Gateway to the Classics: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock
Eastern Stories and Legends by  Marie L. Shedlock

The Parrot That Fed His Parents

N OW it came to pass that the Buddha was re-born in the shape of a Parrot, and he greatly excelled all other parrots in his strength and beauty. And when he was full grown his father, who had long been the leader of the flock in their flights to other climes, said to him: "My son, behold my strength is spent! Do thou lead the flock, for I am no longer able." And the Buddha said: "Behold, tbou shalt rest. I will lead the birds." And the Parrots rejoiced in the strength of their new leader, and willingly did they follow him. Now from that day on, the Buddha undertook to feed his parents, and would not consent that they should do any more work. Each, day he led his flock to the Himalaya Hills, and when be had eaten his fill of the clumps of rice that grew there, he filled his beak with food for the dear parents who were waiting his return.

Now there was a man appointed to watch the rice-fields, and he did his best to drive the Parrots away, but there seemed to be some secret power in the leader of this flock which the Keeper could not overcome.

He noticed that the Parrots ate their fill and then flew away, but that the Parrot-King not only satisfied his hunger, but carried away rice in his beak.

Now he feared there would be no rice left, and he went to his master the Brahmin to tell him what had happened; and even as the master listened there came to him the thought that the Parrot-King was something higher than he seemed, and he loved him even before he saw him. But he said nothing of this, and only warned the Keeper that he should set a snare and catch the dangerous bird. So the man did as he was bidden: he made a small cage and set the snare, and sat down in his hut waiting for the birds to come. And soon he saw the Parrot-King amidst his flock, who, because he had no greed, sought no richer spot, but flew down to the same place in which he had fed the day before.

Now, no sooner had he touched the ground than he felt his feet caught in the noose. Then fear crept into his bird-heart, but a stronger feeling was there to crush it down, for he thought: "If I cry out the Cry of the Captured, my Kinsfolk will be terrified and the will fly away foodless. But if I lie still, then their hunger will be satisfied, and they may safely come to my aid." Thus was the Parrot both brave and prudent.

But alas! he did not know that his Kinsfolk had nought of his brave spirit. When they  had eaten their fill, though they heard the thrice-uttered cry of the captured, they flew away, nor heeded the sad plight of their leader.

Then was the heart of the Parrot-King sore within him, and he said: "All these my kith and kin, and not one to look back on me. Alas! what sin have I done?"

The Watchman now heard the cry of the Parrot-King, and the sound of the other Parrots flying through the air. "What is that?" he cried, and leaving his hut he came to the place where he had laid the snare. There he found the captive Parrot; he tied his feet together and brought him to the Brahmin, his master. Now, when the Brahmin saw the Parrot-King, he felt his strong power, and his heart was full of love to him, but he hid his feelings and said in a voice of anger: "Is thy greed greater than that of all other birds? They eat their fill, but thou takest away each day more food than thou canst eat. Doest thou this out of hatred for me, or dost thou store up the food in some granary for selfish greed?"

And the Great Being made answer in a sweet human voice: "I hate thee not, O Brahmin. Nor do I store the rice in a granary for selfish greed. But this thing I do, Each day I pay a debt which is due—each day I grant a loan, and each day I store up a treasure."

Now the Brahmin could not understand the words of the Buddha (because true wisdom had not entered his heart), and he said: "I pray thee, O Wondrous Bird, to make these words clear unto me."

And then the Parrot-King made answer: "I carry food to my ancient parents who can no longer seek that food for themselves: thus I pay my daily debt. I carry food to my callow chicks whose wings are yet ungrown. When I am old they will care for me—this my loan to them. And for other birds, weak and helpless of wing, who need the aid of the strong, for them I lay up a store; to these I give in charity."

Then was the Brahmin much moved, and showed the love that was in his heart. "Eat thy fill, O Righteous Bird, and let thy Kinsfolk eat too, for thy sake." And he wished to bestow a thousand acres of land upon him, but the Great Being would only take a tiny portion round which were set boundary stores.

And the Parrot returned with a head of rice, and said: "Arise, dear Parents, that I may take you to a place of plenty." And he told them the story of his deliverance.

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