|Structure of the Tipitaka|
Source: Adapted from Archaic translation by Robert ChalmersEdit
JATAKA No. 146
"Our throats are tired."--This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana monastery, about a number of aged Brethren(Monks). While they were still of the world, they were rich and wealthy officials of Shravasti city, all friends of one another; and tradition tells us that while they were engaged in good works they heard the Master preach. At once they cried, "We are old; what to us are house and home? Let us join the Brotherhood(Monks Order), and following the Buddha's lovely teaching make an end of sorrow."
So they shared all their belongings amongst their children and families, and, leaving their tearful family, they came to ask the Master to receive them into the Brotherhood. But when admitted, they did not live the life of Brethren; and because of their age they failed to master the Truth (*1). As in their life as householders, so now too when they were Brethren they lived together, building themselves a cluster of neighbouring huts on the edge of the Monastery. Even when they went in quest of alms, they generally made for their wives' and children's houses and ate there. In particular, all these old men were maintained by the generosity of the wife of one of their number, to whose house each brought what he had received and there ate it, with sauces and curries which she provided. An illness having carried her often; the aged Brethren went their way back to the monastery, and falling on one another's necks walked about bewailing the death of their benefactress, the giver of sauces. The noise of their crying brought the Brethren to the spot to know what ailed them. And the aged men told how their kind benefactress was dead, and that they wept because they had lost her and should never see her like again. Shocked at such wrong act, the Brethren talked together in the Hall of Truth about the cause of the old men's sorrow, and they told the Master too, on his entering the Hall and asking what they were discussing. "Ah, Brethren," said he, "in times past, also, this same woman's death made them go about weeping and wailing; in those days she was a crow and was drowned in the sea, and these were toiling hard to empty all the water out of the sea in order to get her out, when the wise of those days saved them."
And so saying he told this story of the past.
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisattva was a sea-fairy. Now a crow with his mate came down in quest of food to the sea-shore where, just before, certain persons had been offering to the Nagas a sacrifice of milk, and rice, and fish, and meat and strong drink and the like. Up came the crow and with his mate ate freely of the elements of the sacrifice, and drank a great deal of the spirits. So they both got very drunk. Then they wanted to frolic themselves in the sea, and were trying to swim on the surf, when a wave swept the hen-crow out to sea and a fish came and gobbled her up.
"Oh, my poor wife is dead," cried the crow, bursting into tears and cryings. Then a crowd of crows were drawn by his wailing to the spot to learn what ailed him. And when he told them how his wife had been carried out to sea, they all began with one voice to cry. Suddenly the thought struck them that they were stronger than the sea and that all they had to do was to empty it out and rescue their comrade! So they set to work with their bills to empty the sea out by mouthfuls, taking themselves to dry land to rest so soon as their throats were stinging with the salt water. And so they toiled away till their mouths and jaws were dry and inflamed and their eyes bloodshot, and they were ready to drop for weariness. Then in despair they turned to one another and said that it was in vain they laboured to empty the sea, for no sooner had they got rid of the water in one place than more flowed in, and there was all their work to do over again; they would never succeed in baling the water out of the sea. And, so saying, they uttered this stanza:-
Our throats are tired, our mouths are in pain; The sea refills always.
Then all the crows fell to praising the beauty of her beak and eyes, her complexion, figure and sweet voice, saying that it was her excellencies that had provoked the sea to steal her from them. But as they talked this nonsense, the sea-fairy made a bogey appear from the sea and so put them all to flight. In this wise they were saved.
His lesson ended, the Master identified the Birth by saying, "The aged Brother's wife was the hen-crow of those days, and her husband the male crow; the other aged Brethren(Monks) were the rest of the crows, and I the sea-fairy."
(1)Buddhism combined reverence for age with mild contempt for aged novices who, after a mundane life, granted the small portion of their days and faculties to a teaching only to be mastered by hard thinking and ardent zeal.