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The Quails and the Net

A fairly well-known Jataka tale, but in the West the story is rarely told with the framing story. Even though this story is not a finished draft, because it contains the framing story I feel it is worth making available on this Web site. Source: Jataka tale no. 33, Cowell translation.


Gautama Buddha was a great holy man who lived long, long ago in India. He was so wise that people came from far and wide to learn from him. Many of these people stayed with him, and became his disicples, or followers.

Once upon a time, Buddha noticed that several of his disciples were spending a great deal of time arguing among themselves. As a result, these disciples began to disturb the other people who had come to learn from Buddha. Not only that, but Buddha felt that because of their arguing, they were not making any progress toward becoming truly enlightened beings.

That evening, Buddha sat all his followers down together, and he told them this story:


"Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a large flock of quails in a forest. Now in near this very same forest there lived a hunter who made his living from capturing quails and selling tthem to people who wanted to eat them. Every day this hunter would slip quietly into the forest and sit hidden behind a big bush. Then he would imitate the call of a quail. He did it so perfectly that the quail thought the hunter was one of them.

"Upon hearing the hunter's call, the quail would come out of the safe places where they had been gathering food. Once the quail came out into the open, the hunter would leap out from his hiding place and throw a big net over as many quails as he could reach. He would bundle up the net and take all the quail away to the marketplace to be sold to people who wanted to eat them for dinner.

"As you might expect, this state of affairs did not please the quail at all. In fact, they were scared silly because this hunter was capturing so many of them.

"The quail decided to hold a meeting to discuss the problem. One wise quail brought up a good point. She said:

"'You know, that net the hunter throws over us isn't very heavy. If we all agreed to work together, we could escape. As soon as he throws the net over us, if we all fly up together at the same time, we can lift the net up with us and get away.'

"The other quails thought this was a good plan. They all agreed to work together to escape the next time the hunter threw the net over them.

"The very next day, the hunter came back to the forest. He imitated the call of a quail so perfectly that all the quail were fooled again. Then he threw the net over as many quail as he could reach, expecting to bundle them up as always.

"But this time the quail who were caught under the net knew what to do. Instantly, before the hunter could bundle them up, they all flew up in the air together. They lifted the net up with them, and settled down together into a nearby rose bush. The net got tangled up in the thorns of the rose bush, and the quail scurried away to safety.

"The hunter was left to pick his net out of the sharp thorns. After hours of work, he finally untangled his net, and walked home, tired and discouraged.

"The next day, the hunter came back to try his luck again. He gave his imitation of the quail's call. All the quail came running. When they felt the net settle over them, they instantly began to fly to a nearby patch of brambles. They settled down into the brambles leaving the net cuaght on the sharp thorns. Once again, the hunter was left to untangle his net from the sharp thorns.

"This went on for some days. The hunter was growing more and more discouraged. Finally, one day the hunter came back into the forest, gave his perfect imitation of the quail's call, and threw his net over the quail when they came out into the open.

"But this time, when it came time for all the quail to fly up together, one quail happened to step on the foot of another quail.

"'Hey,' said the second quail, 'who kicked me?

"'Nobody kicked you,' said a third, 'It's just your imagination.'

"Yet a fourth quail said, 'Oh, he's just ocmplaing because he's lazy. he never lifts his share of the net.'

"Still another quail said, 'And who are you to talk? Yesterday I noticed that you did very little of the flying, leaving all the hard work to the rest of us.'

"As the quail fought and bickered among themselves, the hunter bundled them up in his net and carried them off to market. They were all fat, plump quails, and the hunter got a very good price for them."


The followers of Buddha listened very carefully. They all believed that they had lived many lives in the past, sometimes as animals and sometimes as humans. The Buddha told them that the story of the quails was really a story of them in one of their past lives.

"When you were on this earth as quails," said the Buddha, "you argued among yourselves, and were caught by the hunter, and were eaten for dinner that very night. You are no longer quails. Is it not time for you to stop arguing among yourselves?"

The disciples who had been arguing so much grew embarrassed and ashamed, and from that day on, so it is told, they no longer engaged in silly arguments.