The Great Ape (Jataka Tales – 32)


Once, the Bodhisatta was born as an ape and lived alone like an ascetic in a Himalayan forest. Yet, unlike other monkeys he was kind and virtuous; and survived on leaves and fruits of the forest trees.

One day, a shepherd in search of his stray cattle lost his way and reached that forest. Exhausted with hunger, thirst, heat and toil he sat on the foot of a tree. Soon, he noticed a tinduka tree (diosperos embryopteris) laden with fruits. The hungry shepherd then in no time climbed the tree. But he overlooked the roots of the tree, which had grown out of a sloping cliff over a water-fall. When he reached a branch laden with ripe tindukas to pluck them, the branch could not sustain his weight and broke off and he fell down into a pit. Luckily, his bones were not broken. Yet, it was impossible for him to find an exit.

As a matter of chance, the great ape saw the man in his distress. Feeling pity for him he rescued him by putting great exertions. To ease himself the exhausted monkey wanted to have some rest. So, he asked the man to guard him before he could take a nap. But the ungrateful man decided to kill the innocuous monkey in his sleep to obtain his meat for his survival in the lost forest. So he picked up a large piece of stone and dropped it on the head of the sleeping monkey. The stone somehow slipped and missed the target. Nonetheless, it hurt the monkey. When the ape opened his eyes in agony and read the guilt written in the face of the man, he uttered:

“Brought back from the mouth of Death when reaching the other world.Saved from one precipice, yet you have now fallen on the worse. Wreched is that ignorance that spurs one to such vice and cruelty, and leads one to miseries; as it is this infatuation which deludes one to fall on the false hope of prosperity.”

He continued: “The pain of this wound does not aggrieve me as much as the thought that on account of me you have plunged into such evil from where me or anyone could never rescue you!”

Nonetheless, the compassionate monkey escorted him to the fringe of the forest so that he could go back to his own fellow beings.

By and by, the man’s evil manifested in the form of leprosy. His skin thawed and he was expelled from the society. Thus, excommunicated from the world of his own fellow beings he started living in a dense forest, where no man dared to walk.

One day, the king of Varanasi detected him on his hunting expedition in the forest and mistook him to be a ghost, because his body had deformed. When he came closer he discovered to his shock that the ghost-looking-being was none other than a man. Further, he was shocked when he heard the pathetic story of that man; who was still remorseful for his ungratefulness to the great ape. His miseries had no bound!!

Truly, he repented. But then it was too late. Indeed, no one can escape the fruit of his or her own karma!

Vevajatiyakapi Jataka

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