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The Banyan Deer

The Banyan Deer

Long ago, when Brahma-datta was reigning in Benares, the Bodisat came to life as a deer. When he was born he was of a golden colour; his eyes were like round jewels, his horns were white as silver, his mouth was red as a cluster of kamala flowers, his hoofs were bright and hard as lacquer-work, his tail as fine as the tail of a Tibetan ox,and his body as large in size as a foal’s.

He lived in the forest with an attendant herd of five hundred deer, under the name of the King of the Banyan Deer; and not far from him there dwelt another deer,206 golden as he, under the name of the Monkey Deer, with a like attendant herd.

The king of Benares at that time was devoted to hunting, never ate without meat, and used to summon all the townspeople to go hunting every day, to the destruction of their ordinary work.

The people thought, “This king puts an end to all our work. Suppose now in the park we were to sow food and provide water for the deer, and drive a number of deer into it, and close the entrance, and deliver them over to the king.”

So they planted in the park grass for the deer to eat, and provided water, and tied up the gate; and calling the citizens, they entered the forest, with clubs and all kinds of weapons in their hands, to look for the deer. And thinking, “We shall best catch the deer by surrounding them,” they encircled a part of the forest about a league across. And in so doing they surrounded the very place where the Banyan Deer and the Monkey Deer were living.

Then striking the trees and bushes, and beating on the ground, with their clubs, they drove the herd of deer out of the place where they were; and making a great noise by rattling their swords and javelins and bows, they made the herd enter the park, and shut the gate. And then they went to the king, and said to him:

“O king! by your constant going to the chase, you put a stop to our work. We have now brought deer from the forest, and filled your park with them. Henceforth feed on them!” And so saying, they took their leave, and departed.

When the king heard that, he went to the park; and207 seeing there two golden-coloured deer, he granted them their lives. But thenceforth he would sometimes go himself to shoot a deer, and bring it home; sometimes his cook would go and shoot one. The deer, as soon as they saw the bow, would quake with the fear of death, and take to their heels; but when they had been hit once or twice, they became weary or wounded, and were killed.

And the herd of deer told all this to the Bodisat. He sent for the Monkey Deer, and said:

“Friend, almost all the deer are being destroyed. Now, though they certainly must die, yet henceforth let them not be wounded with the arrows. Let the deer take it by turns to go to the place of execution. One day let the lot fall upon my herd, and the next day on yours. Let the deer whose turn it is go to the place of execution, put his head on the block, and lie down. If this be done, the deer will at least escape laceration.”

He agreed: and thenceforth the deer whose turn it was used to go and lie down, after placing his neck on the block of execution. And the cook used to come and carry off the one he found lying there.

But one day the lot fell upon a roe in the herd of the Monkey Deer who was with young. She went to the Monkey Deer, and said, “Lord! I am with young. When I have brought forth my son, we will both take our turn. Order the turn to pass me by.”

“I cannot make your lot,” said he, “fall upon the others. You know well enough it has fallen upon you. Go away!”

Receiving no help from him, she went to the Bodisat, and told him the matter. He listened to her, and said, “Be it so! Do you go back. I will relieve you of your208 turn.” And he went himself, and put his neck upon the block of execution, and lay down.

The cook, seeing him, exclaimed, “The King of the Deer, whose life was promised to him, is lying in the place of execution. What does this mean?” And he went hastily, and told the king.

The king no sooner heard it than he mounted his chariot, and proceeded with a great retinue to the place, and beholding the Bodisat, said, “My friend the King of the Deer! did I not grant you your life? Why are you lying here?”

“O great king! a roe with young came and told me that the lot had fallen upon her. Now it was impossible for me to transfer her miserable fate to any one else. So I, giving my life to her, and accepting death in her place, have lain down. Harbour no further suspicion, O great king!”

“My Lord the golden-coloured King of the Deer! I never yet saw, even among men, one so full of forbearance, kindness, and compassion. I am pleased with thee in this matter. Rise up! I grant your lives, both to you and to her!”

“But though two be safe, what shall the rest do, O king of men?”

“Then I grant their lives to the rest, my Lord.”

“Thus, then, great king, the deer in the park will have gained security, but what will the others do?”

“They also shall not be molested.”

“Great king! even though the deer dwell secure, what shall the rest of the four-footed creatures do?”

“They also shall be free from fear.”

“Great king! even though the quadrupeds are in safety, what shall the flocks of birds do?”

“Well, I grant the same boon to them.”

“Great king! the birds then will obtain peace, but what of the fish who dwell in the water?”

“They shall have peace as well.”

And so the Great Being, having interceded with the king for all creatures, rose up and established the king in the Five Precepts,and said, “Walk in righteousness, O great king! Doing justice and mercy to fathers and mothers, to sons and daughters, to townsmen and landsmen, you shall enter, when your body is dissolved, the happy world of heaven!”

Thus, with the grace of a Buddha, he preached the Truth to the king; and when he had dwelt a few days in the park to exhort the king, he went away to the forest with his attendant herd.

And the roe gave birth to a son as beautiful as buds of flowers; and he went playing about with the Monkey Deer’s herd. But when its mother saw that, she said, “My son, henceforth go not in his company; you may keep to the Banyan Deer’s herd!” And thus exhorting him, she uttered the verse—

Follow the Banyan Deer:
Dwell not with the Monkey Deer.
Better death with the Banyan Deer,
Than life with the Monkey Deer

Now after that the deer, secure of their lives, began to eat men’s crops. And the men dared not strike them or drive them away, recollecting how it had been granted to them that they should dwell secure. So they met together in front of the king’s palace, and told the matter to the king.

“When I was well pleased, I granted to the leader of the Banyan Deer a boon,” said he. “I may give up my kingdom, but not my oath! Begone with you! Not a man in my kingdom shall be allowed to hurt the deer.”

When the Banyan Deer heard that, he assembled the herds, and said, “Henceforth you are not allowed to eat other people’s crops.” And so forbidding them, he sent a message to the men: “Henceforth let the husbandmen put up no fence to guard their crops; but let them tie leaves round the edge of the field as a sign.”

From that time, they say, the sign of the tying of leaves was seen in the fields, and from that time not a single deer trespassed beyond it; for such was the instruction they received from the Bodisat.

And the Bodisat continued thus his life long to instruct the deer, and passed away with his herd according to his deeds.

The king, too, hearkened to the exhortations of the Bodisat, and then, in due time, passed away, according to his deeds.

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