The Great Ape (Jataka Tales – 32)

Once, the Bodhisatta was born as an ape and lived alone like an ascetic in a Himalayan forest. Yet, unlike other monkeys he was kind and virtuous; and survived on leaves and fruits of the forest trees.

One day, a shepherd in search of his stray cattle lost his way and reached that forest. Exhausted with hunger, thirst, heat and toil he sat on the foot of a tree. Soon, he noticed a tinduka tree (diosperos embryopteris) laden with fruits. The hungry shepherd then in no time climbed the tree. But he overlooked the roots of the tree, which had grown out of a sloping cliff over a water-fall. When he reached a branch laden with ripe tindukas to pluck them, the branch could not sustain his weight and broke off and he fell down into a pit. Luckily, his bones were not broken. Yet, it was impossible for him to find an exit.

As a matter of chance, the great ape saw the man in his distress. Feeling pity for him he rescued him by putting great exertions. To ease himself the exhausted monkey wanted to have some rest. So, he asked the man to guard him before he could take a nap. But the ungrateful man decided to kill the innocuous monkey in his sleep to obtain his meat for his survival in the lost forest. So he picked up a large piece of stone and dropped it on the head of the sleeping monkey. The stone somehow slipped and missed the target. Nonetheless, it hurt the monkey. When the ape opened his eyes in agony and read the guilt written in the face of the man, he uttered:

“Brought back from the mouth of Death when reaching the other world.Saved from one precipice, yet you have now fallen on the worse. Wreched is that ignorance that spurs one to such vice and cruelty, and leads one to miseries; as it is this infatuation which deludes one to fall on the false hope of prosperity.”

He continued: “The pain of this wound does not aggrieve me as much as the thought that on account of me you have plunged into such evil from where me or anyone could never rescue you!”

Nonetheless, the compassionate monkey escorted him to the fringe of the forest so that he could go back to his own fellow beings.

By and by, the man’s evil manifested in the form of leprosy. His skin thawed and he was expelled from the society. Thus, excommunicated from the world of his own fellow beings he started living in a dense forest, where no man dared to walk.

One day, the king of Varanasi detected him on his hunting expedition in the forest and mistook him to be a ghost, because his body had deformed. When he came closer he discovered to his shock that the ghost-looking-being was none other than a man. Further, he was shocked when he heard the pathetic story of that man; who was still remorseful for his ungratefulness to the great ape. His miseries had no bound!!

Truly, he repented. But then it was too late. Indeed, no one can escape the fruit of his or her own karma!

Vevajatiyakapi Jataka

The Restless spirit (Hinduism)

There once was a very poor man, who woke up hungry with only 1 rupee left in his pocket. He decides to go to the market and see if his rupee can buy him some left over fruit.

At the market he meets a fancy clothed man behind a table with a beautiful brass pot on it, and a sign that reads “1 rupee”.

The poor man can’t believe his eyes, and asks the man what the catch is.

“It’s true, the pot only costs 1 rupee”, the man says. He goes on to explain that in the pot there lives a spirit, who fulfills all your desires.

“Then why do you sell it?”, the poor man wants to know.

“Well, the spirit is always active and rather impatient”, it is explained. “If you don’t pay attention to him, he’ll start taking things away again”.

“Well OK”, the poor man says. “Since I don’t have much to lose I will buy it from you”.

When he arrives back home, he calls for the spirit inside the pot and the spirit appears. “How can I serve you, master?”, he asks.

“Prepare me a meal worthy of a king”, the poor man commands. Within seconds the spirit serves an opulous meal with 87 courses.

The poor man is delighted, but when he starts eating, the spirit asks again – “How can I serve you master?”

Keeping in mind that the spirit can also take away all the goodies, the poor man commands: “Build me a beautiful castle, suitable for a maharaja!”

Only a few seconds pass by, and the man now finds himself in a beautiful palace. He likes to explore it, but there comes the spirit again, asking “How can I serve you, master?”

Every wish is immediately fulfilled, and when ignored, the spirit takes away everything.

The poor man is annoyed and goes to the village sage, where he explains his problem. After a silent conversation, the poor man steps to the spirit and says: ‘spirit, build me a large pole and stick it in the ground”.

The spirit immediately builds a pole and sticks it in the ground.

“Now spirit, I want you to climb up and down the pole, over and over again”, said the Sage

The spirit starts climbing right away. Now the man has time to eat his meal, explore his palace and do other things. When he and the sage goes out to see what the spirit is doing, they see that he has fallen asleep next to the pole.

“That is how it is with the mind of every man”, explains the sage. “It is restless in its desire to satisfy every desire, and fragments our being. The pole is a tool called a ‘mantra’. By repeating it over and over again, our restless mind is kept busy until it gets so bored that it falls asleep. This way our true self can enjoy the world.”

Author Unknown. Edited by Elan (2014)

The Stone Cutter (Indian Folktales – 6)

There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.

One day, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house and through the open gateway saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and labourers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering stone. “How powerful that stone is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!”

Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the stone?” he thought. He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone-cutter.

We don’t know the extent of our own personal power. And, sometimes, the most insignificant seeming people among us are those most able to effect great change.

Author: Benjamin Hoff (The Tao Of Pooh)

Don’t Leave on Saturday (Zen)

Seven years ago, I visited the place called Dharansala, home of the Dalai Lama. The hillside town is seven thousand feet up the Himalayan Mountains. This town attracts many seekers. “The Traveler’s Hotline” assured us that the person to see was this legendary 24-hour lama. A Buddhist monk who had gone without sleep for several years, he had achieved this remarkable feat by the simple technique of meditating instead of taking his “beauty sleep.”
“He must be a wise person,” I thought as I set off for a 5-hour trek to a remote monastery where their 24-hour man resided. I figured that since he had so much time on his hands, maybe he would grant me an audience. Six hours later, I was ushered into a Spartan cell, where sat the man who had not dreamt in years. I was astounded by the Buddha-like tranquility he seemed to emanate. I felt humbled in the presence of this sublime being.

The friendly English-speaking monk, who had found him for me, whispered, “Make your offering, maybe Lama give your blessing.”

I decided I’d make a dash for wisdom and ask a question, instead of a blessing. The monk whispered into Mr. Tylenol Nightmare’s ear, “What question would you like to ask?”

“How do I best progress spiritually?”

More whisperings in a dark, exotic language…My translator friend announced, “Lama say, don’t leave on Saturday.” The 24-hour lama nodded in my direction and then carried on beaming.

I was furious! A 5-hour trek, a rucksack full of goodies to take as offerings – and now a 5-hour walk back down a treacherous Himalayan trail. I was in a reflective mood: maybe I’d expected too much. What did I want from him? Instant enlightenment? Some wisdom would’ve been nice, but “Don’t leave on Saturday”?! Maybe this was some kind of Zen Buddhist paradox within this mundane phase that contained some great gem of wisdom, but dammit! He was a Tibetan Buddhist!!

On Sunday morning, waiting at the coach station for the bus that would take an arduous, 10-hour journey down the vast mountain, my traveling companion stormed up to me and furiously exclaimed, “Bloody great! A 3-hour delay! I just chatted with that policeman over there…he reckons Saturday’s coach had crashed with 14 people dead…The road’s blocked with rescue vehicles…Good thing we didn’t leave yesterday, like we wanted.”

I was in a state of shock. My mind raced back to the beaming Buddha. I was filled with wonderment and joy. He had given me the perfect answer to my question. Had I left Saturday, there would have been no more spiritual progression. The mundane answer to my oh-so-important question was stunning in its magnificence.

Author Unknown

The Old Tiger and the Greedy Traveler (Folk Tales from India – 5)

Once upon a time, there lived a Tiger in a forest. With the passing years, he became too old to hunt. One day, the Tiger was walking by the side of a lake and suddenly, a gold bangle came across his sight. Quickly he picked up the bangle and thought that he could use it as an allure to catch someone. As he was under the thought process, a traveler happened to pass through the opposite side of the lake.

The Tiger instantly thought to himself, “What a delicious meal he would make?” He planned a scheme to attract the traveler. He held the bangle in his paw making it visible to the traveler and said, “Would you like to take this gold bangle. I don’t require it”. At once, the traveler wanted to take the bangle, but he hesitated to go near the Tiger. He knew that it was risky, yet he sought the Gold Bangle. He planned to be cautious, so he asked the Tiger, “How can I believe you? I know you are a beast and would kill me”.

The Clever Tiger innocently said, “Listen Traveler, in my youth, I was wicked unquestionably, but now I have changed myself. With the advice of a Sanyasi, I have left all evil. Now I am all alone in this world and have engaged myself in kind deeds. Moreover, I have grown old. I have no teeth and my claws are blunt. So, there is no need to fear from me”. The traveler’s was taken in by this smart talk and his love for gold soon overcame his fear of the Tiger. He jumped into the lake to wade across the Tiger.

But as per the plan of the Tiger, he got trapped in the marsh. On seeing this, the Tiger consoled him and said, “Oh! You need not worry. I’ll help you”. Gradually he came towards the traveler and seized him. As the traveler was being dragged out, onto the bank, he thought to himself, “Oh! This beast’s talk of saintliness took me in totally. A beast is always a beast. If only I had not let my greed overcome my reason, I could be alive”. However, it was too late; the Tiger killed the traveler and ate him up. Like this, the traveler became victim of greed and Tiger was successful in his evil plan.

Moral: Greed never goes unpunished.

Source: Stories from Hitopadesha

The Golden Swan (Jataka Tales – 31)

Once, the Buddha was born as a virtuous house-holder in Varanasi. He worked hard to maintain his small family of a wife and three daughters. After his death he was reborn as a golden swan with the consciousness of his former existence.

One day, being overwhelmed with the memory of the family of his previous birth, he visited them in his old house in Varanasi. There, he introduced himself and informed them of his previous life’s relationship. Later, before saying good-bye, he offered them one golden feather and advised them to sell it in the market to overcome their poverty.

Since then he was a regular visitor to his old family; and upon every visit he offered them one golden feather. With the proceeds of the feathers, soon the family overcame its poverty.

The mother of the daughters was, however, greedy and cruel. She wanted to be much richer in much less time. So, one day, she advised her daughters to pluck out all the feathers of the bird upon his next visit and become rich in no time. The daughters strongly opposed her malicious intention and warned her to refrain from any cruel act, which could pain their benefactor.

Next time, when the bird visited the family, the wife coaxed him to come near her. When he hopped on her lap, she seized him violently and plucked out his feathers. But to her surprise and disappointment what she could pluck was just the ordinary feathers. This was because the bird’s feathers were to change into ordinary ones when plucked against his wish.

The poor bird in his great agony tried hard to fly but could not. The woman then threw him away into an abandoned barrel. When his daughters saw him groaning in severe pain they gave him necessary first aid and took care of him until his fresh wings once again grew. He then flew again. But this time when he flew he never came back again.

Suvanna hamsa jataka

The Wise Monkey (Jataka Tales – 30)

Once, there lived a wise monkey, who was the leader of eighty thousand monkeys.

One day, wandering in a forest they went very far and became very thirsty. So, they looked for water and eventually found a water-pond surrounded by densely grown canes.

But before the monkeys could jump into the water to quench their thirst, their leader, the wise monkey, warned them to wait until the safe drinking was assured, as the place was new for them.

So, he made a circuit and scrutinised the foot-prints around the pond. There, he noticed that there were some foot-prints, which appeared to have gone to the water but have not come up again. So, he inferred that there was a water-ogre living in the lake.

The result of the investigation was very disappointing and frustrating for all the monkeys. So, the wise monkey then made the suggestion that they could still drink the water safely by using the canes as straws, as their was a lavish growth of canes there. So, each monkey picked up one cane and made it hollow to use it as a straw and drank the water. Thus, they all quenched their thirst safely by obeying the wise leader.

The water-ogre, however, appeared but could not harm a single monkey, as he was not empowered to touch the land.

(The monkey king is identified with the Bodhisatta; the 80,000 monkeys with his followers; and the ogre with Devadatta).

Source:  Nalapana Jataka

The Elephant (Jataka Tales – 29)

Once the Bodhisatta was born as an elephant in a Himalayan forest. He was white like silver. His eyes were like diamond balls. His mouth was red like the scarlet velvet. His trunk was like the silver flecked with red gold; and his four feet looked like the polished lac. Thus was his persona with consummate beauty and ten-fold perfections. When he grew up, he became the leader of eighty thousand elephants. Nonetheless, he preferred to lead the life of a recluse and live alone in a solitary forest.

One day, when walking in the forest he saw a man crying there with his out-stretched arms, as he had lost his way. Moved with compassion, the elephant advanced to help him. The man in turn was further terrified and thought, “a solitary elephant and a rogue are dangerous to be met with”.

So, he ran faster and widened the distance. Watching him, thus, running the Bodhisatta halted. When the elephant stopped three times upon his running the man felt that the animal was not intending to harm him. The elephant then came near the man and calmed him by saying that he could help him reach Varanasi. He then lifted him with his trunk and placed him on his back and carried him first to his abode and offered him food. Next, he carried him out of the forest and set him on the high-road of Varanasi.

Arriving at Varanasi the ungrateful man first went to the ivory market to survey the prices of the ivory tusks of a living elephant. Next, he asked the sellers to keep the money ready as he would soon return with a good bargain. He then went to the forest again with all necessary provisions for the journey to approach the kind elephant. Reaching the Silava’s abode, he first greeted him with a false gesture of respect and then begged for his tusks. The elephant, who was then practising the dana-paramita, one of the ten perfections (parami), readily agreed to offer his tusk if the man could cut it off. The greedy man immediately took out his saw, as he had made all preparations to obtain the tusks. The gentle animal then bowed down to let the man cut off his tusks. Off with the tusks the man went to Varanasi and sold them in the market in a handsome price.

After a few days, again the greedy man came to the forest and requested the elephant for more tusks because the proceeds from the sale of the tusks, which he had carried earlier was not enough and was spent in clearing his old debts only. The elephant conceded to his request and again allowed him to cut off the rest of his trunks for sale.

But the man’s greed had no bounds. He soon returned to the forest to beg for more. As the elephant was already shorn off his tusks by then, the man, therefore, asked for the stumps of his trunks to make a better living. The gentle Silava, again acquiesced. The cruel and ungrateful man then climbed on his trunk , which was like the corded silver and climbed on his temples, which was like the snowy peak of the mount Kailash; dug the flesh away from his gums; and sawed off the stumps of the tusks and had his way. Thus, Silava breathed his last in severe pain.

The man, however, had to pay the price for his sinister act. So, when he was returning, the earth burst asunder in a yawning chasm and there sprang a large flame of fire, which swallowed him through and through; and the wretch entered the bowels of the earth to be tormented in the hell.

A tree-fairy, who witnessed the whole scene uttered thus:
“Greed demands more, the more it gets
Not all the world can glut its appetite.”

Source: Silava Hatthi Jataka

The Little Black-bird (Folk tales from India – 4)

There was once a little blackbird (the litia) who was the proud owner of three kauries, or shells. This bird used to come to a king and say, “O king, I have three kauries, O king.”

The king was so much annoyed by the continual chirping of the little bird that he ordered his servants to take the three kauries from the bird and to drive it away.

But the bird would not leave the king, and so it began to say, “My wealth has made you rich, O king. My wealth has made you rich, O king.”

The king then ordered that the three kauries should be returned to the little blackbird. The bird then took the three kauries, and went to the seller of parched gram (a coarse pea), and with the three kauries she bought three grains of parched gram. Taking these the bird flew off and sat on a new cart which a carpenter was making, and there she started eating the gram. Having eaten two grains, she was about to eat the third, when it dropped from her beak and fell into a joint of the new cart, where she could not reach it.

In great distress she appealed to the carpenter to take to pieces his cart that she might get at the grain she had lost.

“You silly little thing,” said the carpenter. “Do you suppose I am going to take to pieces my new cart to get at a single grain which you have dropped into the joint of the woodwork?”

The little blackbird then went to the king, and said to him that she had lost her grain, and asked him to order the carpenter to open his cart that she might get at her grain.

“You silly little thing,” said the king. “Do you suppose I am going to order the carpenter to open his cart that you may get one small grain?”

The little blackbird then went to the queen, and begged of her to persuade the king to order the carpenter to open the cart to let her get at the grain. But the queen also said, “Get away, you silly thing.”

Then the little blackbird went to a deer and said, “Come, O deer, graze in the queen’s garden, for she will not persuade the king, and the king will not order the carpenter, and the carpenter will not open the cart, and I cannot get at my grain.”

But the deer would give to heed to the bird, and called her “You silly little thing.”

Then said the bird, “I will go to the lathi (the strong, stout stick).”

To the lathi she went and said, “Come, stout stick, strike the deer, for the deer will not graze in the queen’s garden, and the queen will not persuade the king, and the king will not command the carpenter, and the carpenter will not open his cart, and I cannot get at my grain.”

But the stick also would give no ear to the cry of the little blackbird, so she went at once to the fire; and she begged the fire to burn the stick, for the deer would not eat the queen’s garden, and the queen would not persuade the king, the king would not command the carpenter, the carpenter would not break up his cart, and she could not get at her grain.

But the fire also made light of the little bird’s prayer. So she went next to the lake, and implored the lake to quench the fire, for the fire would not burn the stick, and the stick would not strike the deer, and the deer would not destroy the garden, and the queen would not persuade the king, and the king refused to command the carpenter, who also refused to open his cart, so that the bird could not get at her grain.

But the lake refused to help the bird.

She then went to a place where there were thousands of rats, and to the rats she presented her prayer that they should come and fill the lake with their diggings, for the lake would not quench the fire, etc., etc.

But the rats also gave no attention to the wishes of the small blackbird.

Then the bird went to a cat, and of the cat she implored that she should attack the rats, for the rats would not fill in the lake, and the lake would not quench the fire, etc., and she could not get at her grain.

But the cat also was deaf to the prayers of the small blackbird.

Then she went to the elephant, and of the elephant she implored that he would crush the cat, for the cat would not kill the rats, etc., etc., and she could not get at her grain.

But the elephant treated her as did all the others.

Then she went to an ant, and begged the wee ant to crawl into the elephant’s ear, for the elephant would not crush the cat, etc., etc. and she could not get at her grain.

But the ant also gave no heed to her prayer.

Then at last she came to the crow, the most greedy of all creatures, and of the crow she begged that he should eat the ant.

From sheer greed the crow consented to eat the ant; but the ant, seeing the crow about to eat it, went to crawl into the ear of the elephant, and the elephant, fearing the harm which the ant could do him, went to crush the cat; but the cat slipped away, and was about the destroy the rats, and they at once began to fill in the lake; and the lake, becoming alarmed, was about to quench the fire, when the fire began to burn the stick, and the stick began to beat the deer, so that the deer was about to destroy the queen’s garden, when the queen began to persuade the king, and the king commanded the carpenter, and the carpenter opened his new cart; and the little blackbird found her grain, and happily taking it up she flew away, and quietly enjoyed her repast, and lived very happily ever after.

Story of the Buffalo (Jataka Tales)

Once, the Bodhisatta was born as a buffalo in Himava. He was dark and dirty-looking. Though born in the animal-state he believed in righteousness; and exerted his best to uphold the value of a good conduct. In the same forest there lived a wicked monkey, who used to tease and bully him. Sometimes he would leap upon the back of the sleeping buffalo. Sometimes he would obstruct him from grazing the grass. Sometimes he would climb on his head by holding his horns and swing down by holding his tail. Sometimes he would mount on his back with a brandishing stick to counterfeit Yamaraja – the lord of death. [It may be noted that in the Indian mythologies buffalo is said to be the vehicle of Yamaraja]. The gentle animal bore all the unbecoming behaviour of the monkey to practise the virtue of forbearance.

In the same region there lived a yaksa, as a spirit of a tree. He resented the monkey’s acts. So, one day he advised the buffalo to punish the monkey by using his greater strength. The gentle buffalo declined to do so by saying,

“Inflicting grief on others to overcome one’s own discomfort is no virtue..
As the result of such acts shall not bear the fruits of true happiness.”

Yet, he added that one day the monkey would have his lesson; but then he would be saved from the guilt of inflicting any pain on the other.

Indeed, a few days later, when the gentle buffalo was away, a savage buffalo came and stood on the same spot. The wicked monkey thinking him to be the same buffalo jumped on his back and tried the same games. The other buffalo in no time shook him off on the ground and pierced the horns straight into his heart and trampled him with his hoofs.

The monkey was thus killed in no time.

Source: Mahisa Jataka, Jataka Pali N0..278; Jatakamala No.33; Chariyapitaka 2.5