Once, when the Buddha was teaching in Rajagaha, he said to the monks, “There are two transgressions that have immediate negative consequences, and surely lead a person into hell. Which two? The first is failing to support and respect your parents. The second is doing any kind of evil deeds or committing a crime in the house of your parents.” The Buddha went on to say, “Conversely, there are two great virtues that speedily enable a person to partake in great blessedness and joy of the devas. The first is filial piety, supporting and showing respect for your parents. The second is performing all virtuous deeds in the family home.” Next, the Buddha told a story.
A long time ago, a parrot lived on a high, snowy mountain. Its father and mother both being blind and unable to search for food, every day the parrot would collect fruit and nuts to feed them. At that time there was a farmer sowing rice seeds, who vowed to share the crop with all beings at harvest time. Having heard the farmer make this vow, the parrot often came to take the seeds in the paddy.
One day when looking around the paddy, the farmer saw that many of the spikes were broken off. In his annoyance, he decided to set a trap for whoever was responsible.
The next time the parrot came into the paddy it found itself trapped in the net, unable to move. Seeing the farmer approach, it called out, “Farmer! If you hadn’t promised to share this food with everybody, I would not have dared to come and take it. So why are you now angry? Are not the fields just like a mother giving sustenance to many thousands of creatures? Is not the tiller of rice paddies like a father feeding his young children? Truthfully, as innocent as a child and without guile, the farmer is like a benevolent king, the protector of his people. Being one of your subjects, I will always be grateful in my heart and honor you.”
The farmer was touched by the parrot’s speech, and asked, “Who were you taking this rice for?” The parrot replied, “I take the grain in order to support my parents.” Thereupon, the farmer told the parrot, “From now on you can come here and take as much as you like. I am willing to help you.”
The parrot in this story is a previous incarnation of the Buddha, while the farmer is a previous incarnation of Sariputra. The blind father and mother are previous incarnations of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya respectively.
There is a saying, “Filial piety is the most important of all the virtues.” Filial piety has been firmly rooted in Chinese culture through the ages, but this concept is slowly fading among the newer generations. If animals can display devotion to their parents, what about us highly-evolved humans?