Ja 37 Tittirajātaka
The Story about the (Elder) Partridge (1s)

In the present Ven. Sāriputta fails to get lodging when the Group of Six take all that is available. When the Buddha discovers this affront in the morning he tells a story of an elephant, a monkey and a partridge, how they decided to live respecting elders, and how they subsequently found out which one was eldest.

The Bodhisatta = the wise partridge (tittirapaṇḍita),
Sāriputta = the monkey (makkaṭa),
Moggallāna = the elephant (hatthināga).

Past Compare: Vin Cv 6 (2.161).

Keywords: Respect, Animals, Birds.

“For they who honour age.” This story was told by the Teacher while on his way to Sāvatthi, about the way in which the elder Sāriputta was kept out of a night’s lodging.

For, when Anāthapiṇḍika had built his monastery, and had sent word that it was finished, the Teacher left Rājagaha and came to Vesālī, setting out again on his journey after stopping at the latter place during his pleasure. It was now that the disciples of the Six hurried on ahead, and, before quarters could be taken for the elders, monopolized the whole of the available lodgings, which they distributed among their superiors, their teachers, and themselves. When the elders came up later, they could find no quarters at all for the night. Even Sāriputta’s disciples, for all their searching, could not find lodgings for the elder. Being without a lodging, the elder passed the night at the foot of a tree near the Teacher’s quarters, either walking up and down or sitting at the foot of a tree.

At early dawn the Teacher coughed as he came out. The elder coughed too. “Who is that?” asked the Teacher. “It is I, Sāriputta, sir.” “What are you doing here at this hour, Sāriputta?” Then the elder told his story, at the close of which the Teacher thought: “Even now, while I am still alive, the monks lack courtesy and subordination; what will they not do when I am dead and gone?” And the thought filled him with anxiety for the Dhamma. As soon as day had come, he had the assembly of the monks called together, and asked them, saying: “Is it true, monks, as I hear, that the adherents of the Six went on ahead and kept the elders among the monks out of lodgings for the night?” “That is so, Fortunate One,” was the reply. Thereupon, with a reproof to the adherents of the Six and as a lesson to all, he addressed the monks, and said: “Tell me, who deserves the best lodging, the best water, and the best rice, monks?” [1.93]

Some answered, “He who was a nobleman before he became a monk.” Others said: “He who was originally a brahmin, or a man of means.” Others severally said: “The man versed in the Regulations of the Saṅgha; the man who can expound the Dhamma; the men who have won the first, second, third, or fourth stage of Absorption.” While others again said: “The man in the First, Second, or Third path, or an Arahat; one who knows the Three Understandings; [I.e. one who can remember his former lives, has the divine eye, and understands the pollutants are destroyed. These three the Buddha gained on the night of his Awakening.] one who has the Six Higher Super Knowledges.”

After the monks had stated whom they severally thought worthiest of precedence in the matter of lodging and the like, the Teacher said, {1.218} “In the dispensation which I teach, the standard by which precedence in the matter of lodging and the like is to be settled, is not noble birth, or having been a brahmin, or having been wealthy before entry into the Saṅgha; the standard is not familiarity with the Regulations of the Saṅgha, with the Suttas, or with the Abhidhamma Books; i.e. the three divisions, or ‘three baskets,’ of the Buddhist scriptures. nor is it either the attainment of any of the four stages of Absorption, or the walking in any of the four paths of emancipation. Monks, in my dispensation it is seniority which claims respect of word and deed, salutation, and all due service; it is seniors who should enjoy the best lodging, the best water, and the best rice. This is the true standard, and therefore the senior monk ought to have these things. Yet, monks, here is Sāriputta, who is my chief disciple, who has set rolling the Wheel in line with Dhamma, and who deserves to have a lodging next after myself. And Sāriputta has spent this night without a lodging at the foot of a tree! If you lack respect and subordination even now, what will be your behaviour as time goes by?”

And for their further instruction he said: “In times past, monks, even animals came to the conclusion that it was not proper for them to live without respect and subordination one to another, or without the ordering of their common life; even these animals decided to find out which among them was the senior, and then to show him all forms of reverence. So they looked into the matter, and having found out which of them was the senior, they showed him all forms of reverence, whereby they passed away at that life’s close to people heaven.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

In the past, nearby a great banyan tree on the slopes of the Himālayas, there dwelt three friends – a partridge, a monkey, and an elephant. And they came to lack respect and subordination one to another, and had no ordering of their common life. And the thought came to them that it was not seemly for them to live in this way, and that they ought to find out which of their number was the senior and to honour him.

As they were engaged thinking which was the oldest, one day an idea struck them. Said the partridge and the monkey to the elephant as they all three sat together at the foot of that banyan tree, “Friend elephant, how big was this banyan when you remember it first?” Said the elephant, “When I was a baby, this banyan was a mere bush, over which I used to walk; and as I stood astride of it, its topmost branches used just to reach up to my belly. I’ve known the tree since it was a mere bush.” [1.94]

Next the monkey was asked the same question by the other two; and he replied, “My friends, when I was a youngster, {1.219} I had only to stretch out my neck as I sat on the ground, and I could eat the topmost sprouts of this banyan. So I’ve known this banyan since it was very tiny.”

Then the partridge was asked the same question by the two others; and he said: “Friends, of old there was a great banyan tree at such and such a spot; I ate its seeds, and voided them here; that was the origin of this tree. Therefore, I have knowledge of this tree from before it was born, and am older than the pair of you.”

Hereupon the monkey and the elephant said to the sage partridge, “Friend, you are the oldest. Henceforth you shall have from us acts of honour and veneration, marks of obeisance and homage, respect of word and deed, salutation, and all due homage; and we will follow your counsels. You for your part henceforth will please impart such counsel as we need.”

Thenceforth the partridge gave them counsel, and established them in the Precepts, which he also undertook himself to keep. Being thus established in the Precepts, and becoming respectful and subordinate among themselves, with proper ordering of their common life, these three made themselves sure of rebirth in heaven at this life’s close.

“The aims of these three” continued the Teacher, “came to be known as the ‘Holiness of the Partridge,’ and if these three animals, monks, lived together in respect and subordination, how can you, who have embraced a Faith the Regulations of which are so well-taught, live together without due respect and subordination? Henceforth I ordain, monks, that to seniority shall be paid respect of word and deed, salutation, and all due service; that seniority shall be the title to the best lodging, the best water, and the best rice; and nevermore let a senior be kept out of a lodging by a junior. Whosoever so keeps out his senior commits an offence.”

It was at the close of this lesson that the Teacher, after Fully Awakening, repeated this verse:

1. “For they who honour age, in Dhamma versed;
Praise now, and bliss hereafter, is their meed.” {1.220}

When the Teacher had finished speaking of the virtue of reverencing age, he made the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “Moggallāna was the elephant of those days, Sāriputta the monkey, and I myself the sage partridge.” [1.95]