There is another story from India that has some similar features to the Damon and Pythias story. This is another tale of self-sacrifice, a difficult concept for many kids to wrap their minds around. This story is slightly more challenging because it is not a sacrifice for friendship, but rather a sacrifice for leadership, which requires not just emotional courage but social courage as well. I found this in a collection of Jataka tales (stories of the incarnations of Buddha), and it is called The Banyan Deer.
Long ago, there were two tribes of deer, the Banyan Deer and the Monkey Deer. Each of these tribes had a magnificent king, with beautifully branched antlers and bright bold eyes. Nearby there also lived a human king, who loved to hunt. He often hunted for deer, but whenever he chanced upon the deer kings, who were as princely and splendid as he was himself, he would lower his bow and arrow. “The deer kings will never be harmed,” the human king decreed.
The servants who helped with the hunting found the hunts time-consuming and difficult, and decided to create an enormous fenced park. Then they herded the deer into it, and from then on the human king could hunt much more easily and the servants could attend their other jobs. However, it sometimes happened that more than one deer might be wounded in the chase, or die of fright while running, and so more deer died than were shot. The Banyan Deer King and the Monkey Deer King consulted one another, for this was becoming a crisis.
“Let us draw lots in our tribes, one day among the Banyans, the next day among the Monkeys, back and forth, and who is chosen will go to the gate and be taken, and that way the rest of the tribes will be safe and we will suffer the losses equally.”
The human king was amazed to find a deer waiting at the gate each day, and so it continued for some time. One day, when the lots were drawn, a mother Monkey deer with a young fawn was chosen. She went to her king and begged that she might wait until her fawn was older before she went to be sacrificed. “No!” said the Monkey Deer King. “You must take your turn when you are chosen, just as the others have done.”
In despair, the mother went to the Banyan King, and told him her trouble and begged for help. The noble Banyan King went himself to the gate, and waited for the hunters. But when the human king saw which deer was at the gate, he cried, “No! I have said the kings of the deer tribes must not be killed! What do you do here?”
The king of the Banyan Deer replied, “I could not ask my people to do what I am unwilling to do myself.”
Such courage and self-sacrifice coming from a deer king put the human king to shame, and from that time he gave up hunting the deer.
Giving up something precious for someone else can be hard. K. and I have a tradition of exclaiming “It’s Lucky Money Day!” whenever we find money on the ground, be it a penny, a quarter, or once a five dollar bill. It used to be finders keepers, but this year we agreed that all Lucky Money will go into a donation jar, as well as the change that winds up in coat pockets and the bottoms of handbags. K. chose the animal shelter where we got our family dog as the recipient for this year. I’ll be curious to see how much Lucky Money we collect. Enough for a trip to the movies? With popcorn? We shall see what could be ours, but what we will give up instead.