to end the seventh year of the third millenium. here is an old world story.
once upon a time, a long time ago, when brahmadatta was king in benares, the boddhisattva came to the earth as a wise hare. he lived near the bank of the ganges with his three friends, the otter, the jackal and a monkey. all were smart enough to listen to the words of the boddhisattva.
each day these four would each go out and get their food in their own hunting ground.
and in the evening they came together again.
the wise hare advised his three companions on the principles of truth, teaching that alms were to be given, that moral laws were to be observed and holy days to be kept. they accepted his guidance in all practical and spiritual matters.
one day the hare observed the sky and looking at the moon knew that the next day would be a fast day. he announced to the otter, the jackal and the monkey , "tomorrow is a fast day. for one who stands fast in observance of the sacred, almsgiving brings a great reward. therefore, feed any beggar that comes your way by giving them food from your own table." they all agreed and then they each went to their own home.
the next day, early in the morning, the otter went down to the bank of the river. it happened that a fisherman had landed seven red fish and had buried them in the sand to preserve them while he went down the river to fish some more. the otter smelled the buried fish and shouted three times to the air " does anyone own these fish?" and not seeing any owner he dragged the string of fish back into the woods where he lived. then, he was thinking how virtuous he was in waiting to eat them until a more fitting time.
at the same time, as the sun rose, the jackal also went out to look for food. he found in the hut of a field watchman, a lizard cooked on a spit and a bowl of yogurt. and after crying out thrice, he collected the lizard and the bowl of yogurt in his mouth and returned to his lair. he told himself "i will eat them when the time is right." and reflected on how virtuous he was.
the monkey, in his search for food gathered a clump of ripe mangoes and took them to his spot in the high trees; he also meant to wait to eat them. and sitting back on his haunches considered how virtuous he was.
but the boddhisattva, when he came out intending to graze on the kusa grass, the thought came to him," i can't offer grass to any beggars who come, and i have no oil or rice or anything to offer them; if any man appeals to me for food, i will just have to offer them my own flesh to eat."
as soon as he conceived this plan, sakka's white marble throne began to grow hot. discovering the cause, he decided to put the hare to the test.
but first he went to the otter's cave disguised as a brahmin.
"what do you want." asked the otter, "why are you standing there?"
"i am hungry, and if i had a little to eat i could better perform my priestly duties.", was the answer.
"very well, i will give you some food."
then, handing over the seven red fish, he spoke these lines:
"seven red fish i dug from ganges flood
eat your fill and stay within this our wood.."
"let it be until tomorrow when i will return."
then he went to the jackal and asked for some alms. the jackal also promised his food.
"a lizard and yogurt are here for your meal,
this flesh and curd i wrongfully did steal
it's what i have, but take them i pray
and deign you within this wood to stay."
said the brahmin, "it will wait 'til tomorrow.", then thanked the jackal and left.
next he found the monkey and begged from him something to eat. and the monkey readily offered him the mangoes with,
"an icy stream, and mangoes ripe, and pleasant greewood shade
yours to enjoy if you can dwell content in this forest glade."
"i will return tomorrow, it can wait until then.", said the brahmin.
then sakka, still disguised as the brahmin found the wise hare.
"what have you for a hungry priest to eat."
the boddhisattva was delighted by his request and said,
"oh brahmin, you came to the right place. i will give you something i have never given before,
but you shall not have to break the moral code by taking animal life.
go, friend, and build a little fire. then let me know and i will throw myself in it.
then when my body is roasted, you shall eat my flesh and fulfill your priestly duties."
and he spoke these lines:
"not sesame, nor beans or rice have i to give,
but roasted with fire my flesh i yield, if with us you will live."
so sakka with miraculous power caused a fire to appear.
rising from his bed of kusa grass the hare shook himself three times to shake any insects from his fur. then offering his whole body, he sprang up and like a royal swan landing on a cluster of lotuses, in an ecstacy of joy, he fell on the heap of live coals.
but the flames were cool, and he said,
"brahmin, this fire you've kindled is icy cold. it's never going to cook my flesh. what does it mean?"
"wise hare, i am sakka come to put your virtue to the test."
"if you and all the world tried me in this manner, i will never be unwilling to give." declared the hare. sakka with a voice having the depth of a lions roar said,
"because of your virtue you shall be known by all for aeons."
and squeezing a mountain between his hands, with the essence extracted,
painted the shape of the hare on the orb of the moon.
then returned to his place in heaven.
afterwards the four wise friends lived together harmoniously until they each departed to fare according to their deeds.
this story was told by the master while living at jetavana.