Blue class, fall session

In the fall, Blue class will use Harmony: A Treasury of Chinese Wisdom by Sarah Conover and Chen Hui; Katha Sagar, Ocean Stories: Hindu Wisdom by Sarah Conover and Abhi Janamanchi; and Tales from the Jatakas, comic book by Amar Chitra Kathar Publishing (Mumbai, India).

Table of contents

Sep 13, 20 — Getting to know you games
Sep 20, 20 — Katha Sagar: Stories of the big questions — The Miracle of the Banyan Tree; Brahma and Vishnu; and The Egg of the Universe
Sep 27, 20 — Harmony: Pulling Up Sprouts To Help Them Grow (paired with Tales from the Jatakas: The Monkeys and the Gardener)
Oct 4, 20 — Tales from the Jatakas: The Greedy Forester
Oct 18, 20 — Katha Sagar: The Dhoti
Oct 25, 20 — Harmony: Studying How To Walk in Handan
Nov 1, 20 — Tales from the Jatakas: The Brave Quail

———

Sep 13, 20 — Getting to know you games

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

About five minutes after the start time, begin the chalice lighting. You can light an actual chalice, have one of the children on the call light a chalice, or do a virtual chalice (everyone puts their palms together, hands pointing up, then waves fingers like a flame). Say the usual chalice lighting words: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism — the church of the open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.”

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

GAmes to play:

Click here for games to play on Zoom.

Closing:

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

———

Sep 20, 20 — Katha Sagar: Stories of the big questions

Preparation:

If you have time before class, get a piece of fruit that you can cut up to show the class when you tell the story “The Banyan Tree.” Almost any kind of fruit will do.

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

First story and discussion:

This week, we have three stories about Really Big Questions from Katha Sagar.

Read aloud “The Miracle of the Banyan Tree,” pp. 9-10. If you have a piece of fruit, you can get the seeds and take one apart to show the children, just like the child in the story takes apart the seeds. Note that when translated into English, this deity’s name is sometimes spelled Brahma and sometimes Brahman, with a terminal “n”; adding the terminal “n” helps to distinguish Brahman, the transcendent Ultimate Reality, from Brahma, the four-headed creator god.

Most UU kids will know something about DNA, and they may want to argue with this story, along the lines of: “It’s not Brahman in the seed that makes the tree grow, it’s DNA.” However, that misses the point of the story. First of all, DNA by itself will not grow into a tree; you also need soil, water, sunlight, etc.

Trees also require an ecosystem around them to help them grow, e.g., many trees require a symbiotic relationship with a fungus (called a “mycorrhiza”); also trees require pollinators in order to create seeds, etc. In short, a tree requires an entire ecosystem to grow. In the story, the father says that Brahman is everywhere. So you could ask the children — Is Brahman like the ecosystem? Is Brahman like what we UUs call “the interdependent Web of all existence”?

You might also want to make the point that when we speak of “God” in the U.S., we usually think of the Christian God, which is usually understood to be a white man with a beard floating on a cloud. But Brahman — distinguished from the God Brahma, who has four heads — is not a god, so much as the ultimate reality. So you have to be careful when you say the word “God.” What do you mean when you say the name “God” — do you mean the Christian god? — do you mean Brahman, the Ultimate Reality? — do you mean Brahma, the four-headed god who created the Three Worlds? — or do you mean some other god, such as the Jewish god (also called both Adonai and Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible), or the Muslim god (also 99 other names), or what?

Further reading for teachers: If you’re interested in learning more about different conceptions of “God,” the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a helpful essay titled “Concepts of God”; this article discusses several Indian conceptions of “Brahman” in section 1, “Ultimate Concern and Maximal Greatness.” Full article here.

Banyan tree fruit, from Wikipedia CC BY SA 3.0 Adityamadhav83.

Second story and discussion

Now read Brahma and Vishnu, pp. 13-14 in Katha Sagar.

In this story, point out to the children that although Brahma is the creator of the world, Vishnu also existed before the worlds were created. Also point out that, unlike the Christian creator god, Brahma has four heads with black beards; however, both the Christian creator god and Brahma are both male.

Questions for discussion:
Is this story more like poetry, or more like science?
For some people who understand this story more like a poem, this is story is full of meaning. What meaning can you find in this story?

Brahman, who has four heads and looks nothing like the Christian god. Public domain image from Wikipedia.

Third story and discussion:

Read aloud “The Egg of the Universe,” pp. 16-17 in Katha Sagar.

Here’s an interesting thought — This story sounds a little like the Big Bang theory, because there’s a sort of blob of something that starts to grow and expand, and then it turns into the present universe. What do you think — does this sound like the Big Bang to you?

In fact, there are other myths about the beginning of the universe that sort of sound like the Big Bang. Some philosophers have suggested that the Big Bang theory was actually influenced by some of these old myths.

Further reading for teachers: Back in 1984, the scientist Hannes Alfvén gave a paper “Cosmology: Myth or Science?” in which he argued that “there has been — and will perhaps always be — an oscillation between mythological and scientific approaches” in the scientific study of cosmology. He further documented what he felt was a mythical orientation in the cosmology of 1984: “In a true dialectic sense it is the triumph of science which has released the forces which now once again seem to make myths more powerful than science and causes a ‘scientific creationism’ inside academia itself.” In essence, Alfvén is making the argument that the Big Bang theory may owe more to religious myth than to scientific experimentation.

Since 1984, additional research seems to provide additional experimental grounding for the Big Bang Theory. However, the philosopher Evan Thompson points out: “When science steps back from experimentation in order to give meaning to its results in terms of grand stories about where we come from and where we’re going — the narratives of cosmology and evolution — it cannot help but become a mythic form of meaning-making and typically takes the structures of its narratives from religion” (Why I Am Not a Buddhist, p. 18). Thompson goes a little further than Alfvén, arguing that any grand story, including the Big Bang Theory, necessarily leaves the realm of science and enters the realm of myth-making.

Additional activity:

With the three stories, there’s probably enough content to fill 45 minutes. If you need more to fill the time — click here for games to play on Zoom.

Closing:

Do a quick review of the session. Ask the children:
What stories did we hear today?
What would you say was the main point of each story?
What part did you like best?

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

———

Sep 27, 20 — Harmony: Pulling Up Sprouts To Help Them Grow

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

About five minutes after the start time, begin the chalice lighting. You can light an actual chalice, have one of the children on the call light a chalice, or do a virtual chalice (everyone puts their palms together, hands pointing up, then waves fingers like a flame). Say the usual chalice lighting words: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism — the church of the open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.”

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

Story:

Read aloud the story “Pulling Up Sprouts To Help Them Grow” in Harmony, pp. 12-13.

Discussion topic:

This story is really about how to cultivate your “heart-mind” or xin. (Chinese thinkers, unlike Westerners, tend to think of the heart and mind as one thing.) So the story is saying that growing a good heart-mind is like growing corn — you don’t pull it up to try to make it grow taller more quickly. So what DO you do to make corn grow more quickly? Water it, give it fertilizer, weed it, and so on. Well then, what do you do to make your heart and mind grow more quickly?

activity:

Compare this story to “The Monkey and the Gardener,” in Tales from Jatakas, pp. 28-32. You can either read aloud from the comic book, or read the text version of the story below.

Text version of The Monkey & the Gardener:

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, a festival was proclaimed in the city; and at the first notes of the summoning drums, all the townsfolk came pouring into the city to keep holiday.

Now in those days, a tribe of monkeys was living in the king’s beautiful pleasure-garden. The king’s gardener thought to himself, “Everyone else is having a lovely holiday in the city, and I would like to go, too. I’ll get the monkeys to do the watering for me, and be off to enjoy myself with the rest.” So the king’s gardener went to the king of the monkeys. He pointed out to the monkey-king all the benefits his majesty and his monkey subjects enjoyed from living in the pleasure-garden, with the beautiful flowers, and with all the fruit and young shoots to eat. Then the gardener said, “Today there’s a holiday in the city, and I’m off to enjoy myself. Couldn’t you please water the young trees while I’m away?”

“Oh! yes,” said the monkey.

“Only mind you do,” said the gardener. And off he went, giving the monkeys the water-skins and wooden watering-pots to do the work with.

Then the monkeys took the water-skins and watering pots, and fell to watering the young trees. “But we must mind not to waste the water,” observed their king. “As you water, first pull each young tree up and look at the size of its roots. Then give plenty of water to those whose roots strike deep, but only a little to those with tiny roots. When this water is all gone, we shall be hard put to it to get more.”

“To be sure,” said the other monkeys, and did as he told them.

At this moment, a certain wise man, seeing the monkeys thus engaged, asked them why they pulled up tree after tree and watered them according to the size of their roots.

“Because such are our king’s commands,” answered the monkeys.

Their reply moved the wise man to reflect how, with every desire to do good, the ignorant and foolish only succeed in doing harm. And he recited this stanza:

Only knowledge leads to success.
Fools are thwarted by foolishness:
So the monkeys, as you see,
Have gone and killed the garden trees.

With this rebuke to the king of the monkeys, the wise man departed with his followers from the pleasure-garden.

Ārāmadūsaka-Jātaka (no. 46), adapted from The Jataka, vol. I, tr. Robert Chalmers, ed. E. B. Cowell (1895).

Closing:

Do a quick review of the session. Ask the children:
What story did we hear today?
What would you say was the main point of the story?
What part did you like best?

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

Background information:

This story appears in the Chinese philosopher Menciusor Mengzi (fl. c. 315 BCE), as part of a larger discussion of how to cultivate your “heart-mind.” The passage comes from Mencius’s Gong Sun Chou I (also transliterated Kung-sun Ch’au). Mencius tells one of his students (James Legge translation):

13. ‘This is the passion-nature:– It is exceedingly great, and exceedingly strong. Being nourished by rectitude, and sustaining no injury, it fills up all between heaven and earth.

14. ‘This is the passion-nature:– It is the mate and assistant of righteousness and reason. Without it, man is in a state of starvation.

15. ‘It is produced by the accumulation of righteous deeds; it is not to be obtained by incidental acts of righteousness. If the mind does not feel complacency in the conduct, the nature becomes starved….

16. ‘There must be the constant practice of this righteousness, but without the object of thereby nourishing the passion-nature. Let not the mind forget its work, but let there be no assisting the growth of that nature. Let us not be like the man of Sung. There was a man of Sung, who was grieved that his growing corn was not longer, and so he pulled it up. Having done this, he returned home, looking very stupid, and said to his people, “I am tired to-day. I have been helping the corn to grow long.” His son ran to look at it, and found the corn all withered. There are few in the world, who do not deal with their passion-nature, as if they were assisting the corn to grow long. Some indeed consider it of no benefit to them, and let it alone:– they do not weed their corn. They who assist it to grow long, pull out their corn. What they do is not only of no benefit to the nature, but it also injures it.’

———

Oct 4, 20 — Tales from the Jatakas: The Greedy Forester

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

About five minutes after the start time, begin the chalice lighting. You can light an actual chalice, have one of the children on the call light a chalice, or do a virtual chalice (everyone puts their palms together, hands pointing up, then waves fingers like a flame). Say the usual chalice lighting words: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism — the church of the open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.”

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

Story and discussion:

The story is in “Elephant Stories,” Tales from the Jataka, pp. 1-11 (Jataka no. 72, Sīlavanāga-Jātaka). You can choose to read aloud from the comic book, or from the text version of the story below (at the end of this session plan), adapted from The Jataka, vol. I, tr. Robert Chalmers, ed. E. B. Cowell (1895).

Questions for discussion:

(1) If you had to give a moral for this story, what would you say?

(2) Do you think the forester got what he deserved in the end?

(3) This is a Buddhist story, and many Buddhists believe that people are reborn many times; if you lead a good life, your next life will be a better situation. What do you think of this belief?

Enriching activity:

Closing:

Do a quick review of the session. Ask the children:
What story did we hear today?
What would you say was the main point of the story?
What part did you like best?

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

Text version of the story:

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Buddhat was born as an elephant in the Himalaya Mountains. When born, he was white all over, like a mighty mass of silver. His eyes were like diamond balls, his mouth was red like scarlet cloth; and his trunk was like silver flecked with red gold. When he grew up, all the elephants of the Himalayas followed him as their leader. Whilst he was dwelling in the Himalayas with a following of 80,000 elephants, the goodness of his life won him the name of Good King Elephant.

Now a forester of Benares came to the Himalayas, and made his way into that forest. Losing his bearings and his way, he roamed to and fro, stretching out his arms in despair and weeping, with the fear of death before his eyes. Hearing the man’s cries, Good King Elephant was moved with compassion and resolved to help him in his need. So he approached the man. But at sight of the elephant, off ran the forester in great terror.

Seeing him run away, Good King Elephant stood still, and this brought the man to a standstill too. Then Good King Elephant again advanced, and again the forester ran away, halting once more when Good King Elephant halted. The truth dawned on the forester that the elephant stood still when he himself ran, and only advanced when he himself was standing still. Consequently he concluded that the creature could not mean to hurt, but to help him. So he valiantly stood his ground this time.

Good King Elephant drew near and said, “Why, friend human, are you wandering about here crying out in sorrow?”

“My lord,” replied the forester, “I have lost my bearings and my way, and fear to perish.”

Then the elephant brought the man to his own dwelling, and there entertained him for some days, regaling him with fruits of every kind.

At last Good King Elephant said, “Fear not, friend man, I will bring you back to the haunts of humans.” And he seated the forester on his back and began walking.

At last the elephant brought him out of the forest and set him down on the high road to Benares, saying, “There lies your road, friend human: Tell no person, whether you are questioned or not, of the place of my abode.” And with this leave-taking, Good King Elephant made his way back to his own abode.

But the ungrateful forester thought to himself, that, if questioned, he ought to be able to tell what happened to him. He carefully noted all the landmarks of tree and hill, so he could find his way back again.

When the forester came to the city of Benares, he happened to pass the ivory-workers’ bazaar, where he saw ivory being worked into divers forms and shapes. And he asked the craftsmen whether they would give anything for the tusk of a living elephant.

“What makes you ask such a question?” was the reply. “A living elephant’s tusk is worth a great deal more than a dead one’s.”

“Oh, then, I’ll bring you some ivory,” said the ungrateful forester, and off he set for Good King Elephant’s dwelling, with provisions for the journey, and with a sharp saw.

When Good King Elephant saw the forester, he asked what had brought him back.

“Oh, I’m in so sorry and wretched a plight that I can not make a living anyhow,” said the forester. So he had come to ask for a bit of the kind elephant’s tusk to sell.

“Certainly,” said Good King Elephant. “I will give you a whole tusk, if you have a bit of a saw to cut it off with.”

“Oh, I brought a saw with me, sir.”

“Then saw my tusks off, and take them away with you,” said Good King Elephant. And he knelt down. Then the forester sawed off the pointed ends of Good King Elephant’s tusks.

When they were off, Good King Elephant took them in his trunk and thus addressed the man, “Think not, friend man, that it is because I value not nor prize these tusks that I give them to you. But a thousand times, a hundred-thousand times, dearer to me are the tusks of omniscience, the power which will allow me to know everything. And therefore may my gift of these to you bring me the tusks of omniscience.” With these words, he gave the pair of tusks to the forester as the price of omniscience.

The forester took the ivory tusks, and sold them. But he soon spent the money that he had received for the tusks, and when he had, back he came to Good King Elephant, saying that the two tusks had only brought him enough to pay his old debts, and begging for the rest of Good King Elephant’s ivory. Good King Elephant consented, and allowed the forester to cut off another third of his tusks.

And the forester went away and sold this also. Returning again, he said, “It’s no use, my lord; I can’t make a living anyhow. So give me the stumps of your tusks.”

“So be it,” answered Good King Elephant; and he lay down as before. Then that vile wretch — trampling upon the trunk of Good King Elephant, that sacred trunk which was like corded silver, and clambering upon the future Buddha’s temples, which were as the snowy crest of Mount Kelāsa — the ungrateful forester kicked at the roots of the tusks till he had cleared the flesh away. Then he sawed out the stumps and went his way.

But scarce had the wretch passed out of the sight of Good King Elephant, when the solid earth burst asunder and became a yawning hole, as if it could not bear to allow the evil forester to stand upon it! Then flames from the deepest Hell wrapped around the forester, and took him away.

And as the forester was swallowed up in the bowels of the earth, the Tree-spirit that dwelt in that forest spoke these words in a loud, ringing voice: “Not even the gift of worldwide empire can satisfy the thankless and ungrateful!” Then the Tree-Spirit went on to say, in such a loud voice that all the forest echoed with it:

“The more ungrateful people get, the more they want.
Not all the world can satisfy their appetite.”

As for Good King Elephant, he lived out his life, passing away at last, on to his next birth.

———

Oct 18, 20 — Katha Sagar: The Dhoti

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

About five minutes after the start time, begin the chalice lighting. You can light an actual chalice, have one of the children on the call light a chalice, or do a virtual chalice (everyone puts their palms together, hands pointing up, then waves fingers like a flame). Say the usual chalice lighting words: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism — the church of the open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.”

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

Story and discussion:

Read aloud “The Dhoti” on page 19 of Katha Sagar.

Questions for discussion:

(1) What do you think the moral of this story is?

(2) Do you think everyone should follow a simple holy life like the guru?

Explaining the four stages of life:

Many thinkers in India say that there are four stages of life (ashramas) for upper class male Hindus. In this story, the young man was in the first stage of life, the student, a young man who has gone to learn from a guru. The guru assumed that the young man would straight from Brahmacharya, his student years, to Sannyasa, or renunciate (see below).

These are the four stages:

(1) Brahmacharya — student, when a young man would go to a guru and learn about philosophy, Indian scriptures, science, etc. (Up to about age 25.)

(2) Grihastha — householder, when a man would marry and raise a family. (About age 25 to 45 or 50.)

(3) Vanaprastha — retired, or hermit, when an older man would turn over the management of his household to one of his sons, and turn his attention to spiritual matters. (About age 45 to 70.)

(4) Sannyasa — renunciate or holy man, where you give up all belongings and live a simply, holy life. Anyone could enter this stage of life at any time after completing their student years, if they chose — but most men choose to become householders, so this stage of life is often for people over age 70.

Image courtesy Brian Hoffert, North Central College, Naperville, IL.

Enriching activity:

Describe the activity.

Closing:

Do a quick review of the session. Ask the children:
What story did we hear today?
What would you say was the main point of the story?
What part did you like best?

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

———

Oct 25, 20 — Harmony: Studying How To Walk in Handan

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

About five minutes after the start time, begin the chalice lighting. You can light an actual chalice, have one of the children on the call light a chalice, or do a virtual chalice (everyone puts their palms together, hands pointing up, then waves fingers like a flame). Say the usual chalice lighting words: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism — the church of the open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.”

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

Story and discussion:

Read aloud “Studying How To Walk in Handan” from the book Harmony, pp. 30-31. (You can also show the Chinese saying that inspired this story.)

Enriching activity:

Here’s a video the shows what happens if everyone tries to improve the way they walk:

The famous Ministry of Silly Walks sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Note that there are, in fact, serious reasons to learn how to walk. For example, physical therapists teach people how to walk again after a serious injury or after surgery. There are also medical professionals who teach people how to walk correctly to prevent injuries, as in this video by a Toronto physiotherapist. But the young man who went to Handan to study how to walk is more like the people in Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly walks — they’re trying to make themselves look good, and just make themselves look silly.

Now ask if anyone in the class has a silly walk that they’d like to show off. Hey, maybe you could get a grant from the Ministry of Silly Walks to develop your silly walk!

Closing:

Do a quick review of the session. Ask the children:
What story did we hear today?
What would you say was the main point of the story?
What part did you like best?

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

———

Nov 1, 20 — Tales from the Jatakas: The Brave Quail

Opening:

Welcome children as you admit them from the waiting room.

About five minutes after the start time, begin the chalice lighting. You can light an actual chalice, have one of the children on the call light a chalice, or do a virtual chalice (everyone puts their palms together, hands pointing up, then waves fingers like a flame). Say the usual chalice lighting words: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism — the church of the open minds, helping hands, and loving hearts.”

Then do a check-in, where each child has a chance to say a good thing and a bad thing about the past week. Type the order of check-in into chat, and announce it aloud so everyone knows who goes first, second, and so on.

Story and discussion:

The story is in “Elephant Stories,” Tales from the Jataka, pp. 12-19 (Jataka no. 357, Laṭukika-Jātaka). You can choose to read aloud from the comic book, or from the text version of the story below (at the end of the session plan).

Discussion questions:

(1) Do you think the Rogue Elephant deserved what happened to him? Can you think of another way that the Brave Quail could have punished the Rogue Elephant?

(2) The Royal Elephant is supposed to be the Buddha in one of his previous lives. In that case, why didn’t the Buddha, the Royal Elephant, try to stop the Rogue Elephant?

(3) What’s the moral of the story? A Bangladeshi curriculum for grade 7 claims that the moral is: “Knowledge is more powerful than physical strength.” Do you agree with that moral? What other morals to this story can you find?

Another activity:

Instead of dwelling on this story, how about playing a game or two? Click here for games to play on Zoom.

Closing:

Do a quick review of the session. Ask the children:
What story did we hear today?
What would you say was the main point of the story?
What part did you like best?

Say the unison benediction together:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

Text version of the story:

Adapted from The Jataka, vol. III, tr. by H.T. Francis and R.A. Neil, ed. E. B. Cowell (1897).

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Buddha came to life as a young elephant, and growing up a fine comely beast, he became the leader of the herd, with a following of eighty thousand elephants, and dwelt in the Himalaya Mountains.

At that time, there was a quail who laid her eggs in the feeding-ground of the elephants. When the eggs were ready to be hatched, the young birds broke the shells and came out. Before their wings had grown, and when they were still unable to fly, the Royal Elephant came to this very spot, with his following of eighty thousand elephants, looking about for food.

On seeing them the quail thought, “This royal elephant will trample on my young ones and kill them. Lo! I will implore his righteous protection for the defense of my children.” Then she raised her two wings and standing before him repeated the first stanza:—

Elephant of sixty years,
Forest lord amongst thy peers,
I am but a puny bird,
You a leader of the herd;
With my wings I homage pay,
Spare my little ones, I pray.

The Royal Elephant said, “O quail, be not troubled. I will protect your children.” And he stood over the young birds, while the eighty thousand elephants passed by. But when they had gone by, he said, “Behind us comes a solitary rogue elephant. He will not do our bidding. When he comes, you will have to ask him too, and so insure the safety of your children.” And with these words, the Royal Elephant left.

And the quail went forth to meet the other elephant, and with both wings uplifted, making respectful salutation, she said:

Roaming over hill and dale
Cherishing thy lonely way,
Thee, O forest king, I hail,
And with wings my homage pay.
I am but a wretched quail,
Spare my tender brood to slay.

On hearing her words, the Rogue Elephant said:

I will slay thy young ones, quail;
What can your poor help avail?
My left foot can crush with ease
Many thousand birds like these.

And so saying, with his foot he crushed the young birds to atoms, and stamping over them, washed them away in a flood of water, and went off loudly trumpeting.

The quail sat down on the bough of a tree and said, “Then be off with you and trumpet away. You shall very soon see what I will do. You little know what a difference there is between strength of body and strength of mind. Well! I will teach you this lesson.” And thus threatening him she said:

Power abused is not all gain,
Power is often folly’s bane.
Beast that didst my young ones kill,
I will work thee mischief still.

Shortly afterwards, the brave quail did a good turn to a crow.

The crow, who was highly pleased, asked, “What can I do for you?”

The quail said, “I ask you to strike with your beak and to peck out the eyes of the Rogue Elephant.”

The crow readily agreed. Next, the quail a good turn to a blue fly.

The blue fly asked, “What can I do for you?”

The quail said, “When the eyes of this rogue elephant have been put out by the crow, then I want you to lay your eggs in them.”

The blue fly agreed. Next, the quail did a kindness to a frog.

The frog asked, “What can I do for you?”

The brave quail said, “When this rogue elephant becomes blind, and it searches for water to drink, then take your stand and utter a croak on the top of a mountain, so it will think you are in a pond and will walk towards you to find water. When the Rogue Elephant has climbed to the top of the mountain, hop down and croak again at the bottom of the steep slope.”

And the frog readily agreed to help.

Then the crow with its beak pecked out both the eyes of the elephant, and the blue fly laid its eggs upon them, and the elephant being eaten up with maggots was maddened by the pain, and overcome with thirst wandered about seeking for water to drink. At this moment the frog standing on the top of a mountain uttered a croak. The Rogue Elephant, “There must be water there,” and climbed up the mountain.

Then the frog hopped down to the bottom of the steep slope, and standing at the bottom croaked again. The Rogue Elephant thought, “There will be water there” and moved forward towards the steep slope, and rolling over fell to the bottom of the mountain and was killed.

When the quail knew that the elephant was dead, she said, “I have seen the back of my enemy,” and in a high state of delight strutted over his body, and passed away to fare according to her deeds.

More information:

In Bangladesh, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board develops curriculum and books for grades 1 through 10, including religious education curriculum for Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and other religions. In the standard seventh grade curriculum, Bangladeshi Buddhist children learn about the Jataka tales.

Here’s what their curriculum says about where the Jataka tales come from:

“According to Buddhism, …the Bodhisattva was born in many families in different shapes. … In every birth, he performed actions to promote the welfare of others…. After 550 births, the Bodhisattva became the Buddha. Then after he achieved enlightenment, the Buddha received the knowledge eye, through which he could see the events of his previous births. … While he was teaching his followers, he told many stories of his previous births. His followers listened to those stories attentively, and remembered them. Hundreds of years later, these stories were written down). … The aim of Jataka stories is to inspire people to perform good deeds.”

The above is excerpted and edited from Buddhist Religion and Moral Education, year seven curriculum by Dr. Suman Kanti Barua, Geetanjali Barua, Dr. Biman Chandra Barua, and Uttara Chowdhury; translated by Dr. Pranab Kumar Barua Ph.D, and Bijoy Kumar Barua (Dhaka, Bangladesh: National Curriculum and Textbook Board, 2017). You can see the curriculum online here. The lesson on this Jataka tale is on page 108.