Monday, July 25, 2011
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was king of Benares, the Bodhisatta was a tree-spirit living in a wood. Not far from his abode lived another tree-spirit, in a great monarch of the forest. In the same forest dwelt a lion and a tiger. For fear of them no one durst till the earth, or cut down a tree, no one could even pause to look at it. And the lion and tiger used to kill and eat all manner of creatures; and what remained after eating, they left on the spot and departed, so that the forest was full of foul decaying stench.
The other spirit, being foolish and knowing neither reason nor unreason, one day bespoke thus the Bodhisatta:
"Good friend, the forest is full of foul stench all because of this lion and this tiger. I will drive them away."
Said he, "Good friend, it is just these two creatures that protect our homes. Once they are driven off, our homes will be made desolate. If men see not the lion and the tiger tracks, they will cut all the forest down, make it all one open space, and till the land. Please do not do this thing!" and then he uttered the first two stanzas:"What time the nearness of a bosom friendWhen the Bodhisatta had thus explained the matter, the foolish sprite notwithstanding did not lay it to heart, but one day assumed an awful shape, and drove away the lion and tiger. The people, no longer seeing the footmarks of these, divined that the lion and tiger must have gone to another wood, and cut down one side of this wood. Then the sprite came up to the Bodhisatta and said to him,
Threatens your peace to end,
If you are wise, guard your supremacy
Like the apple of your eye.
"But when your bosom friend does more increase
The measure of your peace,
Let your friend's life in everything right through
Be dear as yours to you."
"Ah, friend, I did not do as you said, but drove the creatures away; and now men have found out that they are gone, and they are cutting down the wood! What is to be done?" The reply was, that they were gone to live in such and such a wood; the sprite must go and fetch them back. This the sprite did; and, standing in front of them, repeated the third stanza, with a respectful salute:"Come back, O Tigers! to the wood again,This request they refused, saying, "Go away! we will not come." The sprite returned to the forest alone. And the men after a very few days cut down all the wood, made fields, and brought them under cultivation.
And let it not be levelled with the plain;
For, without you, the axe will lay it low;
You, without it, for ever homeless go."