Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Banyan Deer [a short review of a short book]

Courtesy of Wisdom Publications

The Jataka Tales are stories based on the previous lives of the Buddha. Sometimes about a human, but more often about an animal, the key theme in a Jataka story is that showing love and compassion is the best way to live your life - even if that means putting the welfare of others before your own... especially if that is the case.
The larger perspective for a Jataka is to show that the Buddha attained full awakening in his lifetime as Prince Siddhartha not just because of his efforts in that particular lifetime but also as a direct result of his good actions in previous lives. This is the core life-teaching on the universal law of cause and effect; our present actions [karma] have far-reaching effects on everything that exists, and especially on our own future lives.

I have been very interested in the Jataka Tales for many years now and have a keen interest in researching and re-writing them for a modern audience.

This particular little book, The Banyan Deer by Rafe Martin, is a fine example of how to re-present these classic tales for a 21st Century western audience.
The style of the writing, the pace, the economy of words, all augment a book that is already so pleasing to the eye; it is published by the non-profit, eco-conscious Wisdom Publications and beautifully illustrated by Richard Wehrman.

The story embraces many themes and is suitable for children of all ages and adults alike. The compelling narrative - short though it is - takes us gently through contemplations on hunting, meat-eating, moral government, self-sacrifice, and karma.
The Banyan Deer tells the story of a human king who is converted to non-violence and vegetarianism by the animal king of his own deer-herd. This deer-king [who is later to reincarnate as the Buddha himself] is even willing to lay down his life for his fellows, and the human king is so moved and inspired by this noble example that he frees all the creatures in his possession and completely outlaws all hunting, fishing, and the eating of other beings in his kingdom.

This little book packs a big punch and is highly recommended for all.

The illustrations are simply exquisite and highly reminiscent of those in Ellen C. Babbitt's 1912 version of the Jataka Tales.