The Fish Who Worked a Miracle – Jataka Tales

[The Power of Truthfulness]
[Maccha-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was in Jetavana
monastery with regard to his having made torrents of rain fall

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[The Power of Truthfulness]
[Maccha-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while he was in Jetavana
monastery with regard to his having made torrents of rain fall
during a period of drought through his miraculous power.
There was a severe drought at one time in Kosala and
everything, such as rice fields and banana trees, withered;
and lakes, ponds and tanks dried up. Birds flew away, and
fish and turtles buried themselves in the mud, where they
became prey to crows and hawks. Even the tank at the
gateway of Jetavanārāma dried up down to its bottom step.
Out of his compassion, the Buddha decided he had to
do something to bring rain. So he determined to bathe in the
tank at Jetavanārāma. At this point, the seat of the king of
the gods Sakka grew hot, and he sought to find out the cause.
Seeing that the Buddha wished to bathe, he summoned the
rain god Pajjunna, and ordered him to make it rain. A great
wind then blew up, and it rained torrents.
In the evening, the monks in the preaching hall were
discussing this. When the Buddha entered, he asked them
what they were discussing before he came. The monks told
him, and the Buddha said, “Oh monks, this is not the first
time I have made rain fall in an hour of need.” And the
monks asked the Buddha to tell the past story.
This is how it was:
Once upon a time, the Enlightenment Being was born
as a fish in a pond in northern India. There were many kinds
of fish, big and small, living in the pond with the Bodhisatta.
There came to be a time of severe draught. The rainy
season did not come as usual. The crops of men died, and
many ponds, lakes and rivers dried up.
The fish and turtles dug down and buried themselves in
the mud, frantically trying to keep wet and save themselves.
The crows were pleased by all this. They stuck their beaks
down into the mud, pulled up the frightened little fish, and
feasted on them.
The suffering of pain and death by the other fish
touched the Enlightenment Being with sadness, and filled
him with pity and compassion. He realized that he was the
only one who could save them. But it would take a miracle.
The truth was that he had remained innocent, by never
taking the life of anyone. He was determined to use the
power of this wholesome truth to make rain fall from the sky,
and release his relatives from their misery and death.¹⁶
He pulled himself up from under the black mud. He
was a big fish, and as black from the mud as polished ebony.
He opened his eyes, which sparkled like rubies, looked up to
the sky, and called on the rain god Pajjunna. He exclaimed,
“Oh my friend Pajjunna, god of rain, I am suffering for the
sake of my relatives. Why do you withhold rain from me,
who am perfectly wholesome, and make me suffer in
sympathy with all these fish?
“I was born among fish, for whom it is customary to eat
other fish – even our own kind, like cannibals! But since I
was born, I myself have never eaten any fish, even one as
tiny as a rice grain. In fact, I have never taken life from
anyone. The truthfulness of this my innocence gives me the
right to say to you: Make the rains fall! Relieve the suffering
of my relatives!”
He said this the way one gives orders to a servant. And
he continued, commanding the mighty rain god Pajjunna:
¹⁶ In ancient India, it was believed that a person who fulfilled his function
or duty
in the cosmos perfectly could change the physical order of the world by what was
termed an ‘act of truth’ [sacca-kiriyā]. For an Enlightenment
Being, or
Bodhisatta, such was observing perfectly the ethical principle of Ahi
sā, not
harming any life. The well-known Damayantī’s declaration in the story of
“Nala
and Damayantī” in the third book of the Mahābhārata was based on her flawless
chastity and devotion to her husband-to-be, Nala, which was complete,
even in
word and thought. For a prostitute mentioned in “The Questions of
King
Milinda” [Milindapañha] 4.1.47, her declaration was based on her being
the
perfect prostitute, perfectly fulfilling the prostitute’s duty, giving
herself only for
money, never denying anyone who would pay her price, and serving all
alike.
See also the ‘act of truth’ of the baby quail in Jātaka 35, the Va aka-Jātaka,
and
of Prince Poorfruit in the beginning of Jātaka 52 (=539, the Mahājanaka-Jātaka)
above.
“Make rain fall from the thunderclouds! Do not allow the
crows their hidden treasures! Let the crows feel the sorrow of
their unwholesome actions [akusala-kamma-s]. At the same
time release me from my sorrow, who have lived in perfect
wholesomeness.”
After only a short pause, the sky opened up with a
heavy downpour of rain, relieving many from the fear of
death – fish, turtles and even humans. And when the great
fish who had worked this miracle eventually died, he was
reborn as he deserved.
The Buddha then said:
“The many fish then are today the Buddha’s disciples.
Ānanda was the rain god Pajjunna. And I, myself, was the
fish who relieved his relatives’ suffering.”
The moral: “True innocence relieves the suffering of many.”

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