Many of us are familiar with the story of King Sibi narrated in Mahabharata.
A falcon was chasing a Dove and the Dove sought refuge in Sibi, who was the ancestor of Lord Rama.
Sibi is recorded as the ancestor of Chola Kings and the Cholas had the title of Sembiyan.
The Tamil name for Sibi was Sembiyan.
Shatial, Karakoram Highway: Buddhist petroglyphs near road: Sibi-Jataka (body offering: rescue of dove by boddhisattva’s offering of his own flesh to the falcon), stupa, inscriptions in Sogdian, Brahmi, Karoshti; after 4th century CE. Pakistan, Northern Areas
As the Dove was the natural food for the Falcon, it demanded that it be given its food.
To keep up his word and driven by compassion Sibi cut a portion of thigh equivalent to the weight of the Dove.
The scale tilted towards the Dove.
King Sibi continued to cut away portions of his body, to match the weight of the Dove.
As it was not possible, he sat on the scale himself.
It was Indra who came in the form of the Falcon.
He blessed Indra that His name will be remembered for compassion.
(Mahabharata, Aranya parva, adhyayas 130-131.)
The story appears in Japan in two versions.
One version is the same. Only the pronunciations are different.
Sibi is pronounced as Shibbi (strong empasis on the h) .
The other version is from the Jatakamala.
In this story Indira dressed as a blind person approaches King Sibbi requesting for eye-sight. King Sibbi pierces his own eyes and gives them to the blind man asking him to use it to retain his eye-sight.
King Shibi is believed to be a previous incarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha. In this story a heavenly being named Bishamon approaches the God Taishaku and tells him ‘There is a great Bodhisattva named King Shibi. Soon he will become a Buddha.’ On hearing this Taishaku decides to test to test the sincerity of the King’s practice in pursuing enlightenment. He transforms himself into a hawk and instructs Bishamon to take on the appearance of a dove.
Chased after by the hawk, the dove to escapes and flies into the arms of King Shibi. Perched on the branch of a tree, the hawk says to the King, “Please let me have the dove back. It is what I have been trying to get.” King Shibbi replies, “No, I can’t because I have vowed to protect all living things. I cannot return it to you.”
The hawk then points out , “I am one of the living things that you have vowed to save. If you take away my food for today, I will be unable to live tomorrow.”
The King then offers to cut off a piece of his own flesh and gave it to the hawk. As the King proceeded to cut his own flesh, the hawk measures it using a balance and found the dove to be consistently heavier than the muscle of the King. No matter how much muscle was added, the weight was lighter than the total weight of the dove. Finally, the King cuts all the flesh off of his body.
The King tries desperately to put his entire body on the balance, but falls to the ground. He then exclaims, “I once made a pledge to save all living beings! I cannot let such minor sufferings defeat me!”
At last he successfully climbs onto the balance. Watching the entire scene, all the heavenly beings praise the King saying, “He did not begrudge his life, even for a bird. He is a person who best suits the title of Bodhisattva.
Suddenly, Taishaku casts off his disguised figure as a hawk and regains his original appearance.
He says to the King, “Don’t you have any pain or regret?” The King replies, “I have no regrets whatsoever. My heart is rather full of joy.”
No sooner did the King utter these words than did his body change back into what it used to be.