An Hindu Fable: THE OTTERS AND THE JACKAL*

Posted by jlubans on July 04, 2019

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Caption: Sculpture said to be from a Buddhist stupa in Bharhut, central India (ca. 100-200BC) The woman/deity in the forefront (with a cooking pot) is observing how the otters deal with their bounty.

ONCE upon a time two Otters whose names were Gambhiracari and Anutiracari, were standing on the bank of a river, on the lookout for fish. Presently Gambhiracari saw a large Rohita fish, and with one bound he dived into the water and caught it by the tail.
It happened that this Rohita fish was very strong, and when it felt something grasping its tail, it dashed headlong down the river, dragging the Otter with it.
He called out to the other Otter, "Friend Anutiracari, this great fish will be enough of a meal for us both, but it is so strong that it is dragging me away.
Come and help me!"
The other Otter plunged in to his aid, and the two friends between them soon dragged out the Rohita fish, laid it on the bank of the river and killed it.
But now they began to say to each other, "You divide the fish,"—"No, you divide it!"—"No, you!"— and soon they quarrelled and could not decide how the fish should be divided between them.
At that moment a Jackal, named Mayavi, happened to pass the spot. Upon seeing him, both the otters saluted him and said, "Oh, Lord of the grey grass-colour, this fish was caught by both of us together; but a dispute has arisen between us, because we cannot decide how to divide. Will you kindly make a fair division for us?"
After hearing their request, the Jackal replied, "I have decided many a difficult case and done it peacefully. I will settle yours with equal fairness."
So saying, he cut off the head and tail of the Rohita fish, gave the head to Gambhiracari and the tail to Anutiracari, and seizing the whole body of the fish, he ran away with it before their eyes, remarking as he went, "The best belongs to me, in payment for my trouble as umpire!"

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So, make your own decisions; deferring to another’s judgment may not work out the way you like and prove to be costly.
If you have time to deliberate, contemplate and meditate – as was often the case in my business - likely you will waste it and pay dearly for not deciding.
The otters fail to come to terms; the jackal runs off with the best cut.
We see this daily in legal settlements of class action suits. The lawyers (a small number) take a third to 40% and the balance is divided among thousands of clients. We are told that the jackal’s argument is a reasonable explanation for this seeming disparity: his sizable share is for his “trouble as umpire”.
Another fable - The bear, the Lion and the Fox - offers a similar outcome: The bear and lion’s disagreement devolves into a debilitating struggle and the fox runs off with the prize.
That fable’s moral applies to the otters and to all of us unwilling to decide: "’How much better it would have been to have shared in a friendly spirit.’"

*Source: Darbhapappha Jataka, No. 400.
Adapted from the translation by Sir Edwin Arnold included in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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