Recognise in the dreams of the king the desire of the soul, in the king and his empire see yourself, and it becomes your story. What are we all chasing in our lives?
In a remote forest, sheltered by giant trees, many animals lived free from danger, in great freedom. However, when a new king came to power in the country, that peaceful situation was over. This king loved hunting above all else. As soon as the sun rose, he mounted his horse and went on a boisterous hunt through fields and meadows, through forests and valleys. And he didn’t stop until the sun had set. Then the chariots drove back behind him to the palace, laden with deer, boar, pheasants, monkeys, leopards, tigers, bears and lions. And the king was satisfied.
His subjects saw the fields, trampled by the royal hunt, the havoc that hunting had wreaked, and they devised a simple plan. Deep in the jungle they built a fence and drove two herds of deer inside. “Let him hunt there until his heart is satisfied.” The trapped animals ran around possessed in a circle, looking for the way out. But there wasn’t one. One of the herds was that of the Bengal deer. Sunlight played over his wide-branched antlers and he said: ‘Above us is the blue sky, at our feet the grass grows. Hold on. I will find a way out.’
Soon the king came and stretched his bow. The animals went crazy. Running wildly, they wounded each other with their horns and hooves while trying to escape the deadly rain of arrows. The Bengal deer king spoke to the leader of the other herd, sadly shaking his antlers: “Brother, I have done everything to find a way out, but everything is closed. The suffering of our subjects is unbearable. Let’s have a lottery. Every day all deer have to take a straw. The deer on which fate has fallen must sacrifice itself as prey. It’s a terrible solution, but at least that way we prevent many deer from being unnecessarily injured.’ The leader of the other herd agreed. And so it went. At first, the king did not know what he saw. There stood a trembling deer in front of him, but with his head raised. And he understood. “They have chosen to let one deer die from our hunt, instead of all deer suffering. The deer kings are wise.” A heaviness descended on the king’s heart. He ordered that one deer only should be shot and drove silently back to the palace himself. That night the king was restless in his bed. A radiant deer rushed through his dreams.
One day, fate fell on a pregnant doe. She went to her king and asked, “I will suffer my fate when my calf is born, but spare me until then.” “Law is law,” he said, “fate has fallen upon you, I can’t change that.” In desperation she ran to the Bengal deer. He understood her concern for the calf and gave her back her freedom. He realized he couldn’t send another deer and decided to take her place himself. The king arrived with a fluttering cloak and saw the Bengal deer standing proudly. The deer king and the human king looked at each other for a long time. “Noble deer, I know you. I have seen you float through the forests of my dreams, every night. I’ll set you free from my hunt!” “Great king,” replied the Bengal deer, “what ruler can be free if the people suffer?” And he told the story of the pregnant doe. A burden lifted from the heart of the human king. “Noble deer, you’re right. Your sacrifice today teaches me a lesson. In return, I will give you a gift: freedom for your entire herd.”
“Great king, that is indeed a noble gift. But I can’t leave. It would mean that the deer of the other herd would have to suffer twice as much. Give them freedom too!’ The king of men was stunned. “What!” he exclaimed. “Would you want to risk your own freedom and that of your herd for others?” “Imagine their suffering, king, let them go free too.” The king hesitated, thought and smiled. “Never have I found such generosity, and your wish will be fulfilled. Can you go in peace now?” “No, oh no, king, I can’t do that, can I speak further?” “Speak on, noble deer.” “I think of all four-legged creatures, mighty king, have pity on them. There can be no peace unless they too are free.” Slowly the truth of the words of the Bengal deer dawned on the king. It was true, he realized. There is no real peace unless it applies to all. “You are right, noble deer, in my empire there will be no more hunting of the four-legged creatures. Are you at ease now?’ ‘No, king, I can’t find peace yet. Let the defenseless birds and the silent fish go free too. How can I be free and have peace while they live in fear and danger?” “Oh, you, generous being,” said the king of men, “I have never been urged to think this way, but now I say that all will be free. In my empire all beings will be regarded as beloved subjects.” And turning again to the Bengal deer: ‘Do you have peace now?’ “Yes,” said the Bengal deer, leaping with joy like a calf in the air. It was a leap of pure joy! The seed of compassion and connectedness had found fertile ground in a human heart.
The king’s bondage to his urges and desires is transformed into the understanding of living connectedness with all that is. It takes considerable effort on our part to free our understanding of the nature of the Buddha from the limitations, the fixed frameworks of our thinking and our habits.
The moment the nobility of the mind awakens in our hearts, and makes itself known very subtly, we can start listening. The inner conversation with the universal all-encompassing mind then shows what hinders us and encourages us to let go of what holds our attention and binds it to the earth. To leave behind what keeps us trapped in the material world. The conversation elevates us and shows the value of emptying our ego, of expectations, of bonds of self-interest. To stop the self-willed hunt and to let the universal spirit of life, of love and wisdom, of connection and coherence sink deeper into the heart. To always take a next step. Ultimately to be ‘self-evident’, to experience the transparent lightness of freedom and to give freedom to others.
As Lao Zi says,
He who submits the animate self to the spiritual can keep his will focused on Tao. He will not be divided. He will rule the empire with love and be completely wu wei.
A king who wears his crown with dignity. A man who is the crowning glory of creation.
From a Buddhist story