The Sharabha Deer – from Jataka Tale #25

In a previous life, the Buddha was born as a Bodhisattva in the form of a Sharabha Deer. This sharabha was magnificent in all respects, swift, vigorous, graceful and elegant. He lived happily in the deep forest, far from human habitation, content to subsist on leaves and grace, with nothing but kindness toward the other creatures of the forest.

Although he had the shape of a forest animal, his mind was as steadfast as any human, with the sympathy of a sage toward all living beings. Thus he was content to live as if a yogi in peaceful solitude.

One day, however, the king who ruled that region entered the forest in a hunt. Riding a swift horse, and drunk with the excitement of the hunt, he was soon separated from his retinue.

Suddenly the king spotted the magnificent sharabha. He immediately decided to kill the deer. Stringing his bow with a deadly arrow, he spurred his horse in pursuit.

Seeing the king and recognizing his intentions, the Bodhisattva took flight.  Not because he was powerless against such an assailant, but because he wished to avoid all forms of violence.

Speeding from his pursuer, the sharabha leapt easily over a deep chasm. But racing after him, the king’s horse stopped short at the edge of the cliff, throwing the king into the abyss below. The king’s attention was fixed on his prey. He had not noticed the danger ahead.  And now he lay at the bottom of the steep ravine with no hope of climbing out.

No longer hearing the hoofbeats behind him, the Bodhisattva at first thought that the king had abandoned the chase. But looking back and seeing the riderless horse at the edge of the cliff, the Great Being realized what had befallen the king. Upon this realization, the Bodhisattva at once felt compassion for the one who has sought his life.

The Bodhisattva thought, “Until moments ago, the king had been graced with all the trappings of royalty. Now he could lie injured, unconscious or in great pain. Common people are used to suffering. But when a prince encounters calamity, they are plunged into despair. He is certainly trapped and in distress. It would be wrong to abandon him.”

Approaching the edge of the precipice, the Bodhisattva found the king covered in dust and racked with pain. No longer did he think of the king as an enemy but was instead moved to tears by the sight of the king’s suffering.

With kind words, he addressed the king, “Great King, I hope your pain is not too great. I am but a simple forest creature. Please place your trust in me and I will come to your rescue.”

This speech from the sharabha touched the king greatly. Shame filled his heart as he thought, “How could he show mercy to me, who moments before desired only to kill him? How could I have acted so wrongly to such an innocent one? It is I who am the brute. Surely he should be honored by my accepting his offer of help.”

Addressed the sharabha, the king said, “My pain is bearable. It is nothing compared to the pain of realizing the offense I have committed against such a pure-hearted being as you. Relying on your outward form, I was blind to your true nature.  Please forgive me.”

Happy at the king’s acceptance of help, the Bodhisattva prepared himself for the rescue, testing his strength by carrying a stone with the weight of man. Confident that he could perform the task, he gracefully descended into the ravine.

Addressing the king, he said, “Forgive me for the necessity of touching your noble person in order to bring joy to myself by bringing you happiness. Please climb on my back and hold tight.”

With strength and agility, the sharabha swiftly carried the king to the top of the cliff.

Reuniting the king with his horse, the sharabha told the king the way back to the capital. With joy in his heart, the sharabha turned back toward the forest.

But the king, overcome with gratitude, embraced the sharabha, saying, “My life is yours. Please return with me to the capital. How can I leave you here at the mercy of hunters, exposed to the elements?”

The Bodhisattva replied, “Your offer is suitable for one such as yourself. But please don’t think I could be happy in your palace. The pleasure of humans are one thing, but those of us forest creatures are another. However, if you wish to do something for me, refrain from hunting from now on. The poor creatures of the forest, their minds dull and heavy, deserve your pity, not your arrows. All creatures desire happiness and freedom from suffering. Knowing this, how can you do to others what would cause unhappiness to you? Harmful actions lead to suffering. Virtuous actions bring dignity. Be generous. Increase your merit. Seek guidance from the wise. Cultivate right action. Treat all creatures as you would yourself be treated. This way you will achieve fame and happiness.”

The king thanked the Bodhisattva for his words and watched with respect as he sped away to his home in the forest.

Thus the compassionate show pity even to those who wish to harm them and never abandon their desire to help even wrong doers in distress, regardless of their evil intentions.  

Posted on Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

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