Vattaka Jataka

Once upon a time in this selfsame spot in Magadha, it was as a quail that the Bodhisatta came to life once more. Breaking his way out of the shell of the egg in which he was born, he became a young quail, about as big as a large ball. And his parents kept him lying in the nest, while they fed him with food which they brought in their beaks. In himself, he had not the strength either to spread his wings and fly through the air, or to lift his feet and walk upon the ground. Year after year that spot was always ravaged by a jungle-fire; and it was just at this time that the flames swept down on it with a mighty roaring. The flocks of birds, darting from their several nests, were seized with the fear of death, and flew shrieking away. The father and mother of the Bodhisatta were as frightened as the others and flew away, forsaking the Bodhisatta. Lying there in the nest, the Bodhisatta stretched forth his neck, and seeing the flames spreading towards him, he thought to himself, “Had I the power to put forth my wings and fly, I would wing my way hence to safety; or, if I could move my legs and walk, I could escape elsewhere afoot. Moreover, my parents, seized with the fear of death, are fled away to save themselves, leaving me here quite alone in the world. I am without protector or helper. What, then, shall I do this day?”

Then this thought came to him:- “In this world there exists what is termed the Efficacy of Goodness, and what is termed the Efficacy of Truth. There are those who, through their having realized the Perfections in past ages, have attained beneath the Bo-tree to be All- Enlightened; who, having won Release by goodness, tranquility and wisdom, possess also discernment of the knowledge of such Release; [214] who are filled with truth, compassion, mercy, and patience; whose love embraces all creatures alike; whom men call omniscient Buddhas. There is an efficacy in the attributes they have won. And I too grasp one truth; I hold and believe in single principle in Nature. Therefore, it behoves me to call to mind the Buddhas of the past, and the Efficacy they have won, and to lay hold of the true belief that is in me touching the principle of Nature; and by an Act of Truth to make the flames go back, to the saving both of myself and of the rest of the birds.”

Therefore it has been said:-

There’s saving grace in Goodness in this world;

There’s truth, compassion, purity of life.

Thereby, I’ll work a matchless act of Truth

Remembering Faith’s might, and taking thought

On those who triumphed in the days gone by,

Strong in the truth, an Act Truth I wrought.

Accordingly, the Bodhisatta, calling to mind the efficacy of the Buddhas long since past away, performed an Act of Truth in the name of the true faith that was in him, repeating this stanza:-

With wings that fly not, feet that walk not yet,

Forsaken by my parents, here I lie!

Wherefore I conjure thee, dread Lord of Fire,

Primaeval Jataveda, turn! Go back!

Even as he performed his Act of Truth, Jataveda went back a space of sixteen lengths; and in going back the flames did not pass away to the forest devouring everything in their path. No; they went out there and then, like a torch plunged in water. Therefore it has been said:-

[215] I wrought my Act of Truth, and therewithal

The sheet of blazing fire left sixteen lengths

Unscathed, like flames by water met and quenched.

And as that spot escaped being wasted by fire throughout a whole the miracle is called an ‘eon- miracle.’ When his life closed, the Bodhisatta who had performed this Act of Truth, passed away to fare according to his deserts.

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