The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 305,330 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes jataka of surupa (king of the deer) which is Chapter XXVII 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 XXVII - Jātaka of Surūpa (king of the deer)

The monks said to the Exalted One, “For the sake of a wise saying[1] the Exalted One sacrificed flesh and blood.” The Exalted One replied, “That was not the first time that I sacrificed flesh and blood for the sake of a wise saying, I did so on another occasion.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, there lived in the Himalayas a deer named Surūpa. He was lovely, charming and comely, having red hoofs and antlers, jet-black eyes and dappled[2] body. He was in charge of a herd of deer, being clever, intelligent and fortified by the root of virtue and by merit.[3] Through the deer’s accumulation of merit the whole herd of deer lived in comfort there in the Himalayas, feeding on food of all kinds and drinking cool water, without fear or terror. Being blessed with a good leader, they could not be harmed by man or by wild beast. In cold weather the deer led his herd to the warm regions, and in hot weather to the cool. He was beloved of devas, Nāgas, Yakṣas, (256), Kinnaras, spirits of the woodland, wild beasts and other creatures.

But, monks, Śakra, lord of the devas, in order to test the deer, disguised himself as a hunter, went to the place where the king of the deer was and said to him, “I have a verse of a wise saying. If you give yourself up, then you shall hear the verse.” When he heard the hunter’s words the king of the deer was gladdened, and he said to himself, “If in return for this perishable state[4] I can hear a wise saying, I shall have received a great benefit.” And to the hunter the king of deer said, “For the sake of that wise saying, I give myself up. Let me hear it quickly and without delay.” Śakra, lord of devas, was pleased at the deep respect for dharma shown by the king of the deer, and he said to him, “The mire and dust on the feet of good men like these[5] is better than a mountain of gold. For the mire and dust on the feet of good men conduces to the decrease of sorrow, a mountain of gold to the increase of it.” Then Śakra, after he had thus tested the king of the deer vanished out of sight.

A hunter said to a deer named Surūpa, “I have a verse of a wise saying. Give me your flesh and you shall hear me say it.”

[The deer replied:]

If in return for this perishable flesh of mine I can hear a wise saying, I give you my flesh. Quickly speak this wise saying.

The hunter replied:

The dust on the feet of good men is better than a mountain of gold. That dust decreases sorrow; that mountain increases it.[6]

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks that you will think that at that time and on that occasion, the lord of the herd of deer in the Himalayas, the persuasive and righteous deer, named Surūpa, was somebody else. (257) You must not think so. And why? I, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the lord of the herd of deer in the Himalayas, the persuasive and righteous deer named Surūpa. Then did I for the sake of a wise saying give up flesh and blood, just as I have done now.[7]

Here ends the Jātaka of Surūpa, king of the deer.

Notes on the Surūpa Jātaka:

Not in J. Note that the “occasion” of this story is not given. The main incident of the story has appeared in Vol. I, p. 75, in a list of examples of self-sacrifice displayed by Bodhisattvas.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Subhāṣitam. Cf. subhāṣitā gāthā, Vol. I, p. 72, n. 3.

2.

Citra-upacitra, “bright and brightish” or “dappled and dappled-ish.” But upacitra does not seem to be found elsewhere.

3.

Sukuśalamūlapuṇya-upastabdha.

4.

Vināśadharmeṇa.

5.

Evaṃrūpāṇāṃ eva satpuruṣāṇām, referring, no doubt, to Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Senart compares the Pali use of tādi, synonymous with evaṃrūpa, as an epithet of Buddha and, sometimes, of Arhans. But it is doubtful whether, as Senart suggests, there is any significant connexion between this epithet and Tathāgata.

6.

Cf. Vol. I, p. 75.

7.

As stated in n. 4, p. 240, this “occasion” is not given.