Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 50224)
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.


#34 The Woodpecker

Kindness without Thought of Reward

Born as a woodpecker, a notoriously sinful bird, the Bodhisattva had not lost sight of virtue. He always showed compassion to every being he encountered.

One day, as the woodpecker was flying in search of food, he saw a lion on the ground below, writhing in pain and discomfort. The lion was suffering greatly. He asked the lion what was wrong and the beast replied that he had a bone stuck in his throat and that the pain was agonizing. The woodpecker offered his assistance and at great personal risk, crawled in inside the lion's mouth and dislodged the bone with his beak.

Some time later, as the woodpecker was near starvation from not being able to find suitable food, he saw the lion eating a deer. Although too proud to simply ask the lion he had saved if he could share in the meal, he hinted that he was starving. Surely the lion would share his food with him, for the woodpecker had saved his life and was also so small he would only require the tiniest morsel. Seeing the woodpecker, and aware of his intentions, the lion became angry and threatened him. The ungrateful lion proclaimed that the woodpecker was lucky to be alive after being in his mouth and that if he did not fly away, he would kill him right then and there. The woodpecker did as he was told and left.

A local forest god, having witnessed the woodpecker save the lion, saw this rude and selfish behavior and became enraged. The god then flew up in the air and questioned the woodpecker. The god told him that he could easily pluck out the lion's eyes and blind him for being so ungrateful, and would not be wrong in doing so. The woodpecker responded that he would never do such a thing. The woodpecker explained that when he saved the lion it was an act of pure compassion, and that he did not feel he deserved anything in return. The woodpecker further stated that generosity with the thought of reward is not generosity at all, it is nothing more than a loan.

Monty McKeever 9-2005


Key Events in the Story

1. Woodpecker saves life of ungrateful lion.

2. Forest god encourages.

3. Woodpecker reproaches the forest god.


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