33 – THE BUFFALO
Forbearance exists only if there is an opportunity to show it. Knowing this, the virtuous appreciate those who would harm them, considering them benefactors.
Once the Bodhisattva took birth as a wild buffalo in a remote forest. Grim of appearance and caked with mud, he was as forbidding as a rolling thunder cloud of darkest blue. But even in that brute animal state where ignorance prevails and the concept of virtue is difficult to come by, his keen understanding led him to practice virtuous actions vigorously. He had served compassion so long it would not leave him.
Yet some influence, either of karma or of nature, must also be taken into account to explain his state. It is in reference to just such situations that the Buddha declared that the ripening of karma is inscrutable. For although the buffalo’s very nature was compassionate, he had obtained the state of a beast, albeit a beast who retained a knowledge of virtue. A series of existences cannot exist without karma ― and yet virtue (which leads to freedom from karma) could never lead to an animal birth, for its effects are always good. So it must be that even with the Bodhisttva’s consciousness of Dharma, some small residues of karma caused him, now and again, to find himself in such low states.
Now a proud and malicious monkey, aware of the buffalo’s natural goodness, liked nothing better than to tease the Great Being. The monkey knew that he had nothing to fear from the buffalo, that anger and wrath had no power over such a being. So it is that rascals are never more eager to insult and annoy than when faced with the meek and merciful. Against those with kind hearts, they perform their worst tricks, anticipating no danger. But toward those who might retaliate, however slight the possibility, they will behave as modestly as the most scrupulous monk. Oh yes, their malicious nature is quite subdued then.
Sometimes while the Great Being calmly slept or nodded in drowsiness, the monkey would suddenly leap on his neck. At other times the monkey would climb upon the buffalo’s back and swing back and forth from his horns. Or noting the buffalo’s hunger, he would stand right at his feet, to keep him from grazing. And now and then he would poke the buffalo’s ears with a stick.
Often when the buffalo was longing to go into the water, the monkey would climb on his head and cover his eyes with his hands. Or, having mounted the buffalo’s back, the monkey would force him to take him for a ride, holding a stick in his hand like a counterfeit Yama. And the Bodhisattva, that Great Being, all the while endured these tricks without displeasure, anger, or annoyance, being quite untroubled, for in fact he considered them a benefit.
So it is that the wicked consistently walk the path opposed to discipline, while the good-hearted, due to their practice of virtue, patiently aim to benefit even the wicked.
One day a yaksha, scandalized at the indignities being heaped upon the Great Being and wishing to discover what the Bodhisattva could possibly be thinking to let these indignities occur, placed himself in the path of the buffalo as the wicked monkey was riding him. “Stay a little,” he said. “Why are you so patient with that creature? Are you the slave of that wicked monkey? Did he buy you or win you at a game of chance? Or are you for some reason afraid of him? Don’t you know your own strength? Why do you allow him to abuse you and make you his riding animal? What is going on, my friend?
“A toss of your head and your pointed horns could pierce a diamond or cleave a mountain like a thunderbolt; your hooves in fury could trample mountain rock to sand. That body of yours, as solid and compact as stone, bulges with strength. Your powerful nature is well-known to the brave; even lions fear to stir your wrath.
“Go ahead! Crush him with your hooves! Destroy his insolence with those sharp horns of yours! Why suffer that rogue to torment you, to cause you pain as if you were powerless? Have you ever found that evildoers can be brought to reason by modesty and kindness? Some diseases are best cured by harsh remedies, pungent and burning. Without such a cure, his insolence will only increase, like a disease.”
The Bodhisattva gazed steadily at the yaksha and spoke soft words extolling the virtue of patience: “Of course I know this monkey is devious, unstable, and powerless, but it is for this very reason that I put up with him. What is patience when directed toward one of greater strength, or toward one impossible to conquer? What is there to endure when encountering those firm in virtue and decent behavior? We ought to endure injuries by those weaker than ourselves, though we have the power of putting them off. Better to bear insults than to lose all one’s virtue.
“Ill-treatment displayed by the powerless is the best opportunity for displaying virtue. Why should the lover of virtue use his strength to lose his firmness of mind? Besides, an opportunity to show patience is difficult to obtain, depending as it does on others. Who then would resort to anger? Would I not be ungrateful if I did not summon patience against those who act to clear away my shortcomings, all the while ignoring the damage to their own well-being?”
“Then you will never be free from his persecutions,” said the yaksha. “How can one subdue a rascal without laying aside humble patience?”
The Bodhisattva replied: “Desiring to destroy the source of one’s suffering or desiring happiness by inflicting grief on another will never bring good. Happiness cannot be achieved in such a way. My persistent patience is an attempt to awaken his conscience. If he does not learn, he will sooner or later attack some creature with a hasty temper who will no doubt turn him from his misdeeds. After he has been ill-treated in turn, he will no longer do these things to me: Once punished, he will not act this way again. And so will I be rid of him.”
These words amazed the yaksha and filled him with joy. Respectfully he exclaimed: “Well said, well said!” and, bowing his head to the Bodhisattva and snapping his fingers, he praised the Great Being with kind words:
“How is it possible for a beast to possess conduct such as this? How do you come by such regard for virtue? You are animal in form alone; you must actually be a higher being practicing austerities in this forest!”
With this, the yaksha threw the wicked monkey off the back of the buffalo, and, after teaching the buffalo a protective charm, vanished on the spot.
From this story one can see how forbearance exists only if there is some opportunity for showing it. The virtuous appreciate even the one who harms them, deeming such harm a great service. This account is also appropriate when describing real patience, and when demonstrating the imperturbable tranquility of the Bodhisattva even when in the state of a beast. How could a human being or one who has vowed to lead a homeless life lack patience? This story may also be told when praising the qualities of the Tathagata and when explaining the importance of listening with attention to the teaching of the Dharma.