6 – THE HARE
Pg 43- If even in lives as beasts the Great -Minded
have been known to practice charity,
who then, being human, should not be charitable?
In the middle of a forest was a clearing once frequented by ascetics. There the earth was carpeted with soft green grass; rich soil put forth flowers and fruits in lush profusion, and trees and greenery of all sorts abounded. Bordering this lovely spot was a sparkling river as blue as lapis lazuli.
In this forest, the Bodhisattva lived as a hare-an animal that shone with such goodness, such vigor, such strength and beauty that all the other animals in the forest looked to him as their king, none fearing him, none causing him fear. Satisfying his needs by simple blades of grass, wearing his own fur for the ascetic’s garments, he glowed like a Great Being. Everything he thought, everything he spoke, everything he did was motivated by a friendliness so pure and simple that even those beasts usually given to wickedness became his students and friends.
Among his devoted following, three in particular were attracted by the love and respect which his eminent qualities inspired, and they grew to be his constant companions: an otter, a jackal, and a monkey. These three loved the hare as if he were their kin, their mutual bond of respect binding them together in joy. They spent all their days with him, soon for-getting their lower natures-and compassion for all living creatures flowed from their hearts. Greed no longer tempted them, they forgot how to steal, and their lives began to con-form closely to the Dharma. Their minds became disciplined, clear, and strong.
How remarkable to hear of a human being who chooses the path of virtue from the two ways of action-action which accords with pleasure but goes against virtue, or action which is in harmony with virtue but not with pleasure imagine how astonishing it was to hear of four beasts who had made such a choice! Their fame spread quickly, especially word of the being in the shape of a hare, whose compassion for others was unexcelled. His renown travelled even to the realm of the gods.
One evening, the monkey, the jackal, and the otter were sitting in reverence at the feet of the hare, eagerly waiting for him to teach the Dharma. The moon was almost full, a silver mirror without a handle, and its bright beauty prompted the hare to say to his friends:
“Look! The moon tonight has a laughing face, almost fully rounded, reminding us that tomorrow is the fifteenth, a holy day. We must not forget to perform all the duties prescribed for that day. Above all, we must not even begin to think of the needs of our own bodies before we have honored a guest with good food obtained in the right manner.
“Remember: life is as unstable and fickle as a flash of lightning. Even the lives of those who have gained the highest rank will end in downfall. Every union ends in
Pg 45 – separation. Be mindful, therefore, and guard against carelessness. Endeavor to increase your merit by acts of giving, ornamented by good conduct, for meritorious actions are the strongest support for beings caught in the world. The brilliance of the moon outshines the glowing of the stars, tint the sun’s rays outshine them all. Such is the power and beauty of merit.
“So it is that mighty kings, through the power of their merit, can hold in check the most presumptuous officials and the most arrogant princes, causing them to obey their commands willingly, like the finest of horses. Leaders who scorn the path of virtue are foolish, for no matter how wise they may be in the ways of politics, they are sure to be hounded by misfortune and wrath all their days.
“Therefore, avoid the path of wrongdoing, which engenders only suffering and dishonor. Fix your mind on every opportunity for gathering merit, for merit is the true source and means of happiness.”
The three students thanked the hare for his teaching and bowed to him with respect. After circumambulating him, they went off to their respective homes. Once alone, the hare began to reflect on his own situation:
“My three friends have ample means to honor anyone who might chance to visit tomorrow, but my situation is pitiful. The blades of grass I cut off with my teeth are far too bitter for any guest. Alas! How helpless I am! What use is life to me when a guest who ought to be cause for joy can only be cause for sorrow? How can my worthless body, which cannot even bring satisfaction to a guest, ever be of use to anyone!”
Then the hare found his answer: “Ah, wonderful! It is, after all, within my power to provide for a guest! I can use my
pg 46 – own body! It does not belong to anyone else, and I will not harm any other by offering it. My very body can be food for my guest. Now I can truly rejoice!” As delighted as if he had been granted a great boon, the hare waited for morning.
At this sublime thought which arose in the Great Being’s mind, all the powers of earth and sky rang with exultation. The Earth shook her mountains with joy; the Ocean shook its waves like a garment. Heavenly drums resounded in the sky, and the horizon glowed with a soft sheen. Clouds flushed with lightning pealed soft thunder and rained down a myriad of flowers. The god of the Wind blew the fragrant pollen of flowering trees into gossamer veils of ever, shifting ; patterns, like gatherings of offerings.
The astonishing resolution of the hare produced such a jubilant celebration among the gods that Shakra, Lord of the Gods, grew curious, and decided to see for himself if the hare’s resolve was real.
The next day, exactly at noon, when the sun casts down its strongest beams; when a net of shimmering light hangs on the horizon; when the sun glows with radiant intensity and is unbearable to look upon; when shadows contract, and birds hide; when the woods echo with the shrill sound of cicadas; a time when travelers are oppressed with heat and fatigue-it was then that Shakra, Lord of the Gods, taking, the shape of an old Brahman, appeared at a spot not far from the dwellings of the four friends. Weeping and wailing, he perfectly imitated the sounds of a man who had lost his way, a weary traveler worn down by hunger and thirst, distress and sorrow.
“Please won’t someone help me, please help me!” he cried. “My companions are gone; I have lost my way; I am wandering
Pg 47 – through this dark forest alone, hungry, and tired. I have completely lost all sense of direction; I cannot tell the right way from the wrong. I am suffering from heat, from durst, from exhaustion. Who will help me? Is there no one to offer me refuge?”
The Great Beings, alarmed by such pitiful heart-rending sounds, ran quickly in the direction of the cries. As soon as they came upon the lost and miserable traveler, they approached him respectfully and spoke these words of comfort:
“Do not be distressed thinking you are lost in the wilderness. We are your friends, and care as much for your safety as would any of your followers. Please, gentle sir, grant us the favor of accepting our service, and tomorrow go on your way.”
The traveler was silent, so the otter, taking this to mean acceptance, ran off joyfully, returning in no time with seven 11sh. As he offered them to the guest, he said:
“I found these seven fish lying on the ground, motionless, as if asleep. Either they were left there by some forgetful fisherman, or they jumped on the shore out of fright-in any case they are yours. Please eat them, and take your ease.”
The jackal also brought what food he had available. Bowing with reverence, he said: “Here, traveler, is a lizard and a Jar of sour milk left in the forest by someone unknown. Grant me the favor of watching you enjoy this food, and then rest here overnight, 0 virtuous one.” With much love in his heart, he handed his offerings to the brahman.
Then the monkey drew near, bringing soft ripe mangoes perfectly round and of an orange hue so deep they might have been dyed. Joining his palms in reverence, he said: “I
Pg 48 – have ripe mangoes for you, round and soft, refreshing as shadows, refreshing as the pleasure of good company. O great one who knows the Brahman, enjoy them and stay here this night.”
Finally the hare approached, and, after paying his respects, said: “I am but a hare who has grown up in this forest; I have no beans, no sesame seeds, no grains of rice to offer. On the auspicious day a mendicant visits, one should provide such a fine guest with whatever will benefit him. My wealth is limited to my body: Take it, then; it is all I possess. Please prepare it on the fire and feast upon it, and then stay over-night in our hermitage.”
Shakra replied: “How could someone such as I kill any living being-most especially a being such as you, who has shown me such hospitality?”
The hare replied: “It is clear you are a brahman inclined to compassion. You must at least grant me the honor of resting here tonight. In the meantime I will find some way of helping you.”
Then Shakra, Lord of the Gods, understanding the hare’s unspoken intention, conjured up a heap of burning char-coal-its blazing hot and smokeless fire, the color of pure gold, sent thin flames and sparks in all directions. The hare. who had been looking everywhere for such a means to work his intention, rejoiced upon seeing the fire, and said to Shakra:
“Here is the means to show you my good will. Now fulfill my hopes and enjoy my flesh. You must see, great brahman. that I am absorbed in the thought of giving. In you I have found a worthy guest, and my heart will have it no other
Pg 49 – way. Such an opportunity for giving is not easily obtained. Do not let my giving be wasted; it depends on you.”
After thus showing honor and respect to his guest, the hare threw himself into the fire-like a poor man who suddenly spies a gleaming treasure, or like a goose diving into a lotus-covered pond.
The Lord of the Gods watched in great wonder as celestial flowers rained down from the sky and came to rest where the hare had been. Shakra then resumed his own shape and praised the hare with suitable and melodious words. Then, with his delicate hands glowing like petals of a white lotus, his fingers resplendent like jewels, Shakra lifted the hare up to the heavens and displayed him to the gods.
“Behold and rejoice at this astonishing deed, the heroic exploit of this Great Being! Today, at a time when most people-fools that they are-cannot give up even faded flowers without misgivings, this one, without hesitation, gave up his body as an offering of love to his guest. What a contrast between his animal body and the true loftiness of his self-sacrifice, the clarity of his mind! Indeed, he confounds all who are slow in striving to do good-gods as well as men. Sweet is the fragrance of a mind so dedicated to the practice of virtue! How well immersed in the practice of virtue he showed himself to be by his wonderful action.”
Then, in order to glorify that extraordinary event, having in mind the good of the world, Shakra adorned the top of his own palace, Vayayanta, and Sudharma, the palace of the gods, with the image of a hare. And he also adorned the face of the moon with the same image.
Even today, at full moon, that image glows in the sky, as a reflected object shines in a mirror. Since that time, Candra,
Pg 50 – the moon, known also as the Ornament of the Night and the One who opens the Evening Lotus, has also been known as Shashanka, the One Marked by the Hare.
And the other three-the otter, the jackal, and the monkey-due to their closeness with such a holy friend, soon after disappeared from the earth and were reborn in the realm of the gods.
From this story one can see how Great Beings, even in the form of beasts, practice giving in whatever way they can. Who, then, as a man, should not practice giving? Even beasts are worshipped by the pious if their qualities are virtuous.
Thus one should be intent on virtue.