The Bodhisatta was once a bird who led a flock that lived in a large tree. One windy day, the branches rubbed against each other hard enough to produce smoke. The Bodhisatta saw this and knew that if the strong wind continued, the tree could catch fire. He told the flock they must leave, and most of the birds followed him, but some foolish birds felt the Bodhisatta worried too much, and they stayed behind. It wasn’t long before the Bodhisatta’s prediction came true. As the fire grew, the old leaves created a thick smoke and the birds still in the tree were blinded and unable to get away, so they all burned to death.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The Buddha had sent one of his disciples out to the forest to meditate during the rainy season. Soon after the disciple arrived, his hut burned down and he was forced to sleep outdoors in great discomfort. He told nearby villagers about the problem, and they promised to build him a new hut as soon as they finished irrigating their fields. But when this was done, they said they needed to plant the seeds, then they needed to put up fences, pick weeds, and so on; always asking the disciple to wait just a little longer.
When the disciple’s three-month retreat was over, nobody had built him a new hut and he failed to progress in his meditation because of it. Upon returning to the monastery, he told the Buddha he had failed and explained why. The Buddha told him this story so he understood that he was a fool for not relocating to a more suitable place to do his meditation.
The birds who fled the tree with the Bodhisatta were earlier births of the Buddha’s disciples.