The Prince Who Became a Cuckoo

June 15, 2007

This story, “The Prince who became a Cuckoo: A Tale of Liberation” (by Lo-Dro, translated by Geshe Wangyal, (1982) is long out of print in English. It is a well known tale, evidently from Tibet. However, even in its bare bones summary, it raises some open-ended questions:

The prince, as heir to the throne, was provided with many opportunities to prepare himself to rule. Together with a friend, he practiced the mystical arts. They both developed the ability to transfer their minds to other bodies. His friend was deceitful and saw the possibility of taking power. Using the mind transfer method, he tricked the prince into taking the body of a cuckoo bird. Then, he trapped the prince inside the body with no hope of his escape. The friend then took the body of the prince and assumed the position in the court. The real prince, now locked into the cuckoo body, discovered that he was able to communicate with both the animals of the forest and humans. He accepted his situation and remained in the forest to teach them the truth of the Buddha.


In this “Tale of Liberation”, what is liberated? Many would say that to have a regal position such as a prince (or a CEO) would be the means to freedom as expressed in the everyday terms of power and wealth. But, the spirit of the prince is now independent of the body or situation, and is free to express itself fully– in this case as helping others attain their own freedom.

As the prince-cuckoo shows, many situations are not of choice or control. Life moves on. But to be unaffected by our position and put full energy into the moment is to be in accord with nature.

The call of the bird has the potential to call one’s attention back from distractions to the here and now.It can be a call of awakening.Or the call may be a reminder of the magnitude of mystery, of how little is known.At other times, it may be dismissed as a sound of a bird, or not heard at all.

Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (