a teaching: "To the virtuous sovereign, nothing is dearer than the happiness of his kingdom, his cities and his people, which must matter to him more than his own life".

Le virtuous animal then breathed his last in the arms of the king. The latter had the body transported with great pomp to the city, and had a grand funeral organized for the bodhisattva. After the cremation, he kept the skull of the monkey as a relic and strove, for the rest of his reign, to be a just and good king, giving alms with great generosity and multiplying meritorious deeds.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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