This story is another illustration of the young prince's compassion. I will tell it in the form of a simple play.
[Prince Siddhartha's cousin, Prince Devadatta, has just shot a swan. Both boys run to pick it up; Prince Siddhartha arrives first and tries to save it.]
Devadatta: What are you doing? It's mine! Give it to me!
Siddhartha: But can't you see? It's suffering! We have to help it.
Devadatta: Nonsense! I shot it with my bow and arrow, so it's mine!
Siddhartha: But it's not dead. As long as it's alive, we need to save it!
Devadatta: Give it here! [They struggle. Prince Siddhartha still has the bird.]
Siddhartha: Devadatta, let's go to the sages at my father's court. We'll let them decide.
Devadatta: OK. But I'm sure they'll give it to me.
[At the court]
Chief sage: What is the matter, O Princes?
Devadatta: I shot a swan. My cousin, Prince Siddhartha, wants to keep it for himself. But by custom, any prey should be kept by the hunter.
Chief sage: That is true. Prince Siddhartha, what do you say?
Siddhartha: O Sage, I understand the ancient custom. But I believe that compassion for all sentient beings is more important than our customs.
Chief sage: Please give us time to discuss this matter.
[The sages leave; they return much later.]
Chief sage: We have decided. By our custom, the swan belongs to Prince Devadatta. If it were dead, we certainly would give it to him. But a living thing certainly must belong to him who tries to save it; a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. Let the swan be given to Prince Siddhartha.
Siddhartha: Thank you, O Sages.
[From this time forward, Prince Devadatta resented his cousin Prince Siddhartha.]
- Who is a more "typical" boy, Devadatta or Siddhartha? Why do you think so?
- Have you ever killed an animal (besides insects)? How did you feel after that?
- Do you think Prince Siddhartha's idea (to help the swan) was "nonsense"? Why?
- "Compassion is more important than customs." Do you agree?