The Bodhisatta was once a vulture, and he cared for his mother and father. One day a powerful storm blew over their mountain home, and all the vultures flew to the city to escape freezing to death. A merchant saw the miserable vultures near the city wall shivering from the cold, so he built a fire and brought them some meat. When the storm was over, the vultures flew back home. They held a meeting and agreed to repay the merchant’s kindness. Whenever one of them saw clothes or jewelry, they would swoop in, snatch it, and drop it in the merchant’s courtyard. The merchant just laid all these gifts aside.
People informed the king that vultures were plundering the city, and he told his men to catch one of them so he could get to the bottom of the problem. Traps were set around the city, and the Bodhisatta was caught. The merchant saw people taking a vulture to the palace and went with them to make sure it would not be harmed. The king interrogated the Bodhisatta, who said they were doing it because the merchant saved their lives and one good turn deserves another. The merchant confirmed he had gathered all these things and said he would return them. Then the Bodhisatta was set free.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The parents of one of the Buddha’s disciples had been reluctant to let their son adopt a religious life, but he begged them and they agreed. After five years, he fully mastered dharma, so he went out to live alone and meditate in the forest to reach spiritual insight. But after twelve years of striving, he still had not achieved it. One day another disciple visited him at his hut and told him that his parents had fallen into ruin. With no children around to protect them, their servants and workers had stolen everything, and they were now homeless beggars, clothed in rags. The son began to cry, and realizing he had labored in vain for the past twelve years, he decided to leave the sangha and return home to care for his parents.
The depressed disciple went to listen to the Buddha preach one last time before returning home. The Buddha divined this disciple’s situation and made his morning talk about the virtues of parents. Listening to the sermon, the son realized that, though it would be difficult, he could remain a disciple and still support his parents, and he resolved to do so. He took up abode near their hut, and from then on he made two daily alms rounds: one for them and a second for himself. He usually got little food for himself, and some days he got none, so he grew pale and thin.
When some other disciples learned what he was doing, they told him that sharing alms with people who are not disciples was an offense, and they reported him to the Buddha. The accused disciple was summoned back to the monastery, where he admitted sharing the alms he collected with his parents. But, to the surprise of the other disciples, the Buddha praised the caring son instead of rebuking him. He then told this story to explain that caring for others was always a good thing, and that in the past he himself had supported someone who wasn’t even his family.
The king and the merchant were earlier births of Ananda and Sariputta, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.