Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a bird and lived round a giant tree with branching boughs, at the head of a company of birds. Now one day, as the boughs of this tree were grinding one against the other, dust began to fall soon followed by smoke. When the Bodhisatta became aware of this, he thought to himself:- “If these two boughs go on grinding against one another like this, they will produce fire; and the fire will fall and catch hold of the old leaves, and so come to set fire to this tree as well. We cannot live on here; the proper thing to do is to hasten off elsewhere.” And he repeated this stanza to the company of birds:-
He denizens of air, that in these boughs
Have sought a lodging, mark the seeds of fire
This earthborn tree is breeding! Safety seek
In flight! our trusted stronghold harbours death!
The wiser birds who followed the Bodhisatta’s counsels, at once rose up in the air and went elsewhere in his company. But the foolish ones said, “It is always like this with him; he’s always seeing crocodiles in a drop of water.” And they, heeding not the Bodhisatta’s words, stopped where they were. In a very short time, just as the Bodhisatta had foreseen, flames really did break out, and the tree caught fire. When the smoke and flame arose, the birds, blinded by the smoke, were unable to get away; one by one they dropped into the flames and were destroyed.