‘Formerly I was living on a tree. In a hole below there lived a partridge. By our constantly living together in the same place an intimate friendship sprang up between us. Every evening, after our day’s work was over and our meals had been taken, we used to meet together and enjoy good chats, stories and jokes. So time passed merrily. Once the partridge went with other birds to some place for eating the ripe paddy standing in the fields ready for harvest and did not return at the usual time. Sorrowing because of separation from him, I thought, ” Alas, why is it that my friend the partridge has not returned to-day? Has be been caught in some net, or has he been killed by some wretch ?”.
Grieving thus, I searched for him far and wide for many days in the vicinity, but in vain. Then a hare called Sighraga came one evening and occupied the hole formerly occupied by the partridge. As I had lost all hope of the partridge’s return, I did not prevent this occupation by the hare. Some days later, the partridge, grown enormously fat by sumptuous feeding on ripe paddy, returned to his former abode- Well has it been said, ‘ That happiness which- people enjoy in their own country, town and house, though it is attended with poverty and appears to be poor to others, is to those people never obtained even in heaven.’ Seeing the hare in his hole, the partridge said revilingly, ‘ Oh hare, it is not proper on your part you should have entered my abode and occupied it. So get away forthwith.’
The hare replied, ‘ Oh fool, are you such an ignoramus as not to know that a house will not become yours merely by your having lived there for some time in the past?’ The partridge said, ‘All right. Let us ask the neighbours. The lawyers say “Manu says that a tank, a well, a lake, a house and a garden are to be allotted according to the evidence of the neighbours. In disputes regarding houses,, fields, wells, and gardens the evidence of the neighbours is the best basis to go upon and will decide them one way or the other.” The hare said, ‘ Oh fool, have you never heard the real opinions of the great lawgivers ? Here they are. Listen. ” No one can assert one’s ownership to a well, a pond, a lake, a temple and a tree after having once abandoned it. Mere possession is conclusive proof of ownership in cases where houses etc., are occupied for ten years in the presence of the owner; neither witnesses nor documents of title will avail against it. This is the rule prescribed by sages for men. In the case of the lower animals and birds, the ownership lasts only as long as they or their young ones live therein.” So, even if this hole was yours once it ceased to be yours the moment you abandoned it and I made it my abode. It is my abode now and you have no right to it.’ The partridge said, ‘ Oh, if you rely on the rules of law, come with me and let us ask persons learned in the law. Let us abide by their decision whether it be in your favour or in mine.’ The hare said, ‘ Be it so.’
The two then went out to ask a competent person to adjudicate on their dispute. I too, impelled by curiosity, followed them thinking ‘ Let me see what happens.’ When they had not gone far, the hare said to the partridge ‘ Friend, whom are you going to approach for settling our dispute?’ The bird replied, ‘The cat Dadhikarna. He is of ascetic habits and is full of virtues and mercy though he was once a fierce jungle cat and even now retains the sharp teeth of the old unregenerate days* He is living in yonder sand-hills on the banks of the sacred Ganges, doing penance for his past misdeeds and for his soul’s salvation. Fine breezes blow there, and the waters of the sacred river roll in high waves which fall near the sandbanks with a roar.’
Soon they reached the spot. Beholding the muscular form of the jungle cat and his fine sharp teeth and gleaming eyes from afar, the hare was frightened in the bottom of his heart and said to the partridge, ‘ What is the use of consulting this mean and designing wretch ? It has been said, ” The fraudulent asceticism of a rogue is not to be trusted. Such fraudulent ascetics, such parasitic hypocrites, are to be found at every sacred river”.
Hearing these words, Dadhikarna, who had taken the guise of an ascetic only in order to fill his belly with ease, resolved to cheat the two disputants into believing in him implicitly. So he shut his eyes, faced the sun, touched the ground with only half his foot, raised his arm aloft, and with a serene face and even voice delivered this moral sermon. ‘ Hear, ye seekers of the truth. This existence is most worthless. Life perishes in the twinkling of an eye. The pleasures with one’s beloved are unreal like phantoms in a dream. Wife, sons, family, these are like the products of legerdemain. So there is no path except that of Dharma. It has been said, ”He who passes his days without doing acts of righteousness does not live though he breathes since his breathing is only like the rising and falling of the blacksmith’s bellows. Learning divorced from virtue is as useless as a dog’s tail which is not useful either for whisking off the fleas or for covering the private parts. They whose ideal is not righteousness are like the tares among the corn, the dung-eating pee-wit among birds, and the mosquitoes among living beings. Flowers and fruits are the real beauty of a tree, ghee is the essence of curds, the oil is the essence of the oil cake, and righteousness is the essence of men.” Men who are created to follow righteousness become, when devoid of it, mere beasts eating food and excreting urine and excreta. Doctors of politics praise patience and perseverance in all actions. But in religion, though the path is very difficult the action has to be done speedily like giving charity without a second thought. Briefly have I thus described to you, Oh hearers, the path of righteousness.
Why waste words? Good done to others accrues merit while evil done to others accumulates sin. Let this alone be clearly understood by you as the essence of righteousness, and acted upon. You may do things which inflict injury on you for benefiting others. But you should never do things which inflict injury on others for benefiting yourself.’ Hearing these noble words, the bare said, ‘O partridge, you are right. This cat is indeed a veritable ascetic and an embodiment of righteousness. I was mistaken by mere appearance. His words have fully reassured me. Let us ask him to settle our dispute.’ ‘Right’ said the partridge. ‘But as he is a jungle cat and the hereditary enemy of both our races let us stand at a safe distance and question him’.
Then both of them stood at a distance and addressed the cat, ‘ O venerable hermit, Oh preacher of religion, there is a dispute between us. Please settle it according to the sacred laws of which you are such a master- He among us who is found to be the frivolously contesting party consents to be eaten by you.’ The cat replied, ‘Friends, don’t talk to me thus. I have long ago given up the damnable act of killing and eating other animals since it is the path leading to Hell. It has been said, “As abstinence from inflicting any injury is the foremost thing in religion, so one should not kill even such creatures as lice, bugs and gnats. Even he who kills only carnivorous animals which kill others is said to be a sinner and is condemned to horrible hell. How then can one who kills unoffending creatures escape hell” Even those who kill animals at sacrifices are veritable fools who have not understood the real meaning of the Vedas. It has been said, “Aja must be offered as sacrifice.” These stupid fools do not know that the real meaning of the word, “Aja” is not “goats,” as they in their folly ‘interpret, but a kind of paddy which takes seven years to mature. This paddy is so troublesome to cultivate that it has now ceased to be cultivated and is therefore unknown to all except adept research scholars like me. It has been said, ” If by cutting down trees, killing animals and shedding blood, one can go to heaven, what act is there by doing which a man will go to hell ?” Have these fools thought about it ? Well, leaving that aside, it is absurd on your part to suggest that I should eat up the defeated party. I shall do no such thing.
I want merely to do my duty and decide your dispute to the best of my lights. I am old and a bit deaf and so cannot hear what you say from that distance. So, how can I decide your dispute one way or the other ? Kindly therefore come close to me- and state your case. Having thus known the truth of the case I can deliver a correct decision and escape all trouble in the next world. It has been said, ‘He who from either pride or avarice or anger or fear decides a case wrongly or unjustly goes to hell. He who utters a falsehood regarding a horse incurs the sin of killing a horse, he who does so regarding a cow incurs the sin of killing ten cows, he who does so regarding a daughter incurs the sin of killing a hundred daughters, and he who does so regarding a man incurs the sin of killing a thousand men. He who does not give out his own decision or a correct decision from the Judgment seat should be shunned even from afar.” So, trusting in me, come close to me and state your case,’ Why waste words ? Quickly believing in the deceitful wretch’s words, those two fools, the hare and the partridge, went close to him. The wicked cat swooped on both at the same time, one with his paws and the other with his saw-like teeth and killed and ate both of them.