The Language of Animals

Once upon a time when a king named Senaka was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Sakka. The king Senaka was friendly with a certain naga king. This naga king, they say, left the naga world and ranged the earth seeking food. The village boys seeing him said, “This is a snake,” and struck him with clods and other things.

The king, going to amuse himself in his garden, saw them, and being told they were beating a snake, said, “Don’t let them beat him. Drive them away.” And this was done.

So the naga king got his life, and when he went back to the naga world. He took many jewels, and coming at midnight to the king’s bedchamber he gave them to him, saying, “I got my life through you.” So he made friendship with the king and came again and again to see him. He appointed one of his naga girls, insatiate in pleasures, to be near the king and protect him, and he gave the king a charm, saying, “If ever you do not see her, repeat this charm.”

One day the king went to the garden with the naga girl and was amusing himself in the lotus tank. The naga girl seeing a water snake quitted her human shape and made love with him. The king not seeing the girl said, “Where is she gone?” and repeated the spell. Then he saw her in her misconduct and struck her with a piece of bamboo.

She went in anger to the naga world, and when she was asked, “Why are you come?” she said, “Your friend struck me on the back because I did not do his bidding,” showing the mark of the blow.

The naga king, not knowing the truth, called four naga youths and sent them with orders to enter Senaka’s bedchamber and destroy him like chaff by the breath of their nostrils. They entered the chamber at the royal bedtime.

As they came in, the king was saying to the queen, “Lady, do you know where the naga girl has gone?”

“King, I do not.”

“Today when we were bathing in the tank, she quitted her shape and misconducted herself with a water snake. I said, ‘Don’t do that,’ and struck her with a piece of bamboo to give her a lesson. And now I fear she may have gone to the naga world and told some lie to my friend, destroying his goodwill to me.”

The young nagas hearing this turned back at once to the naga world and told their king. He being moved went instantly to the king’s chamber, told him all and was forgiven. Then he said, “In this way I make amends,” and gave the king a charm giving knowledge of all sounds. “This, O king, is a priceless spell. If you give anyone this spell you will at once enter the fire and die.”

The king said, “It is well,” and accepted it. From that time he understood the voice even of ants.
One day he was sitting on the dais eating solid food with honey and molasses, and a drop of honey, a drop of molasses, and a morsel of cake fell on the ground. An ant seeing this comes crying, “The king’s honey jar is broken on the dais, his molasses cart and cake cart are upset. Come and eat honey and molasses and cake.”

The king hearing the cry laughed. The queen being near him thought, “What has the king seen that he laughs?”

When the king had eaten his solid food and bathed and sat down cross-legged, a fly said to his wife, “Come, lady, let us enjoy love.”

She said, “Excuse me for a little, husband. They will soon be bringing perfumes to the king. As he perfumes himself some powder will fall at his feet. I will stay there and become fragrant, then we will enjoy ourselves lying on the king’s back.”

The king hearing the voice laughed again. The queen thought again, “What has he seen that he laughs?”
Again when the king was eating his supper, a lump of rice fell on the ground. The ants cried, “A wagon of rice has broken in the king’s palace, and there is none to eat it.”

The king hearing this laughed again. The queen took a golden spoon and helping him reflected, “Is it at the sight of me that the king laughs?”

She went to the bedchamber with the king and at bedtime she asked, “Why did you laugh, O king?”
He said, “What have you to do with why I laugh?” But being asked again and again her told her.
Then she said, “Give me your spell of knowledge.”

He said, “It cannot be given.” But though repulsed she pressed him again.

The king said, “If I give you this spell, I shall die.”

“Even though you die, give it me.”

The king, being in the power of womankind, saying, “It is well,” consented and went to the park in a chariot, saying, “I shall enter the fire after giving away this spell.”

At that moment Sakka, king of gods, looked down on the earth and seeing this case said, “This foolish king, knowing that he will enter the fire through womankind, is on the way; I will give him his life.” So he took Suja, daughter of the Asuras, and went to Benares. He became a he-goat and made her a she-goat, and resolving that the people should not see them, he stood before the king’s chariot. The king and the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot saw him, but none else saw him. For the sake of starting talk he was as if making love with the she-goat.

One of the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot seeing him said, “Friend goat, we have heard before, but not seen, that goats are stupid and shameless. But you are doing, with all of us looking on, this thing that should be done in secret and in a private place, and are not ashamed. What we have heard before agrees with this that we see.”

And so he spoke the first stanza:

No bulbs are here, no herbs for cooking meat,
No cat-mint, nor no other plant to eat.
Than father, why this pit, if need be none,
Delve in Death’s acre mid the woods alone?

This his father answered by repeating the second stanza:

Thy grandsire, son, is very weak and old,
Oppressed by pain from ailments manifold.
Him will I bury in a pit today.
In such a life I could not wish him stay.

Hearing this, the boy answered by repeating a half stanza:

Thou has done sinfully in wishing this,
And for the deed, a cruel deed it is.

With these words, he caught the spade from his father’s hands, and at no great distance began to dig another pit. His father approaching asked why he dug that pit, to whom he made reply by finishing the third stanza:

I too, when thou art aged, father mine,
Will treat my father as thou treatest thine;
Following the custom of the family
Deep in a pit I too will bury thee.

To this the father replied by repeating the fourth stanza:

What a harsh saying for a boy to say,
And to upbraid a father in this way!
To think that my own son would rail at me,
And to his truest friend unkind should be!

When the father had thus spoken, the wise lad recited three stanzas, one by way of answer, and two as an holy hymn:

I am not harsh, my father, nor unkind,
Nay, I regard thee with a friendly mind.
But this thou dost, this act of sin, thy son
Will have no strength to undo again, once done.

Whoso, Vasittha, hurts with ill intent
His mother or his father, innocent,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In hell for his next life undoubtedly.

Whoso with meat and drink, Vasittha, shall
His mother or his father feed withal,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In heaven for his next life undoubtedly.

The father, after hearing his son thus discourse, repeated the eighth stanza:

Thou art no heartless ingrate, son, I see,
But kindly hearted, O my son to me.
‘Twas in obedience to thy mother’s word
I thought to do this horrid deed abhorred.

Said the lad, when he heard this, “Father, women, when a wrong is done and they are not rebuked, again and again commit sin. You must bend my mother, that she may never again do such a deed as this.” And he repeated the ninth stanza:

That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Let us from out our dwelling far expel,
Lest she work other woe on thee as well.

Hearing the words of his wise son, well pleased was Vasitthaka, and saying, “Let us go, my son!” he seated himself in the cart with son and father.

Now the woman too, this sinner, was happy at heart; for, thought she, this ill-luck is out of the house now. She plastered the place with wet cow dung, and cooked a mess of rice porridge. But as she sat watching the road by which they would return, she espied them coming, “There he is, back with old ill-luck again!” thought she, much in anger. “Fie, good-for-nothing! cried she. “What, bring back the ill-luck you took away with you!”

Vasitthaka said not a word, but unyoked the cart. Then said he, “Wretch, what is that you say?” He gave her a sound drubbing, and bundled her head over heels out of doors, bidding her never darken his door again. Then he bathed his father and his son, and took a bath himself, and the three of them ate the rice porridge. The sinful woman dwelt for a few days in another house.

Then the son said to his father, “Father, for all this, my mother does not understand. Now let us try to vex her. You give out that in such and such a village lives a niece of yours, who will attend upon your father and your son and you. So you will go and fetch her. Then take flowers and perfumes, and get into your cart, and ride about the country all day, returning in the evening.”

And so he did. The women in the neighbor’s family told his wife this. “Have you heard,” said they, “that your husband has gone to get another wife in such a place?”

“Ah, then I am undone!” quoth she, “and there is no place for me left.”

But she would inquire of her son. So quickly she came to him, and fell at his feet, crying, “Save thee, I have no other refuge! Henceforward I will tend your father and grandsire as I would tend a beauteous shrine! Give me entrance into this house once more!”

“Yes, mother,” replied the lad, “if you do no more as you did, I will. Be of good cheer!” And at his father’s coming he repeated the tenth stanza:

That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Like a tamed elephant, in full control,
Let her return again, that sinful soul.

So said he to his father, and then went and summoned his mother. She, being reconciled to her husband and her husband’s father, was thenceforward tamed, and endued with righteousness, and watched over her husband and his father and her son. And these two, steadfastly following their son’s advice, gave alms and did good deeds, and became destined to join the hosts of heaven.

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