From The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold
First published in 1879.
In the Royal garden on a day of spring,
a flock of wild swans passed, voyaging north
to their nest-places on Himala’s breast.
Calling in love-notes down their snowy line
the bright birds flew, by fond love piloted;
and Devadatta, cousin of the Prince, pointed his bow, and loosed a wilful shaft which found the wide wing of the foremost swan broad-spread to glide upon the free blue road, so that it fell, the bitter arrow fixed, bright scarlet blood-gouts staining the pure plumes. Which seeing, Prince Siddartha took the bird tenderly up, rested it in his lap — sitting with knees crossed, as Lord Buddha sits — and, soothing with a touch the wild thing’s fright, composed its ruffled vans, calmed its quick heart, caressed it into peace with light kind palms as soft as plantain-leaves an hour unrolled; and while the left hand held, the right hand drew the cruel steel forth from the wound and laid cool leaves and healing honey on the smart. Yet all so little knew the boy of pain that curiously into his wrist he pressed the arrow’s barb, and winced to feel it sting, and turned with tears to soothe his bird again.
Then some one came who said, “My Prince hath shot a swan, which fell among the roses here, he bids me pray you send it. Will you send?”
“Nay,” quoth Siddartha,” if the bird were dead
to send it to the slayer might be well, but the swan lives; my cousin hath but killed the god-like speed which throbbed in this white wing.”
And Devadatta answered, “The wild thing, living or dead, is his who fetched it down; ‘twas no man’s in the clouds, but fall’n ’tis mine. Give me my prize, fair Cousin.” Then our Lord laid the swan’s neck beside his own smooth cheek and gravely spake, “Say no! the bird is mine, the first of myriad things which shall be mine by right of mercy and love’s lordliness. For now I know, by what within me stirs, that I shall teach compassion unto men and be a speechless world’s interpreter, abating this accursed flood of woe, not man’s alone; but, if the Prince disputes, let him submit this matter to the wise and we will wait their word.” So was it done; in full divan the business had debate, and many thought this thing and many that, till there arose an unknown priest who said, “If life be aught, the saviour of a life owns more the living thing than he can own who sought to slay—the slayer spoils and wastes, the cherisher sustains, give him the bird:” Which judgment all found just; but when the King sought out the sage for honour, he was gone; and someone saw a hooded snake glide forth, — the gods come oft-times thus! So our Lord Buddh began his works of mercy.
Yet not more knew he as yet of grief than that one bird’s, which, being healed, went joyous to its kind.
Images: ©️ The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wall painting fragment with a swan
ca. A.D. 14–68 Roman.
Terracotta vase in the form of a swan
6th century B.C. Greek, Corinthian
Categories: Buddhism, Buddhist Insights, Metta, Texts
If you think about it life can be terrible for all beings. We are not always aware that life can end every second.
There is so much suffering and feelings and deeds of mercy can soften the heart.
May all beings be well and happy!