Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was the reigning king in Varanasi, the Bodhisatta — a being who would become Buddha in a future life — came into this world as a monkey. When full grown he was as big as a mare’s foal and enormously strong. He lived alone on the banks of a river, in the middle of which was an island whereon grew mangoes, bread-fruits, and other tree fruits. And in mid stream, half way between the island and the river bank, a solitary rock rose out of the water. Being as strong as an elephant, the Bodhisatta would leap from the bank onto this rock, and then on to the island. Here he would eat his fill of the fruits that grew, returning at evening by the way he came. And such was his life day by day.
Now, there lived in those days, in that river, a crocodile and his mate; and she being with young was led by the sight of this monkey, jumping to and fro, to develop a longing for his heart to eat. So she begged her mate to catch the monkey for her. Promising that she should have her wish, the crocodile went off and took position on the rock, meaning to catch the monkey on his evening journey home.
After ranging about the island all day, the Bodhisatta looked out at evening towards the rock and wondered why the rock stood so high out of the water. For the story goes that the Bodhisatta always noted the exact height of the water in the river, and of the rock in the water. So when he saw that, though the water stood at the same level, yet the rock seemed to stand higher, he suspected that a crocodile might be lurking there to catch him. And in order to find out the facts of the case, he shouted, as though to address the rock, “Hi! rock!” And as no reply came back, he shouted three times, “Hi! rock!” And as the rock still kept silent, the monkey called out, “How comes it, friend rock, that you won’t answer me today?”
“Oh!” thought the crocodile, “so the rock is in the habit of answering the monkey. I must answer for the rock today.” Accordingly, he shouted, “Yes, monkey; what is it?” “Who are you?” asked the Bodhisatta. “I’m a crocodile.” “What are you sitting on that rock for?” “To catch you and eat your heart.” As there was no other way back, the only thing to be done was to outwit the crocodile. So the Bodhisatta cried out, “There’s no help for it then but to give myself up to you. Open your mouth and catch me as I jump.”
Now you must know that when crocodiles open their mouths, their eyes shut. (Note: This assertion is not in accord with the facts of natural history) So, when the crocodile unsuspiciously opened his mouth, his eyes shut. And there he waited with closed eyes and open jaws. Seeing this, the wily monkey made a jump onto the crocodile’s head, and then with a spring like lightning made it to the far river bank. When the cleverness of the feat dawnd on the crocodile, he said, “Oh, monkey king, anyone like you who combines truth, foresight, resolve, and fearlessness; shall live a fruitfull life. And with this praise, the crocodile returned to his dwelling place.
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This story is adapted from The Jataka, compiled by prefessor E.W. Cowell, and published by the Cambridge University Press in 1895.