Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography

001 – The Story of Ruru Deer

Once upon a time there lived a deer in a dense forest. He was called Ruru. He had a golden body resplendent with the spots of varied hues like that of the rubies, sapphires and emeralds. His hair was extremely soft and silky. His eyes were sky-blue. His hooves and horns looked like the chiselled precious stones. So, when he darted in the forest every one was charmed. All the more, he was endowed with wisdom; and evinced the power to converse in the human language owing to the memory of his past existences. Further, knowing the cruel and ugly mentality of the human beings, which is prone to all kinds of evil deeds, he avoided any encounter with them. Yet, he was compassionate to all alike.

Once, rambling in a thick forest he heard a heart-rending cry. Curiously, when he looked at the direction he saw a man being carried away by a gushing stream. The sight of the man in his utter distress filled his heart with compassion. In order to rescue him, he jumped into the water and asked the man to cling fast to him. The man instead of clinging to him climbed on his delicate back in his panic. Nonetheless, the deer bore the heavy load of the man and brought him safely on the river-bank. He then comforted the shivering man with his warm caresses until he regained consciousness. When the man was back to his senses Ruru dismissed him by saying, “You may now go back to your own fellow beings!”

The man thanked him and expressed his gratitude by saying,

No friend from childhood; nor a kinsman has ever done

What thou hast done to me.

This life of mine is now thine.

Gratefully, I shall always be at your service,

Command me to do something for thee.

The deer then said,

If this be so

Then tell this to none

That thou art saved by one

Who surpasses beauty

And is the most desirable prey for any man –

As the hearts of men have little mercy and no restraint.

The man promised to keep his pledge; and protect the life of his benefactor before he departed.

One day, the queen of that country saw a dream where a golden deer appeared standing on a throne and preaching dhamma in an articulate human voice. Bewitched by the elegant sight of the deer, she requested the king to catch the deer for her. The king, who trusted in the veracity of her dreams acted according to her wish by the royal proclamation of the reward of a rich village and ten lovely women for one who would help find out the deer. The man, who was once rescued by the deer, when heard of the rich rewards, went to the king and divulged the secret abode of Ruru. All the more, he took the king and his men to the thicket, where the deer dwelt. But surprisingly, when he raised his hand to show the deer his hand fell off like a chopped limb.

In the meanwhile, the king had seen the deer and his eyes were wide-open at the wonderful sight of the deer.

Now, when the deer noticed the king’s arrow pointing at him; and the people surrounding him from all directions and there was no place to escape, he spoke to the king in an articulate human voice, ‘Sir! Pray first satisfy my curiosity before you kill me. Can you tell me, how did you reach here because I never tread the path of a man”. The king, charmed by his gaiety pointed the man by turning the arrow towards him in reply. The deer then recited,

Better is to lift a log of wood out of water
Than to save an ungrateful one !.

This utterance of the deer aroused the curiosity of the king, who in turn asked the deer to explain the context. The deer then narrated the story of the man, who he had rescued. The king was moved by the story and commended his compassion and bravery; but at the same time was terribly furious at the ungrateful man. So, to punish the man when he pulled the string of the bow to shoot him, Ruru requested him to forgive the man. So, the king forgave the man but invited the deer to visit his kingdom as a royal guest. Ruru accepted the invitation; and on the king’s request mounted the royal carriage to proceed to the kingdom in a pompous procession. Reaching the king’s court, he perched the throne and delivered several discourses to the king, queen, princes and the courtiers for some days. He then returned to his abode for good.

[The cry of the jackals and of birds is understood with ease
The word of men, O king! Is far harder than these].

(Tr. 482.129 Jataka Pali)

(See Ruru-Migaraja-Jataka No.482; Ruru- Jataka Jatakamala No.26)