The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic who lived in the Himalayas. One time he went down to a village to get salt and vinegar and the people there were so impressed by him they built a leaf hut for him to stay in.
A hunter from the village kept a partridge in a cage and used it to attract other partridges, which he caught and killed. The partridge felt remorse for helping kill other birds and so stopped singing, but when the hunter hit him hard on the head with a piece of bamboo he cried out in pain, drawing in birds just as before. While the hunter had evil intent, the partridge did not, and he wondered whether his actions were sinful and if they would negatively affect his karma.
One day after catching a basket full of birds, the hunter stopped at the Bodhisatta’s hut to get a drink of water, and there he fell asleep. The partridge finally had an opportunity to ask about his fate. Hearing the partridge’s story, the Bodhisatta assured him there’s no guilt when there’s no ill intent. The partridge was freed of his sorrow.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The decoy partridge was an earlier birth of Rahula, the Buddha’s son, who became a novice and never sought special attention because of his lineage. After listening to the Buddha preach, many monks and novices would just fall asleep on the floor of the sermon hall instead of going off to their quarters. The Buddha disapproved and made it an offence for novices to sleep in the same room as monks. The next night the monks, out of fear of breaking the new rule, would not set up a bed for Rahula as they had always done previously, leaving him to go off and find a place to sleep on his own. Rahula was so diligent in following rules that rather than risk sleeping somewhere a monk might come into later in the night, he slept in the Buddha’s outhouse. The incident prompted the Buddha to change his mind and allow novices to stay for up to two days in a monk’s quarters when necessary.
When the Buddha later heard some disciples discussing Rahula’s excellent behavior, he told them this story to let them know Rahula had been as virtuous, fond of instruction, and patient of rebuke in the past as he was now.