Stephen Levine (1937 - 2016) was an American poet, author, and spiritual teacher who was deeply respected for his work with his wife Ondrea on death and dying. In this posthumous volume, he shares with readers the spiritual teachings of animals in a lovely collection of stories about our four-legged, winged, and crawling companions. These selections are modeled after the Jataka Tales which consist of hundreds of anecdotes and fables which depict earlier incarnations of the future Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.
These teaching tales have many goals:
"The primary teaching of the Jataka tales is generosity. The collection of stories calls to us to overcome the human tendency to separate and attempt to control. It teaches the sweetness of renunciation; the giving of oneself to another, for the benefit of all. It is the lineage of the unfolding of generosity, kindness, and insight through the auspices of the evolution of consciousness. . . . The Jataka tales are stories of commitment and self-sacrifice in the time when the cosmic egg cracks, and being loving becomes even more important than being loved."
Levine's stories are different from the traditional tales in that they are stories from his own experiences with animals. He ranges freely through a variety of animal kingdoms with portraits and insightful observations about snakes, crows, ravens, mice, spiders, hummingbirds, ants, crabs, prairie dogs, skunks, bats, blowfish, cats, dragonflies, coyotes, and Daddy Long Legs. Here are lessons from a salamander about forgiveness, a mouse about faith, body refreshment and patience from bears, and many more.
"Animals have a natural mindfulness," Levine writes. "They know what they are doing. Humans, who are full of confusion and seldom wholly in touch with their mind/body, need encouragement and technique to live in the present. As Rumi said, 'Love is the bridge.' "