Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “jataka of the lion, the monkey and the vulture” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Jātaka of the lion, the monkey and the vulture

Once (bhūtapūrvam) the Bodhisattva was a lion (siṃha) living in the forest. He was joined in friendship with a monkey (kapi, markaṭa). The monkey entrusted his two little ones to the lion. Then there came along a famished vulture (gṛdhra) in search of food. Finding the lion asleep, he stole the two little monkeys and went to perch at the top of a tree. When the lion awoke, he searched for the babies and did not find them.

Seeing the vulture at the top of the tree, he said:

“The monkey had entrusted his two babies to me, but while I was watching them, I was not careful; this is how you took them away and now you have them. I have broken my promise and I invite you to make an agreement. I am king of the animals (paśu) and you are king of the birds (pakṣin); our dignities being equal, an exchange can be made.”

– The vulture answered:

“You do not appreciate the circumstances: today I am hungry and weary; why discuss our similarities and our differences? “

– Judging that it was impossible for him to gain satisfaction, with his own claws (tīkṣṇanakha) the lion tore off the flesh of his sides (pārśvamāṃsa) and traded it for the baby monkeys.

Notes on this Jātaka:

A longer verson of this jātaka occurs in the Sāgaramatibodhisattvasūtra, translated into Chinese at Kou-tsang between 414 and 421 by the Indian Dharmakṣema, and later, in 594, incorporated into the Collection of the Mahāsaṃnipāta of which it makes up the fifth section: T 594, k. 11, p. 70a23–b18:

Long ago, there was a lion-king (siṃharāja) living in a deep mountain cave. He always had the thought: “Among all the animals I am the king; I am able to watch over and protect all the animals.” Then, on that mountain, a pair of monkeys (kapi, markata) bore two babies. One day the monkeys said to the lion-king: “O king who protects all the animals, today we entrust to you our two little ones; we would like to go to look for food and drink.” The lion-king promised to help them, and the monkeys, leaving their two little ones with the king of the animals, went away.

At that time, there was, on the mountain, a vulture-king (gṛdhrāja) called Li-kien ‘Keen Sight’ (Tikṣnadarśana?). While the lion-king was sleeping, he took away the two little monkeys and went to perch on a cliff. Having awakened, the lion-king addressed the following stanza to the vulture-king:

Here I send a prayer to the great vulture-king.
My only wish is that he magnanimously grant my prayer:
May he very kindly release these little ones.
May I not be ashamed at having failed in my promise.

The vulture-king replied to the lion-king with this stanza:

By flying, I can pass through space.
Already I have passed through your realm and I am not afraid.
If you truly must protect these two little ones,
You must give up your body to me.

The lion-king said:

Now, in order to protect these two little ones
I give up my body unsparingly like some rotten grass.
If I break my word in order to save my life,
How could it be said that I am faithful to my promise?

Having spoken this stanza, the lion climbed up with the intention of jumping off the cliff. At once the vulture-king answered with this stanza:

The man who sacrifices his life for another
Will attain the supreme happiness (anuttarasukha).
Now I give you back the two baby monkeys.
May the king of the Dharma not do any harm.

[Then the Buddha said to the bodhisattva Sāgaramati]: O son of noble family, the lion at that time was me; the male monkey was Kāśyapa; the female monkey was the bhikṣuṇī Bhadrapālā; the two baby monkeys were Ānanda and Rāhula; the vulture-king was Śāriputra].

– A summary of this jātaka with the title ‘The lion-king willing to give his life for the monkeys’ appears in the King-liu yi-siang (T 2121, k. 47, p. 244b16–c9), a collection of texts taken from the Chinese Buddhist canon, compiled in 516 at Nankin by Pao-tch’ang.

A developed version of the same jātaka also occurs in a new translation of the Sāgaramatiparipṛcchā, T 400, k. 16, p. 515a23–b19, made at the end of the 10th century.

The story is well known in central Asia. The Khotanese Jātakastava (ed. M. J. Dresden, 1955, no. 32, p. 436) dedicates a note to it: The vulture with sharp beak seized the young ones, two young monkeys whom the monkey had left in your charge for a refuge. Your mind was most greatly agitated in your compassion. – You tore the delicate skin on your limbs. Great drops of blood, many and thick, a sacrifice, you gave away for them, as a propitiatory ransom, so that then he gave them back to you.

Representations on the painted walls: cf. E. Waldschmidt, Über die Darstellungen und den Stil des Wandgemälde aus Qyzil bei Kutcha I, in A. von Le Coq, Buddhististische Spätantike in Mittelasien, VI, 1928, p. 51, fig. 154–157.