You might have known about the Buddhist teaching of The Suchness or be familiar with The Nature of Thing phenomenon in our life. It could be as natural as a lion hunts a deer in the wild. Or it is as simple as birth-aging-illness-and death in every human being life. I, too, have read and studied about those teaching and concept and contemplated about that Nature of Thing. It’s been my assumption that I can comprehend the concept with simple explanations. Probably many of us have the same assumption. We are often quite proud of our intellectual understanding when seeing an incidence of the Nature of Suchness in our life. I, too, am confident with my understanding that I’m somehow able to explain the concept beyond that Nature into a deeper spiritual layer, and I might talk about it like a Dharma teacher.
But let me tell you, I can truly see how beautifully realistic that Nature is, only when I experience it, not by theoretical contemplation but when being placed into the position that push me to deal with the reality of that Nature.
That was time when I did a volunteer work for children program of the retreat at a Buddhist monastery/a mindfulness practice centre in France – called Plum Village where people come to learn and practice mindfulness.
On that morning, after breakfast, I was preparing some toys and other stuff in a tent that built for kids’ activities. Finishing my work, I was about to remove my gloves and wash my hands. Walking across the lawn, enjoying peaceful early morning sun, I suddenly heard a scary noise from a flock of birds.
Turned around, I saw a black cat holding a bird in his mouth and other birds were flying above him. That was why, I guessed, the birds were all screaming when one of their friends was attacked.
The cat stopped and dropped the bird when he saw me. I stopped and watched what was happening. Looking closely, I found that the little bird was still alive.
The cat kept playing the cat-and-mouse game with the bird while the poor little bird was fighting back with all her strength. My first thought was, “Wow, you little bird, you’re such a fighter.” The bird was limping and defending herself aggressively.
Few meters away from the cat-and-mouse game, I looked around hoping to find someone passing by, so that I could ask for help or at least could get advice for what I should do. Unluckily, no one around. At that moment, I was not sure what to do. I honestly did not want to involve in this kind of fight, especially when I was physically sick since I had been having fever. But I knew that I couldn’t allow myself to leave the bird there.
(All people, including me, in the Village are aware of the cat-hunts-bird game here, but I didn’t have any clue aboutwhat to do if I encounter one)
I tiredly prayed, “Oh my Lord, please tell me what to do”. I approached the fight and shooed the cat away. I was still on my gloves, trying to reach and catch the bird. But the bird was too scared to let me touch. She was still in her violent mood and defending herself while trying to limp away.
I finally could catch the bird after few slips. Holding the bird in one palm, I petted her head and comforted her, “It’s alright, you’re fine”. Her heart was throbbing wildly.
When I walked the bird away from the cat, he was starring at me with his eyes wide open as if telling me, “How dare you”, while another cat approached the scene.
Having now the bird in hands, I was a bit worried because I had never rescued a wounded bird. I kept looking around, hoping to find someone for help. But I saw no one. At that moment. I recalled the Nature of Thing. I prayed, “Oh Lord, if you mean to put me in this position, you tell me what to do next.”
Still holding the bird, I then walked to the nearby barn to put back the tools I used for making toys. A man passed by (a Swedish, father of one kid in the group that I took care of) and I asked the man, “Do you know what I should do with the bird”. The man said, “Sorry, I don’t really know”. I thanked him for helping me putting back the tools I borrowed from the barn.
I kept walking. My 2nd attempt for help was with an old Argentinian lady passing by, she said, “I don’t know either. I am sorry, maybe you should find some sisters (the nuns) to help”.
Keep walking toward the dinning hall, I saw a group of Vietnamese sisters working on something. I approached and asked help for the bird. The response was they were not sure what to do and told me to seek help from some Westerner sisters who might know better way. That was my 3rd attempt.
(In this monastery, the Buddhist nuns and monks and the practitioners come from all corners of the world)
I turned right away, and saw a Western sister passing by (I didn’t know her name back then), I had a better hope that at least that sister could tell me what to do.
Showing the bird to her face, I cried to that sister, “Sister, please rescue the bird”.
The moment seeing the bird, she closed her hood with a helpless face, “Oh, please, not me, please”.
The sister bowed and said, “Sorry, I can’t help,” then turned away. That was my final reach for help.
Although, I already knew that, in this monastery, it was quite normal to see cats catch and kill birds and mouses. For the past days, I had seen few dead mouses caught by cats and I was totally fine with that. It’s nature.
Yet, after that moment, I couldn’t stop tearing. I suddenly recognized that I might have put too much pressure on that sister. I said, “Sorry, sister” and walked away.
Talking to myself and to the bird, “Alright, little bird, Buddha placed you in my hands, I prayed to do the right thing. Now, He will take care of you, okay.” Then, I knew what I was going to do. I walked down to the forest.
On the way, I met two of my Dutch friends, I explained in tear the situation. My friends said they didn’t know what to do either. They asked me if I knew the bird’s nest, or if I could take care of the bird. I told them I was going to release the bird.
Along the way, the bird was still trying few times to escape out of my hands.
I walked down to the forest, quite far away where the cat was. I put her down in a bush, petting and telling the bird, “Everything is going to be fine, Buddha will take care of you, no worries”.
The bird immediately calmed down. Her heartbeat slowed down right at that moment. She did not try to escape, run, or scream anymore. She was completely still and peaceful. It was like a miracle.
I sat with her for quite a while and left to do my work.
Several hours later, after lunch, I came back to the bush, brought along some bread crumbs to feed the bird. I was so happy to see the little bird was still there, not moving much. I fed her. But she didn’t take any bread. I tried to get her some water from whatever left on the leaves around.
Sitting next to her, I talked with a high hope, “You’ll soon recover from the shock and will fly again. No worries. You’ll be stronger after this accident. Though you might not find your nest again, you’ll be exploring a new environment, enjoy it, no worries.”
I felt peace.
I came back to her for dinner at about 6p.m, brought my camera along and thought that I would capture her image as a memory and write a story because the little bird had touched me deeply.
But the bird was not there anymore. She left behind the bread crumbs (I took this picture). I believed that she was recovered and able to fly again
I felt missing her. Whatever might have happened to the bird, I was relieved.
This rescuing-the-little-bird experience helped me to reaffirm my determination that I’d rather do a Right action in a Nature of Thing incidence with a Right view than giving a skillful explanation of its Nature with a vanity thought.
I’d like to share with you that, you and I, we might encounter many similar situations in life. At times, no one knows what to do, not even offering a prayer, but it doesn’t mean people don’t care. Sometimes, the situation is just out of people’s hands or beyond their understanding. And that, I learn to pray and listen to His guide for how to take care of the Nature He creates.
The little bird also offered me a gentle reminder that we should not lose ourselves into the Nature of Thing concept by being idle and apathy towards suffering, or not do the right thing when witnessing injustice. We need to practice for our stillness and should not let the suffering of our natural being invade our inner peace. If we can do something, do something. And one always possible thing is to pray for peace, the rest will be taken care by our Lords.