The Rabbit in the Moon
Sasa Jataka

It was while staying at Jetavana that the Buddha told this story about a gift of all the requisites.

Once, a landowner in Savatthi invited the Buddha and all the bhikkhus to his house every day for a whole week. Every day, he seated them on elegant seats in a pavilion in front of his house and offered them a delicious meal. On the seventh day, he presented the Buddha and the five hundred bhikkhus with all the requisites. The Buddha said, "You have done well to give these gifts. This is a tradition of the wise. Once, a being even offered to sacrifice his life to give his own flesh to a beggar." At the request of his host, he told this story of the past.

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta was born as a rabbit living in a forest. On one side of this forest was a mountain; on another side, a river; and on a third side, a village.

The rabbit had three friends, a monkey, a jackal, and an otter. These four good creatures lived together in harmony. Every day, each one got his food in his own way, and in the evening they gathered to talk together. The rabbit, being the wisest, regularly preached the Truth to his three companions. He taught that alms should be given, that the moral precepts should be scrupulously kept, and that the Uposatha days should be observed. The three listened carefully. Then each went to his own part of the forest to sleep.

One evening, the rabbit looked at the sky and realized that the next day was the full moon. "Tomorrow is the full moon," he said to his three companions. "Let all of us observe the Uposatha day and keep the precepts. Remember that alms-giving brings a great reward. Offer food from your own table to any beggars who come to you tomorrow." The friends agreed, and each went to his own home.

Early the next morning, the otter went to the bank of the Ganga to look for fish. It so happened that a fisherman had caught seven red fish, strung them together, and buried them in the wet sand before going downstream to fish some more.

Smelling the fish, the otter dug them up and called out three times, "Does anyone own these fish?" When no one answered, he took the fish in his teeth and carried them back to his den, intending to eat them at the proper time. Then he lay down, thinking how virtuous he was.

The jackal, too, went to look for food. In the empty hut of a field-watcher, he found a roasted lizard on a skewer and a pot of curd. He called out three times, "Does anyone own this food?" When no one answered, he claimed it as his own. He hung the pot of curd around his neck with its string, took the skewer with the lizard in his teeth, and carried everything back to his den, intending to eat it at the proper time. Then he lay down, thinking how virtuous he was.

The monkey went to a mango grove and gathered a number of ripe yellow mangoes. He carried them home, intending to eat them at the proper time. Then he, too, lay down, thinking how virtuous he was.

At the same time, the rabbit came out and began grazing on kusa grass as usual. While he was eating, he thought, "I cannot possibly offer grass to a wandering mendicant! I don't have any rice, oil, or anything else to give. If a beggar comes seeking food, I will have to give him my own flesh!"

As soon as this splendid idea came to the rabbit, Sakka's white marble throne became hot. Sakka realized that the reason for this was the rabbit's virtue, and he decided to test him.

First, though, Sakka thought it would be a good idea to test the other animals. He disguised himself as an old brahmin and stood outside the otter's den. When the otter asked why he was standing there, Sakka answered, "Wise sir, if I could get something to eat, I would perform my priestly duties."

The otter quickly said, "Very well, I will give you some food. I have seven red fish, honestly obtained. Eat your fill, Brahmin. You are welcome to stay in this forest."

The brahmin thanked him and said, "I may come back later."

Next, he went to the jackal's den. The jackal, also, quickly offered him some food, saying, "All I have is a lizard and a jar of curd that I took from the field-watcher's hut. Such as I have I will gladly give to you, and you are welcome to stay in this forest."

The brahmin thanked him and said, "I may come back later."

Then he went to the monkey's tree. The monkey, also, offered him some food. "I have cool water from the stream," he said, "ripe mangoes, and a pleasant place for you to enjoy them in. You are welcome to stay in this forest."

The brahmin thanked him and said, "I may come back later."

Finally, he went to rabbit's warren. The rabbit asked why he was standing there. "Wise sir," Sakka answered, "if I could get something to eat, I would perform my priestly duties."

The rabbit was thoroughly delighted and replied, "Brahmin, you have done well in coming to me for food. I have no rice, oil, or beans to give, but, today, I will give you a gift that I have never given before. I will give what is freely mine to give! Go, Friend, pile up some wood, and kindle a fire. When it is burning well, call me. I will gladly sacrifice myself by jumping into the flames. When my body is roasted, you may eat my flesh. Then you can perform your priestly duties."

Sakka used his extraordinary power to create a heap of burning coals. Then he called the rabbit, who rose from his bed of kusa grass and approached the fire. Three times, he shook himself so that any insects in his fur would be spared. Without hesitation, he leaped directly into the center of the burning coals. Despite the flames which flared up from the embers, not a single hair on his body was even singed. Indeed, it was as if he had jumped into a snowdrift! Amazed, he addressed Sakka, "Brahmin, the fire you have kindled is ice-cold. It doesn't even warm the hair on my body. What does this mean?"

"Wise sir! I am no brahmin. I am Sakka, and I came to put your virtue to the test."

The rabbit declared, "Even if all the inhabitants of this earth were to test me in alms-giving, they would not find in me any unwillingness to give!"

Pleased with this resounding answer, Sakka said, "Wise rabbit, I will make your virtue known throughout this whole eon!" Then he squeezed the mountain, extracting its very essence, which he used to draw the image of the rabbit on the face of the full moon.

After gently placing the rabbit on a bed of young kusa grass, Sakka returned to Tavatimsa.

The four creatures lived together happily and harmoniously, keeping the precepts and observing the Uposatha days for the rest of their lives until they passed away to fare according to their deserts.

When the Buddha had concluded his story, the householder who had donated all the requisites attained the first path. Then the Buddha identified the birth: "At that time, Ananda was the otter, Moggallana was the jackal, Sariputta was the monkey, and I was the wise rabbit."

From Jataka Tales of the Buddha: An Anthology, Retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy. 2010, Vol. 2, pp 486-489, coyright: Ken and Visakha Kawasaki