Noble are the Bonds of True Friendship
From: Buddha as an Animal, As Originally Told in the Jatakamala by Arya Shura
Retelling and aquarelle illustrations by Greg Suffanti
Thus it was said at one time …
The Bodhisattva was reborn as Dhirtarachtra, the king of geese,
he spread the wondrous Dharma, his teachings did never cease,
for it was everyone’s good karma that he worked tirelessly to increase,
bringing love and harmony to all and incredible peace.
He was always accompanied by Sumukha, his chief and general,
who was smart and loyal and always amenable,
and worthy of praise, being himself actually quite venerable,
he helped the Bodhisattva teach of how all life is fleeting and always ephemeral.
The ruler of Varanasi, king Brahmadatta of these two birds had heard,
his wonderment grew and grew and his desire it stirred,
so he summoned his ministers and to them he deferred.
The ministers hatched a plan and until deep in the night they conferred
for the king wanted Dhirtarachtra and would not be deterred!
He wanted to meet this most spectacular of birds.
The ministers created an irresistible and most beautiful lake,
they worked every detail, wanting absolutely no mistake.
They hired a skilled hunter who promised to take
the king of birds into captivity, both alive and awake,
saying his own king he would never forsake.
When the geese all arrived they marveled at this most special of places,
it was ever so apparent, it was written on all their faces.
There were so many other birds there, every color and from all races
that their fear disappeared quickly, without any traces.
Then the hunter caught the king of geese in one great clap,
ensnaring the Bodhisattva stealthily in his ingenious trap.
Great fear then ensued from this sudden attack,
As the birds flew away, the Bodhisattva was placed in a sack.
The rest of the flock flew immediately away,
by their leader’s side they did not stay,
it was only cowardice that they did display.
But his loyal general did stay behind,
out of compassion and loyalty this did him bind
to the king of geese his heart was aligned,
to fear and disloyalty he was totally blind …
it was to the Bodhisattva and the Dharma his life was designed,
in his heart these Dharma words were forever enshrined,
“to great goodness my life is thoroughly intertwined.”
When the hunter realized the general had stayed behind out of love,
his heart melted with compassion, of such things he’d never truly heard of,
that someone could put another and place them above
even their own life … what was this magic thing called love?
The general begged the hunter to take him instead,
saying the flock could survive without him, but without their king they’d be dead,
and he looked at the hunter with compassion and dread:
“Please free this king of birds who has fearlessly led
all of his flock, with true kindness and never a thought for himself in his head,
only the great Dharma he has faithfully spread,
only great truth he’s shared and never misled …
O dear hunter, have you heard a word I’ve said?”
And indeed the hunter scarcely believed what he’d heard,
this animal that spoke to him was not human, but simply a bird!
and he quickly regained his focus which was temporarily blurred,
first thinking this can’t be happening, it’s really quite absurd.
But he couldn’t forget these words and just what had occurred,
so he freed the king of geese and gave them his word
and said that he would not deter
them from leaving, both their lives he’d preserve.
“It’s my king’s wrath that I shall incur,
but you’re both free to leave, this I do happily confer,
your death sentence is by me hereby summarily deferred.”
The hunter spoke softly, and did not demur,
for the Dharma of love was to him transferred.
In return for the kindness of the hunter the two birds didn’t fly away,
for their hearts brimmed with compassion and love and on full display,
and thus they agreed that it was best to stay,
and travel to Varanasi without a moment’s delay,
for the chance to spread the Dharma on this miraculous day
was something the Bodhisattva wished for and in fact did pray.
The two went to Varanasi to meet the king and to him they did speak,
the Bodhisattva teaching the Dharma and its special techniques
for removing suffering quickly, which made this unique,
and further teachings the impressed king did seek,
for he was deeply moved and within a week,
he put the Bodhisattva on a throne and kissed his cheek:
“Please sit on this throne, of gold, jewels and high quality teak,
my life was till now empty, hopeless and bleak,
your Dharma teachings lift up all, the mighty and weak,
are flawless and pure and beyond critique,
how amazing this is with your bird’s physique!
Not from a human but spoken from your beak,
thank you for sharing and giving me a peek,
this Dharma has changed me forever and this in a week!”
Dhritarachtra taught the king Dharma and all he had to do
to make the kingdom thrive and how to properly rule.
The king proclaimed that these two,
though mere geese, were the noblest and true,
the Bodhisattva and his Dharma in his heart he knew,
were blessed and sacred and profound in view,
the most worthwhile and noble pursuit one could possibly pursue!
So it is said:
“The Dharma teaches everything that one must say and must do,
for it never deceives being truly noble and true.”