The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of the monkey (vanara), version 1 which is Chapter III 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 III - The Jātaka of the monkey (vānara), version 1

The monks said to the Exalted One, “How was it, Lord, that wicked Māra was unable to get a chance to tempt the Exalted One?” The Exalted One replied, “That was not the first time that wicked Māra was unable to get a chance to tempt me. There was another occasion also.” The monks asked, “Was there another occasion, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in a high region of the Himalayas a monkey (vānara) had charge of a large troop of monkeys. Now in that part of the Himalayas there was a large pool of water, where the herd frequently went down to drink[1] water. But in that lake there dwelt a water demon.[2] Whatever deer, bird, monkey or man went down to the lake to drink was pulled[3] into the water by the demon.

It happened that that herd of monkeys (vānara) went down to the lake to drink. The demon being in the water observed the monkeys, but they did not see him, and he pulled in one of them. And in the same way each time that the herd of monkeys went down to the lake to drink water the demon unobserved saw them and pulled in one of them. Then the lord of the herd missed the monkeys who had been pulled in, and he said to himself, “Where are those monkeys? I am afraid they have strayed somewhere.” He looked all around, but did not see them. And the sagacious lord of the herd (30) observed the tracks made by the monkeys (vānara) at the place wnere they went down to the lake to drink water, both as they went and as they came. He saw that the tracks of those going down were more numerous than the tracks of those coming up. Understanding came to him, and he said, “They have been pulled in by the water demon. That is why I do not see them. There must be no more drinking water direct by the mouth.”

Since, therefore, he saw that they were being pulled into the lake by the water demon, he gave orders to the monkeys, saying, “Go and gather the tops of reeds[4] from the reed-thicket, and drink water by means of them.” So they went,[5] and each plucked from the thicket a very long reed-top, so that they could drink water from a distance, and the water demon could not pull them in. And when they did go to the lake to drink, they went down taking their reeds with them, and, staying at a distance from it, they drank water through the reeds.

The water demon was no longer able to pull in a single monkey (vānara).

The tracks of one going down are seen, but not those of his coming up. Water must be drunk through a reed. The watchful has no cause for alarm.

The Exalted One said, “It may be again, monks, that you will think that he who was the lord of the monkeys at that time and on that occasion, was somebody else. I was he. And he who was the water demon was Māra. Then, too, was he unable to get a chance to tempt me.

Here ends the Jātaka of the Monkey (vānara).[6]

Footnotes and references:


Pāyaka. Formations in -ka often have the force of an infinitive of purpose.




Okaḍḍhati. See Vol. 2, p. 72, n. 1. Edgerton (B.H.S.D.) prefers MS. reading kaṭṭati.


Nala, “a species of reed, Amphidonax karka, eight to twelve feet high” (M.W.)


Gacchiya, gerund, forming with tehi a locative absolute.


Fausböll no. 20.