Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “story of the pheasant extinguishing a jungle fire” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Story of the pheasant extinguishing a jungle fire

There was once a jungle fire consuming the forest in which there lived a [179a] pheasant (kapiñjala) who used his strength to fly to some water, moisten his down and his feathers and return to extinguish the fire. The blaze was violent and the water [that he poured over it] was small in amount; but the pheasant did not find discouraging the fatigue of flying there and back.

Then the god Ti che (Śakra) came and asked the pheasant: “What are you doing there?”

The pheasant answered:

“I want to save this forest, for I have pity for living beings. This forest is shady, vast in extent, fresh and pleasant. The animals of my kind, my relatives and all the living beings are fond of it. I have the strength; why would I be lazy (kusīda) in saving it?”

The king of the gods asked him: “How long will you continue your effort?”

The pheasant answered: “I will continue until death.”

The king of the gods continued: “Who knows with certainty that that is indeed your intention?”

Then the pheasant made the following vow (praṇidhāna):

“If my heart is sincere and my faith true, may this fire be extinguished.”

At once, a god of the pure abodes (śuddhāvāsadeva) heard the ardent vow of the bodhisattva and extinguished the fire. From early times until today, it is the only forest that is always flowering and is spared by fires.

Notes on this story:

The bird’s actions are told, with some variants, in Seng k’ie lo tch’a so tsi king, T 194, k. 1, p. 120a–b; Tsa pao tsang king, T 203, k. 2, p. 455a–b; Kieou tsa p’i yu king, T 206, k. 1, p. 515a (tr. Chavannes, Contes, I, p. 385–386); Hiuan tsang, Si yu ki, T 2087, k. 6, p. 903b–c (tr. Beal, II, p. 33–34; Watters, II, p. 29); King liu yi siang, T 2121, K. 11, p. 60b–c.

Iconography: Ecke-Demiéville, Twin Pagodas, p. 61 and pl. 40, 3.

In the Mppś and the Si yu ki, the bird is a pheasant (kapiñjala); elsewhere it is a parrot (śuka). According to T 203, the fire broke out because two bamboos, shaken by the wind, caught on fire by friction; the parrot was called Houan hi cheou (76 and 18; 30 and 9; 185) which may be restored in the Sanskrit as Nandikaśīrṣa. According to Hiuan tsang, it was not a Śuddhāvāsadeva who extinguished the fire, but Śakra himself; he took a little water in the hollow of his hand and poured it onto the fire; the stūpa commemorating the action of the bird was in the neighborhood of Kuśinagara, close to the place where the Buddha entered into nirvāṇa.