SATAPATTA JĀTAKA (NO. 279)
ALLY OR FOE, IT DEPENDS?
When the Buddha was in Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha told this story while admonishing several incorrigible monks.
In a previous life, the future Buddha was the chief of five hundred robbers, who lived by highway robbery and housebreaking. At that time, there was a landowner who had lent someone a thousand pieces of money but died before being repaid. Later, when his wife laid dying, she asked her son to collect the debt before her last breath.
The son managed to collect the debt but his mother passed away before he could arrive home. She loved him so much that she suddenly reappeared in the form of a jackal on the road on which he was travelling. The road led to some woods where the robber chief and his band of men laid in wait to rob unsuspecting travellers.
When the son arrived at the entrance of the woods, the jackal, his mother, tried repeatedly to stop him. She entreated him, “My son, don’t enter the woods! There are robbers there who will kill you and take your money!” But her son could not understand her. Instead, he thought, “This is bad luck, having a jackal trying to stop my way.”
He chased the jackal away with sticks and clods of earth and proceeded to enter the woods. Meanwhile, a crane flew towards the band of robbers, crying out, “Here’s a man with a thousand pieces on him. Kill him and take them!” Not knowing what the crane was doing, the son thought, “A lucky bird! There’s a good omen for me!” He saluted the bird, crying respectfully, “Say more, say more, my lord!”
The future Buddha, who knew the meaning of all sounds, realised the crane was the man’s enemy. “This man is a fool for driving away his mother who wished for his welfare while worshipping the crane who wished him ill!” In the woods, the robbers waylaid the son. The future Buddha told the youth of his foolishness and refused to take his money, saying, “Keep your money and be off!”
Just as in a past life, when the future Buddha chided a man who drove away his mother who wished for his welfare and worshipped a crane which wished him ill, so the Buddha conquered the monks’ haughty mind born of ignorance.
Every phenomena is formed from myriad contradicting or complementing conditions. Due to invariability of change, the seemingly bad luck jackal was apparently his loving mother while the beautiful crane was apparently his past wicked enemy.
The future Buddha, without discrimination, clearly differentiated between friend and foe within the confusingly complex net of conditionality. He helped the man to see beyond the superficial idea that a friend must appear as a helpful person whereas a foe must be of an intimidating appearance.
Invariability of change – conditions change continuously. An enemy can become a friend and so, can a friend become an enemy. Each person is but a synthesis of countless opposing conditions. The perplexed man in the tale was trapped and conditioned by his deluded kammic perception. This caused him to fail to differentiate between a friend and a foe.
Complicated kammic consequences or
simply, consequential consequences
is the most unfathomable Samsaric phenomena that
non-deceptively outsmarts our powerful manipulative minds
which deludedly imagine that we are masters of our own lives.
In this Jātaka tale, a dying mother,
who urged the son to collect a debt,
had died prematurely and was trapped to appear
as a jackal, was perceived as an enemy by her naive son.
The anxious son who had successfully collected the debt
now had to face two ripening kammic scenarios:
one possible but weak meritorious encounter
guided by his mother;
the other heavier demeritorious encounter, conjured by the crane,
had mistakenly chosen the wrong route of salvation.
To ask a normal uncultivated man
to fully honour his promises and responsibilities
is somehow a dilemmatic challenge
because human survival instinct
is capable of all forms of trickery
to escape the supposed responsibilities and indebtedness.
This has to be repaid by consequential consequences
in future lives.
Rebirth erases all memory and unmistakably convince us to believe that it is the right choice
to trust the “cranes” in our lives.
Bound by self-preservation,
and forced by circumstances, we avoid our due responsibilities
with justifications and plays of trickery.
Imminently, we are master and servant
to consequential consequences.
To realise this truth is utmost liberating
because there is no real victim of total innocence
and no real saviour of total sacrifice.
We are all owners of “consequential consequences”.
Ultimately, the knowledge of conditionality
frees us from being caught in the endless cyclic role
of “victim and culprit” or “friend and foe”.