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Source: Adapted from Archaic translation by Robert ChalmersEdit

JATAKA No. 141


"Bad company."--This story was told by the Master while at the Bamboo-grove, about a traitor Brother(Monk). The introductory incident is the same as that told in the Mahila-mukha jataka (*1).

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisattva was born as an iguana(large lizard). When he grew up he lived in a big burrow in the river bank with a following of many hundreds of other iguanas. Now the Bodhisattva had a son, a young iguana, who was great friends with a chameleon, whom he used to clip and embrace. This intimacy being reported to the iguana king, he sent for his young son and said that such friendship was misplaced, for chameleons were low creatures, and that if the intimacy was persisted in, calamity would happen to the whole of the tribe of iguanas(large lizards). And he asked his son to have no more to do with the chameleon. But the son continued in his intimacy. Again and again did the Bodhisattva speak with his son, but finding his words of no avail, and foreseeing danger to the iguanas(large lizards) from the chameleon, he had an outlet cut on one side of their burrow, so that there might be a means of escape in time of need.

Now as time went on, the young iguana grew to a great size, while the chameleon never grew any bigger. And as these mountainous embraces of the young giant (iguana) grew painful indeed, the chameleon foresaw that they would be the death of him if they went on a few days longer, and he resolved to combine with a hunter to destroy the whole tribe of iguanas(large lizards).

One day in the summer the ants came out after a thunder-storm (*2), and the iguanas darted here and there catching them and eating them. Now there came into the forest an iguana trapper with spade and dogs to dig out iguanas; and the chameleon thought what a haul he would put in the trapper's way. So he went up to the man, and, lying down before him, asked why he was about in the forest. "To catch iguanas," was the reply. "Well, I know where there's a burrow of hundreds of them," said the chameleon; "bring fire and brushwood and follow me." And he brought the trapper to where the iguanas lived. "Now," said the chameleon, "put your fuel in there and smoke the iguanas out. Meantime let your dogs be all round and take a big stick in your hand. Then as the iguanas dash out, strike them down and make a pile of the killed." So saying, the treacherous chameleon went to a spot hard by, where he lay down, with his head up, saying to himself, "This day I shall see the defeat of my enemy."

The trapper set to work to smoke the iguanas out; and fear for their lives drove them helter-skelter from their burrow. As they came out, the trapper knocked them on the head, and if he missed them, they fell a prey to his dogs. And so there was great slaughter among the iguanas. Realising that this was the chameleon's doing, the Bodhisattva cried, "One should never make friends of the wicked, for such bring sorrow in their group. A single wicked chameleon has proved the weakness of all these iguanas." So saying, he escaped by the outlet he had provided, uttering this stanza:-

Bad company can never end in good.
Through friendship with one sole chameleon
The tribe of iguanas met their end.

His lesson ended, the Master identified the Birth by saying, "Devadatta was the chameleon of those days; this traitor Brother(Monk) was the disobedient young iguana, the son of the Bodhisattva; and I myself the king of the iguanas."


(1)No. (26).

(2)Makkhika may refer to the wings which the ants(or termites) get in India at the beginning of the rainy season.

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