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This is a Jataka Tale, one of many folk tales from India concerning previous lives of the Buddha, known as Bodhisattva. This version is adapted from a translation in Jataka Tales, by H. T. Francis and E. J. Thomas (Cambridge, England: The University Press, 1916).
Once upon a time the Bodhisattva was born a quail and lived in the forest as the leader of thousands of quail.
There was in that place a fowler who would imitate the call of the quail so as to draw many quail together. When many quail were together, the fowler would fling his net over them, gather them up and bring them to market to sell for food.
The Bodhisattva was determined to help the quail avoid this terrible fate. He called them all together to tell them his plan: "When you hear a quail's call, be alert and remember that it might well be the deceptive call of the fowler. If we keep our wits about us and work together, we can escape the fowler's net. Here's what to do: The very moment he throws his net over you, let each one put their head through an opening in the mesh and then, all together, you must flap your wings. Fly with the net until you are able to let it down on a thorn bush. After the net is caught on the thorns, all may pull their heads out and escape from underneath." All the quail understood the plan. All nodded in agreement: They would work together.
The very next day, the net was cast over a group of them, and they did as they had been instructed by the Bodhisattva. They flew the net to a thorn bush and let it down, escaping from underneath. While the fowler was still untangling his net from the thorns, evening came and he went home empty-handed.
Day after day, the quail used the same device. Day after day, the fowler was forced to untangle and repair his net. His wife grew angry because he brought home no quail to sell at market. But the fowler only said, "Wait a while. Those quail have decided to work together now, but they will not cooperate always. Pretty soon they will start bickering among themselves and I will capture the lot of them."
Not long after this, one of the quail stepped on another's head by accident as he landed on the feeding ground. "Who trod on my head?" the second quail asked angrily. "I'm sorry," said the first. And both quail began to murmur about how crowded the feeding ground had gotten lately. Pretty soon, the two began to taunt one another, and others joined in. Each claimed they had a bigger share of responsibility in lifting up the net to escape the fowler.
The Bodhisattva reminded them they faced great danger if they did not work together, but they were not much interested in what he had to say. He led those who were still willing to cooperate away from the quarrels at the feeding grounds, away from the danger of capture.
Sure enough, the fowler came back a few days later and once again collected the quail together by imitating the sound of a quail. Once again he threw his net over a whole group. One quarrelsome quail said, "I'm tired of carrying such a big share of the load. Others need to flap harder," at which point a second quail defending herself, saying, "I've lost feathers in the effort to lift this net. I work hard enough. There must be lazy ones among us." And they began to quarrel about who was stronger, who worked harder and who should be the one to say when it was time to flap their wings and lift that net off the ground.
And while they were arguing about who should do the work of lifting the net, the fowler lifted the net for them, crammed them in a heap into his basket, and took them off to market.
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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.
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