Stories of the Buddha's Former Births
Book 4: Catukanipāta
Translated from the Pāli by
H.T. Francis, M.A., Sometime Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, and
R.A. Neil, M.A., Fellow of Pembroke College
Under the Editorship of Professor E. B. Cowell
Published 1969 For the Pāli Text Society.
First Published by The Cambridge University Press in 1895
This work is in the Public Domain. The Pali Text Society owns the copyright."
 "Happy life," etc. This was a story told by the Master while living in the Badarika Monastery near Kosambī, regarding the elder Rāhula. The introductory story has been already related in full in the Tipallattha Birth. Now when the Brethren in the Hall of Truth were setting forth the praises of the venerable Rāhula, and speaking of him as fond of instruction, scrupulous and patient of rebuke, the Master came up and on hearing from them the subject of their discourse said, "Not now only, but formerly also Rāhula possessed all these virtues." And then he told them a legend of the past.
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a brahmin family. And when he grew up, he studied all the arts at Takkasilā, and giving up the world devoted himself to the ascetic life in the Himalāya country, and developed all the Faculties and Attainments. There enjoying the pleasures of ecstatic meditation he dwelt in a pleasant grove, whence he journeyed to a frontier village to procure salt and vinegar. The people, on seeing him, became believers, and built him a hut of leaves in a wood, and providing him with all that a Buddhist[ed1] requires, made a home for him there.
At this time a fowler in this village had caught a decoy partridge, and putting it in a cage carefully trained and looked after it. Then he took it to the wood, and by its cry decoyed all the other partridges that came near. The partridge thought: "Through me many of my kinsfolk come by their death. This is a wicked act on my part." So it kept quiet. When its master found it was quiet, he struck it on the head with a piece of bamboo. The partridge from the pain it suffered uttered a cry. And the fowler gained a living by decoying other partridges through it. Then the partridge thought: "Well, suppose they die. There is no evil intention on my part. Do the evil consequences of my action affect me? When I am quiet, they do not come, but when I utter a cry, they do. And all that come this fellow catches and puts to death. Is there any sinful act here on my part, or is there not?" Thenceforth the only thought of the partridge is, "Who verily may resolve my doubt?"  and it goes about seeking for such a wise man. Now one day the fowler snared a lot of partridges, and filling his basket with them he came to the Bodhisatta's hermitage to beg a draught of water. And putting down the cage near the Bodhisatta, he drank some water and lay down on the sand and fell asleep. The partridge observing that he was asleep thought, "I will ask this ascetic as to my doubt, and if he knows he will solve my difficulty." And as it lay in its cage, it repeated the first stanza in the form of a question:
Happy life I lead all day,
Food abundant falls to me:
Yet I'm in a parlous way,
What's my future state to be?
The Bodhisatta solving this question uttered the second stanza:
If no evil in thy heart
Prompts to deed of villainy,
Shouldst thou play a passive part,
Guilt attaches not to thee.
The partridge on hearing this uttered the third stanza:
"Lo! our kinsman": thus they cry,
And in crowds they flock to see.
Am I guilty, should they die?
Please resolve this doubt for me.
 On hearing this, the Bodhisatta repeated the fourth stanza:
If no sin lurks in the heart,
Innocent the deed will be.
He who plays a passive part
From all guilt is counted free.
Thus did the Great Being console the partridge. And through him the bird was freed from remorse. Then the fowler waking up saluted the Bodhisatta and took up his cage and made off.
The Master, having ended his lesson, identified the Birth: "At that time Rāhula was the partridge, and I myself was the ascetic."
[ed1] Not in the Pali! These are stories of Gotama's births prior to him becoming a 'Buddha'. I do not believe seekers prior to Gotama were called "Buddhists" (Awakeners) though there was the concept of awakening and of becoming a Buddha.