New Homes for the Tree Spirits – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Wise Advice]
[Rukkhadhamma-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this Jātaka story while at Jetavana
monastery with regard to a quarrel between his Sakyā and
Koliya relatives concerning the waters of the Rohi ī River.
The full details of this quarrel are given in the Ku āla-Jātaka
[No. 536].¹⁵
At the time of this quarrel, the Buddha flew through the
air and sat in the sky cross-legged emitting blue rays,
startling his kinsfolk. He then alighted from mid-air, seated
himself on the riverbank, and addressed his kinsmen on the
advantages of concord and unity, saying that at one time,
when a big storm came up, trees that stood alone, fell;
whereas those in the forest, which were intertwined with one
another withstood the wind. And at the request of his
relatives, he told this Jātaka story.
This was told again at the request of the assembled
monks in the preaching hall at Jetavanārāma.
Once upon a time, as happens to all beings, the King of
the Tree Spirits died. King Sakka, ruler of the Heaven of 33,
appointed a new King of the Tree Spirits . As his first official
¹⁵ See the retelling of Jātaka No. 33, the Sammodamāna-Jātaka, for the details
of
this quarrel as in the Ku āla-Jātaka.
act, the new king [Vessava a] sent out a proclamation that
every tree spirit should choose a tree to live in. Likewise it
was stated that every tree was to be pleased with its resident
spirit.
There just so happened to be a very wise tree spirit who
was the leader of a large clan. He advised his clan members
not to live in freestanding trees. Instead it would be safer to
live in the forest trees near him. The wise tree spirits settled
down in the forest trees with their leader.
But there were also some foolish and arrogant tree
spirits. They said to each other, “Why should we live in this
crowd? Let us go to the villages, towns and cities inhabited
by human beings. Tree spirits who live there receive the best
offerings. And they are even worshipped by the superstitious
people living in those places. What a life we will have!”
So they went to the villages, towns and cities, and
moved into the big freestanding trees, looked after by people.
Then one day a big storm came up. The wind blew strong and
hard. The big heavy trees with old stiff branches did not do
well in the storm. Branches fell down, trunks broke in two,
and some were even uprooted. But the trees in the forest,
which were intertwined with each other, were able to bend
and support each other in the mighty wind. They did not
break or fall!
The tree spirits in the villages, towns and cities had
their tree homes destroyed. They gathered up their children
and returned to the forest. They complained to the wise
leader about their misfortune in the big lonely trees in the
land of men. He said, “This is what happens to arrogant ones
who ignore wise advice and go off by themselves.”
When the Buddha finished telling this story, he
connected the births in this way:
“The Buddha’s followers today were tree spirits in
those days. And the very wise tree spirit who was the leader
of a large clan was I who am today the Buddha.”
The moral: “Fools are deaf to wise words.”