Courage and Compassion: Review of “The Banyan Deer”

It takes courage and compassion to work the edge of this practice, this life.  
The Banyan Deer: A Parable of Courage and Compassion (click here for more at Wisdom Publications) by the great storyteller, Rafe Martin (and illustrator, Richard Wehrman), retells a classic Buddhist story about a deer king who is willing to sacrifice his life for a doe and her unborn fawn, for the “other” herd, and then for all the animals, birds and fishies. 

It’s a darling book and as I read it I imagined that if my kids were still little, we’d read and reread The Banyan Deer. I heartily recommend the book, especially for those of you who have little ones and especially if you are vegetarian because that’s a strong sub-theme. The book’s got me wondering about my present omnivorous practices.
What was most evocative for me, though, was how the Banyan Deer was willing to die for the benefit of others. That kind of heroism has struck me deeply since I was a little one, especially in real life situations.
For example, in January, 1982, Lenny Skutnick, a government employee working in Washington, D.C., happened to see Air Florida Flight 90 smash into the 14th St. Bridge and crash into the Potomac. Moments later, when a woman lost her grip on a helicopter’s rescue line, other onlookers just looked on. Lenny Skutnick negated his selfishness and leapt into the freezing water, saving her life. 
Another example happened just the other day. A tornado swept through the small town of Mentor, MN. It was Wesley Michael’s 58th birthday and so his daughter was working at the convenience store that he owned and operated. Just as the weather turned bad, Michael drove to the store to see if he could help out. As he arrived, a tornado touched down and raced toward the store. He and his daughter ran to the back room, and Michael throw his body over his daughter’s, saving her life and sacrificing his own. 
Maybe he would have died anyway. And each of us is certainly going to die anyway. 
Like the Banyan Deer, these stories raise the question, “What am I willing to die for?”


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