The Language of Animals

Once upon a time when a king named Senaka was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Sakka. The king Senaka was friendly with a certain naga king. This naga king, they say, left the naga world and ranged the earth seeking food. The village boys seeing him said, “This is a snake,” and struck him with clods and other things.

The king, going to amuse himself in his garden, saw them, and being told they were beating a snake, said, “Don’t let them beat him. Drive them away.” And this was done.

So the naga king got his life, and when he went back to the naga world. He took many jewels, and coming at midnight to the king’s bedchamber he gave them to him, saying, “I got my life through you.” So he made friendship with the king and came again and again to see him. He appointed one of his naga girls, insatiate in pleasures, to be near the king and protect him, and he gave the king a charm, saying, “If ever you do not see her, repeat this charm.”

One day the king went to the garden with the naga girl and was amusing himself in the lotus tank. The naga girl seeing a water snake quitted her human shape and made love with him. The king not seeing the girl said, “Where is she gone?” and repeated the spell. Then he saw her in her misconduct and struck her with a piece of bamboo.

She went in anger to the naga world, and when she was asked, “Why are you come?” she said, “Your friend struck me on the back because I did not do his bidding,” showing the mark of the blow.

The naga king, not knowing the truth, called four naga youths and sent them with orders to enter Senaka’s bedchamber and destroy him like chaff by the breath of their nostrils. They entered the chamber at the royal bedtime.

As they came in, the king was saying to the queen, “Lady, do you know where the naga girl has gone?”

“King, I do not.”

“Today when we were bathing in the tank, she quitted her shape and misconducted herself with a water snake. I said, ‘Don’t do that,’ and struck her with a piece of bamboo to give her a lesson. And now I fear she may have gone to the naga world and told some lie to my friend, destroying his goodwill to me.”

The young nagas hearing this turned back at once to the naga world and told their king. He being moved went instantly to the king’s chamber, told him all and was forgiven. Then he said, “In this way I make amends,” and gave the king a charm giving knowledge of all sounds. “This, O king, is a priceless spell. If you give anyone this spell you will at once enter the fire and die.”

The king said, “It is well,” and accepted it. From that time he understood the voice even of ants.
One day he was sitting on the dais eating solid food with honey and molasses, and a drop of honey, a drop of molasses, and a morsel of cake fell on the ground. An ant seeing this comes crying, “The king’s honey jar is broken on the dais, his molasses cart and cake cart are upset. Come and eat honey and molasses and cake.”

The king hearing the cry laughed. The queen being near him thought, “What has the king seen that he laughs?”

When the king had eaten his solid food and bathed and sat down cross-legged, a fly said to his wife, “Come, lady, let us enjoy love.”

She said, “Excuse me for a little, husband. They will soon be bringing perfumes to the king. As he perfumes himself some powder will fall at his feet. I will stay there and become fragrant, then we will enjoy ourselves lying on the king’s back.”

The king hearing the voice laughed again. The queen thought again, “What has he seen that he laughs?”
Again when the king was eating his supper, a lump of rice fell on the ground. The ants cried, “A wagon of rice has broken in the king’s palace, and there is none to eat it.”

The king hearing this laughed again. The queen took a golden spoon and helping him reflected, “Is it at the sight of me that the king laughs?”

She went to the bedchamber with the king and at bedtime she asked, “Why did you laugh, O king?”
He said, “What have you to do with why I laugh?” But being asked again and again her told her.
Then she said, “Give me your spell of knowledge.”

He said, “It cannot be given.” But though repulsed she pressed him again.

The king said, “If I give you this spell, I shall die.”

“Even though you die, give it me.”

The king, being in the power of womankind, saying, “It is well,” consented and went to the park in a chariot, saying, “I shall enter the fire after giving away this spell.”

At that moment Sakka, king of gods, looked down on the earth and seeing this case said, “This foolish king, knowing that he will enter the fire through womankind, is on the way; I will give him his life.” So he took Suja, daughter of the Asuras, and went to Benares. He became a he-goat and made her a she-goat, and resolving that the people should not see them, he stood before the king’s chariot. The king and the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot saw him, but none else saw him. For the sake of starting talk he was as if making love with the she-goat.

One of the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot seeing him said, “Friend goat, we have heard before, but not seen, that goats are stupid and shameless. But you are doing, with all of us looking on, this thing that should be done in secret and in a private place, and are not ashamed. What we have heard before agrees with this that we see.”

And so he spoke the first stanza:

No bulbs are here, no herbs for cooking meat,
No cat-mint, nor no other plant to eat.
Than father, why this pit, if need be none,
Delve in Death’s acre mid the woods alone?

This his father answered by repeating the second stanza:

Thy grandsire, son, is very weak and old,
Oppressed by pain from ailments manifold.
Him will I bury in a pit today.
In such a life I could not wish him stay.

Hearing this, the boy answered by repeating a half stanza:

Thou has done sinfully in wishing this,
And for the deed, a cruel deed it is.

With these words, he caught the spade from his father’s hands, and at no great distance began to dig another pit. His father approaching asked why he dug that pit, to whom he made reply by finishing the third stanza:

I too, when thou art aged, father mine,
Will treat my father as thou treatest thine;
Following the custom of the family
Deep in a pit I too will bury thee.

To this the father replied by repeating the fourth stanza:

What a harsh saying for a boy to say,
And to upbraid a father in this way!
To think that my own son would rail at me,
And to his truest friend unkind should be!

When the father had thus spoken, the wise lad recited three stanzas, one by way of answer, and two as an holy hymn:

I am not harsh, my father, nor unkind,
Nay, I regard thee with a friendly mind.
But this thou dost, this act of sin, thy son
Will have no strength to undo again, once done.

Whoso, Vasittha, hurts with ill intent
His mother or his father, innocent,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In hell for his next life undoubtedly.

Whoso with meat and drink, Vasittha, shall
His mother or his father feed withal,
He, when the body is dissolved, shall be
In heaven for his next life undoubtedly.

The father, after hearing his son thus discourse, repeated the eighth stanza:

Thou art no heartless ingrate, son, I see,
But kindly hearted, O my son to me.
‘Twas in obedience to thy mother’s word
I thought to do this horrid deed abhorred.

Said the lad, when he heard this, “Father, women, when a wrong is done and they are not rebuked, again and again commit sin. You must bend my mother, that she may never again do such a deed as this.” And he repeated the ninth stanza:

That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Let us from out our dwelling far expel,
Lest she work other woe on thee as well.

Hearing the words of his wise son, well pleased was Vasitthaka, and saying, “Let us go, my son!” he seated himself in the cart with son and father.

Now the woman too, this sinner, was happy at heart; for, thought she, this ill-luck is out of the house now. She plastered the place with wet cow dung, and cooked a mess of rice porridge. But as she sat watching the road by which they would return, she espied them coming, “There he is, back with old ill-luck again!” thought she, much in anger. “Fie, good-for-nothing! cried she. “What, bring back the ill-luck you took away with you!”

Vasitthaka said not a word, but unyoked the cart. Then said he, “Wretch, what is that you say?” He gave her a sound drubbing, and bundled her head over heels out of doors, bidding her never darken his door again. Then he bathed his father and his son, and took a bath himself, and the three of them ate the rice porridge. The sinful woman dwelt for a few days in another house.

Then the son said to his father, “Father, for all this, my mother does not understand. Now let us try to vex her. You give out that in such and such a village lives a niece of yours, who will attend upon your father and your son and you. So you will go and fetch her. Then take flowers and perfumes, and get into your cart, and ride about the country all day, returning in the evening.”

And so he did. The women in the neighbor’s family told his wife this. “Have you heard,” said they, “that your husband has gone to get another wife in such a place?”

“Ah, then I am undone!” quoth she, “and there is no place for me left.”

But she would inquire of her son. So quickly she came to him, and fell at his feet, crying, “Save thee, I have no other refuge! Henceforward I will tend your father and grandsire as I would tend a beauteous shrine! Give me entrance into this house once more!”

“Yes, mother,” replied the lad, “if you do no more as you did, I will. Be of good cheer!” And at his father’s coming he repeated the tenth stanza:

That wife of yours, that ill-conditioned dame,
My mother, she that brought me forth, that same,
Like a tamed elephant, in full control,
Let her return again, that sinful soul.

So said he to his father, and then went and summoned his mother. She, being reconciled to her husband and her husband’s father, was thenceforward tamed, and endued with righteousness, and watched over her husband and his father and her son. And these two, steadfastly following their son’s advice, gave alms and did good deeds, and became destined to join the hosts of heaven.

The People Who Saw the Judas Tree

Once on a time Bramadatta, the King of Benares, had four sons.

One day they sent for the charioteer and said to him, “We want to see a Judas tree [butea frondosa]. Show us one!”

“Very well, I will,” the charioteer replied.

But he did not show it to them all together. He took the eldest at once to the forest in the chariot, and showed him the tree at the time when the buds were just sprouting from the stem. To the second he showed it when the leaves were green. To the third at the time of blossoming. And to the fourth when it was bearing fruit.

After this it happened that the four brothers were sitting together and someone asked, “What sort of a tree is the Judas tree?”

Then the first brother answered, “Like a burnt stump!”

And the second cried, “Like a banyan tree!”

And the third, “Like a piece of meat!”

And the fokuth said, “Like the acacia!”

They were vexed at each other’s answers, and ran to find their father. “My Lord,” they asked, “what sort of a tree is the Judas tree?”

“What did you say to that?” he asked.

They told him the manner of their answers.

Said the king, “All four of you have seen the tree. Only when the charioteer showed you the tree, you did not ask him, ‘What is the tree like at such a time, or at such another time?’ You made no distinctions, and that is the reason of your mistake.”

And he repeated the first stanza:

All have seen the Judas tree.
What is your perplexity?
No one asked the charioteer
What its form the livelong year!”

The Talkative Tortoise

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the future Buddha was born in a minister’s family; and when he grew up, he became the king’s adviser in things temporal and spiritual.

Now this king was very talkative; while he was speaking, others had no opportunity for a word. And the future Buddha, wanting to cure this talkativeness of his, was constantly seeking for some means of doing so.

At that time there was living, in a pond in the Himalayan Mountains, a tortoise. Two young wild ducks who came to feed there made friends with him. And one day, when they had become very intimate with him, they said to the tortoise, “Friend tortoise, the place where we live, at the Golden Cave on Mount Beautiful in the Himalayan country, is a delightful spot. Will you come there with us?”

“But how can I get there?”

“We can take you, if you can only hold your tongue, and will say nothing to anybody.”

“Oh, that I can do. Take me with you.”

“That’s right,” said they. And making the tortoise bite hold of a stick, they themselves took the two ends in their teeth, and flew up into the air.

Seeing him thus carried by the ducks, some villagers called out, “Two wild ducks are carrying a tortoise along on a stick!”

Whereupon the tortoise wanted to say, “If my friends choose to carry me, what is that to you, you wretched slaves?” So just as the swift flight of the wild ducks had brought him over the king’s palace in the city of Benares, he let go of the stick he was biting, and falling in the open courtyard, split in two!
And there arose a universal cry, “A tortoise has fallen in the open courtyard, and has split in two!”

The king, taking the future Buddha, went to the place, surrounded by his courtiers, and looking at the tortoise, he asked the Bodisat, “Teacher, how has it possible that he has fallen here?”

The future Buddha thought to himself, “Long expecting, wishing to admonish the king, I have sought for some means of doing so. This tortoise must have made friends with the wild ducks; and they must have made him bite hold of the stick, and have flown up into the air to take him to the hills. But he, being unable to hold his tongue when he hears anyone else talk, must have wanted to say something, and let go of the stick; and so must have fallen down from the sky, and thus lost his life.”

And saying, “Truly, oh king, those who are called chatterboxes — people whose words have no end — come to grief like this,” he uttered these verses:

Verily, the tortoise killed himself
While uttering his voice;
Though he was holding tight to stick,
By a word he slew himself.

Behold him then, oh excellent by strength!
And speak wise words, not out of season.
You see how, by his talking overmuch,
The tortoise fell into this wretched plight!

The king saw that he was himself referred to, and said, “Oh teacher, are you speaking of us?”

And the Bodisat spoke openly, and said, “Oh great king, be it you, or be it any other, whoever talks beyond measure meets with some mishap like this.”

And the king henceforth refrained himself, and became a man of few words.

The Monkey’s Heart

Once upon a time, while Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came to life at the foot of the Himalayas as a monkey. He grew strong and sturdy, big of frame, well to do, and lived by a curve of the river Ganges in a forest haunt. Now at that time there was a crocodile dwelling in the Ganges. The crocodile’s mate saw the great frame of the monkey, and she conceived a longing to eat his heart. So she said to her lord, “Sir, I desire to eat the heart of that great king of the monkeys!”

“Good wife,” said the crocodile, “I live in the water and he lives on dry land. How can we catch him?”
“By hook or by crook,” she replied, “he must be caught. If I don’t get him, I shall die.”

“All right,” answered the crocodile, consoling her, “don’t trouble yourself. I have a plan. I will give you his heart to eat.”

So when the Bodhisatta was sitting on the bank of the Ganges, after taking a drink of water, the crocodile drew near, and said, “Sir Monkey, why do you live on bad fruits in this old familiar place? On the other side of the Ganges there is no end to the mango trees, and labuja trees, with fruit sweet as honey! Is it not better to cross over and have all kinds of wild fruit to eat?”

“Lord Crocodile,” the monkey answered. “The Ganges is deep and wide. How shall I get across?”

“If you want to go, I will let you sit upon my back, and carry you over.”

The monkey trusted him, and agreed. “Come here, then,” said the crocodile. “Up on my back with you!” and up the monkey climbed. But when the crocodile had swum a little way, he plunged the monkey under the water.

“Good friend, you are letting me sink!” cried the monkey. “What is that for?”

The crocodile said, “You think I am carrying you out of pure good nature? Not a bit of it! My wife has a longing for your heart, and I want to give it to her to eat.!”

“Friend,” said the monkey, “it is nice of you to tell me. Why, if our heart were inside us, when we go jumping among the tree tops it would be all knocked to pieces!”

“Well, where do you keep it?” asked the crocodile.

The Bodhisatta pointed out a fig tree, with clusters of ripe fruit, standing not far off. “See,” said he, “there are our hearts hanging on yonder fig tree.”

“If you will show me your heart,” said the crocodile, “then I won’t kill you.”

“Take me to the tree, then, and I will point it out to you.”

The crocodile brought him to the place. The monkey leapt off his back, and, climbing up the fig tree, sat upon it. “Oh silly crocodile!” said he. “You thought that there were creatures that kept their hearts in a treetop! You are a fool, and I have outwitted you! You may keep your fruit to yourself. Your body is great, but you have no sense.”

And then to explain this idea he uttered the following stanzas:

Rose-apple, jack-fruit, mangoes, too, across the water there I see;
Enough of them, I want them not; my fig is good enough for me!
Great is your body, verily, but how much smaller is your wit!
Now go your ways, Sir Crocodile, for I have had the best of it.

The crocodile, feeling as sad and miserable as if he had lost a thousand pieces of money, went back sorrowing to the place where he lived.

How a Parrot Told Tales of His Mistress and Had His Neck Wrung

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta came into the world as a young parrot. His name was Radha, and his youngest brother was named Potthapada. While they were yet quite young, both of them were caught by a fowler and handed over to a Brahmin in Benares.

The Brahmin cared for them as if they were his children. But the Brahmin’s wife was a wicked woman. There was no watching her.

The husband had to go away on business, and addressed his young parrots thus: “Little dears, I am going away on business. Keep watch on your mother in season and out of season. Observe whether or not any man visits her.” So off he went, leaving his wife in charge of the young parrots.

As soon as he was gone, the woman began to do wrong. Night and day the visitors came and went. There was no end to them. Potthapada, observing this, said to Radha, “Our master gave this woman into our charge, and here she is doing wickedness. I will speak to her.”

“Don’t,” said Radha.

But the other would not listen. “Mother,” said he, “why do you commit sin?”

How she longed to kill him! But making as though she would fondle him, she called him to her. “Little one, you are my son! I will never do it again! Here, then the dear!” So he came out. Then she seized him, crying, “What! You preach to me! You don’t know your measure!” And she wrung his neck, and threw him into the oven.

The Brahmin returned. When he had rested, he asked the Bodhisatta, “Well, my dear, what about your mother? Does she do wrong, or no?” And as he asked the question, he repeated the first couplet:

I come, my son, the journey done, and now I am at home again,”
Come tell me, is your mother true? Does she make love to other men?

Radha answered, “Father dear, the wise speak not of things which do not conduce to blessing, whether they have happened or not.” And he explained this by repeating the second couplet:

For what he said he now lies dead, burnt up beneath the ashes there.
It is not well the truth to tell, lest Potthapada’s fate I share.

Thus did the Bodhisatta hold forth to the Brahmin. And he went on, “This is no place for me to live in either.” Then bidding the Brahmin farewell, he flew away into the woods.

The Tortoise That Refused to Leave Home

Once on a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born in a village as a potter’s son. He plied the potter’s trade, and had a wife and family to support.

At that time there lay a great natural lake close by the great river of Benares. When there was much water, river and lake were one; but when the water was low, they were apart. Now fish and tortoises know by instinct when the year will be rainy and when there will be a drought.

So at the time of our story the fish and tortoises which lived in that lake knew there would be a drought; and when the two were one water, they swam out of the lake into the river. But there was one tortoise that would not go into the river, because, said he, “here I was born, and here I have grown up, and here is my parents’ home. Leave it I cannot!”

Then in the hot season the water all dried up. He dug a hole and buried himself, just in the place where the Bodhisatta was used to come for clay. There the Bodhisatta came to get some clay. With a big spade he dug down, until he cracked the tortoise’s shell, turning him out on the ground as though he were a large piece of clay. In his agony the creature thought, “Here I am, dying, all because I was too fond of my home to leave it!” And in the words of these following verses, he made his moan:

Here was I born, and here I lived; my refuge was the clay;
And now the clay has played me false in a most grievous way;
Thee, thee I call, oh Bhaggava; hear what I have to say!

Go where thou canst find happiness, where’er the place may be;
Forest or village, there the wise both home and birthplace see;
Go where there’s life; nor stay at home for death to master thee.

So he went on and on, talking to the Bodhisatta, until he died. The Bodhisatta picked him up, and collecting all the villagers addressed them thus: “Look at this tortoise. When the other fish and tortoises went into the great river, he was too fond of home to go with them, and buried himself in the place where I get my clay. Then as I was digging for clay, I broke his shell with my big spade, and turned him out on the ground in the belief that he was a large lump of clay. Then he called to mind what he had done, lamented his fate in two verses of poetry, and expired.

So you see he came to his end because he was too fond of his home. Take care not to be like this tortoise. Don’t say to yourselves, ‘I have sight, I have hearing, I have smell, I have taste, I have touch, I have a son, I have a daughter, I have numbers of men and maids for my service, I have precious gold.’ Do not cleave to these things with craving and desire. Each being passes through three stages of existence.”

Thus did he exhort the crowd with all a Buddha’s skill. The discourse was bruited abroad all over India, and for full seven thousand years it was remembered. All the crowd abode by his exhortation, and gave alms, and did good until at last they went to swell the hosts of heaven.

The Golden Mallard

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a Brahmin, and growing up was married to a bride of his own rank, who bore him three daughters named Nanda, Nanda-vati, and Sundari-nanda. The Bodhisatta dying, they were taken in by neighbors and friends, whilst he was born again into the world as a golden mallard endowed with consciousness of its former existences.

Growing up, the bird viewed its own magnificent size and golden plumage, and remembered that previously it had been a human being. Discovering that his wife and daughters were living on the charity of others, the mallard bethought him of his plumage like hammered and beaten gold and how by giving them a golden feather at a time he could enable his wife and daughters to live in comfort.

So away he flew to where they dwelt and alighted on the top of the central beam of the roof. Seeing the Bodhisatta, the wife and girls asked where he had come from; and he told them that he was their father who had died and been born a golden mallard, and that he had come to visit them and put an end to their miserable necessity of working for hire.

“You shall have my feathers,” said he, “one by one, and they will sell for enough to keep you all in ease and comfort.”

So saying, he gave them one of his feathers and departed. And from time to time he returned to give them another feather, and with the proceeds of their sale these Brahmin women grew prosperous and quite well to do.

But one day the mother said to her daughters, “There’s no trusting animals, my children. Who’s to say your father might not go away one of these days and never come back again? Let us use our time and pluck him clean next time he comes, so as to make sure of all his feathers.”

Thinking this would pain him, the daughters refused.

The mother in her greed called the golden mallard to her one day when he came, and then took him with both hands and plucked him.

Now the Bodhisatta’s feathers had this property that if they were plucked out against his wish, they ceased to be golden and became like a crane’s feathers. And now the poor bird, though he stretched his wings, could not fly, and the woman flung him into a barrel and gave him food there. As time went on his feathers grew again (though they were plain white ones now), and he flew away to his own abode and never came back again.

The Mosquito and the Carpenter

Once on a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta gained his livelihood as a trader. In these days in a border village in Kasi there dwelt a number of carpenters. And it chanced that one of them, a bald gray-haired man, was planing away at some wood with his head glistening like a copper bowl, when a mosquito settled on his scalp and stung him with its dart like sting.

Said the carpenter to his son, who was seated hard by, “My boy, there’s a mosquito stinging me on the head. Do drive it away.”

“Hold still then father,” said the son. “One blow will settle it.”

(At that very time the Bodhisatta had reached that village in the way of trade, and was sitting in the carpenter’s shop.)

“Rid me of it!” cried the father.

“All right, father,” answered the son, who was behind the old man’s back, and, raising a sharp ax on high with intent to kill only the mosquito, he cleft his father’s head in two. So the old man fell dead on the spot.

Thought the Bodhisatta, who had been an eye witness of the whole scene, “Better than such a friend is an enemy with sense, whom fear of men’s vengeance will deter from killing a man.” And he recited these lines:

Sense-lacking friends are worse than foes with sense;
Witness the son that sought the gnat to slay,
But cleft, poor fool, his father’s skull in two.

So saying, the Bodhisatta rose up and departed, passing away in after days to fare according to his deserts. And as for the carpenter, his body was burned by his kinsfolk.

The Future Buddha as Judge

A woman, carrying her child, went to the future Buddha’s tank to wash. And having first bathed the child, she put on her upper garment and descended into the water to bathe herself.

Then a Yaksha, seeing the child, had a craving to eat it. And taking the form of a woman, she drew near, and asked the mother, “Friend, this is a very pretty child. Is it one of yours?” And when she was told it was, she asked if she might nurse it. And this being allowed, she nursed it a little, and then carried it off.

But when the mother saw this, she ran after her, and cried out, “Where are you taking my child to?” and caught hold of her.

The Yaksha boldly said, “Where did you get the child from? It is mine!” And so quarreling, they passed the door of the future Buddha’s Judgment Hall.

He heard the noise, sent for them, inquired into the matter, and asked them whether they would abide by his decision. And they agreed. Then he had a line drawn on the ground; and told the Yaksha to take hold of the child’s arms, and the mother to take hold of its legs; and said, “The child shall be hers who drags him over the line.”

But as soon as they pulled at him, the mother, seeing how he suffered, grieved as if her heart would break. And letting him go, she stood there weeping.

Then the future Buddha asked the bystanders, “Whose hearts are tender to babes? Those who have borne children, or those who have not?”

And they answered, “Oh sire! The hearts of mothers are tender.”

Then he said, “Who, think you, is the mother? She who has the child in her arms, or she who has let go?”

And they answered, “She who has let go is the mother.”

And he said, “Then do you all think that the other was the thief?”

And they answered, “Sire! We cannot tell.”

And he said, “Verily, this is a Yaksha, who took the child to eat it.”

And he replied, “Because her eyes winked not, and were red, and she knew no fear, and had no pity, I knew it.”

And so saying, he demanded of the thief, “Who are you?”

And she said, “Lord! I am a Yaksha.”

And he asked, “Why did you take away this child?”

And she said, “I thought to eat him, Oh my Lord!”

And he rebuked her, saying, “Oh foolish woman! For your former sins you have been born a Yaksha, and now do you still sin!” And he laid a vow upon her to keep the Five Commandments, and let her go.

But the mother of the child exalted the future Buddha, and said, “Oh my Lord! Oh great physician! May your life be long!” And she went away, with her babe clasped to her bosom.

Bodhisattva “Never Disparaging”

Once there was a man who had a very hard way to practice Buddhism. Whenever he encountered another person, he would bow to that person and say, “I would never disparage you, for you are practicing the Buddha way and all of you will become Buddhas!”

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Because he said this to people, he was given the name Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. A bodhisattva is a person who practices Buddhism for the sake of others.

And he was called “Never Disparaging” because of what he would say to people. To disparage means to look down on someone, to think ill of that person.

When people heard Bodhisattva Never Disparaging say this to them, some of them realized what a good person he was. Some of them bowed in return and thanked him.

But others yelled at him and cursed him. Some of them said “Who are you to say that to me?” Some of them said “I don’t remember asking anyone to worship me!” Some of them threw rocks and sticks at him.

People often made fun of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. Sometimes he was even beaten. But he never gave up his way of practice. He really believed that each person he met was a potential Buddha. No matter how much people spoke ill of him or hated him, he never doubted this.

And he thought it was only right to tell people about being a Buddha. He thought they should know this.
Before he died, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was able to hear the Lotus Sutra. His behavior throughout his life showed great respect for all people. And, in telling people that they have Buddhahood inside, he saved them from suffering. He was a great Buddhist teacher.

Eventually, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was reborn as Shakyamuni himself.

The Jewel in the Topknot

Once upon a time there was a great king. He was the greatest of kings and was called the Wheel-Rolling King. It was said that he owned a magical wheel of jewels that would spin while he governed.

The king was a fine ruler, and when he found a country that was run by evil people, he would wage war against it. He continually fought such evil countries until he had crushed them all.

The king was very glad to see that some of his soldiers were very brave in war. He rewarded these soldiers with treasures such as gold, silver, shell, agate, coral, and amber. He gave some of them farms, houses, villages, and cities. He also gave elephants, horses, and vehicles to those who were worthy.

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Every time the soldiers were given these gifts from the king, they boasted, saying “I received golden rings and necklaces from the Wheel-Rolling King.”

Or: “He gave me a fabulous elephant and an ox-cart, praising my brave fight in the war.”Or: “It was clothes this time for me. But I’ll get much more next time for my valiant fight.”

Or: “But you’ll not outdo me. I’ll be fighting with all my might, too.”

There was one thing that the king kept for himself: the brilliant gem which he was keeping in his topknot. This gem was the only one of its kind in the world. If he had given it to anyone, his followers would have been shocked.

Finally, one day, the Wheel-Rolling King saw an especially brave soldier and gave him that precious gem.

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Shakymuni’s explanation:

“I, the Buddha, have kept the Lotus Sutra carefully in my heart and have told no one about it. In this way, I am like the Wheel-Rolling King — who gave many treasures to his soldiers, but kept the most valuable gem. I, like the king, have fought many battles and defeated many devils. Many of my disciples also fought along side me. I gave them many treasures of the Law and have brought them closer to enlightenment, but I did not teach them the Lotus Sutra. Why? Because the people were not ready and the time was not right.

“I did not tell my followers about the Lotus Sutra earlier because they would not have understood. In a world that is evil and ignorant, people cannot understand such a profound teaching.

“That’s why it was necessary to wage wars and destroy evil. That way, people can learn more and more about the true state of life. Once their mistaken ideas had been changed, they became more open to understanding the great teaching of the Lotus Sutra.

“One day the Wheel-Rolling King saw an especially brave soldier and gave him that precious gem. I am like that king. The Lotus Sutra is the most excellent teaching. Therefore I am teaching it last — just as the king finally gave the brilliant gem to the one who was his most worthy follower.”

Parable of the Gem in the Robe

A poor man came to visit a wealthy friend. Late into the night, the two friends ate, drank, and talked. When the poor man went to bed, he fell into a deep sleep.

In the middle of the night, a messenger came to inform the rich man that he must go immediately to a distant land far away. Before he left, he wanted to do something for his poor friend to show how much he cared for him. But he did not want to wake his friend from such a deep sleep.

So the wealthy friend sewed a beautiful colored gem inside the hem of his poor friend’s robe. This jewel had the power to satisfy all of one’s desires.

The next morning, the poor man awoke to find himself alone in his wealthy friend’s house. Totally unaware of anything that had taken place while he was sleeping, he wandered off.

The poor man traveled from place to place, looking for work. All the while, he was completely unaware that he possessed a priceless gem in the hem of his robe.

A long time passed until one day, by chance, the wealthy friend came upon the poor man in the street.
Seeing the man’s impoverished condition, the wealthy friend asked him:

“Why have you allowed yourself to become so poor? You could have used the jewel that I gave you to live your life in comfort. You must still have it, yet you are living so miserably. Why don’t you use the gem to get what you need? You can have anything you want!”

Bewildered, the poor man fumbled through the inside of his robe and, with the help of his friend, found the gem. Ashamed of his ignorance yet overcome with joy, he realized for the first time the depth of his friend’s compassion. From then on, the poor man was able to live comfortably and happily.

Parable of the Phantom City

A caravan traveled through the desert. The people in the caravan followed their guide on a long and dangerous trip to a treasure land.

Along the way, the people in the caravan became tired, confused, and discouraged. They told the guide that they could not go any further.

If they turned back, all their traveling would be wasted. The guide did not want the people to give up the journey. He knew that a wonderful treasure was at the end of the journey.

When the caravan had traveled more than halfway, a great city appeared. The guide told the people of the caravan that here was an opportunity to rest and be refreshed.

After they rested, the guide made the city disappear. He told the people that the city was nothing more than an illusion he had created to allow them to rest. He told them that their goal, the treasure land, is close.

Refreshed, the travelers continued on their journey.

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Meaning:

The phantom city represents the teachings of the three vehicles the Buddha expounded in order to guide people toward enlightenment. The treasure land represents the one Buddha vehicle toward which people should ultimately aim.

~ From the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 7

The Excellent Physician and His Sick Children

There once was a very wise doctor. He could make medications — medicine that could cure any illness imaginable.

The doctor had many children. One day, he traveled to a distant land. While he was away, his children mistakenly drank poison. They became very sick. Some were in pain, some lost their minds. Some were close to death. Others were only a little bit sick.

When the doctor returned from his long trip, he saw that his children were very sick.

All the children, even though ill with poison, were happy to see their father return. “Welcome home, father!” they said. “We’re so happy to see that you have returned safely. While you were away we were very foolish. We all mistakenly drank some poison. Please save us from this suffering!”

The doctor went to work, grinding, sifting, and mixing various herbs. He made a powerful medicine that had a beautiful color, excellent fragrance, and wonderful taste. This medicine was perfect.

Bringing the medicine to his children, he encouraged them to drink it: “My children, here is a medicine of excellent color, fragrance, and taste. Drink this and your illness will be gone and you will be well.”

Those children who were only slightly ill immediately took the medicine and were quickly cured. The children who had lost their minds refused the medicine. They were confused by the poison in their bodies. They refused to believe that their father’s medicine would help them.

“My poor children,” the father said, “because you have consumed poison, your thinking has become twisted. When you saw me return home, you begged me to cure you. But when I offered you this medicine, you refused it. If you won’t take this good medicine, how can you be cured?”

Although the children’s minds were confused, their father loved them. He had to think of a way to get them to take the medicine. Finally, the doctor said:

“My beloved children, hear me well! I am old and weak, and may die at any time. I will leave this medicine here for you. Even if I should die, your sickness can still be cured with this good medicine. Please don’t doubt that! I must leave now on another trip, so please remember what I have told you.”

The doctor then traveled to another land. He sent a messenger home to tell his children of his death. The children were stunned. They had never expected him to really die! They said: “Our father is dead! Now we have no one to rely on!”

Then, the children remembered the medicine that their father had left for them and his words before leaving. In tears, they each took some of the medicine and were immediately cured of their illness.

Then, to their amazement, their father returned home. For the first time they realized how great his love and mercy was for them.

The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs

The world has many kinds of plants — more kinds than can be named. There are bushes and trees, mosses and ferns, flowers and grains. There are herbs that can be made into medicines.

All over the earth there are plants growing. Different plants grow in different areas: on the tops of mountains and at the bottom of the sea, in the desert and in the jungle.

Clouds also cover the earth. In one moment, a cloud can rain life-giving water onto the plants. The rain nurtures the plants and soaks the soil.

Through the soil, the water soaks down, down, down to the plants’ roots. Some of the roots are woody and big. Some are thin and fine. The water goes to all the millions of kinds of plants.

Each plant uses this water according to what kind of plant it is. Some plants may blossom. Some trees may bear fruit. Some mushrooms may grow. Some vines may grow long. Some herbs may grow to be used for medicine. Each plant uses the water differently.

Although all these plants and trees grow in the same earth and are moistened by the same rain, each has its differences. But all may be nourished.

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Meaning:

When people hear the Buddha’s teaching, no matter who they are, they can receive benefit.