Ja 35 Vaṭṭakajātaka See reference to this story under Jātaka No. 20, above.
The Birth Story about the (Young) Quail (1s)
In the present the Buddha and the monks, when traveling through a forest, were surrounded by fire, but in the exact spot they stood it did not burn. The monks think this is due to the Buddha’s current excellence; but he tells how, when he was a baby quail, he had made an asservation of truth in the past, which had stayed the fire in those parts for an aeon.
The Bodhisatta = the king of the quails (vaṭṭakarājā),
Suddhodana and Mahāmāyā = his father and mother (mātāpitaro).
Past Source: Ja 35 Vaṭṭaka,
Quoted: Ja 536 Kuṇāla (Present),
Past Compare: Cp 29 Vaṭṭapotakacariyā, Jm 16 Vartakāpītaka.
Keywords: Truth, Miracle, Animals, Birds.
“Having wings that fly not.” This story was told by the Teacher, while on an alms pilgrimage through Magadha, about the going-out of a jungle fire. Once the Teacher, while on an alms pilgrimage through Magadha, went on his morning round for alms through a certain hamlet in that country; on his return, after his meal, he went out again followed by the company of the monks. Just then a great fire broke out. There were numbers of monks both in front of the Teacher and behind him. On came the fire, spreading far and wide, till all was one sheet of smoke and flame. Hereupon, some unconverted monks were seized with the fear of death. “Let us make a counter fire,” they cried, “and then the big fire will not sweep over the ground we have fired.” And, with this view, they set about kindling a fire with their tinder-sticks.
But others said: “What is this you do, monks? You are like such as mark not the moon in mid-heaven, or the sun’s orb rising with myriad rays from the east, or the sea on whose shores they stand, or Mount Sineru towering before their very eyes – when, as you journey along in the company of him who is peerless among Devas and men alike, you give not a thought to the Supreme Buddha, but cry out, ‘Let us make a fire!’ You know not the might of a Buddha! Come, let us go to the Teacher.” Then, gathering together from front and rear alike, the monks in a body flocked round the One with Ten Powers. At a certain spot the Teacher halted, with this mighty assembly of the monks surrounding him. On rolled the flames, roaring as though to devour them. But when they approached the spot where the Tathāgata had taken his stand, they came no nearer than sixteen lengths, but there and then went out – even as a torch plunged into water. It had no power to spread over a space thirty-two lengths in diameter.
The monks burst into praises of the Teacher, saying: “Oh! How great are the virtues of a Buddha! For, even this fire, though lacking sense, could not sweep over the spot where a Buddha stood, but went out like a torch in water. Oh! How marvellous are the powers of a Buddha!”
Hearing their words, the Teacher said: “It is no present power of mine, monks, that makes this fire go out on reaching this spot of ground. It is the power of a former ‘Assertion of Truth’ of mine. For in this spot no fire will burn throughout the whole of this aeon, the miracle being one which endures for an aeon.” [See Ja 20 Naḷapānajātaka, in which this Jātaka and wonder is mentioned.]
Then the elder Ānanda folded a robe into four and spread it for the Teacher to sit on. The Teacher took his seat. Bowing to the Tathāgata as he sat cross-legged there, the monks too seated themselves around him. Then they asked him, saying: “Only the present is known to us, sir; the past is hidden from us. Make it known to us.” And, at their request, he told this story of the past.
In the past in this self-same spot in Magadha, it was as a quail that the Bodhisatta came to life once more. Breaking his way out of the shell of the egg in which he was born, he became a young quail, about as big as a large ball. See Morris, JPTS 1884, p. 90. And his parents kept him lying in the nest, while they fed him with food which they brought in their beaks. In himself, he had not the strength either to spread his wings and fly through the air, or to lift his feet and walk upon the ground.
Year after year that spot was always ravaged by a jungle-fire; and it was just at this time that the flames swept down on it with a mighty roaring. The flocks of birds, darting from their several nests, were seized with the fear of death, and flew shrieking away. The father and mother of the Bodhisatta were as frightened as the others and flew away, forsaking the Bodhisatta. Lying there in the nest, the Bodhisatta stretched forth his neck, and seeing the flames spreading towards him, he thought to himself, “Had I the power to put forth my wings and fly, I would wing my way hence to safety; or, if I could move my legs and walk, I could escape elsewhere afoot. Moreover, my parents, seized with the fear of death, are fled away to save themselves, leaving me here quite alone in the world. I am without protector or helper. What, then, shall I do this day?”
Then this thought came to him, “In this world there exists what is termed the Efficacy of Goodness, and what is termed the Efficacy of Truth. There are those who, through their having realised the Perfections in past ages, have attained beneath the Bodhi tree to be Fully Awakened; who, having won Release by goodness, tranquillity and wisdom, possess also discernment of the knowledge of such Release;
Therefore it has been said:
“There’s saving grace in Goodness in this world;
There’s truth, compassion, purity of life.
Thereby, I’ll make an Assertion of Truth.
Remembering Faith’s might, and taking thought
On those who triumphed in the days gone by,
I truly made an Assertion of Truth.”
Accordingly, the Bodhisatta, calling to mind the efficacy of the Buddhas long since passed away, performed an Assertion of Truth in the name of the true faith that was in him, repeating this verse:
1. Santi pakkhā apatanā, santi pādā avañcanā,
Mātāpitā ca nikkhantā: Jātaveda paṭikkamā ti.
Having wings that fly not, having feet that run not, abandoned by parents: Jātaveda, go back!
Even as he performed his Assertion of Truth, the fire went back a space of sixteen lengths; and in going back the flames did not pass away to the forest devouring everything in their path. No, they went out there and then, like a torch plunged in water. Therefore it has been said:
“I wrought many Assertions of Truth, and then
The sheet of blazing fire left sixteen lengths
Unscathed – like flames by water met and quenched.”
And as that spot escaped being wasted by fire throughout a whole aeon, the miracle is called an ‘aeon-miracle.’ When his life closed, the Bodhisatta, who had performed this Assertion of Truth, passed away to fare according to his deeds.
“Thus, monks,” said the Teacher, “it is not my present power but the power of truth made when a young quail, that has made the flames pass over this spot in the jungle.” His lesson ended, he preached the Truths, at the close whereof some won the First, some the Second, some the Third Path, while others again became Arahats. Also, the Teacher showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “My present parents were the parents of those days, and I myself the king of the quails.”
last updated: August 2023