The Jackal’s Judgment

While staying in Jetavana the Buddha told this story about the bhikkhu Upananda the Sakyan. Upananda had forsaken the virtues of contentment and had become extremely greedy. At the beginning of the rains retreat he tried two or three monasteries, leaving an umbrella or a shoe at one and a water pot or a walking stick at another, but actually staying at yet another.

As he began the retreat in a rural monastery, he exhorted his fellow bhikkhus, as if he were making the moon rise in the sky, saying, “Bhikkhus must live contentedly!” He praised contentment with bare necessities and expounded on the nobility of having few wants. Swayed by his eloquence, the other bhikkhus threw away their fine robes and vessels and began wearing robes of rags and using rough clay pots.

Upananda collected all the choice items and kept them in his own lodging. When the rains retreat was over, he filled a cart and set out for Jetavana. On the way he came to a forest monastery. He stopped behind the monastery and wrapped his feet with creepers. Saying to himself, “Surely there’s something to be gotten here,” he entered the monastery. He found two old bhikkhus who had spent the retreat there and had received two coarse cloaks and one fine blanket. The two were pleased to see Upananda.

“Sir,” they said, “we cannot divide these things. We are having an argument about them and would be very grateful if you would divide them between us.”

Upananda quickly agreed. He gave a coarse robe to each of them and took the blanket for himself. “This falls to me for knowing the rules of discipline,” he said, and went away.

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Those elders, who loved the blanket, went with him to Jetavana and explained the matter to the senior monks who knew the rules. “Is it right,” they asked, “for those who know the rules to take so much away from us in this way?”

When the bhikkhus saw the pile of robes and bowls which Upananda had brought, they said, “Sir, you must have great merit to have gained so much food and so many robes.”

“Sirs,” he protested, “where is my merit?” Then he proceeded to tell them exactly how he had gained everything.

In the Hall of Truth the bhikkhus said to each other, “Upananda the Sakyan is very covetous and greedy.”

When the Buddha heard about it, he said, “Bhikkhus, Upananda’s deeds are not suited for progress. A bhikkhu should act suitably himself before he preaches to others about progress. As for Upananda,” he added, “this is not the first time that he has been covetous. In the past, too, he plundered others’ property in the same way.” Then he told this story.

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, there was a jackal named Mayavi who had taken a mate and lived near a riverbank. One day his wife said to him, “Husband, I suddenly feel a very strong craving for fresh redfish.”

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“All right, my dear,” he said. “Just wait, and I’ll bring you some.” Then he went to the river, wrapped his feet in creepers, and crept along the bank.

Not far from that place, two otters, named Gambhiracari and Anutiracari, were standing on the bank looking for fish. At that moment, Gambhiracari saw a great redfish. He jumped into the water and grabbed it by the tail. The fish was strong and swam away, dragging the otter with him. Gambhiracari called to his friend, “Quick! Come and help me, Anutiracari! This enormous fish will be enough for both of us.”

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Rushing to help him, Anutiracari shouted, “How lucky you are, Gambhiracari! And strong, too! Hold the fish as tight as you can, and like a garuda[3] lifting a snake, I’ll snatch him from the water.”

Then the two together hauled and pushed the redfish onto the riverbank, laid him down, and killed him.

“You have caught a great fish,” Anutiracari said. “Please divide it.”

“No,” protested Gambhiracari. “I could not have caught it without your help. You must divide it.”

In this way the two of them quarreled, both refusing to divide the fish. At last they sat down with the fish lying in front of them. As soon as they had sat down, the jackal emerged from his hiding place and approached them. The otters saluted him and said, “Welcome, friend! Please help us. Together we have caught this redfish, but we cannot decide how to divide it between us. Please cut it fairly and give us each an equal part.”

“Certainly,” the jackal answered. “I have settled many cases such as this, and I have always acted fairly, maintaining peace and friendship between the parties.”

Then, as cleanly as if he had a butcher’s knife, he bit the fish into three pieces. “Anutiracari, take the tail,” he said. “And you, Gambhiracari, keep the head! Eat your shares without quarreling. The middle part will be my payment for settling your dispute.” In a flash he grabbed the plump middle portion of the fish and ran off.

The two otters sat stunned as though they had lost a purse of a thousand pieces of silver.

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“What fools we are!” they cried. “If we had not argued over this fish, it would have been enough for a delicious feast for us both. But now the jackal has taken the fish and left us with no more than the bony head and tail!”

The jackal was very proud of himself as he carried the redfish to his wife. When she saw him coming, she saluted him, and cried, “My lord, how happy I am to see you with such a prize! You are like a king who has just conquered a neighboring kingdom. How did you manage to catch this fish? You can’t swim.”

Mayavi placed the fish before his wife and explained: “Strife causes weakness and decay. Because of strife, the otters lost their prize, and I, Mayavi, brought it home to you.”

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A tree-spirit dwelling nearby who had observed all this added, “So it is among men as well. When strife arises and men seek an arbiter, the arbiter gains the upper hand. They lose their wealth, but the king grows richer still.”

After the lesson, the Buddha explained: “At that time the jackal was Upananda, the otters were the two old monks, and I myself was the tree-spirit who witnessed the scene.”

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