Talking Animals in Mula Texts

I do not really believe in animals who can vocally speak and I believe that the “quotes of animals speaking” are actually messages or signs the animals give that we intuitively know similar to Lassie, Flipper, or Free Willie. When the story is retold, it includes that as dialog… but who knows… maybe it is possible like Babe or Mr. Ed. .

It could also be like koko the sign language ape, or talking parrots who have been able to be trained to count items and speak based on knowledge (although very rudimentary).

The Jātaka is filled with such examples, but this is one of the major factors that dvi-pitakans call “Foul Play” on the sidelines.

Recently, I wrote an editorial type of article on “How Do Monks Live Without Money?”. I quoted a source where the Buddha instructs the monk to ask the birds if they would give him one feather each. TIt would be good to quote more mula sources in this thread.

‘Do you want that flock of birds to stay away?’
‘Yes, Sir.’
‘Well then, go back to that forest grove. In the first part of the night, call out three times and say,
“Listen to me, good birds. I want a feather from anyone roosting in this forest grove. Each one of you must give me a feather.”
And in the middle and last part of the night do the same thing.’

The monk returned to that forest grove and did as instructed.
That flock of birds thought,
‘The monk is asking for a feather; he wants a feather,’
and they left that grove and never returned.



This classic story is from the

Vinayapiṭake, Mahāvaggapāḷi

It is a classic story for monks to know and it is also mentioned in the BMC for monks. “The Long Search” video on Buddhism has a little Sri Lankan boy quoting this story. Sometimes when I talk about Pa-Auk I mention the size of the trees, the missing library, hospital, eating hall, staircase to the sima and even a paved road, but Sayadawgyi planted all of the seeds.

3. Aggāsanādianujānana

2.3 The instruction on the best seat, etc.

Atha kho, bhikkhave, tittiro ca makkaṭo ca hatthināgaṃ pucchiṃsu—
The partridge and the monkey then asked the elephant,

‘tvaṃ, samma, kiṃ porāṇaṃ sarasī’ti?
‘What’s your first memory?’

‘Yadāhaṃ, sammā, poto homi, imaṃ nigrodhaṃ antarā satthīnaṃ karitvā atikkamāmi, aggaṅkurakaṃ me udaraṃ chupati.
‘When I was a young, I stepped over this banyan tree, keeping it between my thighs, and the top shoots touched my belly.

Imāhaṃ, sammā, porāṇaṃ sarāmī’ti.
That’s my first memory.’

Atha kho, bhikkhave, tittiro ca hatthināgo ca makkaṭaṃ pucchiṃsu—
The partridge and the elephant asked the monkey,

‘tvaṃ, samma, kiṃ porāṇaṃ sarasī’ti?
‘What’s your first memory?’

‘Yadāhaṃ, sammā, chāpo homi, chamāyaṃ nisīditvā imassa nigrodhassa aggaṅkurakaṃ khādāmi.
‘When I was a young, I sat on the ground and ate the top shoots of the banyan tree.

Imāhaṃ, sammā, porāṇaṃ sarāmī’ti.
That’s my first memory.’

Atha kho, bhikkhave, makkaṭo ca hatthināgo ca tittiraṃ pucchiṃsu—
The monkey and the elephant asked the partridge,

‘tvaṃ, samma, kiṃ porāṇaṃ sarasī’ti?
‘What’s your first memory?’

‘Amukasmiṃ, sammā, okāse mahānigrodho ahosi.
‘In such and such a spot there was a great banyan tree.

Tato ahaṃ phalaṃ bhakkhitvā imasmiṃ okāse vaccaṃ akāsiṃ;
I ate one of its fruits and defecated here.

tassāyaṃ nigrodho jāto.
This banyan tree has grown from that.

Tadāhaṃ, sammā, jātiyā mahantataro’ti.
Well then, I must be the oldest one.’

Atha kho, bhikkhave, makkaṭo ca hatthināgo ca tittiraṃ etadavocuṃ—
The monkey and the elephant said to the partridge,

‘tvaṃ, samma, amhākaṃ jātiyā mahantataro.
‘You’re the oldest of us.

Taṃ mayaṃ sakkarissāma garuṃ karissāma mānessāma pūjessāma, tuyhañca mayaṃ ovāde patiṭṭhissāmā’ti.
We will honor, respect, and esteem you, and we’ll wait for your instructions.’

Atha kho, bhikkhave, tittiro makkaṭañca hatthināgañca pañcasu sīlesu samādapesi, attanā ca pañcasu sīlesu samādāya vattati.
The partridge had the monkey and the elephant take the five precepts, and he also undertook them himself.


There are few things to mention.

First that, most of these stories, except the monks who were told to ask birds in the forest, happened in the past. We should not forget, At sometimes the human lifespan may be 20 000, 100 000 years or more than that because at these times people are more virtuous, better rain by devas, and the ojā in the food is better. At this time we can guess that animals also have longer lives, less kilesā, more in adequation with Dhamma, and probably more able to communicate on complex subjects.

Also, most of the times it is about animals who have more puññā in their past lives or pāramī, like the Bodhisatta , his high and great disciples past lives or the Venerable Devadatta who despite his hatred for the Buddha had the pāramī to obtain iddhī and become Paccekabuddha in future, or any disciples who attained Arahantship at the Buddha ’ s time… We can guess that their births as animals are naturally gifted with higher abilities than normal animals.

Most of the time it is about clever kind of animals, such as elephants, monkeys, parrots, who are intelligent and certainly quite capable of communication.


Its perfectly possible that monk had abhinna powers and was able to literally communicate with them them.

As for the jatakas, those were in a different time, as Matthias pointed out, its possible animals at that time/kappa could communicate with humans as a norm.


We all share citta and cetasika. Just the same things. Intelligence, consciousness, emotions, memory and etc are the same throughout the existence. But we must express them physically to communicate. Animals speak their respective languages. Probably, animals speak the same language humans do not understand. It seems we have a universal language that is natural to them as their inbuilt memory or instinct, but mankind has forgotten it.
Another language is telepathy that seems to be natural to animals, particularly the animals they have no vocal.

Nama Rupa Sankhara

The story of two parrot siblings is also interesting. When they were still young, a storm took them to separate parts of a forest. The older one was saved by an ascetic and taught it to be good. The younger one was adopted by thieves so he was hearing all the foul languages throughout his life.

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Magadhi, the languages of Magadha, including Pali is said animals could understand it. I think the animals in Magadha understood some of the region’s languages. I wonder the animals in our regions also understand some of the words.
That’s my two cents.

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Another video

Joke: “There is no classical theravada forum yet to be found on the Internet.” :wink:

The incident found in Mahavaggapali (giving 5 precepts and making other animals observed them) is not of that sort.

Furthermore, Mahavaggapali and Jatakas are not modifiable texts. (Suttam, geyyam, veyyakaranam, jatakam …)

They are EBTs. :face_holding_back_tears:

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I thought humans are the lowest beings capable of enlightenment? Are they not?

If animals can talk, then why would a talking monkey be incapable of enlightenment, while a human is capable?

Welcome to the community of the Faithful !

They are.

They are still animals even they talk.

For an instance, in Vinaya, during the lifetime of the Blessed One, one of the Nagas ordained and managed to live the monk-life until he was caught. Then the Buddha advised him to disrobe and obsere eight-precepts saying “the Nagas are animals and incapable of enlightenment.”

And in another incident the Blessed One preach dhamma to Erakapatta Nagaraja.

So it seems even though they can’t enlighten, they can still do other merits including observing Sila. (The Mahavaggapali incident and the relevant Tittira Jataka are other examples.)

Considering some stories like that, it seems only the higher-animals can speak in the Buddha’s era.

And one of the Tipitaka teacher said, the ancient humans were higher in wisdom and merit so that they can understand what animals say.

One of the Jatakas says a king used to call a bird (which was capable of advising the king with dhamma) as “my son” while the minister looked down on the king because he recognized an animal as son.

It seems, even though (few or all) animals in ancient times were capable of talking with humans, they were still limited in their capacity and people recognized them as lower beings.


Thank you for the welcome :grin:

I’m still not sure why animals are not capable of enlightenment though.

To me, it used to make sense because they cannot talk. Being unable to talk means they are incapable of abstract reasoning, they are incapable of hearing and understanding dhamma, and so it made sense that they would be unable to attain enlightenment (unless you could explain the dhamma to someone like koko the gorilla through sign language).

But if animals can talk, then what reason is left to prevent an animal from attaining enlightenment?

Many beings are able to talk. Few are able to listen.

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I know the case of somebody who was lost in the mountains and became severely ill, and one snake appeared and guided him until some herbs which saved his life.

Kamma is very strange but I believe we could accept that while there are conscious beings it can become manifest in unknown ways.

yes, this is what I mean

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Hi Bhante! I love your blog. Will you ever update this book? americanmonk. org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/AbhidhammaLessons.pdf

(…I can’t include links yet)

Also, by “ability to talk”, I meant by extension the ability to create an internal monologue, and therefore the ability to label things and reason about those labels. Beings without language would suffer from hypocognition.

You are correct where if one is not capable of abstract reasoning, then he is not capable of enlightenment. But being capable of abstract reasoning alone, doesn’t ensure that he is capable of enlightening.

The deciding factor given in Abhidhamma is the “Type of birth” that ensure sufficient wisdom and merit.

There are 3 types of births called:

  • Tihetuka Patisandhi (Thee-roots Birth)
  • Dvihetuka Patisandhi (Two-roots Birth)
  • Ahetuka Patisandhi (Root-less Birth)

Tihetuka Patisandhi is the highest form of rebirth in sensuous plane. Only the beings who are born with a Tihetuka Patisandhi are capable of enlightening in this very life.

Gods and some human beings have got a Tihetuka Patisandhi while all the animals and some human beings have not got a Tihetuka Patisandhi.

We find many people in Buddhist countries who practice Dhamma and still having doubts about whether there are Tihetuka or not.

If you like Abhidhamma, you can start reading the road map Abhidhammatthasangaha for clarifying such issues easily.

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2 posts were split to a new topic: What’s the difference between a Tihetuka Patisandhi and a Dvihetuka Patisandhi?

Thats not true at all. Dolphins and orcas are capable of abstract reasoning and have intelligence that is just a par below humans. Many scientists even agree they have the intelligence to create complex societies like humans, its just that theyre lack of limbs limits their ability to use tools and create things as impressive as humans. Yet dolphins and orcas cannot talk. Parrots actually can talk due to the unique formation of thier vocal cords, but are not as intelligent as dolphins.

Most humans who can talk cannot enlighten. The Buddha even said that only a relatively few number of humans can understand the supreme teaching and enlighten. Talking is not the only prerequisite for enlightenment

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We must also consider that the psychic sensitivity of humans has gone way done. These days it is difficult to convince anyone that the seat of the mind is in the heart. This is because people “live inside their heads” . However, many of the ancient memes relate to the heart for emotions. It could be that “talking” was done through psychic means of just “reading” each other’s mind or face expressions.
“Her eyes said so much” is another meme.
I definitely believe that as we separate further from nature, we lose this power.

It also does not mean talking is done either. Here it is supposing something was said.

"A fatal thing, monks, are gains, favors and fame, a bitter, harsh impediment to the attainment of the unsurpassed freedom from bondage. It is just like a beetle, feeding on dung, full of dung, gorged with dung, standing before a great dung-hill, who might despise other beetles, saying: ‘I am a dung-eater, full of dung, gorged with dung, and before me is this great dung-hill!’

Here is a story where it explicitly says that speech was acquired by psychic power.

7. assakajātakavaṇṇanā

The Story about (King) assaka (2s)

“What! My queen Ubbarī a dung-worm? I don’t believe it!” cried the king. “I will make her speak, O king!” “Pray make her speak, venerable sir!” said he.

The Bodhisatta by his power gave her speech. “Ubbarī!” said he. “What is it, venerable sir?” she asked, in a human voice. “What was your name in your former character?” the Bodhisatta asked her. “My name was Ubbarī, sir,” she replied, “the consort of king assaka.”
“Tell me,” the Bodhisatta went on, “which do you love best now – king assaka, or this dung-worm?”
“O sir, that was my former birth,” said she. “Then I lived with him in this park, enjoying shape and sound, scent, savour and touch; but now that my memory is confused by rebirth, what is he? Why, now I would kill king assaka, and would smear the feet of my husband the dung-worm with the blood flowing from his throat!” and in the midst of the king’s company, she uttered these verses in a human voice:

  1. “Once with the great king assaka, who was my husband dear,
    Beloving and beloved, I walked about this garden here.
  2. But now new sorrows and new joys have made the old ones flee,