The Fawn Who Played Dead – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
Once upon a time, there was a herd of for-
est deer. In this herd was a wise and respected
teacher, cunning in the ways of deer. He taught
the tricks and strategies of survival to the young
One day, his younger sister brought her son
to him, to be taught what is so important for deer.
She said, “Oh brother teacher, this is my son.
Please teach him the tricks and strategies of deer.”
The teacher said to the fawn, “Very well, you can
come at this time tomorrow for your first lesson.”
The young deer came to the lessons as he
was supposed to. When others cut classes to spend
all day playing, he remained and paid attention to
the good teacher. He was well liked by the other
young bucks and does, but he only played when
his class work was complete. Being curious to
learn, he was always on time for the lessons. He
was also patient with the other students, knowing
that some learn more quickly than others. He re-
spected the teacher deer for his knowledge, and
was grateful for his willingness to share it.
One day, the fawn stepped in a trap in the
forest and was captured. He cried out in great
pain. This frightened the other fawns, who ran
back to the herd and told his mother. She was ter-
rified, and ran to her brother the teacher. Trem-
bling with fear, crying big tears, she said to him,
“Oh my dear brother, have you heard the news
that my son has been trapped by sortie hunter’s
snare? How can I save my little child’s life? Did
he study well in your presence?”
Her brother said, “My sister, don’t be
afraid. I have no doubt he will be safe. He studied
hard and always did his very best. He never
missed a class and always paid attention. There-
fore, there is no need to have doubt or pain in your
heart. He will not be hurt by any human being.
Don’t worry. I am confident he will return to you
and make you happy again. He has learned all the
tricks and strategies used by deer to cheat the
hunters. So be patient. He will return!”
Meanwhile, the trapped fawn was thinking,
“All my friends were afraid and ran away. There is
no one to help me get out of this deadly trap. Now
I must use the tricks and strategies I learned from
the wise teacher who taught so well.”
The deer strategy he decided to use was the
one called, “playing dead.” First, he used his
hoofs to dig up the dirt and grass, to make it look
like he had tried very hard to escape. Then he re-
lieved his bowels and released his urine, because
this is what happens when a deer is caught in a
trap and dies in very great fear. Next, he covered
his body with his own saliva.
Lying stretched out on his side, he held his
body rigidly and stiffened his legs out straight. He
turned up his eyes, and let his tongue hang out of
the side of his mouth. He filled his lungs with air
and puffed out his belly. Finally, with his head
leaning on one side, he breathed through the nos-
tril next to the ground, not through the upper one.
Lying motionless, he looked so much like a
stiff corpse that flies flew around him, attracted by
the awful smells. Crows stood nearby waiting to
eat his flesh.
Before long it was early morning and the
hunter came to inspect his traps. Finding the fawn
who was playing dead, he slapped the puffed up
belly and found it stiff. Seeing the flies and the
mess he thought, “Ah, it has already started to
stiffen. He must have been trapped much earlier
this morning. No doubt the tender meat is already
starting to spoil. I will skin and butcher the car-
cass right here, and carry the meat home.” Since
he completely believed the deer was dead, he re-
moved and cleaned the trap, and began spreading
leaves to make a place to do the butchering. Real-
izing he was free, the fawn suddenly sprang to his
feet. He ran like a little cloud blown by a swift
wind, back to the comfort and safety of his
mother. The whole herd celebrated his survival,
thanks to learning so well from the wise teacher.
The moral is: Well-learned lessons bring great