The Bodhisatta was once a parrot. After a king woke up from a nap under a tree in his royal park, he saw a bird’s nest and wanted to have whatever was in it. One of his attendants climbed up the tree and found that it contained three eggs: an owl’s, a mynah bird’s, and a parrot’s. He brought them down and had them put safely in a cotton-lined box. Having no children of his own, the king decided to make the birds his children and he had three courtiers take care of one egg each at their homes and inform him when they hatched.
The birds (two sons and one daughter) lived in the courtiers’ houses and were given all the splendor worthy of royalty. People mocked the king for adopting birds as his children, and when the king heard about this he decided to show people the birds’ true wisdom. He sent for the birds, one by one, to come to the palace to publicly discuss how kings should rule. His son the owl spoke honestly and directly to the king, telling him he should rule righteously and stop yielding to sin. The people applauded with wonder and the king was so pleased with his advice that he made the owl a general in the army. His daughter the mynah also criticized the king, saying he should always be honest and only hire advisors who are wise. Appreciating her answer, he made her treasurer. Finally, the Bodhisatta spoke, explaining that wisdom was the most important power of a king and if he didn’t stop doing bad things he would meet with ruin. Great applause followed and the king was so delighted by this guidance he made the Bodhisatta his commander-in-chief.
Following their noble speeches, the three birds received great honor from everyone and the king followed their advice. When the king died, his court chose the Bodhisatta as the next king, but he was not interested. He wrote down his righteous advice on a golden tablet and flew off into the forest.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One time a king came to hear the Buddha preach. He told the king to rule righteously and that sensual pleasures lead to misery: when people die their virtuous actions are their only refuge. Then the Buddha told this story as an example of a king in the past earning rebirth in heaven by following this advice.
The king from the past was an earlier birth of Ananda and the owl and mynah were Sariputta and Uppalavanna, three of the Buddha’s top disciples.