King Śibi and the Dove

This is the story of King Śibi in India, who was a uhh devout Buddhist, so uh in theory he was a devout Buddhist. … Umm one of the Kings of the gods, Indra, wanted to sort of test his faith and see how faithful he truly was. So he and a, and a companion got together and transformed themselves, one into a dove, one into a hawk. And the dove came into King Śibi’s house, palace, and uh and said “I need you to protect me” and he said “Of course I’ll protect you, that’s my role as a King”. Right afterwards the hawk comes in and says “Well I’m ready for my breakfast, where is my dove?” and he says “I can’t let you have the dove because I’m … because he’s under my protection now as the King”. And he says “Well if I don’t have the dove to eat then I’m going to die, I’ll starve to death. So why don’t you have to protect me too, do you have to do something to protect me as well?” And he says, “Well what if I give you … uh flesh off of my arm in the same amount, same weight as the dove?” This is where the pound of flesh came in Shakespeare comes from, an old Indian folklore actually. And umm said, “Ok that’s fine”. So he puts the dove on a scale, one of these scales like they have and he cuts off some of his flesh and puts it on the scale, but the dove is still too heavy. So he cuts the flesh off his other arm and puts it on the scale, the scale still doesn’t bounce. So he starts cutting off his leg flesh, and puts it up there and still the dove is heavier. And finally he somehow manages to raise himself up onto the scale, climbs into the scale himself and just at that moment, both the dove and the … and the hawk transform back into their, their um original form as gods and said, “This was simply a test”. And they restored him to his original health and his devotion was proven.

Background: The informant was previously a monk turned professor of buddhism. They learned this story in their studies of Indian buddhism and through researching and writing papers on the topic. They mainly know about Korean Zen buddhism having spent time as a monk in Korea, however they know about Indian buddhism as well. They picked up this text in their studies of Indian buddhism.

Interpretation: This text lays out and reinforces the fundamental belief in Buddhism that one should give up attachments to their worldly possessions. In this case the Buddhist in question ends up being willing to sacrifice his life in order to save the life of an animal. This act also shows equality in all things, with the human being willing to sacrifice his life for the life of the dove. It also shows this by having the dove weigh the same as the human on the set of scales. Similar motifs can be found in tales such as the tale of the Buddhist monk that throws himself off a cliff in order to feed a starving family of tigers. Another version of the text where a monk feeds himself to tigers is found here. (Wu, Ming-Kuo  (2018, May 7). Jataka tale: Prince Mahasattva. Dunhuang Foundation.