The buddha attacked by a gang of fearsome quail?

on the night of his awakening, in MN 128, the section where it talks about an expanded set of 5 hindrances (11 upakilesas), the part on “fear” , there’s a simile on how fear/stupefaction would arise if on both sides vaṭṭakā were to jump out. ven. bodhi and ven. uppalavanna translate that term as “murderers”. CPED and PED only have “quail” as the definition.

i went by CST4 (burmese) perhaps the sri lankan and pts use a different word?

in any case, in my heart i will always have the visual image of the buddha on the night of his awakening working through the 5 hindrances when he was suddenly frightened by two gangs of fearsome quail. (yes, i know it was just a simile)

if anyone has had experience with quail while hiking out in nature, they’re tiny cute docile birds than ran away as soon as they hear you coming.

Seyyathāpi, anuruddhā,

Just-as, **********,

puriso addhāna-maggap-paṭi­panno,

(a) man (on a) highway-going-along,

tassa ubhato-passe vaṭṭakā uppateyyuṃ,

***** (on) both-sides **quails** jumped-up,

tassa tato-nidānaṃ

***** because-of-that,

chambhitattaṃ uppajjeyya;

fear would-arise;

evam-eva kho me, anuruddhā,

just-like that **, ********,

chambhitattaṃ udapādi,

fear (in me) arose.

When I first saw this I thought, lol, the quails at that time were no more dangerous than they are today! Most texts—including the Sinhala, PTS, and Thai editions (hint: activate “Textual Information” on the sidebar in SC and hover over the purple words)—read vādhaka, murderer.

However, the verb used with it is uppatati, which means “fly or jump up”. While it could perhaps be used of people, I can only find examples where it’s in a literal sense of birds, sparks, and the like, that actually fly up into the air. Moreover, in the rest of the sutta, we find the vaṭṭaka used in similes several times. While it could be argued that this usage has influenced the current passage, it is also true that for the rest of the sutta the similes and examples are very gentle and subtle, as befits the context of deep meditation. Suddenly inserting a simile of a murderer seems excessive. In deep meditation, being startled, as with suddenly seeing a flock of birds fly up, fits well.

However, the only direct parallel of this passage that I know of, MA 71, appears to be translating vādhaka or similar (怨賊). This, together with the fact that it is our majority reading, strongly supports vādhaka, although it is possible that a similar corruption occurred in the Sanskrit text or in translation to Chinese. The commentary is silent on this point.

Perhaps the text is talking about birds that are literally murderers, which would suggest that the Buddha was actually living in Australia.


Here’s an informative article about crows divebombing. basically a seasonal thing of aggressive parent crows protecting nestlings for a few months.

when i was a young kid, walking home from school in a suburban residential area once i saw a man being divebombed repeatedly by a crow.

an interesting bit from that article, robins in their nesting season will gang up and attack crows who are preying on their robin eggs. very inspiring that such a small thing has the heart and intelligence to work together against a much stronger enemy.


@frankk @sujato

This really brought a smile to my face and from now on this will also be the image in my mind when I reflect on the story of the night of the Buddh’s awakening.

We have lots of quail around where we live. They are really sweet and generally prefer staying on the ground, but when startled will suddenly fly straight up, making what can be a somewhat startling whooshing sound if one doesn’t see them. In the spring we often see a long line of babies, up to 12, trailing 2 adults walking across the yard (not that you can really call where we live ‘a yard’). Just too adorable for words! Unfortuanley there are also lots of coyotes and bocats (not to mention snakes & pack-rats) around so it’s a very dangerous world for those little ones…

Is there’s any possibility that the idiom in Pali for a group of crows is the same as in English, i.e. 'a murder of crows"?


I didn’t know this, it makes the reading “quail” make more likely!

There’s no equivalent concept of collective nouns.


That would have had to have been a previous Buddha who lived in then Gondwana. Too bad India got the Navel of the earth as part of the terms of its divorce from Australia.