Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories


16. The Story of the Quail's Young (Satya)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 35, Fausböll I, 213-14; Cariyāpiṭaka III, 9)

Not even fire is able to surpass speech purified by truth. Having this in mind, one must addict one's self to speaking the truth. This will be taught as follows.

Once the Bodhisattva, it is said, lived in some part [139] of the forest as a young quail. He had come out of the egg some nights before, and could not fly, his tender wings having still to grow both in height and in width; in his very small and weak body the different limbs, principal and minor, were hardly discernible. So he dwelt with his numerous brothers in the nest which his parents had built with great care and made impervious by a strong covering of grass. This nest was placed on a creeper within a thicket. Yet, still in this existence, he had not lost his consciousness of the Law, and would not feed on such living beings as his father and mother offered to them, but exclusively sustained himself by (the vegetable food) which was brought by his parents: grass-seeds, figs of the banian tree, and so on In consequence of this coarse and insufficient nourishment, his body did not thrive nor would his wings develop. The other young quails, on the contrary, who fed on everything offered to them, became strong and got full-grown wings. For this, indeed, is an invariable rule:

1. He who, not anxious about the precepts of the Law, eats everything, will thrive at his ease, but such a one as seeks for his livelihood in accordance with the precepts, and is careful about the choice of his food, will endure pain in this world. [The following lines are] an interpolation, which the editor of the original has placed within brackets. It is a quotation, which was originally no doubt a marginal note.01

[This is also declared by our Lord in the (following) two gāthās:

2. Easy is the livelihood of the shameless crow, that bold and impetuous animal, who practises impure actions, but it is a very sinful life.

3. But the modest one who always strives after purity has a hard livelihood, the bashful one who is scrupulous and sustains himself only by pure modes of living.

This couple of gāthās The gāthās quoted are substantially and partly verbally the same as two stanzas of the Dhammapada (244 and 245) that are their Pāli counterpart.02 is found in the Āryasthāvirīyanikāya.]

Now, while they were living in this manner, a great forest-conflagration took place not far from them. It [140] was characterised by an incessant tremendous noise, by the appearance of clouds of rising smoke, then by flying sparks of fire scattered about from the line of flames. This fire caused much terror to such animals as haunted the forest, and was a ruin to its groves and thickets.

4. The fire excited by the whirling of the wind, that seemed to induce it to perform manifold and different figures of dance, agitated its wide-outstretched flame-arms, leaped shaking its dishevelled smoke-hair, and crackled, taking away the courage and strength of those (animals and plants).

5. It jumped, as if in wrath, on the grasses, which trembling under the violent touch of the fierce wind, seemed to take to flight; and coveting them with its glittering sparks, burnt them.

6. Yea, it seemed as if the forest itself, with its crowds of birds flying about terror-stricken and alarmed, with its terrified quadrupeds roaming on all sides, with the thick smoke which enveloped it, and with the sharp noise of the fire's crackling, uttered strong roars of pain.

So that conflagration, pushed forward as if pressed on by the violent wind, and following the grasses and shrubs, reached at last the vicinity of that nest. In this moment the young quails, uttering confused and discordant shrieks of fear, each caring for himself, none for the rest, suddenly flew up all together. Only the Bodhisattva, because of the great weakness of his body and because he had as yet no wings. made no such effort. Yet the Great Being knew his power and was not at all disturbed. When the fire with impetuosity approached, and was about to seize upon the nest, he addressed it with these persuasive words:

7. “My feet are not strong enough to deserve that name, nor are my wings able to fly, and the disturbance caused by thee put to flight also my parents. Nothing worth offering to a guest like thee, is to be found here. For this reason it becomes thee to turn back from hence, Agni.” [141]

When the Great Being had spoken these words, hallowed by the power of Truth,

8. That fire, though stirred by the wind, though raging in dry underwood mixed with very arid grasses, abated suddenly, as if it had reached a swollen river, having come near to his utterance of speech.

9. Still up to this day any forest-conflagration, reaching that famous place in the Himālaya, however high its flames may rise by the power of the wind, will lessen its fire and slacken its rage, in the same way as a many-headed serpent is charmed by a spell.

For what reason, then, has this (tale) been adduced? It will be said.

10. As little as the sea with its rolling billows will transgress the shore, or he who loves Truth the discipline ordained by the Lord of Munis, so little even fire is able to transgress the command of the veracious. For this reason one must never leave Truth.

In this manner, then, not even fire is able to surpass speech purified by truth. Having this in view, one must addict one's self to speaking the truth.

[This story is also to be told, when discoursing on the Tathāgata.]