The Proud Peacock and the Mallard: The Price of Getting Cocky

The Proud Peacock is one in a series of Jataka Tales from Dharma Publishing. They describe the book this way:
A golden mallard, chosen by the birds to be their king, grants his daughter's wish to select her own mate.  From all available candidates, the princess chooses an elegant peacock.  Delighted, the peacock shows off his beauty.  Realizing his prideful nature, the mallard princess rejects the peacock and chooses a more modest mate.  Deeply ashamed, the peacock utters a hoarse cry of dismay.  To this day, peacocks still make this same sound.

 I used this story with both my primary and upper elementary aged students.
With my primary children, I raised the following questions for discussion:

  • Why did the king summon (call) all the birds of the world together?
  • Who did the princess choose first?   Why did she choose him?
  • Why did the princess change her mind about the peacock?
  • Who did the princess choose instead of the peacock? Why did she choose him?
  • Who was the Buddha in this story? How is the mallard like the Buddha?
  • What would have been a better way for the peacock to behave when he was chosen?
  • What does this story teach us about how we should act when someone notices our good qualities?
After our discussion, my little ones colored pictures of both a mallard and peacock. They can be pasted on construction paper with the quote, "Modesty is more beautiful than pride."

This lesson lends itself to fun arts and crafts activities.  It's also a great story to be told with a flannel board and simple felt pieces or acted out in a mini-play.  The only limit is your own creativity with whatever resources and funds you have available.

Here are the pictures I used for the kids to color:

My older students discussed these questions:
  • Why would the Buddha share this story?  What is the moral?
  • The Buddha is concerned with ending our suffering.  What dangers and suffering does this story help us avoid for ourselves?  for others?
  • Can you think of everyday examples of the peacock's behavior?  (Couldn't help but giggle when Justin Beiber's name popped up)
  • Can you think of everyday examples of the mallard duck?
  • Compare the mallard with our faithful monks.  What are the similarities?
  • Initially the princess chose the peacock.  What does this tell us about beauty and charm?  Are they intrinsically bad?  
  • Can you think of someone who seemed very attractive to you when you first met, but as you got to see their true character, their vices affected your view of them?  What about the reverse.  Have you ever met someone who seemed rather plain until you got to know them better?  Did it change the way you viewed them physically?
I closed this lesson with a brief meditation.  Towards the end of it I asked the students to ask themselves: Are there areas of my life where I may be in danger of behaving like a peacock?  What can I do to prevent this from happening?

This lesson surprised me.  I've had the book for a few years now but it seemed almost too simplistic to use.  Boy was I wrong.  This simple story stirred up an engaging discussion with my middle school students. Sharing the Buddha's message of humility and inner beauty can lighten the burden our children carry, growing up in a culture that values physical beauty and self-promotion over simplicity and modesty.  

May all be free from suffering by the power of the Triple Gem!

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