In quite a few of our paritta chants there is the line “etena sacca vajjena sotthi te hotu sabbadā,” which is roughly translated as, “by the utterance of this truth may there be safety, protection.” About a month ago I was on my solo retreat reading a book about the stories behind the parittas, the protective chants. There was this touching tale from the Quail’s Protection Chant for warding off fires. As the story goes, there is a baby quail that is alone in its nest out in a field and a fire begins to approach the nest. The quail is too young to take flight and not strong enough to get itself to the ground and run off. Its parents are out foraging for food. The baby quail is really in a desperate situation so it makes a statement of truth, which is, “I’m alone, without my parents, I’m weak, I can’t fly or run away, and there is a huge fire approaching. By the utterance of this truth may I be protected” (Cp 79–82). In the story, the wind then shifts, and the baby quail is saved.
I was reflecting on this in terms of truth and honesty— really being present for what is happening as well as taking stock of the situation we’re in. If there is some difficult interaction we have with someone, we can try to catch our reactions before getting upset or offended and try to relate to the truth of our experience. Sometimes when we state the simple truth to ourselves that, This hurts, we can cut it off right there. We don’t have to go any further into the difficult situation. That’s a good thing, because if we did go into it further we’d likely complicate the matter—Why did this have to happen to me? It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to deserve this!—and then get lost in negativity. So instead of doing that, we can emulate the baby quail. Even if the wind had not shifted and the quail had died, well at least he wasn’t blaming anyone, wallowing in self-pity, or being negative.
When Ajahn Sucitto was on pilgrimage in India, a group of robbers attacked him and the layperson he was traveling with. In a book they later wrote together, Ajahn’s traveling companion said of himself that during the robbery he reacted like an animal, fighting and fleeing out of fear. Ajahn Sucitto just stayed there with the robbers, quietly and calmly dealing with them. When the leader of the robbers held an ax over Ajahn’s head and was about to murder him, Ajahn Sucitto calmly recited, Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsam- buddhassa, “Homage to the Blessed, Noble, and Perfectly Enlightened One.” He came into the present moment, made an honest assessment of the situation, and found himself truly ready to die. Needless to say, Ajahn lived to tell the tale, and it might well be that his honest presence and devotional recitation on that day was what preserved his life.
There is a real protection and power which we receive when, instead of focusing on what might happen in a negative situation, we bring ourselves into the present moment, honestly and truthfully being available to the circumstances we find ourselves in. There is no need to wait for fires or murderous robbers to confront us—we can take advantage of this protective power in any moment of our day-to-day lives.
This reflection by Ajahn Jotipālois from Beginning Our Day, Volume One.