The Bodhisatta was once an elephant. He lived in the Himalayas, and a herd of eighty thousand followed him as their leader. A quail laid her eggs in their feeding ground and the hatchlings had just broken out of their shells when the herd arrived. Worried that an elephant would step on her young, the quail stood before the Bodhisatta and begged him to protect them; and he did, standing over the nest until the entire herd had passed by. Before he left, he warned the quail that a rogue elephant was walking behind them, so she would need to talk to him too.
When the rogue elephant arrived, the quail made the same plea. But this elephant was evil, and he intentionally trampled the chicks and urinated on their mangled corpses. The quail cursed the elephant and vowed revenge, stating that a strong mind was more powerful than a strong body.
Soon after her chicks died, the quail did favors for a crow, a fly, and a frog, and then she enlisted them to return the favors by helping her murder the rogue elephant. When the time came, the crow pecked out the elephant’s eyes, blinding him. Then the fly laid eggs in his eye sockets, and when they hatched into maggots the elephant was maddened by the pain. Then the frog went up a mountain and croaked. The elephant followed the sound, assuming the frog was near water. And as the elephant climbed, the frog hopped down a cliff and croaked again, leading the elephant to step off and fall to his death. The delighted quail did a victory dance on the elephant’s body before flying away.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The rogue elephant was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. One day the Buddha heard some of his disciples talking about how Devadatta was harsh, cruel, and violent, without even an iota of empathy for others. He told them this story so they knew that Devadatta was also this way in the past. The story was also used as a lesson to the disciples to not instigate quarrels because even someone much weaker than you can bring you down.