Mahasstava

In the remote past there lived a devout and powerful king named Maharattha. He had three sons by name, Maha Prashada, Maha Deva, and Mahasattva, all good and obedient.

One bright day the king, accompanied by the princes and attendants, went on an excursion to a forest park. The young princes, admiring the enchanting beauty of the flowers and trees, gradually penetrated far into the thick forest.

The attendants noticed their absence and reported the matter to the king. He ordered his ministers to go in search of them and returned to his palace.

The tree princes, wandering through the forest, reached a mountain top. From there the eldest saw a starving tigress with five cubs almost on the verge of death. For seven days since her delivery she had been without food. The cubs approached the mother to suck milk, but she had nothing to satisfy their hunger, and the tigress, driven by starvation, was clearly at the point of unnaturally devouring her own cubs.

The eldest brother was the first to see this pathetic spectacle. He showed the tigress to his brothers and said, “Behold that pitiful sight, O brothers! That starving tigress is about to devour her own cubs. How wretched is their condition!”

“What is their staple food, brother?” inquired Mahasattva.

“Flesh and blood is the staple food of tigers and lions.” replied Maha Prashada.

“The tigress seems to be very weak. Evidently she is without food for some days. How noble if one could sacrifice one’s own body for their sake!”

“But who is willing to make such great sacrifice!” remarked Maha Deva.

“Surely, no one would be able to do so,” stated Maha Prashada.

“I lack intelligence. Ignorant people like us would not be able to sacrifice their bodies for the sake of another. But there may be selfless men of boundless compassion who would be willingly do so,” said Mahasattva in a merciful tone.

Thus they discussed amongst themselves and casting a last glance at the helpless tigress, they departed.

Mahasattva thought to himself, “Sacrifice I must this fleeting body for the sake of this starving tigress. Foul is this body, and is subject to decay and death. One may adorn and perfume it, but soon it will stink and perish.”

Reflecting thus, he requested his brothers to proceed as he would retiring to the forest for some reason or other.

He retraced his steps to the place where the tigress was resting. Hanging his garments and ornaments on a tree, again he thought, “Work I must for the weal of others. Compassionate we must be towards all beings. To serve those who need our succour is our paramount duty. This foul body of mine will I sacrifice and thus save the tigress and her five cubs. By this meritorious act may I gain Samma Sambuddhahood and save all beings from the ocean of Samsara! May all beings be well and happy!”

Moved by compassion and inspired by the spirit of selfless service, dauntlessly he jumped off the precipice towards the tigress.

The fall did not result in an instantaneous death. The tigress, though ruthless by nature, pitied the Bodhisattva and would not even touch his body.

The Bodhisattva thought otherwise, “Obviously the poor animal is too weak to devour me!”

So he went in search of a weapon. He came across a bamboo splinter, and drawing near the tigress, he cut off his neck and fell dead on the ground in a pool of blood.

The hungry tigress greedily drank the blood and devoured the flesh leaving mere bones.

At the moment the Bodhisattva sacrificed his body, the earth quaked, the water of the ocean were disturbed, the sun’s ray dimmed, eye-sight was temporarily blurred, Devas gave cries of Sadhu, and Parijata flowers came down as rain from heaven.

Affected by the earthquake, the two elder brothers rightly guessed that their younger brother must have become a prey to the tigress.

“Surely, Mahasattva must have sacrificed his life, for he spoke in a very merciful tone,” said Maha Deva.

Both of them turned back and went to the spot. They were horrified and awe-struck at the unexpected spectacle. What they saw was not their belovedbrother but a mass of bone besmeared with blood. On a tree close by they saw the hanging garments.

They wept and fainted and on regaining consciousness, they returned home with a heavy heart.

On the very day the Bodhisattva sacrificed his life the mother-queen dreamt that she was dead, that her teeth had fallen out, and that she experienced a pain as if her body were cut by a sharp weapon. Furthermore, she dreamt that a hawk came drooping down and carried one of the three beautiful pigeons that were perched on the roof.

The queen was frightened, and on waking she remembered that her princes had gone for an airing in the forest. She hastened to the king and related the inauspicious dreams.

On being informed that the princes were missing, she entreated the king to send messengers in search of them.

Some ministers who had gone earlier to search for them returned to the palace with the sad news of the lamentable deadth of the youngest prince. Hearing it nobody was able to refrain from weeping. The king, however, comforted the queen and, mounting an elephant, speedily proceeded to the forest with his attendants and brought back the other two grieving sons.

So great was their grief that at first the were speechless. Later summoning up courage, they explained to their bereaved mother the heroic deed of their noble brother.

Soon order was given by the king to make necessary arrangements for them all to visit the memorable scene of the incident.

All reached the spot in due course. At the mere sight of the blood-smeared bones of the dearest son scattered here and there, both the king and queen fainted. The Purohita Bhahmin instantly poured sandal wood water over them, and they regained consciousness.

Thereupon, the king ordered his ministers to gather all the hair, bones, and garments and, heaping them together, worshipped them. Advising them to erect a golden Cetiya enshrining the relics, with a grieving heart, he departed to his palace.

The Cetiya was afterwards named “Om Namo Buddha.”

Kunala

After Buddha passed away, there was a king named Usika. He was very kind and his government was very compassionate. He had a son with eyes as beautiful as the kunala, an Indian bird famous for its beautiful eyes. Because the king liked this kind of bird, he named his son Kunala. When Prince Kunala grew up, he was very handsome. His conduct was proper and he was very kind.

King Usika was a devoted Buddhist. One day, the king brought his son to a temple, and he asked a monk named Yasa about the Buddhist teachings. Yasa looked at the young prince. “Human life is impermanent,” he said. “A body goes through the stages of birth, aging, illness and death, and human life is filled with impurity. Who can have the beauty of youth forever? All these are illusions. In the same way, although the prince’s eyes seem beautiful, they are actually full of filth and the source of trouble.”

The prince was quite puzzled. Everyone always praised him for his beautiful eyes, but why would the monk say that they were dirty and the source of trouble? These words kept whirling around in his head.

There were many concubines in the king’s palace. One young lady was deeply attracted by Kunala’s good looks. When she saw him sitting alone in the garden one day, she started to fondle him, trying to seduce him. But the prince was a righteous person and could not agree to such behavior. He pulled himself together and freed himself from her unwanted attentions.

Later, when the young prince was old enough to marry, King Usika found a wife for him. When the concubine saw the lover of her dreams married to someone else, she became intensely jealous and her love turned to hatred.

Not long after the marriage, the king became sick and the young concubine looked after him carefully until he recovered. He was grateful for her care and said to her, “Because you took care of me for such a long time, I will give you anything you desire.”

She said, “I just want to rule the country for seven days.”

The king thought to himself that since he had promised, he couldn’t go back on his word. Besides, it was only for seven days. So he agreed.

When she was on the throne, the young lady wrote a letter filled with both love and hate and sent it to Prince Kunala. She wrote that her fury would only be placated if she never saw his eyes again. Now the prince finally realized what that monk had meant, but it was too late. The lady’s word was like the king’s command, and it couldn’t be disobeyed.

Kunala reluctantly gouged out one eye and held it in his hand. “It’s so disgusting,” he suddenly realized. “Why would such a filthy little thing be praised by so many people and bring so much trouble? Since she wants both eyes, I’ll take out the other one too.” When both eyes were gone, everything before him was in total darkness, but his mind was suddenly filled with light. He felt the peace that comes from spiritual exaltation.

When his wife heard the news, she ran to the blind prince and started to wail with grief. But the prince was calm and consoled her with the Buddhist teachings. “Human life is impermanent, so don’t harbor hatred or worry, because hatred and worry are your greatest enemies.”

At that time, a bodyguard warned the prince, “Your Highness, if you stay in the palace, I’m afraid that your life will be in danger.” The prince, of course, was already aware of this, and since he didn’t want the court lady to continue making bad karma for herself by doing something even worse, he and his wife fled the palace. They learned to play the lute and to sing, and they wandered from town to town, making music in the streets. People would throw them a few coins, and in this way, the prince and his wife were able to feed themselves.

A few years later, they happened to come back to the capital. One day, they wandered into the streets alongside the palace and started to sing. When King Usika heard the beautiful but mournful songs, he thought of his son, who had suddenly disappeared years before. He told his attendant to invite the musicians to enter the palace.

When the king saw the lute player, he realized that it was indeed the son that he had been thinking of day and night. When he saw how Prince Kunala had fallen from his royal life and was now only a blind lute-player singing on the streets for a living, the king was very distressed. He asked the prince, “Who did this to you? Who made you lose your sight?” But Kunala refused to talk about it. He just told his father about the truths that he had learned, hoping his father would calm down.

At last, the ministers and the guards couldn’t endure it any more and reported the truth to the king. He was furious and wanted to execute that concubine, but the prince begged his father to forgive her.

The king was touched by Prince Kunala’s compassion and released the young concubine. However, in her own conscience, she was ashamed of herself and finally committed suicide. Because of her impure love, she had created trouble and hatred, hurt other people and destroyed herself. Was it all worth it?

~ Told by Master Cheng Yen. Translated by Lin Sen-shou

The massacre of the Sakya clansmen

Before the advent of Sakyamuni Buddha, there was near Kapila town a village inhabited by fishermen, and in it was a big pond. It happened that because of a great drought, the pond ran dry and all the fish were caught and eaten by the villagers. The last fish taken was a big one and before it was killed, a boy who never ate fish, played with it and thrice knocked its head.

Later, after Sakyamuni Buddha’s appearance in this world, King Prasenajit who believed in the Buddha-dharma, married a Sakya girl who then gave birth to a prince called Crsytal. When he was young, Crystal had his schooling in Kapila which was then inhabited by the Sakya clansmen.
One day while playing, the boy ascended to the Buddha’s seat and was reprimanded by others who dragged him down. The boy cherished a grudge against the men and when he became king, he led his soldiers to attack Kapila, killing all its inhabitants.

At the same time, the Buddha suffered from a headache which lasted three days. When His disciples asked Him to rescue the poor inhabitants, the Buddha replied that a fixed Karma could not be changed. By means of his miraculous powers, Maudgalyayana rescued five hundred Sakya clansmen and thought he could give them refuge in his own bowl which was raised up in the air. When the bowl was brought down, all the men had been turned into blood.

When asked by His chief disciples, the Buddha related the story of the villagers who in days gone by had killed all the fish in their pond; King Crystal had been the big fish and his soldiers the other fish in the pond; the inhabitants of Kapila who were now killed had been those who ate the fish; and the Buddha Himself had been the boy who thrice knocked the head of the big fish.
Karma was now causing Him to suffer from a headache for three days in retribution for his previous act. Since there could be no escape from the effects of a fixed Karma, the five hundred Sakya clansmen, although rescued by Maudgalyayana, shared the same fate. Later, King Crystal was reborn in a hell.

As cause produces effect which in turn becomes a new cause the retribution is inexhaustible. The law of causality is really very dreadful.

The Traders of Seriva – Serivavanija Jataka (Jataka No. 3)

So that a disheartened bhikkhu would have no regrets in the future, the Buddha told him this story at Savatthi to encourage him to persevere. “If you give up your practice in this sublime teaching which leads to Nibbana,” the Buddha told him, “you will suffer long, like the trader of Seriva who lost a golden bowl worth a hundred thousand pieces.”
When asked to explain, the Buddha told this story of the distant past.

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Five long aeons ago, the Bodhisatta was an honest trader selling fancy goods in the kingdom of Seriva. Sometimes he travelled with another trader from the same kingdom, a greedy fellow, who handled the same wares.
One day the two of them crossed the Telavaha river to do business in the bustling city of Andhapura. As usual, to avoid competing with each other, they divided the city between them and began selling their goods from door to door.

In that city there was a ramshackle mansion. Years before the family had been rich merchants, but by the time of this story their fortunes had dwindled to nothing, and all the men of the family had died. The sole survivors were a girl and her grandmother, and these two earned their living by working for hire.

That afternoon, while the greedy peddler was on his rounds, he came to the door of that very house, crying, “Beads for sale! Beads for sale!”

When the young girl heard his cry, she begged, “Please buy me a trinket, Grandmother.”

“We’re very poor, dear. There’s not a cent in the house and I can’t think of anything to offer in exchange.”

The girl suddenly remembered an old bowl. “Look!” she cried. “Here’s an old bowl. It’s of no use to us. Let’s try to trade it for something nice.”

What the little girl showed her grandmother was an old bowl which had been used by the great merchant, the late head of the family. He had always eaten his curries served from this beautiful, expensive bowl. After his death it had been thrown among the pots and pans and forgotten. Since it hadn’t been used for a very long time, it was completely covered with grime. The two women had no idea it was gold.

The old woman asked the trader to come in and sit down. She showed him the bowl and said, “Sir, my granddaughter would like a trinket. Would you be so kind as to take this bowl and give her something or other in exchange?”

The peddler took the bowl in his hand and turned it over. Suspecting its value, he scratched the back of it with a needle. After just one covert look, he knew for certain the bowl was real gold.

He sat there frowning and thinking until his greed got the better of him. At last he decided to try to get the bowl without giving the woman anything whatever for it. Pretending to be angry, he growled, “Why did you bring me this stupid bowl? It isn’t worth half a cent!” He threw the bowl to the floor, got up, and stalked out of the house in apparent disgust.

Since it had been agreed between the two traders that the one might try the streets which the other had already covered, the honest peddler came later into that same street and appeared at the door of the house, crying, “Beads for sale!”

Once again the young girl made the same request of her grandmother, and the old woman replied, “My dear, the first peddler threw our bowl on the ground and stormed out of the house. What have we got left to offer?”

“Oh, but that trader was nasty, Grandmother. This one looks and sounds very kind. I think he will take it.”

“All right, then. Call him in.”

When the peddler came into the house, the two women gave him a seat and shyly put the bowl into his hands. Immediately recognizing that the bowl was gold, he said, “Mother, this bowl is worth a hundred thousand pieces of silver. I’m sorry but I don’t have that much money.”

Astonished at his words, the old woman said, “Sir, another peddler who came here a little while ago said that it was not worth half a cent. He got angry, threw it on the floor, and went away. If it wasn’t valuable then, it must be because of your own goodness that the bowl has turned into gold. Please take it, and just give us something or other for it. We will be more than satisfied.”

At that time the peddler had only five hundred pieces of silver and goods worth another five hundred. He gave everything to the women, asking only to keep his scales, his bag, and eight coins for his return fare. Of course, they were happy to agree. After profuse thanks on both sides, the trader hurried to the river with the golden bowl. He gave his eight coins to the boatman and got into the boat.

Not long after he had left, the greedy peddler returned to the house, giving the impression of having reluctantly reconsidered their offer. He asked them to bring out their bowl, saying he would give them something or other for it after all.

The old woman flew at him. “You scoundrel!” she cried. “You told us that our golden bowl was not worth even half a cent. Lucky for us, an honest trader came after you left and told us it was really worth a hundred thousand pieces of silver. He gave us a thousand for it and took it away, so you are too late!”

When the peddler heard this, an intense pain swept over him. “He robbed me! He robbed me!” he cried. “He got my golden bowl worth a hundred thousand!” He became hysterical and lost all control. Throwing down his money and merchandise, he tore off his shirt, grabbed the beam of his scales for a club, and ran to the riverside to catch the other trader.

By the time he got to the river, the boat was already in midstream. He shouted for the boat to return to shore, but the honest peddler, who had already paid, calmly told the ferryman to continue on.

The frustrated trader could only stand there on the river-bank and watch his rival escape with the bowl. The sight so infuriated him that a fierce hate swelled up inside him. His heart grew hot, and blood gushed from his mouth. Finally, his heart cracked like the mud at the bottom of a pond dried up by the sun. So intense was the unreasoning hatred which he developed against the other trader because of the golden bowl, that he perished then and there.

The honest trader returned to Seriva, where he lived a full life spent in charity and other good works, and passed away to fare according to his deserts.

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When the Buddha finished this story, he identified himself as the honest trader, and Devadatta as the greedy trader. This was the beginning of the implacable grudge which Devadatta held against the Bodhisatta through innumerable lives.

~ From Jataka Tales of the Buddha, part I. Retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki. Copyright @ 1995.

Crossing the Wilderness – Apannaka Jataka (Jataka No. 1)

While the Buddha was staying at Jetavana Monastery near Savatthi, the wealthy banker, Anathapindika, went one day to pay his respects. His servants carried masses of flowers, perfume, butter, oil, honey, molasses, cloths, and robes. Anathapindika paid obeisance to the Buddha, presented the offerings he had brought, and sat down respectfully.

At that time, Anathapindika was accompanied by five hundred friends who were followers of heretical teachers. His friends also paid their respects to the Buddha and sat close to the banker. The Buddha’s face appeared like a full moon, and his body was surrounded by a radiant aura. Seated on the red stone seat, he was like a young lion roaring with a clear, noble voice as he taught them a discourse full of sweetness and beautiful to the ear.

After hearing the Buddha’s teaching, the five hundred gave up their heretical practices and took refuge in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. After that, they went regularly with Anathapindika to offer flowers and incense and to hear the teaching. They gave liberally, kept the precepts, and faithfully observed the Uposatha Day. [1] Soon after the Buddha left Savatthi to return to Rajagaha, however, these men abandoned their new faith and reverted to their previous beliefs.

Seven or eight months later, the Buddha returned to Jetavana. Again, Anathapindika brought these friends to visit the Buddha. They paid their respects, but Anathapindika explained that they had forsaken their refuge and had resumed their original practices.

The Buddha asked, “Is it true that you have abandoned refuge in the Triple Gem for refuge in other doctrines?” The Buddha’s voice was incredibly clear because throughout myriad aeons He had always spoken truthfully.

When these men heard it, they were unable to conceal the truth. “Yes, Blessed One,” they confessed. “It is true.”

“Disciples,” the Buddha said “nowhere between the lowest of hells below and the highest heaven above, nowhere in all the infinite worlds that stretch right and left, is there the equal, much less the superior, of a Buddha. Incalculable is the excellence which springs from obeying the Precepts and from other virtuous conduct.”

Then he declared the virtues of the Triple Gem. “By taking refuge in the Triple Gem,” He told them, “one escapes from rebirth in states of suffering.” He further explained that meditation on the Triple Gem leads through the four stages to Enlightenment.

“In forsaking such a refuge as this,” he admonished them, “you have certainly erred. In the past, too, men who foolishly mistook what was no refuge for a real refuge, met disaster. Actually, they fell prey to yakkhas — evil spirits — in the wilderness and were utterly destroyed. In contrast, men who clung to the truth not only survived, but actually prospered in that same wilderness.”

Anathapindika raised his clasped hands to his forehead, praised the Buddha, and asked him to tell that story of the past.

“In order to dispel the world’s ignorance and to conquer suffering,” the Buddha proclaimed, “I practiced the Ten Perfections for countless aeons. Listen carefully, and I will speak.”

Having their full attention, the Buddha made clear, as though he were releasing the full moon from behind clouds, what rebirth had concealed from them.

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Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta was born into a merchant’s family and grew up to be a wise trader. At the same time, in the same city, there was another merchant, a very stupid fellow, with no common sense whatsoever.
One day it so happened that the two merchants each loaded five hundred carts with costly wares of Baranasi and prepared to leave in the same direction at exactly the same time. The wise merchant thought, “If this silly young fool travels with me and if our thousand carts stay together, it will be too much for the road. Finding wood and water for the men will be difficult, and there won’t be enough grass for the oxen. Either he or I must go first.”

“Look,” he said to the other merchant, “the two of us can’t travel together. Would you rather go first or follow after me?”

The foolish trader thought, “There will be many advantages if I take the lead. I’ll get a road which is not yet cut up. My oxen will have the pick of the grass. My men will get the choicest wild herbs for curry. The water will be undisturbed. Best of all, I’ll be able to fix my own price for bartering my goods.” Considering all these advantages, he said, “I will go ahead of you, my friend.”

The Bodhisatta was pleased to hear this because he saw many advantages in following after. He reasoned, “Those carts going first will level the road where it is rough, and I’ll be able to travel along the road they have already smoothed. Their oxen will graze off the coarse old grass, and mine will pasture on the sweet young growth which will spring up in its place. My men will find fresh sweet herbs for curry where the old ones have been picked. Where there is no water, the first caravan will have to dig to supply themselves, and we’ll be able to drink at the wells they have dug. Haggling over prices is tiring work; he’ll do the work, and I will be able to barter my wares at prices he has already fixed.”

“Very well, my friend,” he said, “please go first.”

“I will,” said the foolish merchant, and he yoked his carts and set out. After a while he came to the outskirts of a wilderness. He filled all of his huge water jars with water before setting out to cross the sixty yojanas [2] of desert which lay before him.

The yakkha who haunted that wilderness had been watching the caravan. When it had reached the middle, he used his magic power to conjure up a lovely carriage drawn by pure white young bulls. With a retinue of a dozen disguised yakkhas carrying swords and shields, he rode along in his carriage like a mighty lord. His hair and clothes were wet, and he had a wreath of blue lotuses and white water lilies around his head. His attendants also were dripping wet and draped in garlands. Even the bulls’ hooves and carriage wheels were muddy.

As the wind was blowing from the front, the merchant was riding at the head of his caravan to escape the dust. The yakkha drew his carriage beside the merchant’s and greeted him kindly. The merchant returned the greeting and moved his own carriage to one side to allow the carts to pass while he and the yakkha chatted.

“We are on our way from Baranasi, sir,” explained the merchant. “I see that your men are all wet and muddy and that you have lotuses and water lilies. Did it rain while you were on the road? Did you come across pools with lotuses and water lilies?”

“What do you mean?” the yakkha exclaimed. “Over there is the dark-green streak of a jungle. Beyond that there is plenty of water. It is always raining there, and there are many lakes with lotuses and water lilies.” Then, pretending to be interested in the merchant’s business, he asked, “What do you have in these carts?”

“Expensive merchandise,” answered the merchant.

“What is in this cart which seems so heavily laden?” the yakkha asked as the last cart rolled by.

“That’s full of water.”

“You were wise to carry water with you this far, but there is no need for it now, since water is so abundant ahead. You could travel much faster and lighter without those heavy jars. You’d be better off breaking them and throwing the water away. Well, good day,” he said suddenly, as he turned his carriage. “We must be on our way. We have stopped too long already.” He rode away quickly with his men. As soon as they were out of sight, he turned and made his way back to his own city.

The merchant was so foolish that he followed the yakkha’s advice. He broke all the jars, without saving even a single cupful of water, and ordered the men to drive on quickly. Of course, they did not find any water, and they were soon exhausted from thirst. At sunset they drew their carts into a circle and tethered the oxen to the wheels, but there was no water for the weary animals. Without water, the men could not cook any rice either. They sank to the ground and fell asleep. As soon as night came, the yakkhas attacked, killing every single man and beast. The fiends devoured the flesh, leaving only the bones, and departed. Skeletons were strewn in every direction, but the five hundred carts stood with their loads untouched. Thus the heedless young merchant was the sole cause of the destruction of the entire caravan.

Allowing six weeks to pass after the foolish trader had left, the Bodhisatta set out with his five hundred carts. When he reached the edge of the wilderness, he filled his water jars. Then he assembled his men and announced, “Let not so much as a handful of water be used without my permission. Furthermore, there are poisonous plants in this wilderness. Do not eat any leaf, flower, or fruit which you have never eaten before, without showing it to me first.” Having thus carefully warned his men, he led the caravan into the wilderness.

When they had reached the middle of the wilderness, the yakkha appeared on the path just as before. The merchant noticed his red eyes and fearless manner and suspected something strange. “I know there is no water in this desert,” he said to himself. “Furthermore, this stranger casts no shadow. He must be a yakkha. He probably tricked the foolish merchant, but he doesn’t realize how clever I am.”

“Get out of here!” he shouted at the yakkha. “We are men of business. We do not throw away our water before we see where more is to come from!”

Without saying any more, the yakkha rode away.

As soon as the yakkhas had left, the merchant’s men approached their leader and said, “Sir, those men were wearing lotuses and water lilies on their heads. Their clothes and hair were wringing wet. They told us that up ahead there is a thick forest where it is always raining. Let us throw away our water so that we can proceed quicker with lightened carts.”

The merchant ordered a halt and summoned all his men. “Has any man among you ever heard before today,” he asked, “that there was a lake or a pool in this wilderness?”

“No, sir,” they answered. “It’s known as the ‘Waterless Desert.’ ”

“We have just been told by some strangers that it is raining in the forest just ahead. How far does a rain-wind carry?”

“A yojana, sir.”

“Has any man here seen the top of even a single storm-cloud?”

“No, sir.”

“How far off can you see a flash of lightning?”

“Four or five yojanas, sir.”

“Has any man here seen a flash of lightning?”

“No, sir.”

“How far off can a man hear a peal of thunder?”

“Two or three yojanas, sir.”

“Has any man here heard a peal of thunder?”

“No, sir.”

“Those were not men, but yakkhas,” the wise merchant told his men. “They are hoping that we will throw away our water. Then, when we are weak and faint, they will return to devour us. Since the young merchant who went before us was not a man of good sense, most likely he was fooled by them. We may expect to find his carts standing just as they were first loaded. We will probably see them today. Press on with all possible speed, without throwing away a drop of water!”

Just as the merchant had predicted, his caravan soon came upon the five hundred carts with the skeletons of men and oxen strewn in every direction. He ordered his men to arrange his carts in a fortified circle, to take care of the oxen, and to prepare an early supper for themselves. After the animals and men had all safely bedded down, the merchant and his foremen, swords in hand, stood guard all through the night.

At daybreak the merchant replaced his own weak carts for stronger ones and exchanged his own common goods for the most costly of the abandoned merchandise. When he arrived at his destination, he was able to barter his stock of wares at two or three times their value. He returned to his own city without losing a single man out of all his company.

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This story ended, the Buddha said, “Thus it was, laymen, that in times past, the foolish came to utter destruction, while those who clung to the truth escaped from the yakkhas’ hands, reached their goal in safety, and returned to their homes again.
“This clinging to the truth not only endows happiness even up to rebirth in the Realm of Brahma, [3] but also leads ultimately to Arahatship. Following untruth entails rebirth either in the four states of punishment or in the lowest conditions of mankind.” After the Buddha had expounded the Four Truths, those five hundred disciples were established in the Fruit of the First Path.

The Buddha concluded his lesson by identifying the Birth as follows: “The foolish young merchant was Devadatta, [4] and his men were Devadatta’s followers. The wise merchant’s men were the followers of the Buddha, and I myself was that wise merchant.”

Notes:
1. The Uposatha is the full, new, and half-moon days, when many Buddhists observe the Eight Precepts.

2. Yojana: a unit of distance, about seven miles.

3. The Realm of Brahma refers to the highest heavens, where beings enjoy radiant bliss.

4. Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha. He tried to kill the Master several times, but always failed.

~ From Jataka Tales of the Buddha, part I. Retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki. Copyright @ 1995.

The Goat That Laughed and Wept – Matakabhatta Jataka (Jataka No. 18)

One day, while the Buddha was staying in Jetavana, some bhikkhus asked him if there was any benefit in sacrificing goats, sheep, and other animals as offerings for departed relatives.
“No, bhikkhus,” replied the Buddha. “No good ever comes from taking life, not even when it is for the purpose of providing a Feast for the Dead.” Then he told this story of the past.

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Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, a brahmin decided to offer a Feast for the Dead and bought a goat to sacrifice. “My boys,” he said to his students, “take this goat down to the river, bathe it, brush it, hang a garland around its neck, give it some grain to eat, and bring it back.”
“Yes, sir,” they replied and led the goat to the river.

While they were grooming it, the goat started to laugh with a sound like a pot smashing. Then, just as strangely, it started to weep loudly.

The young students were amazed at this behavior. “Why did you suddenly laugh,” they asked the goat, “and why do you now cry so loudly?”

“Repeat your question when we get back to your teacher,” the goat answered.

The students hurriedly took the goat back to their master and told him what had happened at the river. Hearing the story, the master himself asked the goat why it had laughed and why it had wept.

“In times past, brahmin,” the goat began, “I was a brahmin who taught the Vedas like you. I, too, sacrificed a goat as an offering for a Feast for the Dead. Because of killing that single goat, I have had my head cut off 499 times. I laughed aloud when I realized that this is my last birth as an animal to be sacrificed. Today I will be freed from my misery. On the other hand, I cried when I realized that, because of killing me, you, too, may be doomed to lose your head five hundred times. It was out of pity for you that I cried.”

“Well, goat,” said the brahmin, “in that case, I am not going to kill you.”

“Brahmin!” exclaimed the goat. “Whether or not you kill me, I cannot escape death today.”

“Don’t worry,” the brahmin assured the goat. “I will guard you.”

“You don’t understand,” the goat told him. “Your protection is weak. The force of my evil deed is very strong.”

The brahmin untied the goat and said to his students, “Don’t allow anyone to harm this goat.” They obediently followed the animal to protect it.

After the goat was freed, it began to graze. It stretched out its neck to reach the leaves on a bush growing near the top of a large rock. At that very instant a lightning bolt hit the rock, breaking off a sharp piece of stone which flew through the air and neatly cut off the goat’s head. A crowd of people gathered around the dead goat and began to talk excitedly about the amazing accident.

A tree deva [1] had observed everything from the goat’s purchase to its dramatic death, and drawing a lesson from the incident, admonished the crowd: “If people only knew that the penalty would be rebirth into sorrow, they would cease from taking life. A horrible doom awaits one who slays.” With this explanation of the law of kamma the deva instilled in his listeners the fear of hell. The people were so frightened that they completely gave up the practice of animal sacrifices. The deva further instructed the people in the Precepts and urged them to do good.

Eventually, that deva passed away to fare according to his deserts. For several generations after that, people remained faithful to the Precepts and spent their lives in charity and meritorious works, so that many were reborn in the heavens.

————————–

The Buddha ended his lesson and identified the Birth by saying, “In those days I was that deva.”

Notes:
1. Devas are celestial beings, ranging from the highest gods to simple tree spirits.

~ From Jataka Tales of the Buddha, part I. Retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki. Copyright @ 1995.

The Sound the Hare Heard – Duddubha Jataka (Jataka No. 322)

One morning while some bhikkhus were on their alms round in Savatthi, they passed some ascetics of different sects practicing austerities. Some of them were naked and lying on thorns. Others sat around a blazing fire under the burning sun.

Later, while the monks were discussing the ascetics, they asked the Buddha, “Lord, is there any virtue in those harsh ascetic practices?”

The Buddha answered, “No, monks, there is neither virtue nor any special merit in them. When they are examined and tested, they are like a path over a dunghill, or like the noise the hare heard.”

Puzzled, the monks said, “Lord, we do not know about that noise. Please tell us what it was.”

At their request the Buddha told them this story of the distant past.

——————

Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, the Bodhisatta was born as a lion in a forest near the Western Ocean. In one part of that forest there was a grove of palms mixed with belli trees.[1] A hare lived in that grove beneath a palm sapling at the foot of a belli tree.
One day the hare lay under the young palm tree, idly thinking, “If this earth were destroyed, what would become of me?” At that very instant a ripe belli fruit happened to fall and hit a palm leaf making a loud “THUD!”

Startled by this sound, the hare leapt to his feet and cried, “The earth is collapsing!” He immediately fled, without even glancing back.

Another hare, seeing him race past as if for his very life, asked, “What’s wrong?” and started running, too.

“Don’t ask!” panted the first. This frightened the second hare even more, and he sprinted to keep up.

“What’s wrong?” he shouted again.

Pausing for just a moment, the first hare cried, “The earth is breaking up!” At this, the two of them bolted off together.

Their fear was infectious, and other hares joined them until all the hares in that forest were fleeing together. When other animals saw the commotion and asked what was wrong, they were breathlessly told, “The earth is breaking up!” and they too began running for their lives. In this way, the hares were soon joined by herds of deer, boars, elk, buffaloes, wild oxen, and rhinoceroses, a family of tigers, and some elephants.

When the lion saw this headlong stampede of animals and heard the cause of their flight, he thought, “The earth is certainly not coming to an end. There must have been some sound which they misunderstood. If I don’t act quickly they will be killed. I must save them!”

Then, as fast as only he could run, he got in front of them, and roared three times. At the sound of his mighty voice, all the animals stopped in their tracks. Panting, they huddled together in fear. The lion approached and asked why they were running away.

“The earth is collapsing,” they all answered.

“Who saw it collapsing?” he asked.

“The elephants know all about it,” some animals replied.

When he asked the elephants, they said, “We don’t know. The tigers know.”

The tigers said, “The rhinoceroses know.” The rhinoceroses said, “The wild oxen know.” The wild oxen said, “The buffaloes know.” The buffaloes said, “The elk know.” The elk said, “The boars know.” The boars said, “The deer know.” The deer said, “We don’t know. The hares know.”

When he asked the hares, they pointed to one particular hare and said, “This one told us.”

The lion asked him, “Is it true, sir, that the earth is breaking up?”

“Yes, sir, I saw it,” said the hare.

“Where were you when you saw it?”

“In the forest in a palm grove mixed with belli trees. I was lying there under a palm at the foot of a belli tree, thinking, ‘If this earth were destroyed, what would become of me?’ At that very moment I heard the sound of the earth breaking up and I fled.”

From this explanation, the lion realized exactly what had really happened, but he wanted to verify his conclusions and demonstrate the truth to the other animals. He gently calmed the animals and said, “I will take the hare and go to find out whether or not the earth is coming to an end where he says it is. Until we return, stay here.”

Placing the hare on his tawny back, he raced with great speed back to that grove. Then he put the hare down and said, “Come, show me the place you meant.”

“I don’t dare, my lord,” said the hare.

“Don’t be afraid,” said the lion.

The hare, shivering in fear, would not risk going near the belli tree. He could only point and say, “Over there, sir, is the place of dreadful sound.”

The lion went to the place the hare indicated. He could make out where the hare had been lying in the grass, and he saw the ripe belli fruit that had fallen on the palm leaf. Having carefully ascertained that the earth was not breaking up, he placed the hare on his back again and returned to the waiting animals.

He told them what he had found and said, “Don’t be afraid.” Reassured, all the animals returned to their usual places and resumed their routines.

Those animals had placed themselves in great danger because they listened to rumours and unfounded fears rather than trying to find out the truth themselves. Truly, if it had not been for the lion, those beasts would have rushed into the sea and perished. It was only because of the Bodhisatta’s wisdom and compassion that they escaped death.

——————

At the conclusion of the story, the Buddha identified the Birth: “At that time, I myself was the lion.”

Notes:
[1] The belli (beluva or vilva) is the Bengal quince.

~ From Jataka Tales of the Buddha, part III. Retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki. Copyright © 1997.

The Young Monk Who Saved The Ants

Once upon a time in the deep mountains forest there lived an old monk and a young monk. The old monk was a great practitioner of Buddha-dharma and was frequently in deep meditation. Normally when he started meditation, it could last for half a day or one full day. In addition, during his meditation he would know what was going to happen in the future.

One day, the old monk meditated again. Suddenly he found out that his little disciple was going to pass away in eight days. Therefore the old monk called the young monk and said,

“My child, I am going to give you an eight-day holiday so that you can go home to see your mother and father.”

“Really? That’s very good, thank you Shifu.”

In fact, lately I have been feeling quite homesick too.”

“However, you must remember to come back here by the eighth day.”

“Okay, Shifu, please take care of yourself. I am leaving now.”

“Go home now!”

Delightedly the young monk went down the mountains, without realising that in the eyes of the old monk, there was sadness and a sense of reluctance to see him leave. After a long walk, the young monk stopped at the bank of the stream to drink some water as he was getting thirsty. Then he saw there was an ant cave in which countless ants were going into and out of it. He stayed to observe for a while with interest. When he was just about to leave,

“Oh! Why is the water level of the stream is rising? Oh no!! The ants will be drowned!!”

The reason was it had been raining upstream for a few days continuously. Therefore the water level downstream was starting to rise.

He quickly took off his cloth and he put some hard soil in it to made up a protection wall along the cave. Not only did he managed to stop water from covering the cave, but also skilfully diverted the flow of the waterto somewhere else.

Hence he saved the lives of countless ants. Eight days passed quickly. The old monk was strolling in the mountains forest sadly. Suddenly from a distance, he saw the little monk coming back upto the mountains cheerfully. Happily he asked the young monk to recount what he has done in the pass eight days while he had been away. When he pondered on this story he finally understood that because the young monk had saved the lives of countless ants this has caused his fated eight-day life expectancyto lenghten into a long and happy life.This is the merit of cultivating good deeds, however seemingly insignificant they be.

~ From “The Buddhist Children’s Stories”, page 5-7, published by TheWhite Cloud Cultural Centre, Taipei Taiwan, Translated and proofread by Forest, Buddhist Calendar 2536 12th Lunar Month the 28th(1993/01/20) 23:45, Sydney.

Deer and Tiger

The mountains were splendid. But Wu Tang didn’t care a whit for scenery. He and his son spent a lot of time hunting in these mountains. Wu Tang was a dead shot with his bow and arrow. He never missed. He was such a good shot that he barely had to aim. He just picked a target, pulled his bow, and shot it down. No animal was quick enough or agile enough to escape his arrows. Look, over there, a little fawn! A little fawn must be one of the most adorable animals in nature, but Wu Tang wasn’t in the mountains to admire nature.

As soon as he spotted it, he whipped an arrow out of his quiver and zoom! The fawn fell over dead. Then Wu noticed its mother a few feet away in the grass. He couldn’t get a good shot at her from his angle, so he waited. She was terribly sad about her little baby! She let out a cry as she started licking her baby’s wounds. Just as she was concentrating on that, Wu pulled off a quick shot and the mother deer died on the spot.

But that wasn’t enough for Wu. He thought there might be more deer in the area, because he heard something rustling around in the grass. There was at least one more in there, maybe two. “Three deer is better than two,” he thought, as he prepared. Then he located the source of the sound and shot at a shadow in the grass. He was proud to hear the sound of another dead body falling to the ground, but his pride turned to anguish when he heard a groan! Deer don’t groan like that! That was a human voice! Wu rushed over and saw that his third shot had killed not a deer, but his own son, who had come out hunting with him!

Wu was stupefied. He seemed to hear a voice telling him, “Wu Tang! Now do you now what it is like to see your baby shot to death with an arrow? Animals love their young as much as you do. How much anguish have you caused animal parents!” Wu stood there, numb, too heartbroken to pay attention to a sound that came from the side. Then in a flash he realized that the other animal he had heard in the grass was not a deer, but a tiger! But he was too late …

~ Quoted from “The Love of Life” in “Thus Have I Heard”, edited by Minh Thanh and P.D. Leigh.

Rainy Day, Sunny Day

There was once an old lady who cried all the time. Her elder daughter was married to an umbrella merchant while the younger daughter was the wife of a noodle vendor. On sunny days, she worried, “Oh no! The weather is so nice and sunny. No one is going to buy any umbrellas. What will happen if the shop has to be closed?” These worries made her sad. She just could not help but cry. When it rained, she would cry for the younger daughter.

She thought, “Oh no! My younger daughter is married to a noodle vendor. You cannot dry noodles without the sun. Now there will be no noodles to sell. What should we do?” As a result, the old lady lived in sorrow everyday. Whether sunny or rainy, she grieved for one of her daughters. Her neighbors could not console her and jokingly called her “the crying lady.”

One day, she met a monk. He was very curious as to why she was always crying. She explained the problem to him. The monk smiled kindly and said, “Madam! You need not worry. I will show you a way to happiness, and you will need to grieve no more.”

The crying lady was very excited. She immediately asked the monk to show her what to do. The master replied, “It is very simple. You just need to change your perspective. On sunny days, do not think of your elder daughter not being able to sell umbrellas but the younger daughter being able to dry her noodles. With such good strong sunlight, she must be able to make plenty of noodles and her business must be very good. When it rains, think about the umbrella store of the elder daughter. With the rain, everyone must be buying umbrellas. She will sell a lot of umbrellas and her store will prosper.”

The old lady saw the light. She followed the monkís instruction. After a while, she did not cry anymore; instead, she was smiling everyday. From that day on she was known as “the smiling lady.”

~ Told by Venerable Master Hsing Yun

Esarhaddon, King of Assyria

(This is a wonderful story quoted by Thich Nhat Hanh in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”.)

THE Assyrian King, Esarhaddon, had conquered the kingdom of King Lailie, had destroyed and burnt the towns, taken all the inhabitants captive to his own country, slaughtered the warriors, beheaded some chieftains and impaled or flayed others, and had confined King Lailie himself in a cage.

As he lay on his bed one night, King Esarhaddon was thinking how he should execute Lailie, when suddenly he heard a rustling near his bed, and opening his eyes saw an old man with a long grey beard and mild eyes.

“You wish to execute Lailie?” asked the old man.

“Yes,” answered the King. “But I cannot make up my mind how to do it.”

“But you are Lailie,” said the old man.

“That’s not true,” replied the King. “Lailie is Lailie, and I am I.”

“You and Lailie are one,” said the old man. “You only imagine you are not Lailie, and that Lailie is not you.”

“What do you mean by that?” said the King. “Here am I, lying on a soft bed; around me are obedient men-slaves and women-slaves, and to-morrow I shall feast with my friends as I did to-day; whereas Lailie is sitting like a bird in a cage, and to-morrow he will be impaled, and with his tongue hanging out will struggle till he dies, and his body will be torn in pieces by dogs.”

“You cannot destroy his life,” said the old man.

“And how about the fourteen thousand warriors I killed, with whose bodies I built a mound?” said the King. “I am alive, but they no longer exist. Does not that prove that I can destroy life?”

“How do you know they no longer exist?”

“Because I no longer see them. And, above all, they were tormented, but I was not. It was ill for them, but well for me.”

“That, also, only seems so to you. You tortured yourself, but not them.”

“I do not understand,” said the King.

“Do you wish to understand?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then come here,” said the old man, pointing to a large font full of water.

The King rose and approached the font.

“Strip, and enter the font.”

Esarhaddon did as the old man bade him.

“As soon as I begin to pour this water over you,” said the old man, filling a pitcher with the water, “dip down your head.”

The old man tilted the pitcher over the King’s head and the King bent his head till it was under water.

And as soon as King Esarhaddon was under the water he felt that he was no longer Esarhaddon, but some one else. And, feeling himself to be that other man, he saw himself lying on a rich bed, beside a beautiful woman. He had never seen her before, but he knew she was his wife. The woman raised herself and said to him:

“Dear husband, Lailie! You were wearied by yesterday’s work and have slept longer than usual, and I have guarded your rest, and have not roused you. But now the Princes await you in the Great Hall. Dress and go out to them.”

And Esarhaddon — understanding from these words that he was Lailie, and not feeling at all surprised at this, but only wondering that he did not know it before — rose, dressed, and went into the Great Hall where the Princes awaited him.

The Princes greeted Lailie, their King, bowing to the ground, and then they rose, and at his word sat down before him; and the eldest of the Princes began to speak, saying that it was impossible longer to endure the insults of the wicked King Esarhaddon, and that they must make war on him. But Lailie disagreed, and gave orders that envoys shall be sent to remonstrate with King Esarhaddon; and he dismissed the Princes from the audience. Afterwards he appointed men of note to act as ambassadors, and impressed on them what they were to say to King Esarhaddon. Having finished this business, Esarhaddon — feeling himself to be Lailie — rode out to hunt wild asses. The hunt was successful. He killed two wild asses himself, and having returned home, feasted with his friends, and witnessed a dance of slave girls. The next day he went to the Court, where he was awaited by petitioners suitors, and prisoners brought for trial; and there as usual he decided the cases submitted to him. Having finished this business, he again rode out to his favourite amusement: the hunt. And again he was successful: this time killing with his own hand an old lioness, and capturing her two cubs. After the hunt he again feasted with his friends, and was entertained with music and dances, and the night he spent with the wife whom he loved.

So, dividing his time between kingly duties and pleasures, he lived for days and weeks, awaiting the return of the ambassadors he had sent to that King Esarhaddon who used to be himself. Not till a month had passed did the ambassadors return, and they returned with their noses and ears cut off.

King Esarhaddon had ordered them to tell Lailie that what had been done to them — the ambassadors — would be done to King Lailie himself also, unless he sent immediately a tribute of silver, gold, and cypress-wood, and came himself to pay homage to King Esarhaddon.

Lailie, formerly Esarhaddon, again assembled the Princes, and took counsel with them as to what he should do. They all with one accord said that war must be made against Esarhaddon, without waiting for him to attack them. The King agreed; and taking his place at the head of the army, started on the campaign. The campaign lasts seven days.
Each day the King rode round the army to rouse the courage of his warriors. On the eighth day his army met that of Esarhaddon in a broad valley through which a river flowed. Lailie’s army fought bravely, but Lailie, formerly Esarhaddon, saw the enemy swarming down from the mountains like ants, over-running the valley and overwhelming his army; and, in his chariot, he flung himself into the midst of the battle, hewing and felling the enemy. But the warriors of Lailie were but as hundreds, while those of Esarhaddon were as thousands; and Lailie felt himself wounded and taken prisoner.
Nine days he journeyed with other captives, bound, and guarded by the warriors of Esarhaddon. On the tenth day he reached Nineveh, and was placed in a cage. Lailie suffered not so much from hunger and from his wound as from shame and impotent rage. He felt how powerless he was to avenge himself on his enemy for all he was suffering.
All he could do was to deprive his enemies of the pleasure of seeing his sufferings; and he firmly resolved to endure courageously without a murmur, all they could do to him. For twenty days he sat in his cage, awaiting execution. He saw his relatives and friends led out to death; he heard the groans of those who were executed: some had their hands and feet cut off, others were flayed alive, but he showed neither disquietude, nor pity, nor fear. He saw the wife he loved, bound, and led by two black eunuchs.
He knew she was being taken as a slave to Esarhaddon. That, too, he bore without a murmur. But one of the guards placed to watch him said, “I pity you, Lailie; you were a king, but what are you now?” And hearing these words, Lailie remembered all he had lost. He clutched the bars of his cage, and, wishing to kill himself, beat his head against them. But he had not the strength to do so and, groaning in despair, he fell upon the floor of his cage.

At last two executioners opened his cage door, and having strapped his arms tight behind him, led him to the place of execution, which was soaked with blood. Lailie saw a sharp stake dripping with blood, from which the corpse of one of his friends had just been torn, and he understood that this had been done that the stake might serve for his own execution. They stripped Lailie of his clothes. He was startled at the leanness of his once strong, handsome body. The two executioners seized that body by its lean thighs; they lifted him up and were about to let him fall upon the stake.

“This is death, destruction!” thought Lailie, and, forgetful of his resolve to remain bravely calm to the end, he sobbed and prayed for mercy. But no one listened to him.

“But this cannot be,” thought he. “Surely I am asleep. It is a dream.” And he made an effort to rouse himself, and did indeed awake, to find himself neither Esarhaddon nor Lailie — but some kind of an animal. He was astonished that he was an animal, and astonished, also, at not having known this before.

He was grazing in a valley, tearing the tender grass with his teeth, and brushing away flies with his long tail. Around him was frolicking a long-legged, dark-gray ass-colt, striped down its back. Kicking up its hind legs, the colt galloped full speed to Esarhaddon, and poking him under the stomach with its smooth little muzzle, searched for the teat, and, finding it, quieted down, swallowing regularly. Esarhaddon understood that he was a she-ass, the colt’s mother, and this neither surprised nor grieved him, but rather gave him pleasure. He experienced a glad feeling of simultaneous life in himself and in his offspring.

But suddenly something flew near with a whistling sound and hit him in the side, and with its sharp point entered his skin and flesh. Feeling a burning pain, Esarhaddon — who was at the same time the ass — tore the udder from the colt’s teeth, and laying back his ears galloped to the herd from which he had strayed. The colt kept up with him, galloping by his side. They had already nearly reached the herd, which had started off, when another arrow in full flight struck the colt’s neck. It pierced the skin and quivered in its flesh. The colt sobbed piteously and fell upon its knees. Esarhaddon could not abandon it, and remained standing over it. The colt rose, tottered on its long, thin legs, and again fell. A fearful two-legged being — a man — ran up and cut its throat.

“This cannot be; it is still a dream! thought Esarhaddon, and made a last effort to awake. “Surely I am not Lailie, nor the ass, but Esarhaddon!”

He cried out, and at the same instant lifted his head out of the font. . . . The old man was standing by him, pouring over his head the last drops from the pitcher.

“Oh, how terribly I have suffered! And for how long!” said Esarhaddon.

“Long?” replied the old man, “you have only dipped your head under water and lifted it again; see, the water is not yet all out of the pitcher. Do you now understand?”

Esarhaddon did not reply, but only looked at the old man with terror.

“Do you now understand,” continued the old man, “that Lailie is you, and the warriors you put to death were you also? And not the warriors only, but the animals which you slew when hunting and ate at your feasts were also you. You thought life dwelt in you alone but I have drawn aside the veil of delusion, and have let you see that by doing evil to others you have done it to yourself also. Life is one in them all, and yours is but a portion of this same common life. And only in that one part of life that is yours, can you make life better or worse — increasing or decreasing it. You can only improve life in yourself by destroying the barriers that divide your life from that of others, and by considering others as yourself, and loving them. By so doing you increase your share of life. You injure your life when you think of it as the only life, and try to add to its welfare at the expense of other lives. By so doing you only lessen it. To destroy the life that dwells in others is beyond your power. The life of those you have slain has vanished from your eyes, but is not destroyed. You thought to lengthen your own life and to shorten theirs, but you cannot do this. Life knows neither time nor space. The life of a moment, and the life of a thousand years: your life and the life of all the visible and invisible beings in the world, are equal. To destroy life, or to alter it, is impossible; for life is the one thing that exists. All else, but seems to us to be.”

Having said this the old man vanished.

Next morning King Esarhaddon gave orders that Lailie and all the prisoners should be set at liberty and that the executions should cease.

On the third day he called his son Assur-bani-pal, and gave the kingdom over into his hands; and he himself went into the desert to think over all he had learnt. Afterwards he went about as a wanderer through the towns and villages, preaching to the people that all life is one, and that when men wish to harm others, they really do evil to themselves.

~ Told by Leo Tolstoy. Translated by L. and A. Maude

The Hungry Dog

There was a great king who oppressed his people and was hated by his subjects; yet when the Tathagata came into his kingdom, the king desired much to see him. So he went to the place where the Blessed One stayed and asked: “O Sakyamuni, canst thou teach a lesson to the king that will divert his mind and benefit him at the same time?”

And the Blessed One said: “I shall tell thee the parable of the hungry dog:

There was a wicked tyrant; and the god Indra, assuming the shape of a hunter, came down upon earth with the demon Matali, the latter appearing as a dog of enormous size. Hunter and dog entered the palace, and the dog howled so woefully that the royal buildings shook by the sound to their very foundations.

The tyrant had the awe-inspiring hunter brought before his throne and inquired after the cause of the terrible bark. The hunter said, “The dog is hungry,” whereupon the frightened king ordered food for him. All the food prepared at the royal banquet disappeared rapidly in the dog’s jaws, and still he howled with portentous significance. More food was sent for, and all the royal store-houses were emptied, but in vain.

Then the tyrant grew desperate and asked: ‘Will nothing satisfy the cravings of that woeful beast?’ “Nothing,” replied the hunter, nothing except perhaps the flesh of all his enemies.’ ‘And who are his enemies?’ anxiously asked the tyrant.

The hunter replied: ‘The dog will howl as long as there are people hungry in the kingdom, and his enemies are those who practice injustice and oppress the poor.” The oppressor of the people, remembering his evil deeds, was seized with remorse, and for the first time in his life he began to listen to the teachings of righteousness.”

Having ended his story, the Blessed One addressed the king, who had turned pale, and said to him:

“The Tathagata can quicken the spiritual ears of the powerful, and when thou, great king, hearest the dog bark, think of the teachings of the Buddha, and thou mayest still learn to pacify the monster.”

The Story of the Hoe

A farmer plowed the land with a hoe day after day, year after year. The work was hard, but the harvest was plentiful. And yet, one day he couldn’t help but ask himself, “Why am I working so hard? Life is meaningless and boring! Where is my life heading?”

Shortly afterwards, a monk came to his house to ask for alms. The monk looked free and happy, which deeply impressed the farmer. Being a monk and living an unencumbered life seemed admirable. Yes, what a good idea! The farmer cheerfully made up his mind to give up everything and become a monk.

As soon as he left his house, he suddenly felt how empty his hands were. He was so used to holding a hoe in his hands to work that without the hoe he now felt a little lost. Therefore, he went back to his house, picked up his hoe, and tried hard to think of what he could do with it. It was a fine hoe. The shaft was smooth and shiny from daily use. It would be heartbreaking to throw it away.

“OK, then,” he thought, “I’ll wrap it up and put it away.” He found a secure place in the house to hide it. Now everything was settled. With his mind at ease, the farmer left his house at last.

The farmer did all he could to fulfill the requirements to be a true monk. However, he could hardly resist thinking of his hoe whenever he came across green paddies. Every now and then, he would rush back home just to feel the hoe and then return to the temple.

Time passed by quickly. After seven or eight years, he felt that something was missing. “Why haven’t I fulfilled my dream of becoming a free, happy monk after having tried very hard to cultivate my morality? There is something I haven’t let go of. Now it’s time to get rid of my burden!” He rushed back home, picked up the hoe and threw it into a lake. Splash, there it went! “I won! I succeeded!” he couldn’t resist crying out loud.

Just at that moment, a king, leading his victorious army, happened to pass by. He overheard the cry and went to ask the monk, “What did you win? Why are you so cheerful?” “I have conquered the devils in my heart. I have let all my burdens go.”

The king saw that the monk was really happy and free from earthly burdens and delusions. The king thought to himself, “Now I’ve won the war. Victory is mine. But am I really happy? I took lands that didn’t belong to me. It is not real victory.” Then and there, the king realized that although he had won the war, he was not a real winner, but a common person burdened with life’s vexations. He realized that in order to become a real winner and a saint, you have to conquer the devils in your heart.

~ Told by Master Cheng Yen. Translated by C.Y. Tien

The Tamarind Tree

One bright and cool summer day the Buddha took a walk along the forest path, simply enjoying the beauty of the earth. At a cross road, he saw a man in grief praying earnestly.

The man recognized the Buddha and fell on his knees. He cried, “Lord Buddha, life is indeed bitter and painful! I was once a man with great wealth, living a life of ease and happiness. By trikery and deceit, those I trusted and loved took everything from me. I am now a wretched man with noone to turn to. How many more times must I be reborn into this world of suffering before I can be librated?”

Pointing to the mango tree by the road, the Buddha said, “Do you see that mango tree? You must be reborn as many times as the number of mangoes on that tree before you know the bliss of liberation from the sufferings of this fleeting world.”

Seeing that there are at least dozens of mangoes hanging on the tree, the man gasped, “But Lord! I have lived a righteous life in accord with the precepts! Why am I condemned to suffer so much longer?”

The Buddha sighed. “That is the way it must be.” And he continued his walk.

He came across another man praying by the road and this man too, fell on his knees and cried, “Lord Buddha, life is indeed bitter and painful. I have lost all those I loved to the king of death. I am now forlorn and lonely. Life is full of anguish. How many more times must I be reborn into this world of suffering before I know the bliss of liberation?”

The Buddha pointed to the field of wild flowers along the road and said, “Before you know the bliss of liberation from the sufferings of this fleeting world, you must be reborn as many times as the number of flowers in that field.”

Seeing so many hundreds of flowers in the field, the man cried, “But Lord! I have done many good deeds and have followed you teachings by heart. Why must I endure so much more suffering?”

The Buddha sighed, “That is how it must be.” And he continued on his way.

When he came across a tamarind tree, another man fell down on his knees and cried before him, “Oh Lord! Life is full of suffering! During the days I toiled like a slave under the scathing sun; at night I have nothing to sleep on except a pile of grass on the cold, damped earth. Life is nothing but hunger, thirst and loneliness! How many more times must I be reborn into this world of suffering before I know the bliss of liberation?”

The Buddha looked up to the tamarind tree–each branch of it bearing many stems and each stem has dozens of leaves. The Buddha said, “Look at that tamarind tree. Before you know the bliss of liberation from the sufferings of this fleeting world, you must be reborn as many times as the number of leaves on that tamarind tree.”

As the man looked up at the tamarind tree and its thousands of leaves, his eyes filled with tears of gratitude and joy. “How merciful!” he said as he prostrated to the ground at the Buddha’s feet.

To this day the tamarind’s seeds are the symbol of faithfulness and forbearance.

The Brave Little Parrot – A Jataka Tale

Once, long ago, the Buddha was born as a little parrot. One day a storm fell upon his forest home. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and a dead tree, struck by lightning, burst into flames. Sparks leapt on the wind and soon the forest was ablaze. Terrified animals ran wildly in every direction, seeking safety from the flames and smoke.

“Fire! Fire!” cried the little parrot. “To the river!” Flapping his wings, he flung himself out into the fury of the storm and, rising higher, flew towards the safety of the river. But as he flew he could see that many animals were trapped, surrounded by the flames below, with no chance of escape.

Suddenly a desperate idea, a way to save them, came to him.

He darted to the river, dipped himself in the water, and flew back over the now raging fire.

The heat rising up from the burning forest was like the heat of an oven. The thick smoke made breathing almost unbearable. A wall of flames shot up on one side, and then the other. Crackling flames leapt before him. Twisting and turning through the mad maze of fire, the little parrot flew bravely on. At last, when he was over the center of the forest, he shook his wings and released the few drops of water which still clung to his feathers. The tiny drops tumbled down like jewels into the heart of the blaze and vanished with a hissssssssss.

Then the little parrot once more flew back through the flames and smoke to the river, dipped himself in the cool water, and flew back again over the burning forest. Back and forth he flew, time and time again, from the river to the forest, from the burning forest to the river. His feathers were charred. His feet were scorched. His lungs ached. His eyes, stung by smoke, turned red as coals. His mind spun dizzily as the spinning sparks. But still the little parrot flew on.

At this time, some of the devas — gods of a happy realm — were floating overhead in their cloud palaces of ivory and gold. They happened to look down. And they saw the little parrot flying among the flames. They pointed at him with perfect hands. Between mouthfuls of honeyed foods they exclaimed, “Look at that foolish bird! He’s trying to put out a raging forest fire with a few sprinkles of water! How absurd!” And they laughed.

But one of those gods, strangely moved, changed himself into a golden eagle and flew down, down towards the little parrot’s fiery path.

The little parrot was just nearing the flames again when the great eagle with eyes like molten gold appeared at his side. “Go back, little bird!” said the eagle in a solemn and majestic voice. “Your task is hopeless! A few drops of water can’t put out a forest fire! Cease now and save yourself — before it is too late.”

But the little parrot only continued to fly on through the smoke and flames. He could hear the great eagle flying above him as the heat grew fiercer, calling out, “Stop, foolish little parrot! Save yourself! Save yourself!”

“I don’t need a great, shining eagle,” coughed the little parrot, “to give me advice like that. My own mother, the dear bird, might have told me such things long ago. Advice! (cough, cough), I don’t need advice. I just (cough), need someone to help.”

And the god, who was that great eagle, seeing the little parrot flying through the flames, thought suddenly of his own privileged kind. He could see them high up above. There they were, the carefree gods, laughing and talking, while many animals cried out in pain and fear from the flames below. And he grew ashamed. Then one single desire was kindled in his heart. God though he was, he just wanted to be like that brave little parrot, and to help.

“I will help!” he exclaimed and, flushed with these new feelings, he began to weep. Stream after stream of sparkling tears poured from his eyes. Wave upon wave, they washed down like cooling rain upon the fire, upon the forest, upon the animals and upon the little parrot himself.

The flames died down and the smoke began to clear. The little parrot, washed and bright, rocketed about the sky laughing for joy. “Now that’s more like it!” he exclaimed.

The eagle’s tears dripped from burned branches. Smoke rose up from the scorched earth. Miraculously, where those tears glistened, new life pushed forth — fresh shoots, stems, and leaves. Green grass pushed up from among the still glowing cinders.

Where the teardrops sparkled on the parrot’s wings, new feathers now grew. Red feathers, green feathers, yellow feathers — such bright colors! Such a handsome bird!

All the animals looked at one another in amazement. They were whole and well. Not one had been harmed. Up above in the clear blue sky they could see their brave friend, the little parrot, looping and soaring in delight. When all hope was gone, somehow he had saved them. “Hurray!” they cried. “Hurray for the brave little parrot and for the miraculous rain!”

~ From “The Hungry Tigress” as told by Rafe Martin. Parallax Press, Berkeley California, 1990
(Taken from Inquiring Mind — A Semi-annual Journal of the Vipassana Community Volume 10, Number 2, Spring 1994)