Stories of the Buddha's Former Births
Book 2: Dukanipāta
Translated from the Pāli by
W.H.D Rouse, M.A., Sometime Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge
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."
"O have you seen," etc. — This story the Master told, while dwelling at Jetavana, about imitating the Buddha.
When the Elders had gone with their followers to visit Devadatta, the Master asked Sāriputta what Devadatta had done when he saw them. The reply was that he had imitated the Buddha. The Master rejoined, "Not now only has Devadatta imitated me and thereby come to ruin; he did just the same before." Then, at the Elder's request, he told an old-world tale.
 Once upon a time, while Brahmadatta reigned as king in Benares, the Bodhisatta became a marsh crow, and dwelt by a certain pool. His name was Vīraka, the Strong.
There arose a famine in Kāsi. Men could not spare food for the crows, nor make offering to goblins and snakes. One by one the crows left the famine-stricken land, and betook them to the woods.
A certain crow named Saviṭṭhaka, who lived at Benares, took with him his lady crow and went to the place where Vīraka lived, making his abode beside the same pool.
One day, this crow was seeking food about the pool. He saw how Vīraka went down into it, and made a meal off some fish; and afterwards came up out of the water again, and stood drying his feathers. "Under the wing of that crow," thought he, "plenty of fish are to be got. I will become his servant." So he drew near.
"What is it, Sir?" asked Vīraka.
"I want to be your servant, my lord!" was the reply.
Vīraka agreed, and from that time the other served him. And from that time, Vīraka used to eat enough fish to keep him alive, and the rest he gave to Saviṭṭhaka as soon as he had caught them; and when Saviṭṭhaka had eaten enough to keep him alive, he gave what was over to his wife.
After a while pride came into his heart. "This crow," said he, "is black, and so am I: in eyes and beak and feet, too, there is no difference between us. I don't want his fish; I will catch my own!" So he told Vīraka that for the future he intended to go down to the water and catch fish himself. Then Vīraka said, "Good friend, you do not belong to a  tribe of such crows as are born to go into water and catch fish. Don't destroy yourself!
But in spite of this attempt to dissuade him, Saviṭṭhaka did not take the warning to heart. Down he went to the pool, down into the water; but he could not make his way through the weeds and come out again — there he was, entangled in the weeds, with only the tip of his beak appearing above the water. So not being able to breathe he perished there beneath the water.
 His mate noticed that he did not return, and went to Vīraka to ask news of him. "My lord," she asked, "Saviṭṭhaka is not to be seen: where is he?" And as she asked him this, she repeated the first stanza:
"O have you seen Saviṭṭhaka, O Vīraka, have you seen
My sweet-voiced mate whose neck is like the peacock in its sheen?"
When Vīraka heard it, he replied, "Yes, I know where he is gone," and recited the second stanza:—
"He was not born to dive beneath the wave,
But what he could not do he needs must try;
So the poor bird has found a watery grave,
Entangled in the weeds, and left to die."
When the Lady-crow heard it, weeping, she returned to Benares.
After this discourse was ended, the Master identified the Birth: "Devadatta was then incarnate as Saviṭṭhaka, and I myself was Vīraka."
 Sāriputta and Moggallāna visited the arch-heretic to try if they could win back his followers to the Master. The story of their visit, and how it succeeded, is told in the Vinaya, Cullavagga, vii. 4 foll. (translated in S. B. E., Vinaya Texts, iii. 256). See also vol. i. no. 11.