A Tale of Compassion, Selflessness, and Generosity.
Born into a family of Brahmans renowned for their purity of conduct and great spiritual devotion, the bodhisattva became a great scholar and teacher. With no desire for wealth and gain, he entered a forest retreat and began a life as an ascetic. It was in this forest where he encountered a tigress who was starving and emaciated from giving birth and was about to resort to eating her own new born cubs for survival. With no food in sight, the bodhisattva, out of infinite compassion, offered his body as food to the tigress, selflessly forfeiting his own life.
A Tale of Charity
Born a great king, the bodhisattva delighted in using his vast amount of wealth and power to give charity to the poor. He constructed massive alms halls stocked with various goods, provisions, and grains. He would even supply dwellings, clothing, perfumes, wreathes, gold, and silver to all who requested.
One day however, while touring one of his great halls, the king noticed that there was only a small number of supplicants and this troubled him. It seemed that the beggars thirst for aid was easily quenched but his thirst for giving was not. It was during this time that he started to question whether he would accept a bolder request, such as one of his organs or limbs. Shakra, the Lord of Gods, heard this and went to test the king. Disguised as an old blind brahman man, Shakra asked the king for one of his eyes. The king did not just accept the request but immediately gave the blind brahman both of his eyes, despite all of his closest advisors imploring him not to.
Some time later, the now sightless king was sitting cross legged in his garden by a pool of lotuses. Shakra once again approched him, this time in his true form and rewarded the generous king by restoring his eyesight. The king then addressed his awestruck kingdom, telling them that the only real value in wealth is that one can give it away to help others.
A Tale of Generosity.
In this lifetime, the bodhisattva was the king of Koshala. Beloved by all his subjects, the king possessed many good virtues but one quality surpassed all others: his talent for gaining prosperity.
While in a deep sleep one night, the king came to recall one of his previous lives and was deeply moved. He then began to mysteriously repeat to his subjects that all the prosperity of their kingdom was produced by “a small portion of gruel.” Although intrigued, nobody in the kingdom understood what he meant and none had the courage to ask. He continued to repeat this and the curiosity of his people continued to grow until one day while in front of a grand assembly, the queen beseeched him to explain himself.
He stated that he had recalled a past life in which he had been a poor servant. He remembered working hard, barely being able to support his family, and becoming entangled in feelings of contempt and sorrow. Yet when he came upon a travelling group of monks he invited them into his home and offered them all he had, which was just a small portion of gruel. It was because of this one small act that he was reborn a great king. He proclaimed that no act of kindness is small if given from the heart. Having witnessed the wonderful results of generosity, the people of Koshala also developed a high regard for meritorious action. The prosperity of the kingdom continued to flourish even greater than before.
A Tale of Diligent Resolve.
Born into a noble family and possessing great fortune, the young bodhisattva grew to be a successful merchant. Eventually becoming the head of his guild, he acquired a large estate, earned deep respect from all who knew him, and even was honored by the king. Devoted to the precept of giving, he constantly shared his wealth with the less fortunate. It was impossible for him to witness any sort of suffering and refuse to offer aid.
One day, while the bodhisattva was sitting down to partake of a magnificent feast, a seemingly poor and hungry man appeared at the front gate of his home. Although appearing as a beggar, this old man was actually a Pratyekabuddha whose only motive to receive alms was to increase the merit of the bodhisattva.
Witnessing this, Mara, the Wicked One, became intent on dissuading the Bodhisttva from all charitable actions. He created a deep hell several fathoms wide separating the bodhisattva’s front gate and the mendicant. As the bodhisattva stood pondering the meaning of such a phenomenon, Mara appeared before him disguised as a powerful god. Mara attempted to convince the bodhisattva that what he saw before him was the hell of those lured by the praise of beggars. A hell realm solely for those who indulge in the vicious passion of charity, and who give away their hard earned wealth. The Bodhisattva however, knowing that anybody saying such things must be evil, boldly stepped into the fire. Lotuses suddenly appeared at his feet as he passed through. Upon reaching the other side he gave the food to the old man who, to show satisfaction, revealed his true form as a Pratyekabuddha and magically flew up into the air. Mara, disheartened and vanquished, disappeared along with his hell.
A Tale of Unwavering Virtue.
Born into an illustrious family, the bodhisattva became the head of his guild and acquired a great deal of wealth. He was an impressive man, radiating generosity and morality, excelling in sacred learning, self discipline, and spiritual knowledge, embodying both wisdom and humility. He became known as Avishya, ‘the Invincible One’.
With vast means at his disposal, charity was a perpetual practice for him and having no attachment to his great wealth, this became his only passion. He enjoyed nothing more than watching mendicants carry off the finest objects from his home.
Shakra, the Lord of Gods, heard of the bodhisattva’s benevolence and decided to test him. Shakra then began to steal Avishya’s possessions and before long, everything was gone except for a rope and a sickle. Now with almost nothing, and not being accustomed to begging himself, Avishya took the rope and sickle and went out to toil in the fields, gathering grass to sell as crops. He would take the little money he earned and immediately use it to give further aid to mendicants.
Shakra was astounded by the bodhisattva’s unshakable calm and devotion to giving even while suffering from extreme poverty. Yet he was not quite finished testing him. He appeared before Avishahya in a burst of dazzling rainbows, floating in mid-air in his wondrous celestial form, and attempted to turn him away from giving. Shakra proclaimed that Avishya was being irrational and that he should focus rebuilding his wealth. The bodhisattva humbly refused and stated that he had no desire for wealth and that the only joy he seeks is that of generosity. Further more, he firmly proclaimed that no matter what, he would never stray from his path of charity. This delighted Shakra who then promptly returned the bodhisattvas estate and then disappeared into the sky.
A Tale of Selfless Generosity.
In this lifetime the Bodhisattva was born as an animal, a rabbit. Yet even as a rabbit, he possessed incredible virtue, goodness, beauty, and vigor; so much so that the other animals viewed him as their king. None feared him and none caused him fear. Among his devoted following, three animals in particular became his closest students and companions. They were an otter, a jackal, and a monkey, who through the Bodhisattva’s teaching, forgot their lower animal nature and became infinitely compassionate themselves.
As instructed by the rabbit in a teaching one night, it was customary that on the next day, a holy day, to offer alms to anyone who passes through their forest. Later that night, the rabbit was distraught as he realized he had nothing to offer.His three companions had ample means to feed a guest, but the rabbit had nothing but the meager blades of grass he ate to sustain himself, which were far too bitter to offer a visitor. Then he realized he could offer his own flesh as food and without hesitation, decided this was what he would do.
Hearing this, Shakra, the lord of gods, went to test the animals and disguised himself as a weary traveler who had lost his way. Hungry, thirsty, and crying with despair, the four beasts rushed to his aid. The otter was able to supply the man with seven fish, the jackal a lizard and some sour milk, and the monkey some soft ripe mangoes. Seeing that the man had built a fire, the rabbit explained that he was offering his own body and then, without hesitation, lept into the hot coals and swirling flames.
Shakra rejoiced, reached into the fire and pulled out the rabbit and then lifted him up into the heavens and displayed him before the gods.
Then Shakra, having in mind the good of the world and the glorious example of the animal bodhisattva, adorned the top of his own palace, Sudharma, the palace of the Gods, with an image of a rabbit. He also adorned the face of the moon with the same image. It is said that even today,
the image of the rabbit can be seen in the full moon.
The Virtues of Ascetisism and Solitude.
Born the illustrious Brahman Ajastya, the Bodhisttva was a wise, wealthy, and generous householder. Yet seeing that attachment to worldly possessions only leads to further suffering, he decided to take up a life as an ascetic and entered the forest and devote his life to spiritual development.
So as to not be bothered, he built his hermitage in the remote island of Kara in the southern ocean. As his ascetic practice flourished, even the wild beasts and birds understood he was a holy man. Although he limited his meals to only what would sustain him, he always honored any guests who passed through the island, offering them roots and fuit, fresh water, words of welcome and blessing. He would only eat what was left over.
The glory of Ajastya’s great ascetisism spead everywhere, even reaching the ears of Shakra, the lord of gods, who decided to test him. First Shakra started making the roots and fruit of the island disappear, but Ajastya absorbed in medititation and having very few needs, barely noticed. Without food, Ajastya continued to sustain himself on nothing more than boiled leaves. So for a second test, Shakra, becoming slightly more extreme, stripped every leaf from every tree, shrub, and bush on the island. Once again, Ajastya barely noticed and by boiling only a few of the freshest fallen leaves, might as well have been feasting on ambrosia. For a third test, Shakra started to appear every day right at meal time as a hungry and thirsty man, knowing Ajastya would offer him his only food for the day. Yet Ajastya was still content and it was as if he was feasting on nothing but the joy of generosity.
Shakra, knowing that such constant ascetic pracitice could gain one entry into the god realm, and fearing this, then appeared in his true celestial form and questioned the Bodhisttvas motivation. Ajastya responded that his motivation was to better the lives of all beings. Delighted, Shakra then said he would grant him one wish. Desiring nothing, the bodhisattva responded only with wishes for the good of all and nothing material for himself. Delighted further, Shakra continued to attempt to grant him something but every time he offered, the bodhisattva desired nothing until finally he wished that the great Lord of Gods go away and leave him to his ascetisism. Seeing that Shakra was offended, the bodhisattva explained it was simply because his celestial god form was so beautiful that it might be an obstacle for his spiritual duties. Shakra was satisfied and rewarded Ajastya with a great feast and then promptly disappeared.
A Tale of Loving Kindness.
Being established in the practice of compassion, the bodhisattva was born as the beloved king Maitribala, which means ‘strength of loving kindness’. Feeling the suffering of all his subjects, he ruled his people skillfully. Other kings held him in high regard and respected his word as law, so wars were never fought in his kingdom. He took great measures to promote his peoples welfare, ruled with right action, and even punishment of wrongdoers was done in such a skillful and compassionate way that it increased the fortunes of the entire kingdom.
One day however, five Yaksha demons, exiled by their lord, invaded Maitribala’s lands. Skilled in sucking the life-force from others and bent on creating havoc, the demons were overjoyed to find such an idyllic kingdom to destroy. Yet all their attempts were unsuccessful and they did not know why. Disguising themselves as Brahmans they questioned a cowherder and learned of the glory of Maitribala. This great king was surely the reason their efforts to spread suffering were unsuccessful so they set off to the palace to create trouble.
Upon arriving in their Brahman disguises, the demons approached the king who was in the midst of addressing a grand audience. They stated that they were hungry and immediately the king ordered a great feast to be prepared for them. Yet when the elaborate meal was served, the demons scorned it and angrily exclaimed that they did not eat such dishes. The king then asked what sort of food would please them and seeing this as an opportunity, the Yakshas revealed their true demonic form. Their reply was that they needed to eat fresh human flesh and blood. The king, unable to refuse a request even from demons, but also not able to kill any of his subjects to feed them, found himself stuck in a serious dilemma.
He then resolved that the only possible action was to feed the demons his own flesh and blood, despite his royal court imploring him not to. In fact, the sorrow over what the king was about to do was so great that the earth began to tremble and shake in many places. Never the less, Maitribala had his physicians open five of his veins and began to serve his fresh blood to the Yakshas. He proceeded to cut off chunks of his flesh and felt very little pain as he did so, for the joy of generosity overwhelmed the sharp physical sensation. Seeing this, the five Yaksha demons became awestruck with admiration and astonishment. All the anger and ill intent they had been nurturing vanished and they bowed in reverence to the great king, eventually taking vows themselves to follow right action.
Shakra, the Lord of Gods, having witnessed the great rumbling of the earth, arrived at the royal palace to find everybody filled with fear and sorrow, crying for the newly disfigured king. The king himself, although in the process of bleeding to death, was the only one that remained calm and clear. Seeing Maitribalas infinite compassion, Shakra then rewarded the king by gathering herbs from both heaven and earth and applying them to his wounds. In very little time, the kings pain ceased and his body was restored to its wholeness.
A Tale of the Marvelous Behavior of a Bodhisattva.
In another lifetime, the Bodhisattva was born as the prince Vishvantara, son of Samjaya, the king of the Shibis. A virtuous prince, Vishvantara possessed a tranquil mind yet was full of energy, was well educated yet free of conceit, and though mighty and celebrated was without a trace of pride. Above all else, Vishvantara was incredibly generous, constantly giving alms to the kingdoms mendicants without question or restraint. He would tour the kingdom’s alms halls on a magnificient elephant and provide anybody who asked with whatever they desired.
But it came to pass one day that a rival king, clouded with hatred, greed, and jealousy, devised a treacherous scheme to rob the prince of his royal elephant by taking advantage of his charitable nature. The rival king then dispatched a group of brahmans to the land of the Shibis who simply asked the prince for his mighty beast. Overjoyed to receive such a large request, the prince offered the Brahmans the elephant without hesitation even though he was fully aware that he was being tricked.
This act enraged the elders of the Shibi kingdom. They immediately beseeched Vishvantara’s father, the great king Samjaya, to banish his son and heir into the forest of the ascetics. They stated that he was only fit for spiritual practice and that by foolishly giving away the royal elephant, he proved that he was not fit to be the heir to the throne. With sadness in his heart, the king agreed, and it was decided that the prince take his wife and two children into the woods and not return. Vishvantara accepted his fathers decision, proceeded to give away his entire treasury to the mendicants, and then began his journey into exhile.
At first, the traveling family had with them a horse drawn chariot but before long, Vishvantara offered the animals to beggars he met along the path. Witnessing that Vishvantara was pulling a heavy chariot on his own, four yakshas disguised themselves as red deer, who like well trained horses, relieved the prince of the heavy physical burden. This was the first of many auspicious signs in the environment during their journey. When they became hungry the trees would bend down and offer them fruit. When thirsty, lotus ponds would spring forth from the earth. When the air would become hot, clouds would form and create a cool breeze. Upon arriving at their destination, the Ascetic Groves of Mount Vanka, they were able to build their hermitage in a lovely location.
One day however, while the princess had gone to collect food, and the prince had remained at the hermitage with their children, a brahman man approched and requested that Vishvantara give him the children as servants. The Brahman claimed that he needed them to help care for his sick wife. Vishvantara, unable to refuse a request for help, agreed. It caused him great inner turmoil as it was nearly unbearable to see his beloved children cry for their mother while the man aggressively took them away, but he was steadfast in his generosity. When the princess returned and learned of what had happened, the combined grief of the couple was so great that it made the earth shake.
Witnessing this, Shakra, the Lord of Gods, then approached Vishvantara disguising himself as another Brahman and requested that he give him his wife as a servant. Once again, although distraught, the Bodhisattva was unable to refuse. Seeing his infinite generosity and astonishing lack of attachment, Shakra decided to reward him. The first old Brahman, bowing to Shakra’s powers, at once led the princess and her children back to the land of the Shibis. When the people of the kingdom heard of the extraordinary compassion of the absent prince, their hearts were softened with tenderness. After redeeming the children from the Brahman and obtaining a pardon, the people of Shibi went on a pilgrimage to the ascetic woods. They found Vishvantara and led him back to the glorious splendor of the royal palace.
A Tale of Virtue and Generosity.
Born as a great king, the bodhisattva effectively ruled his kingdom. Times were prosperous and peaceful and other rulers bowed before him. He practiced the virtues of giving and right moral conduct, cultivated forbearance, and worked for the benefit of all sentient beings. His land was free from every kind of disturbance, disruption, and disaster, and he, devoted to spiritual truth, pursued nothing but the happiness of his subjects.
Despite all this, there came a year when his kingdom was afflicted by a severe drought, due to the laxity of its inhabitants and an oversight by the gods charged with the dispersion of rain. Convinced that the drought was caused by some fault of his own, the king gathered together the religious elders renowned for their knowledge in ritual matters and asked them for advice. Their advice was to sacrifice a thousand animals, that such an offering would surely appease the gods and bring the needed rain. The king did not see how this could be so. He didn’t believe that sacrificing innocent animals would bring pleasure to the gods but not wanting to offend the elders, he simply changed the subject.
Struck with a plan, he proclaimed to the elders that a sacrifice was indeed required, but instead of animals, he would sacrifice a thousand humans! Decreeing that only the citizens who have done grave wrong would be selected, he made it known to the public that emissaries would be watching over them all and that anyone who deviates from the path of right conduct, or becomes a danger to the country, will be sacrificed.
The people of the land became well behaved. Children obeyed their parents and teachers and everyone observed moral precepts and exercised self-control. Hospitality, good manners, modesty, and a general spirit of charity and good will prevailed.
Observing all of this, the king then revealed his true plan and explained the real meaning of sacrifice. He set up alms halls throughout the land and gave away vast amounts of his own wealth to his subjects. The poor were provided with whatever they desired. Poverty disappeared and prosperity flourished. The kingdom entered a golden age.
A Tale of Bravery
After countless lifetimes of performing virtuous actions the Bodhisattva was born as Shakra, the Lord of Gods. As Shakra, the Bodhisattva displayed greater majesty than all of his predecessors. His greatness created tremendous jealousy among the Demi-gods, who were willing to face his legion of mighty world conquering war horses to challenge his rule. Gathering an enormous army, the Demi-gods marched towards Shakra’s palace.
Shakra decided to take his army of gods and meet the Demi-gods in battle. A tremendous fight erupted, with both sides taking heavy losses.
Shakras army began to lose. The Demi-gods were advancing. Only Shakra and his charioteer, Metali, remained in their path. As they were preparing to make their last stand, they saw that directly in the path of the approaching Demi-gods was an eagle nest. Overcome with compassion for the eagles and the unborn eggs, Shakra told Metali to swoop down so they could save them. Metali resisted, for surely if they were to attempt to save the eagles they would make themselves vulnerable to an attack from above and would not survive. Shakra proclaimed that dying by the weapons of the Demi-gods was nobler than letting innocent terror-stricken creatures be killed.
As they flew down and rescued the birds and their eggs, the army of Demi-gods watched in amazement. They became confused and fearful. As Shakra’s chariot turned towards them, in their confused state they did not know what to do and they broke their ranks. Seeing this, the army of gods returned to battle and before long, the Demi-gods were vanquished.
A Tale of Conscience
As a son of illustrious Brahmans who were well respected for their ancestry and conduct, the Bodhisattva excelled in scholarly pursuits. At the proper age, he was sent off to live and study with a great teacher.
The teacher, to test the morals of his disciples, complained daily about living in poverty. His students then started begging even more intensely, but he stated that even with better food he will not be free from the pains of poverty. He said that for his situation to improve, they needed to gain wealth. Yet the laws of the land stated that no Brahmans were allowed to acquire wealth except when it was offered as a gift. The people of the region were known for their lack of charity. The teacher told them to look at the laws closer, and that the law also states that Brahmans are allowed to steal if in times of distress. Surely his poverty warranted such action.
All the disciples except for the Bodhisattva immediately started planning what they were going to steal and how they were going to remain unseen. Silent and ashamed, the Bodhisattva sat with his eyes downcast, neither approving of their scheming nor denouncing it. The teacher continued his test and challenged the Bodhisattva, saying that he was obviously not affected by his distress, and that while all the other students were heroically planning their missions he was looking slothful and impartial. The Bodhisattva responded that neither lack of affection or a cold heart was keeping him silent, but the actions the teacher suggested could not be carried out. He explained that it is impossible to commit wicked actions without being seen, for nobody is ever truly alone. The divine eyes of the enlightened ones are always watching.
Hearing these words, the teacher arose from his seat full of joy and admiration and embraced the Bodhisattva. The teacher went on to explain that the virtuous can never stray from their path, even when in great distress. Ascetic practice, learning, and wisdom are all the wealth that is needed.
A Tale of Constancy
Born again as the king of the Shibi, the Bodhisattva ruled his subjects effectively, always keeping in mind the virtues of compassion, generosity, and righteousness.
One of the principal townsmen in the capitol city had a daughter of unmatched beauty. She was so exquisite that when men would see her, they would become entranced and infatuated, filled with desire to the point of insanity. Because of this, she became known as “She who drives men mad”.
The father wasted no time in telling the king of his daughter. The Bodhisattva king sent a group of Brahmans who were well versed concerning the auspicious marks of women to go and determine if she would make a suitable wife. The Brahmans arrived at the home to be served dinner and immediately lost all control and became obsessed with the young maiden themselves. Upon leaving, they decided that such a woman was not fit for the king, for she was too beautiful for someone as pure as the king, and that her beauty would only cause him to be lost in desire. They returned to the palace and told the king that she indeed was beautiful, but was marked with inauspicious signs and naturally, the king decided not to take her as his wife.
Some time later, the king was on a tour throughout his kingdom and saw the woman. He was struck by her beauty and immediately fell in love. Upon inquiring who she was, he learned that it was the woman he had refused and that she had now been married to one of the king’s own high officials, a man named Abhiparaga.
Abhiparaga noticed that his king seemed sad and when he discovered the source of his sorrows, he immediately offered the king his wife. After much debate, the Bodhisattva convinced Abhiparaga to retract the offer. He stated that even though he was in love, he could not carry out such a wicked action as taking one spouse away from another. He explained that the virtuous, even when sick with sorrow, can never stray from the path of right action.
Depending on the virtuous as friends
In one of his many lifetimes, the bodhisattva became a great ships captain. He had extensive knowledge of the constellations so he was never lost. He was known as Suparaga, meaning “Good Passage”.
Even as an old man in retirement, a group of merchants still wanted him to captain their vessel. Out of compassion he agreed, and as they set off they rejoiced, trusting that their journey would be successful. Yet on the first night, after they had lost sight of the shore and began to travel into a deeper part of the ocean inhabited by strange sea creatures, they ran into a terrible storm. They were not able to control the ship in the fierce winds.
No matter how much they struggled, they were unable to maintain their course. They were blown through many seas. They passed through the Sea of the Hoof Garlands, the Milk Ocean, the Sea of Fire Garlands, the Sea of Grass, and eventually the Sea of Reeds at the end of the world. Suparaga had been warning them to turn back the whole time but no matter how much they tried, the wind was too strong.
After passing through the Sea of Reeds they heard a tremendous noise. It was like the sound of thunder. They looked ahead and saw the ocean falling into a seemingly infinite chasm, stretching to the horizon in both directions. They still could not turn the boat around. They were doomed. Suparaga looked sadly at the men as he explained that they had reached the end of the world known as the Mare’s Mouth, the mouth of the lord of death, the place where no one returns. The merchants began to cry and wail, begging various gods for aid as they continued on towards the deep abyss. At that point, Suparaga told the men to harness their courage and then bowed down, proclaiming to the men as well as the sky and ocean gods that he had never harmed a single being. He then asked the gods, by the power of his virtue, to turn the ship around and not let them fall into the Mare’s Mouth. So great was the power of his truth that the current and winds immediately changed direction. The sky began to clear.
The ship moved smoothly across the seas. The gods told the merchants to lower their nets at a certain location and when they pulled them back up they saw that they had been filled with treasure, silver, gold, sapphires, and beryl. They reached their destination safely.
The Rewards of Virtue
Through long and sustained practice, good or bad actions become inherent in one’s nature to such a degree that in future lives they are performed without effort, as if in a dream. So even as a fish, the bodhisattva acted solely for the good of others. He cared for his fellow fish like they were his own offspring.
Due to an oversight by the gods charged with the dispersion of rain the lake in which the fish lived began to dry up. Flocks of birds circled the lake preying on the fish.
Out of concern and compassion for his fellow fish, the bodhisattva looked up to the sky in supplication to the gods, and proclaimed that he had never harmed a single being. The gods, hearing the true words of the virtuous fish, immediately created rain clouds. The birds of prey flew away. Drawing the attention of Shakra, the lords gods then appeared and explained that due to the tremendous virtue of the bodhisattva fish, he would protect them from drought henceforth.
The Power of Honesty
In a forest in the Himalayas the Bodhisattva was born as a baby quail. Together with his many brothers and sisters, he lived in a nest built with great care by his parents on a branch in the midst of a dense thicket. Being only a few days old, his wings had not yet developed and the limbs of his tiny body were barely discernable.
Yet even as a simple baby bird, the Bodhisattva had not lost his awareness of right and wrong. Unlike his brothers and sisters, he refused to feed on any of the living creatures brought by the mother and father birds. He would only eat from the small amounts of vegetable food they would supply him with, which was nothing more than grass seed and twigs. Insufficient and coarse, such poor nourishment did not help his wings develop or his body to grow, so he remained weak and small as the other birds grew strong. Such is the way of the world for many, for many who practice righteousness are often only rewarded with hardship while those who choose to overlook right action often thrive. As the Enlightened Ones have said: the shameless lead happy lives.
One day an enormous fire erupted in the forest not far from the quails nest. The fire rapidly spread throughout the dry thicket and all the forest animals fled in fear. Instantly, the family of quail took off in flight, each fending for themselves, except for the Bodhisattva who did not have the strength to leave the nest. The Bodhisattva quail remained calm and undisturbed.
As the fire quickly approached and was about to engulf the nest, the Bodhisattva, as a quail, calmly spoke to the fire with the words, “my feet are not strong enough to deserve their name, my wings are unable to fly. My parents you have put to flight, I have nothing worth offering a guest such as you. Therefore, fire, turn back!”
Because these words were true and honest, as soon as the bodhisattva uttered them, the fire subsided. Even though it was fanned by fierce winds and raging in the underbrush below, the fire stopped, as if charmed by a spell.
To this day in the Himalayas, it is believed that any forest fire that reaches that famous spot in the mountain forest, however high its flames and however strong the wind, will lose its force. It is said that the sea can no more transgress its boundaries, or the virtuous ignore what is right, than can fire defy the truth. Because of this, it is taught that the wise should never abandon their devotion to true speech.
The Virtuous Turning Others from Evil
In this lifetime the Bodhisattva ruled the heavens as Shakra, the Lord of Gods, and throughout his entire reign he always worked for the benefit of the all beings.
One day, while gazing out upon the people of the world, he saw a king named Sarva who had a terrible affliction. This king, through having non-virtuous friends had developed a strong taste for liquor. Seeing that the king did not believe there to be anything wrong with drinking, Shakra decided to appear before the man as an apparition.
As the king was getting drunk with his friends and discussing the qualities of various liquors, Shakra manifested as a noble Brahman man, floating in the air above them. He had in his hands a jar and he told the king to buy it. When the king inquired what was in the jar, Shakra sang a woeful song about its contents. He described a liquid of pure mischief that turns whoever drinks it into a mindless fool. The entire time he was urging the king to buy it. The words of the song confused the king, making him fearful of the jar. When Shakra revealed that the liquid in the jar was nothing more than alcohol, he asked the king that how, now knowing the true nature of the substance, how he could continue to drink like he does. These powerful words persuaded the king to cease drinking entirely.
The Virtue of Detachment from Worldly Concerns
In this lifetime, the Bodhisattva was born into a family of great wealth. Renowned for virtue and good conduct and esteemed by the people, his scholarly interests led him top study all the branches of the usual sciences, but as he got older he began to study more esoteric arts. His studies eventually led him to think only of renunciation. After his parents died, he moved to a forest plateau near a small town to live the rest of his life as an ascetic.
As an ascetic, the Bodhisattva became known among all the villagers for his clear demeanor, modesty, and selflessness. Uninterested in any gain, he was a skillful teacher and was precise when explaining spiritual concepts to whomever asked. When people became aware that he once held a high rank, their admirations grew even more. Ultimately, his behavior was a perfect example of what is expected from a virtuous and homeless ascetic.
After a few years, a close friend of his late father heard of his new dwelling and went to visit. The old man expressed concern for the health and wellbeing of the Bodhisattva. The man stated that the Bodhisattva was ignoring the needs of his family as well as the importance of continuing his family line. The Bodhisattva did not succumb to the man’s pleas for his return to civilization, stating that although it is possible for one living the life of a householder to live in accord with the Dharma, it is much more difficult. He explained that the householder’s life is in conflict with tranquility and is bound by many concerns far removed from the Dharma. The Bodhisattva did not want to be engaged with the busyness and distraction of civilization. He thanked the old man for his concern but remained in the woods as an ascetic.
A Tale of Understanding
After the death of their parents, a group of six brothers decided to become ascetics. Accompanied by their younger sister and two servants, they found a forest near a lake and began their individual solitary meditation. They each had their own hut built from palms and they would only meet every fifth day to hear the eldest brother teach. This eldest brother was the Bodhisattva.
They excelled in their meditative practice. They sustained themselves on nothing more than lotus roots. The servants would fetch the roots from the lake every morning and lay them out on large lotus leaves. Each ascetic would then one by one go and take their portion, so as to remain in solitude even when leaving their hut.
Shakra, the Lord of Gods, witnessed this family and became impressed with their dedication to the Dharma. To see if they were truly as free from desire and attachment as they seemed, he decided to test them. At every meal, he would secretly steal the Bodhisattva’s portion of lotus roots. The Bodhisattva remained calm and completely untroubled and therefore said nothing, even as he began to starve. Then, after five days with no food, it came time for the groups meeting. The brothers saw the Bodhisattva was not well, with an emaciated body, hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes.
Instead of becoming angry and making accusations, one brother demonstrated true compassion and recited a prayer for whoever stole the roots. The other brothers did so as well and the sister and servants all followed their lead, reciting their own prayers for the anonymous thief. The Bodhisattva himself said a prayer. A yaksha spirit, an elephant, and a monkey all witnessed this.
After watching with astonishment, Shakra manifested in his divine appearance and approached the ascetics and admitted he had taken the roots. Shakra stated that high virtue can only be tested by trial and that they had passed his test. Yet as Shakra returned the lotus roots the Bodhisattva scorned him, saying that they did not need his approval. Upon hearing this, Shakra was even more impressed, for they had conquered their desires to point where even praise from the Lord of Gods meant nothing to them. Shakra then shook off his divine appearance and bowed before the Bodhisattva. He then vanished.
It is said that the six brothers were all reborn as important students of Shakyamuni Buddha, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, Kashyapa, Purna, Aniruddha, and Ananda. The sister was reborn as Utpalavarna and the servants as Kubgottara and Kitra. The Yaksha was reborn as Satagiri, the elephant as Pariliya, the monkey as Madhudatar, and Shakra, after his life as the Lord of Gods, as Kalodayin.
A Tale of a Pious Man
The Bodhisattva lived as a king’s treasurer. He was renowned for his learning, nobility, and modest behavior. His lofty aspirations and complete honesty caused him to be revered above all others.
One day, the treasurer’s mother in law came and visited his home while he was away at the palace. She asked the treasurer’s wife if she was happy in their marriage and the wife responded that virtue such as her husbands would be hard to find even in the greatest mendicant who has renounced the world. The mother was hard of hearing and only heard the word “mendicant” and therefore misinterpreted her daughters words, thinking that she had said her husband was going to leave her and enter the forest to live as a mendicant. The mother started wailing in sadness, and seeing this, the daughter assumed her mother knew something she did not and in turn started to also believe that her husband was going to leave her. The rumor spread rapidly through the kingdom rapidly and before long, all the treasurer’s friends and family were overcome with grief, believing he was about to leave them all.
When the rumor finally reached the treasurer, he was confused but at the same time, he was honored that all these people viewed him as virtuous enough to live an ascetic life. He felt that after being held in such high regard, if he were to say it was just a rumor and continue to cling to the home life, he would not be worthy of their praise. Thus he decided to actually renounce the world and live in the woods as a mendicant and pursue nothing but meditation and cultivation of virtue.
A Tale of Subduing Anger
Born to a noble family of Brahmans who owned a large flourishing estate, the Bodhisattva devoted his life to learning. His name was Kuddhabodhi. By the time he was fully grown his fame among the learned had spread far and wide. He married a beautiful woman who loved him deeply.
Because of his constant practice of the Dharma, he eventually reached the stage of wisdom where the idea of renunciation was so familiar that the life of the householder no longer gave him pleasure. Disturbed by the suffering of greed, quarrels, war, and attachment that are inherent in the householder’s life, he decided to take up the life of an ascetic.
His wife insisted that she join him and become an ascetic as well. Although he tried to dissuade her, saying the ascetic life is difficult and dangerous and not suitable for a woman, she entered the woods with him anyway. She looked brilliant and attractive in her simple robes as she meditated in the shade of a tree. One day a king passed through their forest domain and after the usual ceremonious greeting with Kuddhabodhis, he saw the beautiful women and was poisoned with lust. She seemed to glow, enchanting the world around her. The king became utterly lost in desire, contriving a plan to take the young woman away to his palace. However, the king had heard about the terrible wrath that can ensue from wronging an ascetic and was afraid of being cursed. He decided he needed to test Kuddhabodhi’s power. Because ascetics are supposed to live the life of non-attachment, the king decided that if he saw Kuddhabodhi was still attached to his companion, that he surely had no exceptional power and would not be able to harm him. He questioned Kuddhabodhi, asking what he would do if someone kidnapped his wife. The bodhisattva replied that if that happened, he would never let his enemy escape. This reply seemed to indicate that he was still full of attachment and passion and therefore was no true ascetic. The king ordered his men to carry off Kuddhabodhi’s wife to his palace in the city.
Kuddhabodhi watched them take his wife away and appeared oblivious to her cries. Confused by this, the king then taunted Kuddhabodhi, asking why he was not following through with his threat, and how he was going to attempt to keep them from leaving. Kuddhabodhi replied that the enemy he was to keep imprisoned was not them, but that the enemy he was referring to was anger. He would not let his anger escape from him, telling the king that even in the face of such a crime, he would keep his rage controlled while focusing his mind on the virtue of forbearance. The king realized that he had been mistaken about Kuddhabodhi and that he was in fact a powerful ascetic. He bowed to Kuddhabodhi and apologized, returned his wife, and vowed to serve him from then on.
A Tale of Friendship
In this lifetime the Bodhisattva was the great king of Geese, Dhritarachtra, who ruled his vast flock benevolently. He was always accompanied by his commander and chief, Sumukha. The two were the closest of friends.
Tales and rumors of the glory of the flock, and especially of its king and commander in chief, spread far and wide. Intrigued by what he had heard, a human king named Brahmadatta, the ruler of Varanasi, said to his ministers of state that he would like to see these birds. The ministers hatched a devious scheme to create a beautiful lake at which would be proclaimed daily to be a sanctuary for all birds. It was to be so beautiful that no flock could resist its temptations, and once the king had lured the marvelous Geese there under a false notion of safety, a skilled hunter would spring traps to ensnare the king of geese.
Word of the lakes beauty eventually reached the flock and they became excited and curious. Although slightly weary, the King agreed to travel there. When they arrived, the flock marveled at the glorious lake and all the different types of birds that were taking refuge there. Once the flock became comfortable, the hunter sprung the trap. The king was caught and when the other geese saw this they began to flee in fear. The only one who stayed behind was Sumukha, refusing to leave his masters side.
The hunter approached the pair and at first he thought his traps had caught both the geese. Yet when he saw that Sumukha was staying behind with his king out of love and loyalty, his heart overflowed with compassion and amazement. The hunter asked the noble bird why he did not flee and Sumukha, in a clear human voice, stated that he would never abandon his master and friend and that he had stayed with him in times of prosperity and would never even consider leaving him in times of trouble. Sumukha then pleaded with the man to take him instead, explaining that the flock needed their king but could survive without their general. Listening more to the noble words of the goose than to the orders from his human sovereign, the man freed the Goose king. The geese were overjoyed and then told the man that in return for his kindness and mercy, they would both return to the capitol with him on their own accord.
The man and the two geese met with the human king Brahmadatta and were put on thrones in the royal court. After they praised the compassion of the hunter, the three of them all sat and spoke of Dharma and how to properly rule a kingdom, whether it be human or animal. The king declared that although they were mere geese, they were as virtuous and wise as the holiest of teachers. The geese were honored and after a short and pleasant stay in the capitol, they returned to their flock.
A Tale of Teaching
The Bodhisattva once became a wise ascetic who wandered throughout the land teaching the spiritual truths to all who would listen. He eventually reached the land of a king whom took a great liking to him and invited him to the capitol to give daily discourses. The Kings affection for the Bodhisattva continued to grow.
The royal ministers, seeing how fond of the Bodhisattva the king was, started to feel threatened. They began to plant seeds of distrust in the king’s mind, telling him that the Bodhisattva was a spy sent by a rival king. The king’s affection for the Bodhisattva began to fade. Noticing this, the Bodhisattva left the kingdom and returned to the forest to continue his ascetic practice.
While meditating in the woods, the Bodhisattva had a vision and saw that the king was being misled by his advisors. He saw that each of them had a different outlook on the world and how the king should rule, and that none of these views were in accord with the Dharma. One minister denied cause and effect, one believed in an all powerful supreme being that ruled and controlled everything, one believed that free will and personal initiative have no power over the laws of karma, and one minister was a hedonist, who believed that sensual pleasure is all that mattered.
The Bodhisattva decided he needed to free the king from such advisors and proceeded back to the capitol. He created the illusion of a monkey skin shawl out of thin air and when he returned to the king, the ministers started to insult him for wearing it. He explained that their disapproval of the garment contradicts each of their own philosophies, and that if the views they were pushing on the king were true, they would not have a problem with it. They were hypocrites. They abandoned their ideologies and requested the Bodhisattva teach them. Thus, the Bodhisattva led the king, his attendants, and the entire kingdom, away from their false paths and showed them the true spiritual path.
The Consequences of Turning Against a Friend
In a blessed region near the snow mountains of the Himalayas, the bodhisattva lived alone in the form of a large monkey. Although born into a lower state, the bodhisattva had not lost his awareness of a spiritual life and was kind and patient, and possessed of a sweet yet firm nature. He lived like an ascetic, sustaining himself on nothing more than leaves and fruit. He treated all the creatures he encountered with compassion and kindness.
One day it came to pass that a farmer, having gone in search of a stray cow, became completely lost. Unable to determine his location using a star map, the farmer wandered at random and eventually entered the forest of the great monkey. Searching for food, the man noticed a tree laden with fruit on the side of a rocky slope. Having reached the tree, as he was standing on a branch grasping for fruit, the branch suddenly snapped and he fell into a dark pool at the bottom of a chasm. Surrounded on all sides with steep rock walls, there was no escape.
The man had been in the dark chasm for several days before the great monkey, gathering fruit from the same tree, noticed the farmers emaciated body lying below. The monkey called out to the farmer who responded by begging for help. The monkey bodhisattva, having deep compassion for the man’s situation, started to descend the rock face. Once he reached the bottom of the chasm he had the farmer cling to his back as he climbed up out of the deep hole. Once they reached the top, the monkey was exhausted from carrying such a heavy weight and asked the man to guard him as he rested. The farmer gave the monkey his word that he would protect him as he slept.
Although grateful to the monkey, the man began to think that if he were to kill the great beast that he would then surely have enough meat for his journey home. The man became so caught up in this dark greed that his sense of gratitude, as well as his knowledge of right and wrong, was utterly destroyed. Ignoring his frailty and driven only by his desire to kill, the farmer then took a large stone and struck the head of the bodhisattva monkey. Not having the strength to deliver a fatal blow, the rock merely bruised the monkey’s temple. Abruptly awoken and startled, realizing the wicked act the man had just attempted, the monkey burst into tears of sadness and pity.
Never-the-less, still feeling compassion in his heart, the monkey led the man back to civilization. As soon as he was left alone, filled with feelings of remorse, the farmer was suddenly struck with a hideous attack of leprosy. His face became covered with putrid sores which spread to the rest of his body until he no longer looked human.
Banished from society, one day as the disfigured man was wandering through the forest, he encountered a king who was in the midst of hunting. The king asked what kind of demon or ghoul he was. Shocked that the ghoul was actually a man, and a farmer, the king then inquired how he had fallen into such a wretched state. The man confessed his treacherous actions againt the kindness of the great monkey. He explained that a deed against a friend is such a horrible act that the king should consider it his biggest enemy and that he should always look with kindness upon those who are kind to him.
Having Compassion for an Enemy
Virtuous beings show compassion even to those who seek to harm them. When evil doers are in distress, the truly compassionate never abandon them. This was the case when the Bodhisattva was born in the forest, as a fabulous Sharabha deer.
During a large hunt, a local king who was distracted by his passion for sport became separated from his retinue of elephants, chariots, and footmen. Because the horse he was riding was swift, he crossed a great distance without realizing it and became lost in the remote woods inhabited by the Sharabha Deer.
The king spotted the impressive deer and immediately strung his bow and started to pursue it. The chase continued until they reached a gaping chasm. The deer leapt across with ease but the king’s horse abruptly halted, and the jolt threw the king from the horse. When the deer turned around he saw the horse at the chasms edge and quickly realized what had happened. His heart overflowed with compassion for the man who was surely on the rocks below badly injured or even dead.
Completely forgiving the man’s attempt to kill him, the deer climbed down and offered aid. The deer’s kind action moved the injured king deeply and he apologized with tears in his eyes, saying that he had mistaken the deer for a low minded beast when in fact it was himself who was the brute.
The deer carried the King to his horse and the king, overcome by gratitude and remorse told the deer that he was forever in his service and beseeched the great being to come live in the capitol. The Sharabha deer declined the offer but said that he did have one request, that the king and the people of his kingdom stop hunting. He stated that the forest animals are worthy of his compassion and protection and not his arrows. The king agreed and from that day on, hunting was outlawed in the kingdom and the forest animals lived in safety.
A Tale of Betrayal
The Bodhisattva once lived as a Ruru Deer in a lush forest. His fur was the color of pure gold and contained patches of every color, shining like rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and aquamarines. His eyes were bright blue and his horns and hooves gleamed like jewels.
Knowing his body was an extremely desirable object to hunters, the Ruru Deer frequented only the most unknown forest paths. One day, in a particularly wild part of the forest, the Bodhisattva heard the cries of a man who had fallen into river swollen by rain. The man was pleading for help and his piteous cries struck the Bodhisattva to his core. He plunged into the river, the thought of rescue more important than his own life, and although nearly drowning, he dragged the man to the shore.
The man was deeply touched. He thanked the deer again and again and proclaimed that he was now forever in his service. The Bodhisattva deer replied that neither his gratitude nor services were required, but he did have one request. He asked the man never to tell anybody of his existence, explaining that if he did, hunters would surely come take his life as a trophy. The man agreed and made a vow to never tell a single person.
It so happened that the queen of this country was endowed with prophetic dreams and during her sleep one night, she had a vision of the ruru deer. She asked the king to find the deer, and trusting his wife’s instincts, he set out to do so. He proceeded to post a proclamation throughout the land saying that if anybody can lead him to the deer, they will be rewarded with gold, wealth, and land.
The man the deer had saved heard this proclamation each and every every day and became increasingly tempted by it. He was a good man, still aware of the pledge he had made, yet extremely poor. Torn between desire and gratitude, he was eventually overcome by greed he went to the king and told him he could lead him to the deer. A hunting party was formed and then embarked for the woods of the Ruru Deer. When they arrived the man pointed to where the deer was and to his surprise, his hand fell off.
The deer heard footsteps approaching from all sides. The king, drawing his bowstring, was about to hit his target when the Bodhisattva, in a human voice, beseeched him to stop. He asked the king who had betrayed his location. The king pointed to the man the deer had previously saved. The deer scorned the man, explaining that by such ungrateful actions he is only harming himself. The king inquired as to what he was speaking of and when the deer explained that he had saved the man’s life, the king was surprised and cursed the man. He was to receive no reward.
The Bodhisattva further explained to the king that he should not be angry at the man and that his words of scorn were only to prevent him from acting in such a way again. He explained how people lured by the thought of riches are like moths drawn to a flame, and that desire erodes integrity. The king replied that since such a wise being views the greedy man worthy of sympathy, that he would in fact reward him with the wealth he craves. The king then also proclaimed that the deer shall, from that point on, be able to walk the kingdom freely.
In gratitude, the deer asked the king what he could do in return so that his journey to the woods was worth the trouble. The king then honored the deer as a teacher and asked him to mount the royal chariot and come back to the capitol to teach the Dharma. The deer accepted and was given a grand reception as an honored guest. The deer sat on the royal throne and in front of a great assembly, gave a very clear teaching. He explained that the Dharma, in all its complexity, with all its divisions and subdivisions, with all its rules and precepts, was actually very simple: generate compassion for all living beings, abstain from killing, from stealing, and so on, and give pleasure to all.
The king proclaimed that from then on, all the animals in the kingdom would be protected.
A Tale of Leadership and Self Sacrifice
Deep in a beautiful and blessed region of the Himalayas, the Bodhisattva lived as the king of the Monkeys. The whole Monkey kingdom inhabited a large banyan tree that was so tall it was believed to be the Lord of the Forest. Its large branches swelled with beautiful and fragrant fruit that sustained the entire kingdom.
One branch of the tree hung over a river. The Bodhisattva, in his wisdom, told his troop that they must always keep that branch from bearing fruit, for if it did, they would never taste the splendor of its growth again. They indeed took great care that this should not happen, yet one day a small fruit far out on the branch that was curled up in a leaf fell into the river. It traveled downstream to where a king was bathing with his harem. Never having smelled such a fragrance, or seen such a food, the king tasted it and was amazed by its wonderful flavor. He proclaimed that such a marvelous fruit was fit only for royalty and decided to find the source.
The king then set off upstream with a large body of armed men. He knew it could not be far because the fruit was still fresh when it reached him, and before long the tree was in sight. An intoxicating aroma more fragrant than ripe mangoes wafted through the ranks of men, but when the king saw monkeys running among the tree’s boughs and branches, he became enraged. He saw them devouring the fruit and felt that they were robbing him of what he craved. He ordered his men to attack.
The warriors strung their bows with arrows and began to shoot, all the while yelling war cries to frighten away the monkeys. The noise was tremendous and the monkeys were frightened, looking to their king for guidance. Some of the men picked up stones, sticks, and spears and rushed the tree as if attacking a hostile fortress. The Bodhisattva however, seeing that his frightened subjects were depending on him, reassured the group. Quickly climbing to the top of the tree, and in one giant leap, he flew to a nearby hilltop where he found a bamboo cane that was tall, strong, and deeply rooted. Fastening the top of the cane to his feet, and leaving it rooted in the earth, he jumped back to his tree home. Holding a branch of the tree taught, he ordered all the monkeys to evacuate across his body and down the cane to safety. Desperate and bewildered by fear, the monkeys wildly scrambled across the body of the king and down the cane. Although his body grew weak and numb, his mind remained firm, for the survival of his subjects was his only concern.
Witnessing this, the human king and his men became overcome with astonishment. They had never seen such strength and wisdom combined with such great self denial and kindness for others. The human king ordered his men to stop attacking. Seeing that the great monkey would not be able to hold his position much longer, as the hordes of frightened monkeys had bruised and torn their leaders limbs, the king ordered a canopy be held up to catch the monkey when he fell. After the monkey landed in the canopy, the king had him carefully lifted onto a soft couch. As he lay there unconscious from pain and exhaustion, the human king had the monkey’s wounds salved and washed with butter and medicinal ointments and before long he recovered his senses.
The human king approached, full of curiosity, admiration, and respect, and asked the great monkey who he was in relation to all the monkeys he had saved. To his great surprise, the monkey replied that he was their king. He explained that as their ruler, he was bound to them with the same affection that parents have for their children. The shocked king retorted that subjects are meant to serve their king and not the other way around, and then inquired why he would dare sacrifice himself for mere servants. The monkey stated that he was unable to overlook suffering in strangers, much less kin, and especially not in those who are intent on looking to him as their leader. He explained to the man that although his body was broken, his mind is totally sound, and that he would happily and patiently wait through the pain of his injuries because the discomfort was nothing in comparison to the joy of saving his subjects. He then asked the human king to look at all that has come from his physical sacrifice, he had now achieved satisfaction, serenity, fame, and even the admiration and honor of a king of men! He continued to explain to the human king that a ruler who does not know kindness will never know such virtues and will in fact, obtain their opposite.
The Monkey Kings last words to the human king was that he must always protect his kingdom with spiritual truth, and to view all subjects, from officials to peasants, humans to animals, as if they were his own children. The great Monkey King then peacefully passed away and ascended into the heavenly realms.
A Tale of Patience
In one of his many previous lifetimes, the Buddha turned away from the householder’s life and became a wise ascetic. He was renowned for his many saintly virtues, and especially for his patience and restraint, thus earning the name Kshantivadin, ‘the teacher of restraint’. He lived in a forest glade and devoted all his time to spiritual practice.
One day, a king from a nearby realm was out on a trip to a beautiful lake with his entourage of young wives. After indulging in various hedonistic activities, the king was quite drunk and fell asleep while his wives roamed the region picking flowers. The women strayed further and further away from the lake until they reached the dwelling place of Kshantivadin. They were awestruck by his saintly presence. They asked him to teach them, and Kshantivadin proceeded to give a talk on the virtues of modesty, patience, and restraint.
The king woke from his sleep and when he saw that some of his wives had left the lake, he immediately had his servants lead him in the direction they traveled. When he arrived at the ascetic’s glade and saw his wives sitting before Kshantivadin, he became filled with a terrible jealous rage. He accused the Bodhisattva of being a hypocrite who pretended he was saintly while coveting his wives. Kshantivadin and the women all tried to explain that his actions were innocent, but the king’s rage was impenetrable. He stated that he was going to torture Kshantivadin until he admitted that he was a hypocrite, a fraud, and a false ascetic, and then proceeded to chop Kshantivadin’s hand off with a sword. He then to chopped off Kshantivadin’s arms, nose, ears, and feet as well. Aware of the inevitability of death, the Bodhisattva said nothing to stop him.
When the king was done and began to walk back towards the lake, the earth opened up and swallowed him into a fiery pit. Seeing this, one of the servants was scared that Kshantivadin had cursed the king and started to beg him to spare the innocent people of the kingdom. Kshantivadin explained that he did not cause the earth to swallow the king and that he had no ill will towards him or his people. Kshantivadin said that he only pitied the king’s jealous mind because it was going to hurt him more than anyone else. The Bodhisattva then died. Word that the king had slaughtered an innocent ascetic spread throughout the kingdom, and his reputation was destroyed, and his royal line ended.
A Tale of Celestial Guidance
From lifetimes of diligent meditation and innumerable good deeds, the bodhisattva was born as a god from the celestial realm of Brahma, the region of heavenly delights. Yet even in this blissful realm, due to his infinite compassion, the sweet joy of the heavens did not turn him away from his desire to benefit others.
One day while gazing on the human realm he saw a king named Angadinna who had wrong views of the world. This king did not believe that there were any other realms or an afterlife and therefore had become lost in desire, greed, and sensual pleasure. The Bodhisattva manifested floating in the air before him in his celestial form. The shocked and fearful king asked the bodhisattva where he had learned his supernatural powers and the bodhisattva responded that the only way to attain such ability is by living numerous lifetimes devoted to meditation, moral conduct, and restraint of the senses. The king sighed and stated that he did not believe in other realms and then mocked the Bodhisattva, saying that he should lend him five hundred gold pieces and that he would pay him back in the next realm. The Bodhisattva continued to reason with the man and began to explain the various hells where wicked people are reborn. Angadinna was convinced and he bowed to the Bodhisattva, pledging to practice the Dharma for the remainder of his days.
A Tale of Self Sacrifice
At one time, the Bodhisattva took birth as a large Elephant. He lived in a forest far from civilization. The forest contained a lake that was both deep and wide and the entire wilderness was surrounded on all sides by an expansive desert. This beautiful oasis was well suited for the elephant as well as other smaller creatures. Delicious fruit grew on the trees, young shrubs carpeted the earth, and the whole area was bordered with high mountains. The Elephant lived alone as an ascetic and sustained his large body only on leaves and lotus roots, dedicating his time to contemplation on the virtues of contentment and tranquility.
One day while wandering along the forests edge, the Bodhisattva Elephant heard the cries of humans coming from the desert. Their cries began to get louder; surely they were approaching the oasis.
Urged by compassion, he ran towards them swiftly and when they came into sight he saw that it was a large group of men, women, and children, all nearly dead from starvation and thirst. Noticing that they were fearful of him, he called out in a human voice and stated that they need not be frightened. Upon hearing such peaceful and comforting words the people regained their composure and humbly greeted him.
The elders explained that they had been banished by an angry king and that many of them had already died in the desert. The kind Elephant realized that all the fruit in the forest would not be enough to feed them for even a day. He resolved that he must offer his own flesh as food and his organs and intestines as bags to carry water on their journey. He then instructed the people on how to find the great lake and said that just beyond it they would find the corpse of an elephant that had fallen from a mountaintop, not telling them that it would be his own corpse. As the group set out towards the water, he quickly, by another route, started to ascend the mountain. Upon reaching the top he then, feeling great joy and oblivious of the impending painful death below, hurled himself over the edge of the precipice. The impact sounded like an earthquake throughout the entire forest.
Meanwhile, the group of exiles had reached the lake and refreshed themselves with the cool water. Following the Bodhisattva’s directions, they discovered the body of an elephant not far away. At first, they were surprised that the corpse so closely resembled the kind Elephant they had just met. Before long, a clever one in the group determined that it was in fact the same Elephant. Awestruck by the incredibly generous and selfless act of the great beast, they burst into tears of gratitude.
Some in the group thought that they should not eat such a great Bodhisattva, stating that such a magnificent and compassionate being deserves nothing less than a proper cremation ceremony. Once again, the clever one explained that the true way to honor the elephant would be to eat his flesh as the Elephant had intended. The people ate until they were full, made bags to hold water, and crossed the rest of the desert without trouble.
A Tale of Salvation
The Bodhisattva was once born a prince in a royal family of Kauvaras. Known for his beauty, virtue, and learning, he was well liked and respected among the people of the kingdom.
One spring day, while the prince was in one of his family’s pleasure gardens waiting to meet with a great poet, he was informed that the man-eater Kalshapada was on his way to eat him. Kalmashapada was said to have once been a prince himself, conceived by a king and a lion. It was said that Kalmashapada was a good prince up until he took one taste of human flesh. Upon his first taste of blood he became badly addicted, casting away virtue and his royal rank, condemned to a life of murder and cannibalism. When local townspeople were about to put the man-eater to death, he made a deal with demons that if they could free him, he would sacrifice one hundred princes to them. He was now on his way to take the Bodhisattva and add him to his collection of abducted royalty.
The Bodhisattva told his guards to let Kalmashapada enter. When the man-eater approached, the Bodhisattva did not flee. He confronted the cannibal and convinced him to let him meet with the great poet he had invited to the capitol first, and then he would return to be eaten. Kalmashapada was skeptical but let him go. The bodhisattva paid the poet well for his work and set off the return to Kalmashapada. When he returned, the man-eater was impressed that he kept his word and his esteem for the bodhisattva grew. The virtuous prince spoke of the beautiful verses he had just heard. Kalmashapada was intrigued and wanted the Bodhisattva to recite the poems for him, but he replied that a murderous cannibal would not be able to understand the beauty of such work. Kalmashapada was upset, but the prince continued to reason with him. His words touched Kalmashapada deeply, and he convinced him to stop eating flesh and work to regain his virtue. Kalmashapada agreed and set the princes he was holding captive free.
A Tale of Renunciation
There was once a king of who wanted an heir, but every time he conceived a male son, the child would die at a young age. The deaths were attributed to malicious demons. He resolved to build a house entirely of iron in which to raise a prince, so that the prince would be protected from anything that would harm him. A child was born, this prince was the Bodhisattva, and although isolated, he excelled in learning and cultivated virtue.
The Bodhisattva spent his entire youth in the iron house until one spring when he ventured out into the city to attend the yearly flower festival. Although the festivities were beautiful and full of joyous people, the prince, due to his knowledge that everyone suffers and dies, became quite sad. Because of his knowledge that being attached to worldly life only brings suffering, he decided that he must become an ascetic.
When he told his father he was going to leave home to start a life of ascetic meditation in the forest, the king was stricken with grief. Yet after conversing about the nature of true virtue, the king accepted that his son was not leaving out of bitterness and that he truly believed he was acting for the benefit of all. This story shows how even wealth and royalty will not draw the virtuous away from the path of goodness once they have glimpsed the inherent suffering of existence.
A Tale of Patience
Despite countless lifetimes of selfless and virtuous action, perhaps due to the ripening of karma from ancient and forgotten misdeeds, the bodhisattva was once born in a low state as a large buffalo. Yet even in this brute animal state where ignorance prevails, he treated all who he encountered with compassion.
With a grim appearance and always caked with mud, the buffalo was quite intimidating. One malicious Monkey however, aware of the buffalo’s natural goodness, was not afraid and liked nothing more than to tease him. The monkey knew that the Buffalo would be forgiving and not take action against him. The Monkey would climb on the Buffalo and swing from his horns, stand at his feet and keep him from grazing when hungry, and would even poke the buffalo’s ears with a sharp stuck. The monkey would mount the Buffalo’s back and ride him, holding a stick in his hand like the Lord of Death. It is said 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 spirit saw the monkey riding that buffalo and was scandalized by the indignities being heaped upon the great being. He wanted to know why the buffalo would not defend himself from such torture. The yaksha appeared in the path of the two and told the Buffalo that he would easily be able to kill the monkey if he chose to and asked him why he had not done so already. Did he not know his own strength? Was he the monkey’s slave? Did the monkey win him in a game of chance? Was he for some reason afraid of the monkey? Was he not aware the monkey was wicked? The Buffalo replied that none of these were the case, and the fact that the monkey was devious, unstable, and powerless was actually the reason he put up with him. He wanted to help the monkey.
The Buffalo stated that it is easy to be patient with those who are more powerful but that when enduring injuries from the powerless, it is an opportunity to show real patience and virtue, however uncomfortable it may be. This satisfied the Yaksha who then threw the monkey from the buffalo’s back, taught the buffalo a protective charm and vanished.
Kindness without Thought of Reward
Born as a woodpecker, a notoriously sinful bird, the Bodhisattva had not lost sight of virtue. He always showed compassion to every being he encountered.
One day, as the woodpecker was flying in search of food, he saw a lion on the ground below, writhing in pain and discomfort. The lion was suffering greatly. He asked the lion what was wrong and the beast replied that he had a bone stuck in his throat and that the pain was agonizing. The woodpecker offered his assistance and at great personal risk, crawled in inside the lion’s mouth and dislodged the bone with his beak.
Some time later, as the woodpecker was near starvation from not being able to find suitable food, he saw the lion eating a deer. Although too proud to simply ask the lion he had saved if he could share in the meal, he hinted that he was starving. Surely the lion would share his food with him, for the woodpecker had saved his life and was also so small he would only require the tiniest morsel. Seeing the woodpecker, and aware of his intentions, the lion became angry and threatened him. The ungrateful lion proclaimed that the woodpecker was lucky to be alive after being in his mouth and that if he did not fly away, he would kill him right then and there. The woodpecker did as he was told and left.
A local forest god, having witnessed the woodpecker save the lion, saw this rude and selfish behavior and became enraged. The god then flew up in the air and questioned the woodpecker. The god told him that he could easily pluck out the lion’s eyes and blind him for being so ungrateful, and would not be wrong in doing so. The woodpecker responded that he would never do such a thing. The woodpecker explained that when he saved the lion it was an act of pure compassion, and that he did not feel he deserved anything in return. The woodpecker further stated that generosity with the thought of reward is not generosity at all, it is nothing more than a loan.
Monty McKeever https://www.himalayanart.org/