The Little Golden Bird
The Little Golden Bird
Once upon a time several Buddhist monks lived in a great temple. The temple was a quiet place that stood in the middle of a magnificent garden. The monks carefully and lovingly tended the garden, and it was filled with splendid flowers and rare plants. There were flowers blooming in every shade of the rainbow, and the monks tended them with such care that, it was said, their blossoms were more beautiful than those of similar flowers elsewhere. People traveled from distant lands to see these beautiful gardens.
The monks spent their days contentedly praying and meditating. This is how life had been at the temple for hundreds of years. Surrounded by the incredible beauty of their gardens, the monks never thought about life outside of the temple walls. They felt truly and completely content with their cloistered lives.
One day, though, something happened to change their life in this peaceful, thoughtful corner of the world.
That day, they heard a knock at the temple door. One of the monks went to answer the knock and found a young monk standing there.
“Hello,” said the temple monk. “May I help you with something?”
“I have been traveling and am looking for a place to spend the night and perhaps partake in a bit of food. Would I be able to stay here?”
“But, of course,” said the temple monk, for they were kind and generous and willing to share whatever they had.
And so, the traveling monk came into the temple and sat down to share their evening meal.
“How many of you have traveled outside the walls of the temple?” he asked.
At first there was silence, and then the monks admitted that none of them had traveled outside the temple since they'd arrived there many, many years earlier.
“Well,” continued the traveling monk, “you'd be amazed at what is happening in the world outside the temple walls. It's hard to describe, but I'll try.”
And so, the traveling monk began to tell them of life in the outside world. He went on for some time, long after the monks had finished their evening meal, and even long after the time that most of them would have retired to their chambers.
He regaled them with stories of his travels — tales of bustling and brightly lit cities, of theater and of musical performances, of traveling fairs and exotic foods. He told them about parties and grand gatherings. He told them about the amazing people he had met on his travels, people who had occupations so varied the monks could hardly believe that such jobs existed. On and on, the traveling monk went, spinning his tales to a silent, spellbound audience.
Finally, when it was closer to day than to night, the monks retired to their chambers, their heads filled with amazing visions of the world outside the temple walls.
And when they awoke in the morning, they found that the traveling monk had already departed. The stories he had told, however, remained in their minds. He'd planted a dangerous seed in their minds, and the monks were no longer quite so content or at ease in their cloistered world.
They began to argue.
First, they disagreed about who was to tend to the garden.
“It is not my turn to do the weeding,” said one of the monks to another. For he was no longer so interested in the splendid gardens since he had heard about the outside world.
Then, they disagreed about who should prepare their simple meals. Nobody wanted to put together these basic dishes since they'd heard about the exotic foods available outside the temple walls.
Far from feeling content, the monks began to feel as if they were trapped in some sort of prison.
Now that the monks heard about this different, outside world, they no longer wanted to remain in what had, until then, seemed a paradise. Now, their temple life had turned into a lonely, isolated existence.
Finally, one group decided to leave the temple. Not long after, another group packed their meager belongings and set out to explore the outside world. Then another group left, and yet another.
Soon, weeds overtook the garden. Grass started to sprout up between the stones of the sidewalk and very few monks remained in the temple, leaving it almost deserted. There were only five monks left, trying without success to maintain the gardens and building.
Finally, these last five monks, torn between their love for the sacred spot they tended so well and their wish to see the new world they'd heard about, sadly and reluctantly got ready to leave.
As they prepared to close the temple gate behind them, a beautiful golden bird flew overhead. The bird was dangling five long white strings, which fluttered over their heads. Although later they couldn't explain why, each monk felt himself drawn to clasp one of the strings.
Once they'd grasped the strings, the golden bird took the group of monks to the land of their dreams, the place the traveling monk had described so vividly.
The golden bird took the monks to cities and villages, to the tops of mountains and deep into the valleys. The bird took them into homes and through the streets. And what did the monks see?
They found that the land of their dreams wasn't quite as they'd imagined. Instead of happiness and contentment, they saw the outside world as it really was. Yes, there were bright spots, but there was also plenty of hate, misery, and violence. On their tour with the golden bird, they saw a world without scruples, where, they feared, peace was never to be found.
It was a long journey, and when the golden bird brought them back to the temple garden, they were quite exhausted by all that they'd seen. They knew now, though, that they would never leave their temple again.
Three times the bird circled overhead before it vanished into the sky. And the monks knew then that Buddha had come to help them find the pathway to true happiness.