Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 50212)
Origin Location Mongolia
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Gelug
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Buddha

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shakyamuni Buddha, Previous Life Stories (Sanskrit: jataka. Tibetan: kye rab): from the famous Indian text presenting 34 morality tales drawn from the previous life stories of the historical buddha, Shakyamuni.


#22 The Noble Geese

A Tale of Friendship

In this lifetime the Bodhisattva was the great king of Geese, Dhritarachtra, who ruled his vast flock benevolently. He was always accompanied by his commander and chief, Sumukha. The two were the closest of friends.

Tales and rumors of the glory of the flock, and especially of its king and commander in chief, spread far and wide. Intrigued by what he had heard, a human king named Brahmadatta, the ruler of Varanasi, said to his ministers of state that he would like to see these birds. The ministers hatched a devious scheme to create a beautiful lake at which would be proclaimed daily to be a sanctuary for all birds. It was to be so beautiful that no flock could resist its temptations, and once the king had lured the marvelous Geese there under a false notion of safety, a skilled hunter would spring traps to ensnare the king of geese.

Word of the lakes beauty eventually reached the flock and they became excited and curious. Although slightly weary, the King agreed to travel there. When they arrived, the flock marveled at the glorious lake and all the different types of birds that were taking refuge there. Once the flock became comfortable, the hunter sprung the trap. The king was caught and when the other geese saw this they began to flee in fear. The only one who stayed behind was Sumukha, refusing to leave his masters side.

The hunter approached the pair and at first he thought his traps had caught both the geese. Yet when he saw that Sumukha was staying behind with his king out of love and loyalty, his heart overflowed with compassion and amazement. The hunter asked the noble bird why he did not flee and Sumukha, in a clear human voice, stated that he would never abandon his master and friend and that he had stayed with him in times of prosperity and would never even consider leaving him in times of trouble. Sumukha then pleaded with the man to take him instead, explaining that the flock needed their king but could survive without their general. Listening more to the noble words of the goose than to the orders from his human sovereign, the man freed the Goose king. The geese were overjoyed and then told the man that in return for his kindness and mercy, they would both return to the capitol with him on their own accord.

The man and the two geese met with the human king Brahmadatta and were put on thrones in the royal court. After they praised the compassion of the hunter, the three of them all sat and spoke of Dharma and how to properly rule a kingdom, whether it be human or animal. The king declared that although they were mere geese, they were as virtuous and wise as the holiest of teachers. The geese were honored and after a short and pleasant stay in the capitol, they returned to their flock.

Monty Mckeever 9-2005


Key Events in the Story

1. The bodhisattva is the King of Geese.

2. The King of Geese is caught by a trap.

3. His best friend stays with him until freed.


View other items in the Thematic Set: Collection of Zanabazar: Jataka Stories