The Wise Quail
Tell me a story...
Once, the Buddha was a wise quail, the leader of a flock. One day, a hunter came into the forest. Imitating the quails' own calls, he began to trap unwary birds. The wise quail noticed that something was amiss. Calling his flock together, he announced, “My fellow quail, I am afraid that there is a hunter in our forest. Many of our brothers and sisters are missing. We must be alert. Danger is all around us. Still, if we work together we can stay free. Please listen to my plan. If you should hear a whistling call—twe whee! twe whee! twe wheel—as if a brother or sister were calling, be very watchful! If you follow that call, you may find darkness descending upon you.
"Your wings may be pinned so that you cannot fly, and the fear of death may grip your heart. If these things happen, just understand that you have been trapped by the hunter's net and do not give up! Remember, if you work together you can be free. Now, this is my plan. You must stick your heads out through webs of the net and, then, you must all flap your wings together. As a group, though you are still bound in the net, you will rise up into the air. Fly to a bush. Let the net drape on the branches of the bush so you can each drop to the ground, and fly away from under the net, this way and that, to freedom. Do you understand? Can you do this?”
“We do understand,” answered all the quail as one, “and we will do it! We will work together and be free.”
Hearing this, the wise quail was content. The very next day a group of quail were pecking on the ground when they heard a long whistling call. “Twe whee! twe whee! twe whee!” It was the cry of a quail in distress! Off they rushed. Suddenly darkness descended on them and their wings were pinned. They had indeed been trapped by the hunter's net. But, remembering the wise quail's words, they did not panic. Sticking their heads out through the webs of the net they flapped their wings together, harder and harder and slowly, slowly, with the net still draped upon them, they rose, as a group, through the air. They flew to a bush. They dropped down through the bush, leaving the net hung on the outer branches, then flew away, each in their own direction, this way and that, to freedom.
The plan had worked! They were safe! They had escaped from the jaws of death. And, oh, they were happy!
But the hunter was not happy. He could not understand how the quail had escaped him. And this happened not just once, but many times. At last, the hunter realized the truth. “Why,” he said, amazed, “those quail are cooperating! They are working together! But it can't last. They are only birds, featherbrains after all. Sooner or later they will argue. And when they do, I shall have them.” And so, he was patient.
Now, the wise quail had had the same thought. Sooner or later the birds of his flock would begin to argue, and when that happened they would be lost. So he decided to take them deeper into the forest, far from their present danger.
That very day something happened to confirm the wise quail's thought. A quail was pecking on the ground for seeds when another bird of the flock, descending rapidly, accidentally struck it with its wing-tip. “Hey! Watch it, stupid!” called the first quail, in anger.
“Stupid is it?” responded the newly-landed quail, flustered because he had been careless, “Why are you so high and mighty? You were too dumb to move out of my way! Yes, you were too dumb, you dumb cluck!”
“Dumb cluck is it?” cried the first quail, “Dumb cluck? Why, talking of dumb, it's clear that you can't even land without slapping someone in the face! If that isn't ‘dumb,’ I don't know what is! Who taught you to fly anyway—the naked-winged bats?”
“Bats is it?” yelled the second quail, enraged, “Bats? Why, I'll give you a bat, you feathered ninny!” And with a loud chirruping whistle he hurled himself straight at the other quail. Chasing furiously after one another, loudly hurling insults and threats back and forth, they flew, twisting and turning, between the great, silent trees of the grove. An argument had started and, as is the way of arguments, no end was in sight.
The wise quail was nearby and he heard it all. At once he knew that danger was again upon them. If they could not work together the hunter was sure to have them. So again he called his flock together and said, “My dear brother and sister quail. The hunter is here. Let us go elsewhere, deeper into the forest and there, in seclusion, discipline ourselves, practicing our skills in working together. In this way we shall become truly free from the danger.”
Many of the birds said, “Though we love our present home, we shall go with you, Wise Quail. The danger is great and we wish to find safety.”
But others said, “Why go from this pleasant spot? You yourself, Wise Quail, have taught us all we need to know in order to be free. We know what to do. We just have to stick our heads out, flap our wings together, and fly away. Any dumb cluck can do it! We're going to stay.”
So some of the birds flew off with the wise quail, while the others stayed. A few days later, while some of those who stayed were scratching around for their dinner, they heard a whistling call. “Twe whee! twe whee! twe whee!” They ran to answer the call when suddenly, darkness descended upon them. Fear gripped their hearts. They were trapped in the hunter's net! But, remembering the wise quail's teaching, they stuck their heads through the net, and one bird said, “On the count of three we all flap. Ready? One two, three…”
“Hey!” called another bird, “Who made you boss? Who said you could give the orders?”
“I'm the hardest worker and the strongest,” said the first bird. “When I flap my wings, the dust rises from the earth and whirls up in clouds. Without me you'd never get this net off the ground. So I give the orders, see?”
“No, I don't see!” shouted another bird. “What you've just described is nothing. Why, when I flap my wings, all the leaves move on the trees, the branches bend and even the trunks sway. That's how strong I am. So if anyone should be giving orders around here it's me!”
“No, me!” shouted a third bird.
“Me!” yelled a fourth.
“No! No! Listen to me!” screamed the first bird again above the rising din. “Flap Flap! Flap! I tell you. Flap your wings all together when I say ‘three!’”
But no one flapped. They just argued and argued. And as they argued, the hunter came along and found them and their fate, alas, was not a happy one. But the quail who had gone off deeper into the safety of the great forest learned, under the wise quail's guidance, how to really cooperate. They practiced constantly, until they were, indeed, able to work together without anger or argument. Though the hunter tried many times to catch them he never could. And if he never caught them, why, they're still free today.
“The Wise Quail.” Martin, Rafe. The Hungry Tigress: Buddhist Legends and Jataka Tales. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, ©1990 .
Used with the permission of Parallax Press.www.parallax.org
“Reprinted from The Hungry Tigress (1990) by Rafe Martin with permission of Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.”