The Bodhisatta was once a crow, the king of a flock of eighty thousand others. One day while out searching for food, his queen saw all sorts of fish being prepared in the human king’s kitchen and she craved them so much she thought she would die if she didn’t get to eat some: if she couldn’t eat the king’s food, she wouldn’t eat anything. The Bodhisatta was worried and explained the problem to his commander-in-chief who said he would bring her some of the king’s fish.
He flew to the palace with a team of crows and waited on the kitchen roof. When people started carrying the food inside, the commander-in-chief flew into one of the men, pecking his nose and causing him drop all the dishes. Eight other crows swooped in to gather some of the spilled rice and fish in their beaks and flew back to feed the Bodhisatta and his wife. The man who was attacked captured the commander-in-chief crow and took him before the king.
The king was furious and asked the crow why he had done such a thing, knowing full well the punishment would be death. The crow told the story of the crow queen’s craving and said he did it because he was completely dedicated to his king. The king was impressed that someone would be so dedicated to their ruler; few people would ever do that for him. The crow was forgiven and the Bodhisatta was invited to the palace to preach. After this, the king provided food daily for all the crows and protected all animals.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The crow queen was an earlier birth of the Buddha’s wife, who had become a disciple. One day she got terrible stomach pains from gas. It was a common affliction for her and was cured by rice with ghee and red fish; but as she now lived on alms, she did not know how to get this. Her son Rahula, a novice disciple, said he would help her. He told Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples (the commander-in-chief was an earlier birth of him), about his mother’s illness and what she needed to cure it, and Sariputta said he would get it for her.
The next day Sariputta went to the palace to explain his need, and the king provided rice with ghee and red fish. Once she ate it, her pain went away. From that day on, the king sent her this food every day.
When the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing this matter, he told them this story so they knew she’d been in a similar situation in the past and Sariputta had resolved it then too.
The king was an earlier birth of Ananda, another of the Buddha’s top disciples.