Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

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

031 – The Story of a Tortoise

The potters hitting the tortoise when digging the
dried lake for clay. Kachchapa-Jataka, Mathura

Once there lived a potter in a village on the outskirt of Varanasi. He had a small family. Close to his village was a pond, where dwelt fishes and tortoises. The pond was somewhatan extension of the river Ganga. So, the creatures of the pond could easily come and go to the river. As these creatures could intuit whether or not a season would be rainy or dry, they had known that the following summer would hardly have enough rain. So, they all moved out of the pond and entered the river for the future safety.

In the same pond, there lived a tortoise, which did not leave the pond despite the imminent danger, as it had strong attachment with his abode. He thought,

I was born here
I have grown up here
My parents have lived here
Why should I go elsewhere.

By and by, in the summer the water dried away. So he dug a hole and lay inside.

One day, the potter and his friends came to the pond with spades to dig and collect clay for potteries. Incidentally, they started digging the same ground, where the tortoise had buried itself. Unknowingly, the potter hit its shell and pulled it out as if it was a large lump of clay. The dying tortoise then realised his infatuation and recited,

Go there where you can find happiness, no matter what the place be
A forest or village is the birth-place for thee.
If you find happiness and life there
Must you treat it your home wherever you be.

But his realisation was too late, as he then died.

The potter then brought the carcass of the tortoise and exhibited it before his fellow villagers. Then narrating the whole story he said that the tortoise met his end because of his attachment. As he was too fond of his home he died. Then he advocated that the people, too, suffer because of attachment, such as

“I have sight; I have hearing; I have smell; I have taste; I have touch; I have a son; ; I have a daughter; ; I have servants; I have possessions; ; I have gold; ; I have house and so on … . Thus, we cling to it. As every worldly phenomenon is transitory and subject to decay-and-death; nothing can be kept for ever. Further, when the object to which we are attached slips away from our clinging. And the sudden realisation of the loss then makes us suffer.”

The potter’s discourse was well received by the audience, and as per the story he was remembered by the people for seven thousand years.

(The potter is identified with the Bodhisatta; and Ananda with the turtle).

See Kacchapa Jataka Jataka Pali No. 178.