Vattaka Jataka (#118)

temple painting of Vattaka Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a quail. One day a man caught him and many others and took them home to fatten them up for sale. The Bodhisatta pondered his predicament and then refused to eat, becoming skin-and-bone thin. When all the other birds had been sold, the quail-catcher took the Bodhisatta out of the cage to see what was wrong with him, and at the right moment the Bodhisatta flew away home. The other quails back in the forest wondered where he had been and he told them the story, explaining that he got away because he thought of a plan, while the other birds did not think at all.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

A man had spent his previous afterlife in heaven, and now as a human again he was very righteous and did not suffer from passion. During a festival his friends sent a beautiful female companion to be with him for the week, but he was not interested and sent her away. As she left, a noble man hired her to come with him instead. When the festival was over, the woman did not return home and her worried mother took the matter to the king who insisted the man return her daughter. He explained what had happened and that he did not know where the woman was, but the king declared him guilty and sentenced him to death.

As he was being led through the city for his execution, he vowed that if he could escape his predicament he would go and live as a disciple of the Buddha. The woman heard the commotion, and when she learned what was causing it she rushed out to show she was still alive. The man was set free and that same day he fulfilled his vow.

When the Buddha heard other disciples discussing this, he told them this story so they knew he too had once escaped a seemingly certain death.

The Buddha did not identify any earlier births other than his own.

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