The rabbit

The Buddha said, “As this story shows, it is common for beings to fight among themselves over trivial misunderstandings, hurting and even killing each other.” He continued with another story. (The Buddha, Jataka)

blog-08.05.16aThis comment interprets an allegory about a lion who thought a tree was discriminating against him and, to punish the tree, he bit into it. The lion drew that inference because, while he was sleeping under the tree, a dead branch fell onto him.

However, branches just fall off trees from time to time and it is bad luck if it happens to be me that receives the blow. The tree was only being itself with no malicious intent – offering cool shade to weary travellers and animals; and fruit for the hungry – no matter who they were.

In the Buddha’s story, the argument between the lion and the tree escalates into greater distress for both, all because the lion interpreted an accident as a deliberate act.

In the next allegory, the Buddha tells us about a rabbit who is sitting under a horse chestnut tree contemplating the question as to what to do if the world starts falling apart. As he was engrossed in this way, a chestnut fell from the tree into some bushes behind him, making a sharp clatter. As you might expect, the rabbit’s gloomy and fearful musing about the world falling apart was sparked into reality by the loud noise. So he started running.

It was not long before other animals who saw a terrified running rabbit heading their way were alarmed and asked what the problem was. The rabbit shouted that he was running because the world behind him was falling apart. Soon hundreds of startled and frightened animals were running with him across the plain. However, speaking of himself in a previous life, the Buddha tells us of a lion who saw this melee, and brought the crowd of animals to a halt with his loud roar.

Rightly deciding that the rabbit was the leader of the fleeing multitude, the lion asked why they were running in such terror. The rabbit replied that the world was falling apart. Indeed, on further inquiry from the lion, the rabbit kept insisting that he was correct.

The lion asked the rabbit to lead him back to the where he had been when he was so struck with fear. Once back under the horse chestnut tree, the lion carefully examined the situation, and thought about it for a while. Soon, he was able to reassure the crowd that the cause of the problem was nothing but a falling chestnut.  The Buddha concluded his account with the following caution:

If the lion had not taught them, countless animals would have kept on running until they had driven themselves into the sea and drowned. O leaders, one must have clear and sound understanding at all times. It must also be remembered that because of some small misunderstanding, tens of thousands can be agitated and in the end all can be led to their doom. (The Buddha, Jataka)

Like the lion in this story, Shinran Shonin went back to the sources.

In Shinran’s case it was to uncover the basis of the teaching of ‘the nembutsu selected in the Primal Vow’, which he received from his teacher, Honen Shonin. Rather than just accepting what was popular at the time, Shinran reflected carefully on the deep significance of the way laid down by Shakyamuni Buddha and the Pure Land masters. Only then did he reveal the true teaching of the Pure Land way.

Author: George Gatenby

George Gatenby, a retired Australian businessman, has been a follower of the nembutsu teaching of Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) since 1977. He became a member of the Hongwanji Buddhist Mission of Australia when it was founded in 1993 and was ordained as a Shin Buddhist priest at the Nishi Hongwanji, Kyoto, the following year. He is the author of the blog sites, Notes on the Nembutsu and The Udumbara Flower, and convenes a Shin Buddhist sangha in Adelaide.