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Mahākapi Jātaka (No.407, 516)

1. Mahākapi Jātaka (No.407).– The Bodhisatta was once a monkey, leader of eighty thousand. In the grove where they lived was a mango tree (some say a banyan) growing on a river bank bearing fruit of divine flavour, and the monkeys were always careful to let no fruit drop into the river. However, one day a fruit, which bad been hidden by an ants’ nest, fell into the water, and was picked up at Bārāṇasī, where the king was bathing. The king tasted it, and being seized with a desire to eat more, had many rafts made, and ascended the river with a company of foresters. They found the tree, and the king, having eaten his fill, lay down at the foot. At midnight the Bodhisatta came with his retinue and started eating the mangoes. The king was disturbed, and gave orders to his archers that the wood should be surrounded and all the monkeys shot at daybreak. However, the Bodhisatta was a real leader; he ascended a straight-growing branch and, with one leap, reached the river bank. He then marked the distance, and having cut off a bamboo shoot of the required length, fastened one end to a tree on the bank and the other end round his waist. On leaping back, he found he had not allowed for the length which went round his waist, but grasping a branch firmly with both hands, he signalled to his followers to cross the bridge so formed. The eighty thousand monkeys thus escaped; but the monkey who was Devadatta, coming last, saw a chance of injuring the Bodhisatta, and taking a spring into the air, fell on the Bodhisatta’s back, breaking it, There the Bodhisatta hung in agony, and the king who had seen all this caused him to be brought down and covered with a yellow robe and ministered to. However, nothing could be done, and the Bodhisatta died after having admonished the king. A funeral pyre was made with one hundred wagon loads of timber, and the dead monkey was paid all the honours due to a king. A shrine was built on the spot where the cremation took place, while the skull was inlaid with gold and taken to Bārāṇasī, where a great feast was held in its honour for seven days. Afterwards it was enshrined and offerings were made to it.

The story was told concerning good works towards one’s relations, as narrated in the introduction to the Bhaddasāla Jātaka. Ānanda is identified with the king. J.iii.369‑75; cf. Jātakamālā, No.27; the story is sculptured in the stūpa of Bharhut, Cunningham, pl.xxxiii.4.

The Jātaka is also called the Rājovāda Jātaka. It is probably this story which is said to have greatly impressed Iḷanāga when he heard it from the Thera Mahāpaduma, who lived in Tulādhāra. Mhv.xxxv.30.

2. Mahākapi Jātaka (No.516).– The Bodhisatta was once a monkey, and one day, in the forest, he came across a man who had fallen into a pit while looking for his oxen and had lain there starving for ten days. The Bodhisatta pulled him out and then lay down to sleep. However, the man, very hungry, and wishing to eat him, struck his head with a stone, grievously wounding him. The monkey at once climbed a tree in order to escape, but realising that the man would be unable to find his way out of the forest, he jumped from tree to tree (in spite of his intense pain) and showed him the way out. The man became a leper, and wandered about for seven years until he came to the Migācira Park in Bārāṇasī and told his story to the king. At the end of his recital the earth opened and he was swallowed up in Avīci.

The story was related in reference to Devadatta’s attempt to kill the Buddha by hurling a stone upon him. The leper was Devadatta. J.v.67‑74; cf. Jātakamālā, No.24.

The story is also called the Vevatiyakapi Jātaka.