In one of his lifetimes, the Buddha was the king of swans. The commander of the swan army was the Buddha’s disciple, Ananda, in a former birth. Together they were devoted to the betterment of their subjects.
When a human king in Varanasi heard of the two great swans, he wanted to observe them. So, he ordered the construction of a bird sanctuary that was actually a trap. In no time the king of swans was snared by foot and the other swans flew away in fear. The swan that was Ananda was not trapped, but did not fly away.
“Why did you not leave?” the swan king asked him.
“I will not die just because I stay here,” he answered. “Nor will I escape old age and death if I flee. If I were to leave you just to save my own life, how could I live with the shame of abandoning my true companion?” Then the swan that was Ananda said to the trapper, “Free my king and take me instead.”
The hardened heart of the trapper melted as he was astonished to see the swan give himself up for his friend. He said, “Noble birds, you are no ordinary beings. Despite my king’s orders I can no longer hold you a captive.” The king of swans asked the trapper to take them free and unbound to his king.
When the Varanasi king saw the noble swans he immediately realized they were not ordinary beings. He requested teachings with reverence. The swan king and his commander instructed the Varanasi king on the virtuous path before they left and from time to time returned to give more instruction.
This time the story of the two swans is all about being patient. It is the practice of patience. When we talk about the practice of patience, we always think about being patient to do something, like sort of being earnest. But being patient is not only that, but also being patient such as being brave in challenging some kind of harmfulness, being capable to engage in incidents that make you feel suffering. Voluntarily engaging in these things is also considered the practice of patience or tolerance. So in this story of the two swans, although it is mainly about the practice of patience, it also includes other qualities, such as friendship and loyalty.
– Demo Rinpoche, Jewel Heart Ann Arbor, Jataka Tales, April 18, 2021