"Self-sacrifice is the highest stage of sacrifice".
There was a mean hunter, who used to roam in the jungle in search of birds and other small animals. He looked like Yama (the God of death), and was so heartless that he was deserted by all his friends and relatives for his cruel deeds.
In the very same jungle, there lived a happy couple of doves. They had built a beautiful nest in the top of a big tree.
One evening, the hunter caught hold of the female dove when she was alone, and trapped her into a cage. He was looking for more hunting, when a sudden storm broke in. It was accompanied by heavy rains.
Terrified, he began searching for shelter from the rain and the gusty wind. He could not find any shelter, but luckily found a big tree. Shivering in rain and cold, he took shelter under the tree.
This happened to be the very tree where the female dove he had caught lived.
After some time, the rain started to cease and the sky started to clear. But it was late into the night, so the hunter decided to spend the night under the tree.
He prayed, "O spirit of the tree, or whoever lives here, I take shelter under this tree for the night. I am drenched in the rains, and suffer from cold and hunger. Please protect me for the night."
Meanwhile, in the nest above, the male dove was very worried as his wife had not returned. The fact that there was a storm even compounded his worries. He said, "I am so sad and worried that my wife has not returned. Our home seems empty without her. I am worried because the wind blows so fiercely, and it is already late in the night."
The female dove could hear her husband worrying from above, and she called out to him.
The female dove said, "I am being held by the hunter who has taken shelter under the very tree. But I will tell you something that will be for your own good."
She continued, "The guest is always God. If someone ever comes to your house for shelter, one must do his best to him, even risking own life. This hunter is cold and hungry. Don't hate him because he has caged me. Instead, welcome him because he seeks refugee for the night under your protection."
She explained, "This hunter is not to be blamed that I have been caged by him. But this must be the result of my past deeds. Grievances like poverty, disease, imprisonment and even disaster come to own's life as a result of one's own deeds. Thus, speaks our religion. Please welcome him according to our traditions, and not hate him for me."
The male dove was touched by his wife's virtuous guidance, and he flew down and approached the hunter with warmth. He said, "O friend! Welcome to our tree. Please don't worry about anything and stay in this place as long as you want. Please tell me how I can be of assistance to you."
The hunter was relieved to have a friend. He said, "O dove, please do something to help me from this terrible cold."
The dove at once flew to a distant place and brought back a piece of burning coal. He then climbed up the tree and dropped some dry leaves. The leaves caught fire.
He said to the hunter, "Please warm yourself from this fire. I am already unfortunate for not being able to provide food to relieve you of your hunger. As you are my guest, I offer myself. Please accept my sacrifice and make a meal out of me."
Saying so, he flew into the fire, which killed him.
The hunter was very hungry, and could not refuse to accept his offer. At the same time, he was moved by such warmth. His heart was filled with pity. He said, "A man who is wicked always has a troubled mind. And he ultimately pays for his evil actions. I am certain to go to hell, for the cruel misdeeds I have done for so long. But this dove has set a virtuous example, and taught me a lesson of sacrifice."
He said, "I will lead a life of discipline and well-being from today. I promise to sacrifice all my lavish unwanted pleasures."
With this, he threw away his cage, which broke and released the unfortunate female dove.
When the female dove realized that her husband was already dead and was burning in the fire, she began to wail, "What good is my life without you. I have lost all interest in life"
Saying so, she flew into the flames, which got her killed too.
After her death, she met her husband in heaven. He was transformed into a divine creature, riding a chariot in costly ornaments. The female dove realized, she had assumed a divine form, too.
As for the hunter, he renounced his life as a hunter and converted into a sage. One day, when he saw a wild forest fire, he decided to sacrifice his life to regret his past deeds.
He, thus, paid for his sins and was relieved of his sins. He went to heaven with great joy.
The wise indeed say: Self-sacrifice is the highest stage of sacrifice.