This story is from the Jataka tales, stories of the Buddha’s past lives. Though not from the Pali Canon, The Birth Story of the Great Monkey was written in Sanskrit by the poet Aryashura. It’s taken from the Garland of the Buddha’s Past Lives (Jatakamala), a collection of 34 stories. Enjoy!

Those who act morally can influence the hearts even of enemies.

Tradition has handed down the following story.

The Bodhi·sattva is said to have once ruled over a troop of monkeys in the depths of the Himavat mountain. Covered by numerous special herbs that were full of different tastes, powers and effects, the region was scattered with hundreds of trees that were decorated with arrangements of flowers, fruits, sprouts, leaves and branches. Water flowed through the area as pure as crystal fragments and there was the constant sound of various flocks of birds.

Despite being born into that state, envy, selfishness and cruelty never afflicted the monkey. For by habitually practicing generosity and compassion, he cultivated their opposites.

The Bodhi·sattva lived in a huge fig-tree. Like a mountain peak tearing through the sky, the tree seemed to rule over the forest, the darkness of its leaf-covered boughs making it resemble a mass of clouds. The tree’s branches were bent down by fine fruits of exquisite taste that had a delightful color and scent and were larger than palmyra nuts.

Even as animals, the virtuous can share their remaining fortune among friends to give support to their happiness,
like the leftover wealth of people gone abroad.

One of the branches happened to hang over a river that passed through the area. In his far-sightedness, the Bodhi·sattva had instructed the troop of monkeys to clear away the fruits from this branch or they would not be allowed to eat the fruit on the other boughs.

The monkeys did as the Bodhi·sattva ordered, but one day they failed to notice one of the fruits. The fruit was not very large because it was still young and was hidden by a leaf that had been rolled up by ants. The fruit gradually grew in size and became colorful, fragrant, tasty and soft. When it was ripe, its stalk loosened and it fell into the river. The current gradually carried the fruit downriver until it became stuck in the side of a net-basket belonging to a king who was playing water games in the river with his wives.

The combined scent of the bathing ointments, garlands, liquor and perfume of the women was dispelled by the fragrance of the fruit, delightful to smell and swelling with virtues.

Sighing deeply and narrowing their eyes,
the women were instantly intoxicated by the smell.
Restless with curiosity,
they cast their eyes in every direction.

As they searched around in curiosity, the women caught sight of the fig fruit that lay stuck in the side of the netbasket, larger than a palmyra nut. Wondering what it was, their eyes were drawn to the object as were the king’s. After he had the fruit brought to him, it was examined by reliable experts, whereupon the king tasted it himself.

The monarch was amazed
by the fruit’s extraordinary taste,
just as the wonderful experience of savoring
a fine dramatic performance amazes a spectator.

His wonder had already been stirred
by the fruit’s novel color and scent.
But now his passion for its taste
transformed his wonder to a supreme level.

Despite being used to fine tasting food, the king was so overpowered by desire for the fruit’s flavor that he had this thought:

“If a man does not eat fruits like this,
what fruits can he enjoy from his royalty?
A man who has such food is a true monarch,
free from the toils of kingship.”

Deciding to seek out the fruit’s origins, the king pondered the matter the following way:

“This fine tree must obviously stand on a river bank that is not far away from here. For the color, smell and taste of its fruit remain unspoilt. It must have been in contact with water for only a short time for it to remain undamaged and intact. It should therefore be possible to discover its origins.”

Making this resolution, the king ceased his water games, seduced by his craving for the fruit. After he had given instructions as to how his capital should be guarded, he set off along the river, accompanied by a large army equipped for the journey.

Clearing his way through the dense forests and the hordes of wild animals, the king enjoyed various experiences as he gazed at groves of natural and delightful beauty and terrified the forest animals with the din of his drums. In due course he arrived in the vicinity of the tree, an area seldom accessed by humans.

Like a mass of clouds
bulging under heavy rain,
or like a mountain,
despite its proximity to real peaks,
the lord of trees was spotted
by the monarch from afar,
gazed up at by other trees
as if it were their king.

When the tree’s spreading and captivating scent reached the king, more fragrant than ripe mangoes, he was sure that this must be the tree. But on approaching it, the king saw that its boughs were covered with several hundred monkeys, all busily enjoying its fruits.

Enraged at the monkeys for stealing the objects of his desire, he addressed his men with harsh words, ordering them as follows: “Kill them! Kill them! Annihilate and destroy all these vile monkeys!”

The king’s men therefore shouted noisily to scare off the monkeys, their fingers poised on their arrows and strung bows. Others advanced against the tree with raised clods and sticks, as if eager to attack the inaccessible fortress of an enemy.

The Bodhi·sattva, meanwhile, had observed the king’s army charging forward noisily, screaming with loud howls like a sea of water whipped up by a swift wind. He saw the fine tree being sprayed on all sides by showers of arrows, clods and sticks as if by a shower of thunderbolts, and watched his troop of monkeys look up at him with disturbed and wretched faces, their sole fallback being to screech shrilly with fear. Overwhelmed by enormous compassion and laying aside any despair, misery or terror, he consoled his troop of monkeys and set his heart on saving them. Climbing to the peak of the tree, he resolved to jump across to the mountain slope nearby. So extraordinary was the Great Being’s strength that he landed on the mountain slope like a bird, even though it would normally take several bounds to reach.

Though other monkeys could not
manage the jump even in two bounds,
he mightily sprang across the gap
in a single swift leap as if with ease.

His resolve was sharpened by courage
and strengthened by his compassion.
Keen in his endeavor, he made a special effort,
reaching the slope as if by sheer will.

Climbing to a higher part of the slope, he found a tall, mature and strong cane that had sturdy roots and was longer in size than the distance between the slope and the tree. Binding the cane tightly around his feet, he leapt back again to the tree. But due to the distance, and because he was encumbered by his bound feet, the Great Being only just managed somehow to grab the tip of the tree’s branch with his hands.

Holding the branch tightly
and trying to stretch the cane,
he used a special signal to tell
the troop to leave the tree quickly.

The monkeys were sick with terror and when they were presented with an escape route, they rushed chaotically to safety along the cane, paying no heed to stepping on their lord.

Sick with fear, the monkeys
trampled him repeatedly,
making him lose some of his flesh,
though his heart never lost its immense fortitude.

The king and his men were filled with great astonishment when they saw this.

Just hearing of such courage and wisdom,
such self-denying compassion for others,
would in itself inspire wonder.
What if one saw it with one’s own eyes?

The king then gave the following orders to his men: “This monkey king’s body has been crushed and injured by the feet of his troop who were overwrought with terror. He must be utterly exhausted from staying in one position for so long and surely cannot gather himself on his own. Quickly, spread a blanket beneath him and use your arrows to shoot down the cane and the banyan branch at the same time.”The soldiers did as they were told. The king then gently helped the monkey down from the blanket and placed him on a soft couch. The Bodhi·sattva had swooned from fatigue and from the pain brought on by his wounds, but after butter was applied to his injuries and other remedies suitable for soothing fresh wounds, the pain lessened and he revived. The king then approached the monkey, full of curiosity, amazement and respect and after first asking after his welfare, he spoke the following words:

“You rescued these monkeys
by making yourself into a bridge for them,
casting aside concern for your own life.
Who are you to them? And who are they to you?

If I am worthy of hearing it,
please tell me, chief of monkeys.
For the ties of friendship binding your hearts
cannot be small if you are capable of this deed.”

The Bodhi·sattva honored in return the kind help the ring had shown him and introduced himself in a congenial nanner, saying:

“Dedicated to following my orders,
the monkeys entrusted me with kingship.
And I accepted that burden,
my heart bound to them like children.

Such is the bond between me and them,
developed over a long time, Your Majesty.
Our friendship derives from our kinship.
We share the same birth and we live together.”

The king was filled with utter amazement at hearing these words and addressed the monkey once more, saying:

“Ministers and others serve their king,
but it is not for a king to act for them.
Why then did you sacrifice yourself
for the sake of your dependents?”

“I accept, great king,” the Bodhi·sattva replied, “that this is how royal politics works. But I find it a difficult path to follow.

It is extremely painful to ignore
the severe and unbearable sufferings
even of strangers, let alone dear relatives,
their hearts raised up to you in devotion.

Seeing the terrible pain and grief
overwhelming the monkeys,
a feeling of anguish instantly overtook me,
leaving no scope to worry about my interests.

When I saw the bows being stretched,
their stone-tipped arrows spraying out fiercely,
I ignored the terrifying twang of bowstrings
and leapt swiftly from the tree to this mountain.

But I was drawn back by my companions,
their hearts stricken with immense fear.
So I bound around my feet
a deep-rooted cane of notable length.

Leaping once more from mountain to tree,
intent on saving my companions,
I grasped the tip of an extending branch
which was stretched out like an offered hand.

As I lay stretched between the cane
and the branch-tip offered like a hand,
my troop reached safety through my help,
unconcerned about running over me.”

The king was utterly astonished when he saw that the Great Being was joyful despite his plight and addressed him once more, saying:

“But what benefit do you gain
in spurning your own happiness
and taking upon yourself
the calamity afflicting others?”

The Bodhi·sattva replied:

“My body may be wounded, king,
but my mind feels great well-being
at removing the suffering of those
over whom I have ruled a long time.

I bear this pain joyfully, just as heroes
bear on their limbs, like ornaments,
the glorious marks of their bravery
after conquering proud foes in war.

I have on this day paid off my debts
for the devotion of my kinsmen,
attended by veneration and honor,
and for my lordship and easy way of life.

It is not my physical pain that torments me,
nor separation from friends,
nor loss of comfort.
For me the death that has come
is like the arrival of a festival!

The joy of paying off debts for past services,
the quelling of suffering, an untarnished fame,
veneration from a king, fearlessness of death,
and recognition among the good for my gratitude:

these are the virtues I have attained
from this misfortune, tree-like abode of merits!
But a king without compassion for his subjects
acquires the reverse of these virtues.

If a king has no virtues,
if his reputation is ruined
and he is a home for vice,
his only destiny is hell’s flaming fires.

I have shown you, mighty king,
the power of virtue and vice.
Rule therefore your kingdom justly.
For Fortune’s love is like that of a fickle woman.

Draught animals, armies, countryfolk, ministers,
citizens, destitutes, ascetics, brahmins:
toward all these a king should act like a father,
striving to give them a beneficial happiness.
Thus a wealth of virtue, profit and fame
will bring you joy here and in the next life.
By showing compassion to your people, king,
may you shine with the glory of royal seers!”

After instructing the king like a pupil,
who listened intently to his revered words,
he entered heaven by leaving his body,
which was seized by overwhelming pain.

In this way, those who act morally can influence the hearts even of enemies. If one wishes to influence people, one should therefore follow the conduct of the good.

One should also tell this story when praising the Tatha· 27.65 gata, saying: “Living beings cannot achieve even their own welfare in the same way as the Lord was able to achieve the welfare of others.” And when discussing the topic of listening to the Teaching with respect, or when eulogizing compassion, or when advising kings, one should say: “A king should therefore behave with compassion toward his subjects.” When discussing gratitude, one should also cite this story, saying: “In this way the virtuous are grateful.”

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