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The Cuckoo Who Fell to Hell


Once upon a time in the spring, grasses and trees put out shoots and greenly swayed, and many creatures were waiting for Cuckoo’s beautiful song.

That day the sun’s rays shone brightly in the clear blue sky. But at the edge of the southern sky there was a heap of black clouds that did not move a bit. Cuckoo thought, “On this day when the weather is very warm, I want to sing a song with my melodious voice to extol the arrival of glorious spring.” She glided and alit at the top of a high tree. In a voice bubbling with joy, she sang this song:

Cuckoo, cuckoo. Spring has come.

Cuckoo, cuckoo. All the birds have sung their songs.

Cuckoo, cuckoo. The pleasant sun is shining.

Cuckoo, cuckoo. The herbs and trees have spread their branches and leaves.

All the creatures heard her, came out of their holes, and enjoyed the pleasures of springtime.

At that time, the black mass of clouds on the eastern horizon joined with a gale and covered the entire sky. Red lightning flashed and thunder roared and made things tremble. Simultaneously a mixture of rain and hail fell as if it were being poured from a bucket. In the same instant all the creatures were carried off by the rainwater or crushed by the hail as soon as it hit the ground. There was not a single creature left; all were killed.

After Cuckoo saw these lamentable circumstances, she became intolerably sad, when again a red flash of lightning from the black cloud, with thunder that shook heaven and earth, struck the tree on which Cuckoo had landed. With a crack, the tree fell over and killed Cuckoo as well.

In pitch blackness, all the souls of the recently killed creatures went to the Land of the Dead. Cuckoo too flew through the pitch black sky of the Land of the Dead.

All the souls appeared before Dharmaraja, the Lord of Death. Dharmaraja’s great eyes turned red and black; he turned up his nose, and flames spread from the tips of his horns. He examined the face of each creature. Finally he stared into Cuckoo’s face. Cuckoo sweated in fright. In a fierce strong voice Dharmaraja asked, “Wicked Cuckoo! What evil deeds have you done?” Cuckoo, her voice quaking, replied, “I’ve never done any kind of evil deed.” At that time, the other creatures told everything from start to finish: “Cuckoo made us not live. She summoned us into rain and hail. She made us be killed. She’s a great sinner.”

Dharmaraja got really angry and shouted, “Spiteful Cuckoo, you’re hoodwinking me. I’ve lived here for many tens of thousands of years, but this is the first time I’ve met a sack of sinful lies like you.” He champed his teeth and, scowling at the creatures again, he shouted, “You too have a heavy crime. Why did you listen to Cuckoo? You all have garnered nothing but karma that contradicts worldly laws.” With strong flames spreading from the tip of his horns, he arose from his throne and ordered, “Workers, throw these sinners into the Eighteen Hells right now!” Some death-workers with fierce faces appeared like the whirlwind. Instantly they chased Cuckoo and all the creatures into hell.

They were put into the division of the Eighteen Hells called Sotamtam. Without will, shivering with cold and lamenting spontaneously, Cuckoo was very sad and, quaking, sang this sad song:

Brrrr. It’s cold.

Blameless, I’ve been blamed.

Dharmaraja, Lord of Death,

Doesn’t distinguish between truth and lies.

Brrrr. It’s cold.

After they heard that, the creatures got angry and said, “Evil Cuckoo, you bringer of bad omens. We were dragged into hell on the track of your black crime. You deserve to be killed.” They all assembled. They bit Cuckoo and plucked out all her feathers and used them to warm themselves. Cuckoo’s whole body was stained with blood and left naked, without a drop of warmth. Whining, she said, “Brrrr. I’m the herald of spring. Didn’t you wait for my beautiful voice before? Now what answer can you give me. Brrrr.” She stuck to some ice in a pitch-black corner.

A year went by since Cuckoo had gone to hell. The spring of that year arrived and, even though a long time passed, there was no one to give notice. Many creatures did not come out of the ground and stayed beneath the earth. A compassionate Teacher who dwelled in the Buddha-fields knew this, called Dharmaraja before him and discussed Cuckoo.

The Teacher said, “Good Dharmaraja. Since you threw Cuckoo into hell the laws of the world have undergone a great change. If you don’t send Cuckoo back to the human world now, summer, winter, fall and spring will be upside-down, and there’s danger that it’ll be a big problem for all the creatures. Please send Cuckoo back to the human world.” Dharmaraja accepted the order, and, after he healed Cuckoo’s wounds and restored her feathers like before, he sent her back to the human world.

Cuckoo got to the human world and thought, “Shunning hardships, I announced the arrival of spring everywhere with whatever ability I had. But no one praised me for it. Still I was punished and thrown into hell. Not only did I experience many intolerable sufferings, but all the creatures regard me as their enemy. Now, after I build a nice nest like the other birds as well, I’ll lay the eggs in my womb.” She stayed there without making any sweet call at all.

The Teacher called her before him and said, “Sweet-voiced Cuckoo, the way you’re thinking is wrong. You should be stingy about the fact that you’re wasting your beautiful voice. Some creatures regard you as an enemy, but there are countless creatures who live in the human world. They wait in hope for you. But if you don’t notify them that spring has come, they’ll all criticize you.” Cuckoo said, “In the human world there are many creatures like birds, so if they want to deliver the message, they may.” The Teacher corrected her, saying, “Think about it. How would be if the crow delivered the message? Or how about the jackass? Their voices are nothing like yours.” Only then did Cuckoo promise to be the messenger of spring.

From then on Cuckoo, shunning all difficulties, has flown to mountains, valleys, forests, and villages giving the message:

Cuckoo, cuckoo.

Spring has come, spring has come.

Through her previous experience of going to hell, she often calls only after the rains have fallen. Dharmaraja knew that this was a bird very necessary to the human world, and when Cuckoo unluckily misunderstood how to do her job, he pardoned her.

Because her job is rushed, Cuckoo leaves her eggs in other birds’ nests. But all the other birds hatch them without interference or criticism. Thus all creatures praise Cuckoo. Cuckoo’s sweet song notifies them of spring’s glory and the shining of the sun of happiness. It is a new addition to the beauty of this human world.

—Snyung bu

Folk Story Amdo
The Cuckoo Who Fell to Hell
Collection Tibetan Children's Stories
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Snyung bu
Translator Larry Epstein
UID mandala-texts-50306
Creative Commons Licence