It was a very cold day in February and I was sitting beside the large picture window in my kitchen. The lower part of this window has a smaller sliding window with an outside screen. There is a wooden platform outside the small window and the screen is slid over about six inches so that when we open the inside window we can put birdseed onto the platform through the opening to feed the birds in the winter. It was a very cold morning and there were a lot of birds in the lilac tree beside the window waiting for their chance to feed.
I was doing my morning dedication and prayers when all of a sudden there was a great commotion outside the window! I looked over and was shocked to see that in the space between the screen and window, which is about twenty inches wide and two inches deep, there was a large blue jay that had chased a tiny bird in as far as it could go and with loud screeching and much flapping of wings was attacking it! Oh my! What to do?
I knew the two birds could get hurt in this confined space and felt that I must do something. The window is low to the floor so I dropped to my knees and put my hand up against the inside window to shoo away the large blue jay. This worked! Reluctantly the blue jay backed away to the opening in the screen, flew off to a branch of the lilac tree beside the window and proceeded to scream very loudly. Ah, I felt relief, the blue jay was gone and the tiny bird was safe from the attack.
The tiny bird seemed very calm now, sitting quite still, until suddenly it panicked trying to fly away through the screen. It was trapped between the screen and window and didn't know how to get to the opening. I wished it would stop before it hurt itself but it ended up clinging to the screen by its feet, its body distorted. Oh dear – what now? I realized that this bird did not know where the opening was or how to get out. I lightly tapped the inside window pointing to the end where the opening in the screen was, trying to communicate with my mind, telling it "This is the way out – this way – this way out! Come this way." But of course the bird could not understand me. It was impossible.
I became very concerned. The window is at least twenty feet from the ground so I couldn't reach the bird that way and the indoor window was frozen shut and would be that way for some time on this frigid morning so I couldn't get to the screen to open it further to let the tiny bird escape. The way the bird was thrashing about I thought it would surely injure itself or even die if it could not get free. The bird panicked again, fluttering its wings, flying against the screen and then, giving up, it rested on the ledge. I put my hand to the window behind the bird but this did not help. I felt desperate. I didn't know what to do. I asked the Buddha for help.
I tapped the window again, pointing to the way out but realized that this was senseless and was only frightening the little bird. Instead of helping I was probably creating more fear. So I sat back and calmed my mind. Praying for a good outcome I gently tapped the window behind the bird, coaxing it in my mind to move along. Success! The tiny bird quickly hopped the twenty inches to where the screen was open and flew out to a nearby branch of the lilac tree, unharmed and free! What joy! I felt elated! I was so grateful. I believed that Buddha had helped us. I felt right away that something important had happened in my mind.
I contemplated what had just occurred. My first reaction was to try to stop the fight and rescue the tiny bird from the immediate danger of the attacking blue jay. Then I saw that this was not enough. The tiny bird was trapped and could be injured or die unless it got free. Finally I realized that even though I had the information and desire to save it, I was helpless to do anything because the bird was incapable of understanding me and that instead of helping, my actions were causing it more distress. Therefore, my compassion was not enough without the wisdom to act correctly.
The trapped bird with its limitations made me reflect on the reality of all beings in samsara. I think that we all suffer from ignorance, and that most of us are totally unaware of our predicament of being trapped in cyclic existence.
If we don't know the teachings of Buddha, and if we don't know that there are enlightened beings who have the compassion and wisdom to show us the way to liberation, how can we wake up? Like the bird, we cannot perceive the hand pointing to the way out or hear the directions telling us which way to go. I see how important it is to take advantage of this precious human life to learn and practice the teachings.
I have spent most of this life in ignorance and delusion. Now, I am so very grateful to the Buddha for his teachings and to the teachers for their compassion and wisdom and their desire to help all sentient beings. I am most grateful to have found the teachings in this lifetime, even so late in life. This is such a rare and precious gift and something to be valued above all else. I pray that all sentient beings suffering from ignorance find the teachings and begin their journey to liberation.
This small happening had a lot of meaning for me. I see in it a teaching: to feel the suffering, to feel the compassion, to realize that compassion without wisdom is not enough, that I was helpless to do anything to help despite my eagerness, and that compassion without wisdom can be harmful. I reflect that all beings are helpless, but with the opportunity to learn the teachings from those Great Masters and teachers and practice the teachings there is hope for all sentient beings. I am grateful to have the Three Jewels as my refuge and to know that it is possible to one day reach enlightenment with the compassion and the wisdom and the power to benefit all beings. How wonderful this would be for us all to achieve. My wish is for every living being to have the benefit of the teachings.