The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes jataka of the monkey (vanara), version 2 which is Chapter IV 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 IV - The Jātaka of the monkey (vānara), version 2

(31) The monks said to the Exalted One, “How did the Exalted One by the unique wisdom conferred by[1] the supreme perfect enlightenment escape from the domination of Māra?” The Exalted One replied, “Monks, that was not the only time that, by my unique wisdom, I safely escaped from the domination of Māra. There was another time, also, when, being in the form of a monkey (vānara), I escaped from Māra’s domination and put my feet on his head.”[2]

The monks asked, “Was there another time, Lord?” The Exalted One replied, “Yes, monks.”

Once upon a time, monks, long ago, in the Himalayas there was a monkey (vānara) in charge of a large herd of monkeys. Now in the last month of summer the monkey, being thirsty after eating fruits of various kinds, came with the herd to a lake to drink water. This lake had precipitous banks and there was no means of going down to it nor of coming up[3] from it. The chief of the herd in his thirst for water walked all around the lake searching for a way in. While doing this he broke through a fence of stones and fell into the water.

Now in that lake there was a serpent’s hole, where a large serpent lived. Living where it did, it got its supply of food with little difficulty.[4] For it would devour whatever beast or bird or monkey came down to the lake to drink. The serpent saw the chief of the monkeys falling into the water, and stretched out its neck from the den ready to seize him.

The serpent addressed the monkey (vānara) in verse:

“Here comes a prey again, a forest-roaming monkey, who comes wishing to drink water at the entrance to my den in the hank.”

The lord of the monkeys (vānara) failed to get any support on which to rest his feet (32) and thus get out of the water and reach dry land. He said to himself, “If the serpent turns its neck away, I’ll put my feet on its head, and so gain dry ground.”

Then he addressed the serpent in a verse:

“I am not your prey. Do you not see the crowd[5] that you should threaten me particularly in the verse which you have just recited?”

The serpent turned its neck in the direction in which the lord of the monkeys had pointed out the other monkeys, so that it might see them. And no sooner had the serpent turned its neck away than the lord of the monkeys set his feet on its head, and thus safely stepped out of the water on to dry land. The serpent wondered at the unique intelligence of the monkey. “This monkey,” it said, “had no foothold Uere in the lake where he could put his feet, and so step out of the water on to dry land. So he pointed out to me the other monkeys, and thus made me avert my face and turn my neck in the direction of those monkeys. And, with his unique intelligence, he put his feet on my head and stepped out to dry land.”

The serpent addressed the lord of the monkeys (vānara) in verse:

“You have quickly and speedily spoilt my plan, for when you saw me turning away, you proved yourself bold and valiant.

“He who has these four qualities, energy, intelligence, mindfulness and wisdom, as you, lord of the monkeys, have, can avert ill.”

It may be again, monks, that you will think that at that time and on that occasion (33) the lord of the monkeys in the Himalayas was somebody else. But it was I who at that time and on that occasion was the lord of the monkeys. You may think that the serpent in the lake there was somebody else. You must not think so. And why? Wicked Mara here, monks, at that time and on that occasion was the serpent dwelling[6] in the lake. Then also by my unique intelligence did I succeed in putting my feet on his head and step out of the water on to dry land. And on this other occasion did I, by my unique intelligence, escape from the domination of Māra.

Here ends the Jātaka of the Monkey (vānara).[7]

Footnotes and references:


Literally, “of”.


Mūrdhe, loc. sg. of an -a stem of mūrdhan. Cf. Pali, and see Edgerton, Gram. §17. 15, where, however, this example is not cited.


Natthitum (sic), obviously an error for na-utthitum or -utthātum.


Alpakisareṇa. See Vol. 2, p. 206, n. 2. Cf. B.H.S.D.


Pṛthū, “the numerous or many (others).” Cf. Pali puthū.


Naivāsika, BSk., Pali nevāsika. See B.H.S.D. for BSk. examples.


Fausböll. no. 57.