There was once a hunter who lived in a village at the edge of a forest. Everyday, he would go into the forest and ensnare animals or birds, and selling them, would return home with the money.
One day, he was unable to catch any animals, but just a single she-dove. Putting her in a cage he always carried along, he turned homewards. Suddenly, the sky was rent by thunder and lightning, and soon, it started raining heavily. Finding himself unable to proceed in the rain, he took shelter under a tree, praying aloud, “O Lord, I am caught in this terrible thunderstorm, tired, cold and hungry. Please help me and show me a way out of my troubles.”
Now, on the same tree lived a dove, the husband of the same she-dove who had been captured by the hunter. The dove was worried about his wife, and wondered what had become of her. He voiced his worries aloud, “My beloved has not yet returned. Has she been stranded by this terrible thunderstorm, or has she become the target of some hunter. Is she alive or dead? My nest feels too lonely without her, and I can not live in her absence. O my beloved, where are you?”
The she-dove heard the lamentations of her husband, and thanked the lord for giving her such a wonderful and caring mate. She felt sad that she was unable to return to him. But she called out to him, saying, “My dear husband, please do not grieve so. I cannot bear to hear your lamentations. As a wife, I have tried to be true and good to you, so please remember the good times we had together.”
She continued, “I have been caught by the hunter who rests under this tree, which is our home. But before you get angry with him, let me tell you that he is only doing his duty, which is to capture or kill animals and birds. It is our misfortune that I have fallen into his hands. But he is cold and hungry in this thunderstorm, and has taken refuge under our home. He is thus like a guest to us, and it is our duty to serve him to the best of our ability.”
Filled with emotion, she advised her husband, “helping our enemy might land you in danger, and you might even lose your life, but we should never budge from our duty, so I pray to you to help the poor man!”
Hearing the words of his wife, the dove wept for her, but then, flew down to the hunter and said, “O hunter, in the midst of this thunderstorm, you have taken refuge under the tree I call home. You are thus my guest, and I welcome you. Please tell me what I can do for you.”
The hunter was surprised to hear the words of the bird, but he said, “O bird, I am cold and hungry. Is there something you can do to relieve my misery?”
The dove thought for a moment, and then flew off, returning with a burning piece of twig. Placing it on the ground, he gathered some half-dried leaves and tried to add fuel to the fire. When it still wouldn’t burn, he picked up his nest and threw it on the embers, and at last the fire was big enough for the hunter to warm himself.
While the hunter tried to bring some life into his numbed limbs, the dove addressed him again –“O hunter, I have tried to give you warmth, as best as I could. I can see that you are hungry, but I have nothing to offer you as food. I therefore, offer myself to you, and hope that you fill your stomach and return home refreshed. This is the only way I can serve you, who are my guest.” Before the hunter could say a word, the dove jumped into the fire so that the hunter could eat him!
The hunter was left speechless at the great sacrifice of the bird. He felt disgusted with himself and said, “I am the lowliest of all creatures on this earth, for I have been hunting and capturing these creatures, which are kinder and better than I am. From now on, I shall give up this terrible profession. I shall not harm any other creatures ever again!”
Taking this oath, he set free the she-dove he had in his cage, and turned his feet homewards, for the thunderstorm had passed.
The she-dove saw the body of her dear husband, who had sacrificed himself performing his duty, and said, “My dear husband, you perished doing your duty, and shall surely attain heaven. Of what use is my life without you by my side. I do not want to live any more!” and she too jumped into the fire which had consumed her husband!
As she stepped into the fire, a divine vehicle appeared from the heavens, with the dove seated in it. He called out to his wife – “Come dear, come and join me, for we shall live together now in heaven!” Thus the dove and his wife, having performed their duty righteously, attained heaven.
The hunter saw this sight from afar, and repented for his deeds which had separated such a pair. Immersed in his thoughts, and unwilling to live such a cursed life, he walked into a forest fire. The fire consumed all his evil deeds, and he too attained heaven.
There are two things we can learn from this story – first, that sacrifice is the key to happiness, and second, that we should never harm any creatures, however small they are.