CHENNAI: Prince Siddhartha, who grew up to become Lord Buddha, was the gentlest and most compassionate of teachers, and was always so. In this story from his childhood, you can see that his wisdom, kindness and love were evident right from the start.
Prince Siddhartha was the son of King Sudhodana and Queen Maya. When he was born, a wise man predicted that he was destined for greatness; either he would become a great monarch or he would abandon his royal legacy and become an enlightened being. With the Queen mother dying shortly after the prince’s birth, the king did not want to lose his son too. He resolved to protect his son from any outside influences and the prince led a sheltered life. Young Siddhartha’s life revolved around the royal palace and all his lessons were imparted to him within its confines.
One spring morning, Siddhartha finished his lessons and was playing in the palace garden. A flock of swans were gliding through the blue sky above. Suddenly there was a piercing shriek and Siddhartha looked up to see one of the swans drop to the ground, bleeding. The Prince rushed to the spot where the bird fell. He saw that an arrow had pierced one of its wings and the bird was writhing in pain. Without hesitation Siddhartha pulled out the arrow from the wing. “There, it’s removed now,” he whispered softly to the bird, stroking its head. “ Let’s see how we mend you.”
Gathering some herbs from the garden he made a paste and applied it to the bleeding wound. Then tearing off a piece of his upper garment, he wrapped the swan gently with it.
“Hey Siddhartha! Give that swan to me, it’s mine!” came a voice from behind. Siddhartha turned to see his cousin Devadutta glaring down at him, his eyes ablaze in anger. On his shoulder hung his quiver full of arrows and he held a bow in his hands. “I shot that swan down and so it’s mine! Give it here!” he cried.
“No!” replied Siddhartha, as he carried the wounded swan and rose from the ground.” This bird belongs to the skies, where it roams free. You have no claim over its life!”
Devadutta did not expect his gentle cousin to speak so stubbornly. How dare he? “What? Have you not learnt your lessons well, Siddhartha? Don’t you know the laws of our land? The hunter has the claim over his shot.”
“Of course, I know the laws of our land. But in this case, the swan is not yet dead. It has every right to life. All I want to do is help it to get better.” Prince Siddhartha looked at his cousin calmly as he proceeded to the palace, carrying the bird.
Devadutta was furious. He was always a bad tempered boy and his patience was running out. Soon his friends who had been with him on the hunt came to join him. “Look! My friends will vouch for me and bear witness. They saw me shoot down the bird,” shouted Devadutta.
Siddhartha regarded the group of boys gently and smiled. “Of course, no one’s disputing you shot the swan, Devadutta! Let’s go to the court and settle this. After all, there are many wise ministers there. Let them decide the fate of this poor bird.”
So the boys went to the court where the ministers were engaged in discussions of various matters of importance. Devadutta addressed them.” We have come to you to seek justice. Please listen to my complaint!’’ The ministers regarded the boys with indulgence. What could be so important that they needed to settle matters in the royal court?
“I shot that swan which Siddhartha holds in his arms. It belongs to me!” thundered Devadutta angrily.
“Yes it does!” agreed the ministers. “So says the law of our kingdom.”
“But only if it’s dead,” said Siddhartha. “Look, this swan is only wounded, not dead. I’m trying to help heal its broken wing. The swan has a right to live and belongs to nobody.”
His father, King Sudhodana was present to at the court but did not say anything. After all, Siddhartha was his son. But he intervened at this point of discussion. “I met a wise man this morning and have brought him to the court for I think we shall all benefit if we listen to his words of wisdom. Let us ask his opinion.” He then turned to an old man who stood beside him. The man’s face glowed with the kind of radiance that came with knowledge and purity of soul.
“The Prince is right,” said the old man. “The swan deserves to be free and its life is its own. No one can claim ownership over it. Does it not deserve to go back to its home and family? Prince Siddhartha says that he’s only going to help it so that it can fly again. He should keep the bird.”
The ministers looked at each other. The old man was right. They nodded their heads in agreement. “So it’s settled. Siddhartha, you may take care of the swan,” King Suddhodana gave the verdict smiling at his noble son.
After a few weeks Siddhartha brought the swan, now fully recovered, into the garden. Holding it gently in his hands, he opened his palms. “Go, my friend! It’s time for you to join your companions!” The swan flapped its wings and soared up. Suddenly from nowhere, appeared two more swans. They had come to lead him home.