Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life as a young Vulture on the Vulture Hill, and had his mother and father to nourish.
Once there came a great wind and rain. The Vultures could not hold their own against it; half frozen, they flew to Benares, and there near the wall and near the ditch they sat, shivering with the cold.
A merchant of Benares was issuing from the city on his way to bathe, when he spied these miserable Vultures. He got them together in a dry place, made a fire, sent and brought them some cowflesh from the cattle's burning place, and put some one to look after them.
When the storm fell, our Vultures were all right and flew off at once among the mountains. Without delay they met, and thus took counsel together. "A Benares merchant has done us a good turn and one good turn deserves another, as the saying is so after this when any of us finds a garment or an ornament it must be dropt in that merchant's courtyard." So thenceforward if they ever noticed people drying their clothes or finery in the sun, watching for an unwary moment, they snatched them quickly as hawks swoop on a bit of meat, and dropt them in the merchant's yard. But he, whenever he observed that they were bringing him anything, used to cause it to be laid aside.
They told the king how vultures were plundering the city. "Just catch me one vulture," says the king, "and I will make them bring it all back." So snares and gins were set everywhere; our dutiful Vulture was caught. They seized him with intent to bring him to the king. The Merchant aforesaid, on the way to wait upon his majesty, saw these people walking along with the Vulture. He went in their company, for fear they might hurt the Vulture.
They gave the Vulture to the king, who examined him.
"You rob our city, and carry off clothes and all sorts of things," he began. "Yes, Sire." "Whom have they been given to?" "A merchant of Benares." "Why?" "Because he saved our lives, and they say one good turn deserves another; that is why we gave them to him."
"Vultures, they say," quoth the king, "can spy a corpse an hundred leagues away; and can't you see a trap set ready for you?" And with these words he repeated the first stanza.
"A Vulture sees a corpse that lies one hundred leagues away.
When thou alightst upon a trap dost thou not see it, pray?"
The Vulture listened, then replied by repeating the second stanza
"when life is coming to an end, and death's hour draws anigh,
Though you may come close up to it, nor trap nor snare you spy."After this response of the Vulture, the king turned to our Merchant. "Have all these things really been brought to you, then, by the Vultures?" "Yes, my lord" "Where are they?" "My lord, they are all put away; each shall receive his own again; only let this Vulture go!" He had his way; the Vulture was set at liberty, and the Merchant returned all the property to its owners.