The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes godha-jataka (jataka of the lizard) which is Chapter V of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter V - Godhā-jātaka (Jātaka of the Lizard)

The monks asked the Exalted One, “How was it, Lord, that Yaśodharā could not be satisfied? For when as a young man thou wast distributing ornaments[1] among the maidens and didst give Yaśodharā a necklace worth a hundred-thousand pieces, she said, ‘Is it just this much that I deserve?’ And thou didst then give her a finger-ring worth another hundred thousand pieces; but even so she was not satisfied. How was it that Yaśodharā could not be pleased and satisfied?”

The Exalted One replied, “That was not the first time, monks, that Yaśodharā here was displeased. There was another occasion also when she was displeased.

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the city of Benares, in the province of Kāśi, there reigned a king named Suprabha. He had a son named Sutejas, who was virtuous, powerful, secure,[2] sociable,[3] not forward in speaking,[4] but of good address; he was courted and respected by the ministers, the commander-in-chief and every headman of villages.

The thought occurred to the king: “Here are all the people attracted by the virtuous qualities of the young prince. Some day they will kill me and put him on the throne.” So the king banished the prince.

And the prince with his wife (65) made a hut of grass and leaves in a forest clearing in the Himalayas, and lived on roots, fruits and water, eating the flesh of deer and wild hogs when they were fortunate to get it. Once when the prince was absent from the retreat a cat killed a fat[5] lizard (godhā), threw it down in front of his wife and went away. She would not touch the lizard with her hands.

The young prince returned to the retreat bringing roots and fruits and saw there that frightful fat lizard. He asked the princess where the lizard came from. She replied, “It was brought by a cat.” The prince asked, “Is this lizard not cooked?” She replied, “I accounted it no better than cow-dung,[6] and so I did not cook it.” The young prince said, “This is not uneatable; men eat it.” And he skinned and cooked the lizard, and when it was cooked hung it on the branch of a tree.

His wife took a pitcher and went to fetch water. “I am going,” she said, “to fetch water, then I shall prepare a meal.” She saw that the lizard when cooked was good in colour and smell, appetising[7] and fresh, and she coveted it. But the prince thought with regard to his wife: “The princess was not willing to touch even with her hands this lizard when it was uncooked. When, however, it is ready cooked she is glad to eat of it. If she had any love for me she would have cooked the lizard when I was gone to gather fruits. So I will not share the lizard with her, but will eat it all myself.”

He consumed the lizard (godhā) when the princess was gone to fetch water. She returned carrying a pitcher of water and asked the prince, “Sir, where is the lizard?” The prince replied, “It has escaped.” The princess then reflected: “How could a lizard which had been cooked and tied to a branch of a tree (66) escape?” And the king’s daughter came to the conclusion that the young prince did not love her, and sorrow entered her heart.

All beings will die, for the end of life is death. According to their deeds so will they reap a good or a bad reward.

The evil-doers will go to hell, the good to heaven. Others who have advanced in the Way[8] will pass entirely away rid of the āśravas.

Now King Suprabha succumbed to the fate of mortals.[9] The ministers thereupon fetched the young prince Sutejas from the forest and consecrated him to the throne of Benares.

Everything which King Sutejas possessed he laid at his queen’s feet. Everything in his realm which he considered a treasure, he brought to her. All the exquisite raiments, jewels, necklaces and half-necklaces he brought to her. But he could not satisfy her, for the affair of the lizard still rankled in her heart.

Then King Sutejas reflected: “I have shown the queen every good disposition; I have shown her every fondness, but I cannot please her.” So he said to her, “Lady, I have shown you every good disposition; I have shown you every fondness, but I cannot please you. I do not understand why this should be so.[10] Let the queen speak.”

The queen replied to King Sutejas with a verse:

Even to-day, my lord, I still bear in mind that behaviour of yours in the forest, when, though you had a bow in your hand and a quiver at your side, a cooked lizard hanging from a branch of a tree escaped from you.

The king replied:

Honour him who honours you; share with him who shares with you. (67) Do good to him who has done his duty by you. Share not with him who shares not. Serve not him who does not wish you well.

Forsake him who forsakes you; have no friendship with him.[11] A bird which sees that a tree has lost its fruit looks out for another. For the world is wide.

It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion somebody else was the king named Sutejas. But you must not think so. And why? Because I at that time and on that occasion was the king of Benares named Sutejas. You may think that the chief queen of King Sutejas was somebody else. But you must not think so. For Yaśodharā here, monks, was the chief queen of King Sutejas. At that time, too, she was displeased and could not be satisfied. And on this other occasion she was displeased and could not be satisfied.

Here ends the Jātaka of the Lizard (godhā).

Footnotes and references:


This nidāna is out of place, as the incident on which it is based comes later in the story of Gotama’s youth. See p. 73 (text.)


Nivāta, “not blown upon by the wind,” i.e. protected.


Sukhasaṃsparṣa, “of agreeable touch.”


Pūrvālāpin, “allowing others to speak before him,” on the analogy of pūrvaṃgama, Pali pubbaṅgama, “allowing to go before.”


Vaṭhara, “bulky, gross.” See P.E.D., which refers to this passage of the Mhvu. and cites a root vaṭh given at Dhtm. 133 in meaning thūlattane bhave i.e. “bulkiness.”


Gomaya ti kṛtvā, a reading which Senart adopts “faute de mieux.”


Alūha, negative of lūha, BSk. for Vedic rūkṣa, Pali lūkha “ rough,” “coarse,” '* unpleasant,” etc. See P.E.D. The form lūkha is found at Mhvu. 3. 120, 178, 364.


Literally, “was bound to (by) the condition of temporality or mortality,” kāladharmeṇa saṃyukta.


Literally, “made become or developed the Way or Path,” mārgaṃ bhāvetvā.


Kiṃ atra antaram? Cf. Pali kiṃ antaram = kiṃ kāraṇā?


The text has satataṃ na gaccha, “always do not go” = “never go” (sc. to him.) This seems rather a weak expression, and, though there is apparently no MS. justification for doing so, satatam has been emended into sakhitām—“do not enter into friendship.”

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