Meditation & Health #27 – The Protection of Life
The Protection of Life
Translation by Sng Shu Fen
Illustration by Da He
Buddha always taught by example, showing his disciples the importance of loving all living beings and protecting life. In a popular story, Buddha — as the young Prince Siddhartha Gautama — saved a swan.
Prince Siddhartha was gentle and full of compassion. He helped suffering souls whenever he could, wishing happiness for all. His cousin, Prince Devadatta, was very different from him. He was jealous, unsympathetic and unrelentingly cruel.
One day, Prince Siddhartha and the children from the royal families were playing in the palace garden. Flocks of swans flew across the sky. Prince Devadatta smiled at the thought of shooting his prey. He shot an arrow toward the sky. A swan was hit and fell in front of Prince Siddhartha with a loud thud.
Prince Siddhartha was very distressed. He gently carried the bird to his room to care for it. While comforting the swan, he removed the arrow and carefully bandaged the wound.
The angry Prince Devadatta confronted Prince Siddhartha and asked the latter to surrender the swan: “This swan was shot by me and should belong to me.” Prince Siddhartha repeatedly refused, intent on protecting the bird’s life. He said, “The swan is alive. It is not a hunting trophy, and cannot be returned to you.”
The two argued over who should keep the swan. Finally, Prince Siddhartha proposed that they have the country’s famous scholars decide. Prince Devadatta agreed.
During the arbitration, many scholars put forward their views. Some thought that the swan should belong to Prince Devadatta because he had shot it down; others thought the swan should belong to Prince Siddhartha because he had saved its life.
Finally, a highly respected elder stood up and said, “All living beings should belong to those who saved their lives, not those who hurt them. This swan should belong to Prince Siddhartha.”
Upon hearing the elder’s compassionate explanation, many were ashamed at not having voiced the same. It was unanimously decided that the swan belonged to Prince Siddhartha. When the bird was completely healed, the prince released it into the forest.
Violence, cruelty and intolerance must be replaced with compassion, empathy and love for all living beings, so that the world may be at peace. Empathy for suffering and the protection of life are expressions of humanity. When we act to protect another, that spark becomes a flame that illuminates the world. When we help a fellow being, we do so in the spirit of offering freedom. Divine love by its very nature is free.