"The earth-born tree."--This the Master told when at Jetavana, about a monk whose hut was burned.
A certain monk, says the tradition, received from the Teacher a subject for meditation, and leaving Jetavana, took up his abode in a dwelling in a forest near a border village, belonging to the people of Kosala.
Now in the very first month his hut was burned down; and he told the people, saying, "My hut is burnt down, and I live in discomfort."
"Our fields are all dried up now," said they; "we must first irrigate the lands." When they were well muddy, "We must sow the seed," said they. When the seed was sown, "We must put up the fences," was the excuse. When the fences were up, they declared, "There will be cutting, and reaping, and treading-out to do." And thus, telling first of one thing to be done and then of another, they let three months slip by.
The monk passed the three months in discomfort in the open air, and concluded his meditation, but could not bring the rest of his religious exercise to completion. So when Lent was over he returned to the Teacher, and saluting him, took his seat respectfully on one side.
The Teacher bade him welcome, and then asked him, "Well, brother, have you spent Lent in comfort? Have you brought your meditation to its conclusion?"
He told him what had happened, and said, "As I had no suitable lodging, I did not fully complete the meditation."
"Formerly, monk," said the Teacher, "even animals were aware what was suitable for them, and what was not. Why did not you know it?"
And he told a tale.
"Long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisattva came to life again as a bird, and lived a forest life, attended by a flock of birds, near a lofty tree, with branches forking out on every side.
"Now one day dust began to fall as the branches of the tree rubbed one against another. Then smoke began to rise. The Bodhisattva thought, on seeing this,--
"'If these two branches go on rubbing like that they will send out sparks of fire, and the fire will fall down and seize on the withered leaves; and the tree itself will soon after be consumed. We can't stop here; we ought to get away at once to some other place.' And he addressed the flock in this verse:
"'The earth-born tree, on which
"Then such of the birds as were wise, and hearkened to the voice of the Bodhisattva, flew up at once with him into the air, and went elsewhere. But such as were foolish said one to another, 'Just so! Just so! He's always seeing crocodiles in a drop of water!' And paying no attention to what he said, they stopped there.
"And not long afterwards fire was produced precisely in the way the Bodhisattva had foreseen, and the tree caught fire. And smoke and flames rising aloft, the birds were blinded by the smoke; they could not get away, and one after another they fell into the fire, and were burnt to death!"
When the Teacher had finished this discourse with the words, "Thus formerly, monk, even the birds dwelling on the tree-tops knew which place would suit them and which would not. How is it that you knew it not?" he proclaimed the Truths. At the conclusion of the Truths the monk was established in Conversion. And the Teacher made the connection, and summed up the Jataka, "The birds who at that time listened to the voice of the Bodhisattva were the followers of the Buddha, but the Wise Bird was I myself."