Once upon a time, the Buddha was born as a crow. He grew up, and became king of eighty thousand crows. He had a chief mate, crowned as crow queen and also had a chief captain crow. One day he and his mate in search of food passed over the king’s kitchen.
The king’s cook had been preparing a host of dishes, of all sorts of fish, and he had uncovered the dishes for a moment, to cool them. Queen Crow smelt the odor of the food and craved for a taste. But that day she said nothing.
However the next day, when king crow proposed that they should go a feeding, she said, “Go by yourself: there’s something I really want!”
“What is it?” asked he.
“I want some of the king’s food to eat; and if I can’t get it, I am going to die.”
The crow sat down to think. His chief captain approached and asked if anything had displeased him. King crow told him what it was. “Oh, that’ll be all right,” said the captain; and reassured them both: “you stay where you are today, and I’ll fetch the meal.”
So he gathered the crows together, and told them the matter. “Now come, and let’s get it!” said he; and off they all flew together to the castle. He posted them in companies here and there, near the kitchen to watch; and he, with eight assistants, sat on the kitchen roof. While waiting for the king’s food to be served, he gave his directions to these: “When the food is taken up, I’ll make the man drop the dishes. Once that is done there’s an end of me. So four of you must fill your mouths with the rice, and four with the fish, and feed our royal pair with them; and if they ask where I am, say I’m coming.”
Well, the cook got his various dishes all ready and brought them to the king’s rooms. As he passed through the court, the crow captain with a signal to his followers flew and settled upon the carrier’s chest, struck him with extended claws, with his beak, sharp as a spear-point, pecked the end of the man’s nose.
The king was walking up and down upon an upper floor, when looking out of a large window he saw what the crow was doing. He hailed the carrier: “Catch the crow!” The man dropped the dishes and caught the crow tight.
“Come here!” cried the king.
Then the crows ate all they wanted, and picked up the rest as they had been told, and carried it off. Next all the others flocked up, and ate what remained. The eight assistant crows gave it to their king and queen to eat. The craving of queen crow was appeased.
The servant who was carrying the dinner brought the crow to the king.
“O Crow!” said he, “you have shown no respect for me! You have broken my servant’s nose! You have smashed my dishes! You have recklessly thrown away your life! What made you do such things?”
The crow answered: “O great king! Our king lives nearby, and I am captain of his forces. His wife had a great longing, and wanted a taste of your food. Our king told me what she craved. At once I devoted my life. Now I have sent her the food; my desire is accomplished. This is the reason why I acted as I did.”
When the king heard this, he said: “We do great honor to men, and yet cannot make friends of them. Even though we make presents of such things as a whole village, we can find no one willing to give his life for us. But this creature, crow as he is, sacrifices life for his king. He is very noble, sweet-speaking, and good.” He was so pleased with the crow’s good qualities that he bestowed honors upon him and released him.
The queen crow was later to become the Buddha’s wife and the chief crow captain: Shariputra. The king was Ananda.