Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 50216)
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.

The Story of the Ruru Deer by Ben Brinkley.


#26 The Ruru Deer

A Tale of Betrayal

The Bodhisattva once lived as a Ruru Deer in a lush forest. His fur was the color of pure gold and contained patches of every color, shining like rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and aquamarines. His eyes were bright blue and his horns and hooves gleamed like jewels.

Knowing his body was an extremely desirable object to hunters, the Ruru Deer frequented only the most unknown forest paths. One day, in a particularly wild part of the forest, the Bodhisattva heard the cries of a man who had fallen into river swollen by rain. The man was pleading for help and his piteous cries struck the Bodhisattva to his core. He plunged into the river, the thought of rescue more important than his own life, and although nearly drowning, he dragged the man to the shore.

The man was deeply touched. He thanked the deer again and again and proclaimed that he was now forever in his service. The Bodhisattva deer replied that neither his gratitude nor services were required, but he did have one request. He asked the man never to tell anybody of his existence, explaining that if he did, hunters would surely come take his life as a trophy. The man agreed and made a vow to never tell a single person.

It so happened that the queen of this country was endowed with prophetic dreams and during her sleep one night, she had a vision of the ruru deer. She asked the king to find the deer, and trusting his wife's instincts, he set out to do so. He proceeded to post a proclamation throughout the land saying that if anybody can lead him to the deer, they will be rewarded with gold, wealth, and land.

The man the deer had saved heard this proclamation each and every every day and became increasingly tempted by it. He was a good man, still aware of the pledge he had made, yet extremely poor. Torn between desire and gratitude, he was eventually overcome by greed he went to the king and told him he could lead him to the deer. A hunting party was formed and then embarked for the woods of the Ruru Deer. When they arrived the man pointed to where the deer was and to his surprise, his hand fell off.

The deer heard footsteps approaching from all sides. The king, drawing his bowstring, was about to hit his target when the Bodhisattva, in a human voice, beseeched him to stop. He asked the king who had betrayed his location. The king pointed to the man the deer had previously saved. The deer scorned the man, explaining that by such ungrateful actions he is only harming himself. The king inquired as to what he was speaking of and when the deer explained that he had saved the man's life, the king was surprised and cursed the man. He was to receive no reward.

The Bodhisattva further explained to the king that he should not be angry at the man and that his words of scorn were only to prevent him from acting in such a way again. He explained how people lured by the thought of riches are like moths drawn to a flame, and that desire erodes integrity. The king replied that since such a wise being views the greedy man worthy of sympathy, that he would in fact reward him with the wealth he craves. The king then also proclaimed that the deer shall, from that point on, be able to walk the kingdom freely.

In gratitude, the deer asked the king what he could do in return so that his journey to the woods was worth the trouble. The king then honored the deer as a teacher and asked him to mount the royal chariot and come back to the capitol to teach the Dharma. The deer accepted and was given a grand reception as an honored guest. The deer sat on the royal throne and in front of a great assembly, gave a very clear teaching. He explained that the Dharma, in all its complexity, with all its divisions and subdivisions, with all its rules and precepts, was actually very simple: generate compassion for all living beings, abstain from killing, from stealing, and so on, and give pleasure to all.

The king proclaimed that from then on, all the animals in the kingdom would be protected.

Monty Mckeever 9-2005


Key Events in the Story

1. Deer saves man.

2. Man betrays deer.

3. Deer survives and teaches.


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