Devadatta and the Swan: Who really owns a Life?

As a follow up to yesterday’s post I am including this story about the young Bodhisatta and his cousin Devadatta. The story originally appear in the Abhinishkramanasutta, but the retelling here is by the Sri Lankan monk Ven. Sīlacāra:


EducareOnce when Siddhattha was out walking in the country with his cousin Devadatta who had his bow and arrows with him, Devadatta shot a swan that was flying over their head. His arrow hit the swan and it fluttered down, painfully wounded, to the ground.

Both boys ran forward to pick it up, but Siddhattha reached it first and holding it gently, he pulled the arrow out of its wing, put some cool leaves on the wound to stop it from bleeding, and with his soft hand stroked and soothed the hurt and frightened bird.

But Devadatta was very much annoyed to see his cousin take the swan from him in this way, and he called to Siddhattha to give the swan to him because he had brought it down with his arrow.

Siddhattha, however, refused to give it to him, saying that if the bird had been killed, then it would have been his; but as it was alive and not dead, it belonged to the one who actually secured possession of it, and so he meant to keep it.

But still Devadatta maintained that it should belong to him because it was his arrow that had brought it down to the ground.

So Siddhattha proposed and Devadatta agreed that their dispute should be sent for settlement to a full council of the wise men of the country. The council, accordingly, was called and the question put before them; and some in the council argued one way and some the other; some said the bird should be Devadatta’s, and others said that Siddhattha was quite right to keep it.

But at last one man in the council whom nobody had ever seen before rose and said: “A life certainly must belong to him who tries to save it; a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. The wounded bird by right belongs to the one who saved its life. Let the swan be given to Siddhattha.”

All the others in the council agreed with these wise words, and Prince Siddhattha was allowed to keep the swan whose life he thus had saved. And he cared for it tenderly until it was quite cured of its wound; then he set it free and let it fly back once more well and happy to its mates on the forest-lake.

SOURCE: Access to Insight

 




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