The Homing Instinct Contained in Heungbujeon


At Heungbu’s house, a pair of swallows built a nest. Before long, baby swallows began to appear in the nest. Then one day, Heungbu discovered a baby swallow lying on the ground. Heungbu took care of the baby swallow with great care.

The swallow, nurtured by Heungbu, grew up healthy and flew to a warm country in the autumn. The following spring, the swallow returned to Heungbu’s house, carrying a seed. When the seed given by the swallow was planted, a box full of treasures opened up. Heungbu, who always lived kindly and even took care of the injured swallow, lived happily ever after with his family.

This is the plot of the classic Korean folktale Heungbujeon. But how could the swallow return to Heungbu’s house exactly one year later? This story is not simply fabricated for moral lesson but is based on the homing instinct possessed by swallows. Homing instinct refers to the nature of returning to the place where they used to inhabit, reproduce, or raise their offspring after being far away. It’s also called homing behavior.

In spring, the swallows that visit Korea give birth to and raise their young, then in autumn, they gather together and fly to the warm regions of Southeast Asia and South China, where they spend their winter. And when spring comes again, they return to Korea, which represents the typical migratory birds of summer.

Before migrating to warmer countries, swallows make thorough preparations. Because they have to fly long distances, they eat more food than usual and gain about 25 percent of their weight. They accumulate excess nutrients as fat reserves in their bodies before migration. This is similar to storing enough fuel to fly long distances without resting. Flying from Mokpo, Korea, to China is about 560 km [347.9 mi], and if they go to Thailand in Southeast Asia, the distance extends to a substantial 3,840 km [2,386 mi]. However, physical distance is not crucial for swallows because they have the instinct to return to their original place, their hometown.

Not only swallows but also cuckoos, herons, wagtails, cranes, and starlings migrate according to their homing instincts. Salmon, eels, pigeons, and ants also have the ability to return accurately to their place of origin without a compass or map after traveling great distances. Although it has not been scientifically proven, many animals instinctively return to where they were born.

So what about humans, the lords of all creation? Humans, too, long for their birthplace and their home. Home is where loving parents are, and where delicious food prepared by mothers awaits. That’s why people who live abroad for a long time or study abroad sometimes suffer from homesickness.

Spiritually, it is the same. Our souls also long for our spiritual hometown, the heavenly country.

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Heb 11: 15–16

The heavenly country that God has prepared for us is a beautiful place no minds can conceive (1 Co 2:9). Furthermore, it is a place without pain, sorrow, or death.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. . . . “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:1–4

Just as a swallow prepares itself by storing energy to return to where it came from, we also need preparation to return to heaven.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” Jn 8:51

The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 1 Jn 3:24

The seven feasts in three times, including the Sabbath and Passover, are the commandments God has given us. By keeping these commandments of God, we abide in God and gain the strength to go to heaven. The kingdom of heaven, the heavenly home-country of our souls, is not a place we can go just by believing in God. No matter how much you long for it, you can never reach the destination of heaven without keeping God’s commandments.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” Mt 7:21–23