THE BANYAN DEER – A Jataka Tale - Buddhist

Retold by Sydney Solis


Mercy, compassion, non-violence

Mercy is setting the prisoner free, only to discover the prisoner was me.” --- Anonymous

Long ago the Bodisat took a life as King of the Banyan deer. He was a radiant color of gold, with eyes like round jewels and his horns glimmering like silver. His mouth was as red as a rose; his hooves were bright and hard like lacquer work; his tail was fine and body large.

The King lived in the forest with a herd of 500 attendant deer. Not far away lived another deer as golden as he, and he was called the Monkey Deer and had a herd of many as well.

Now the king of this country loved to hunt and never ate a single meal without meat. Every day he summoned the townspeople to accompany him hunting. So a lot of work in town never got done, and the people began to complain.

“This king with his insistent hunting practices puts an end to our work and I never get anything done,” one townsperson cried.

“Yes, I’m tired of this!” another one said. “Let’s just make a park. We’ll provide food and drink for the deer, drive them in and then close the entrance. The King can go in there and hunt all he wants and we won’t have to disrupt our schedules anymore.”

So that’s what the townspeople did, surrounding the very place where the Monkey King and the Banyan Deer were living

The King was excited to go to the park and hunt, and when he got there, he saw the two remarkable golden deer.

“What fabulous creatures you are! I grant you your lives.” And he went to shoot another deer and brought it home.

Sometimes the King’s cook would go and shoot one. The deer, as soon as they saw his bow and arrow, would shake with fear of death and run away. However, they would get hit once or twice when the cook pursued them and they became weary or wounded and were killed. The herd told their king, and he sent for the Monkey Deer.

“Friend, the deer are being destroyed. All things must die, however, let them not be wounded with arrows,” the Banyan Deer said. “Let the deer take turns at a place of execution. One day the lot can fall on my herd, and the next on yours.

So every day one deer lay down and placed his neck on a chopping block, and the cook came and carried off the one he found lying there.

But one day the lot fell on a doe that was heavy with young. She went to the Monkey Deer and cried, “Please! I am with young! After I have brought forth my baby, we shall both take our turn on the block. Please order the lot to pass me by.”

But the Monkey Deer refused. So she turned to the Banyan Deer and pleaded with him. The Bodisat listened quietly and said. “So be it. Go back. I will relieve you of your turn.” And he himself went to lay his head on the chopping block at the place of execution.

The cook, seeing him, ran back to the king and said, “The King of the Deer whose life you promised to him is lying in the place of execution. What does it mean?”

Baffled, the King mounted his chariot and road out to the place and seeing the Bodisat said, “Friend! King of the Deer! I granted you your life! Why are you lying here?”

“Oh, great King!” The Bodisat said. “A doe heavy with young came to me. The lot had fallen upon her to be taken. I could not ask another to take her place, so I took it instead. Have no more suspicion, great King!”

“Ah, you golden–colored King of the Deer,” The king exclaimed. “Never before have I seen such mercy, kindness and compassion. I am pleased with you in this matter! Rise up. I grant you your life and to the doe as well!”

“Although we are safe,” The Bodisat said,” what about the other deer in the park?”

“I grant their lives to the rest, my Lord,” the King said.

“But what of the other animals in the forest, the birds in the sky, the fish in the streams. How will they obtain peace?”

“I grant all their lives as well. None shall hunt them,” the King declared.

Having interceded with the King for all creatures, the great being said,

“Walk in righteousness, O great King! By doing justice and mercy to fathers and mothers to sons and daughters, to townsmen and landsmen, when your body is dissolved, you shall enter the happy world of heaven!”



Rhys Davids, Thomas William, Buddhist Birth Stories or Jataka Tales, Arno Press NY 1977.

Babbit, Ellen C., Jataka Tales, Appleton-Century-Crofts, NY. 1940.

Junior Classics, Myths and Legends, P.F Colier and Son volume three, 1945.

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