Sammodamana Jataka (#33)

painting of Sammodamana Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a quail. He was the leader of many thousands of quails living in the forest. A clever hunter worked this forest and he led quails to him by imitating their call, then throwing his net over the gathered birds. The Bodhisatta devised a plan to thwart the hunter. He instructed all the quails that if they got covered by a net to stick their heads through the mesh and fly away together. They should land on a thorn bush and then walk away, leaving the net so entangled that the hunter had to spend the rest of the day removing it.

As soon as the quails started working together like this, the hunter could not catch any. The hunter’s wife grew angry with him for his failure, but he was not worried because he knew the quails would eventually quarrel and he would have success again. And he was right. One day, while feeding, a quail accidentally stepped on another quail’s head. He apologized, but the other quail remained angry and the two bickered for a long time. The Bodhisatta knew that any conflict compromised their safety, so when he saw this, he took his flock and moved elsewhere in the forest. When the hunter next returned and cast his net, the entrapped quails argued about who should begin lifting, and this gave the hunter time to pick up the net and kill them.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

Members of the Buddha’s Sakya clan were feuding with another clan that they usually got along with very well. He told them this story so they knew that quarreling leads to destruction, and he had seen it happen in the past.

The foolish quail who wouldn’t forgive was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis.

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