THE BALLAD OF THE FORTY-ONE SWANS
When the cool wind of autumn came, the birds began to leave. For many years, smoke from dungfires had swirled upwards where the red willows stood beside a pond, rooted like sacred water in a cup. The old couple looked on as one swan from their flock grew its feathers but - for some unexplained reason - was unable to fly. One autumn evening, as the sleet blew all around, the flock turned in formation upon the surface of the lake. Struggling along at the rear, the cygnet grew sad that he couldn’t rise from the water and fly away. What would happen to him, poor thing? And so, his flock flew off, leaving him to go round and round in circles, without success.
He called out to the darkening sky, in distress at being left, circling round and round in this way, abandoned by the flock. When they saw this, the old man and woman stopped and picked up the poor, injured creature. They deposited him head first into a basket and, taking him home, bandaged up his broken wing into a splint.
The forty swans circled over the ger several times, wondering whether they could trust the harmless old couple, whether the passing of time would inevitably push them forward. Their calls ricocheted off the surface of the pond into the blue spaciousness of the sky and, like the threading of a needle, they flew away.
By the third month of winter, all that the dark blue cuckoo beside the pond knew was that the thaw had passed into springtime, bringing the red willows into bud. Over the winter, the old man and woman had gotten used to the swan, and thought of him now as their child. Stretching up towards the sky, he would come home to the brown ger, where mother liked to lay his wing near the pluming smoke of the fire.
One gusting spring day, the flock of swans appeared, somewhat earlier than usual, they were as a like a cord threaded in the sky. They circled over the ger several times, all the while calling, and came to rest like white flowers on the pond. And the old man and woman saw their favorite son, flying like a black flower amidst this gathering of white lilies. For days and months he flew over the old couple, while in the land of Shambhala all they knew was that the air would turn chill and the top of the ger be dusted with snow. And so, one fresh autumn day, the flock of swans, circling clockwise over the pond, climbed higher and higher into the sky.
In one of those wonderful moments given us by the world, it is said that, as the old man and the woman watched, as if in a mirror, while the flock flew off in a V formation, one of the swans was flying home. And, while that one swan circled over the smokepipe of the old couple’s brown ger, the whole flock threaded their way back, pleading with him one after the other, a line of swans like prayer beads strung together. And so they decided on their path.
And when, from the clear turquoise sky, the pond was the size of a cooking-pot, the heat of this one action died down and grew like a flower’s seed in the consciousness of many generations. And - how many such mysteries might there be? - two white swan feathers fell slowly in circles from the sky, down onto the roof of the ger.
With keen ears we listen to this story, it remains deep in our hearts. Humanity and the natural world it inhabits are inevitably kindled within the alembic of later events. Yelling, whispering, the story is insistent that we should relate to one another with love, rather than with cruel abandonment.