Cecil the Lion, and the Story of Savari the Hunter and Kuan Yin

By now you must have heard about Cecil the Lion. But if you haven’t, here is a brief account of the facts:

cecilCecil was a 13 year old lion that roamed Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park. (See him on the left in an undated photo from by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit – click to enlarge). Cecil was a popular cat, a favorite attraction for tourists visiting the park. Reportedly, a dentist from Minnesota paid $50,000 to a professional hunter for the opportunity to kill poor Cecil. They allegedly lured Cecil out of the sanctuary, shot and wounded him with an arrow. After they tracked him for 40 hours, they finished him off with a rifle, skinned him and removed his head.

Once the story hit the Internet, it went viral, and many were outraged. It is a sad fact that Americans regularly kill that lions, elephants, rhinos and other big game animals for “sport.” It’s sad that anyone does. I say if you’re going to shoot big game, use a camera.

I’m outraged, too. But there is little I can do other than add my voice to the protest by sharing this story with you, originally from the Tibetan biographies of the Eighty-Four Siddhas, who flourished between the seventh and eleventh century C.E. I’ve adapted it from Lama Anagarika Govinda’s version found in “Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness”:

Savari was a hunter who was very proud of his strength and his marksmanship. The only thing he did in life was to kill animals.

He was out hunting one day and he saw a stranger, also a hunter, approaching. He thought, “This guy has a lot of nerve hunting in my territory.” When the stranger drew up, Savari could not help but notice that he looked just like him. It was as if he were gazing into a mirror.

“Who are you?” Savari demanded.

“I am a hunter,” the stranger replied.

“And what is your name?”

“It is Savari.”

“How can that be? I am Savari. Where do you come from?”

“A far-away country.”

Savari didn’t like any of this. He decided to test the stranger.

“Can you kill more than one deer with a single arrow?”

The stranger said, “I can kill 300 with a single shot.”

“That’s pretty big talk. I’d like to see you back it up.”

kuan-yin-2015-2At that moment, the stranger magically created a herd of 500 deer. What Savari did not know what that the stranger was actually Kuan Yin who had taken Savari’s form because she felt pity for him.

The stranger then fired off an arrow and accomplished the feat he had boasted of with ease. “If you have any doubts about it, go fetch one of the deer.”

Savari went to the closet fallen deer but when he tried to lift it, he could not because it was too heavy. “Well,” said the stranger, “You must not be much of a hunter if you cannot lift one deer.”

This broke Savari’s pride completely and he went up to the stranger, fell on his knees, and begged the stranger to teach him.

Kuan Yin said, “If you want to learn this magic shooting art, you must first purify yourself for a month by not eating meat and by meditating on love and compassion toward all living things. Do that, and then I will return and share my secret.”

Savari did was he was instructed and a month later, he was a changed man but he had not yet realized it. When Kuan Yin returned, Savari ask to be shown the magic way of shooting.

Kuan Yin, still in the form of the stranger, drew an elaborate mandala, adorned it with flowers, and told Savari, who was accomplied by his wife, to look at the mandala carefully.

The husband and wife, who had seriously practiced meditation for a full month, were able to concentrate on the mandala with one-pointedness of mind, and as they did, the ground below them seemed to open up and reveal the bowels of the earth.

“What do you see?” asked Kuan Yin.

Savari and his wife were speechless, for they gazed upon the eight great hells and the agonizing suffering of innumerable living beings.

Kuan Yin asked again, “What do you see?”

As the husband and wife peered further they recognized two painfully contorted faces. And they cried out, “It is ourselves!”

They scrambled away from the mandala and Kuan Yin became herself and Savari and his wife implored her to teach them the way of liberation, and they forgot entirely about the magic way of shooting and the sport of hunting. After this, Savari devoted his time to meditation on loving-kindness and became one of the Eighty-Four Siddhas.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the moral of this story. But I will tell you that the tale was transformed into a well-known Zen fable about Shih-Kung and Ma-tsu, that was probably first presented to Western readers in D.T. Suzuki’s “Essays in Zen Buddhism” series published in the 1920s and ’30s.  Shih-Kung is a hunter who hates Buddhist monks.  One day he is confronted by Master Ma-tsu who convinces him to renounce hunting. Shih-Kung then becomes a monk and one version of the story has it that after Shih-kung became enlightened, whenever he was asked about the dharma, he would draw his bow and arrow and aim at the questioner.


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