THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
JATAKA TALES AND OTHER BUDDHIST STORIES
The Buddha was a great storyteller and often told stories to get his message across. Stories were also told about the Buddha by his followers both to explain and understand the Dharma. These stories have been passed down to the present day and the most popular ones are the Jataka tales, a collection of hundreds of tales about the Buddha's past lives. They show the kind of life one should lead to become a Buddha one day. In many of these stories, the Buddha appears as an animal to teach the value of qualities such as kindness, compassion, and giving.
The Monkey King and the Mangoes
Once upon a time, the Buddha came into the world as a Monkey King and ruled over 80,000 monkeys. He was very tall and strong and had wisdom like the sun. In his kingdom on the banks of the Ganges River, there was a mango tree as big as the moon. The 80,000 monkeys jumped from branch to branch chattering and eating the lovely fruit that was big and sweet and delicious. Sometimes a ripe mango fell into the river.
One day, the Monkey King strolled downstream and came upon a river palace where a human king lived. "Soon danger will come if the mangoes float downstream," he told the monkeys. "Pick all the mangoes and flowers on the trees and take them deep into the forest."
But one mango, hidden by a bird's nest, was left unseen by the 80,000 monkeys. When it was large and ripe, it fell into the river and floated downstream where the human king was bathing.
The human king, who was very curious, tasted the beautiful mango. "This is delicious!' he exclaimed. "I must have more. Servants, find all the mangoes and bring them to me at once!"
Deep in the forest, the servants found hundreds of mango trees. In the trees were the 80,000 monkeys. When the human king heard about the monkeys, he was very angry, "The monkeys are eating my mangoes. Kill them all!" he ordered his archers.
"Very well," said the archers and chased the monkeys to the edge of the forest where they came to a deep cliff. There was no way for the monkeys to escape. Shivering with fright, they ran to the Monkey King asked, "What shall we do?"
"Don't be afraid. I will save you," said their king. Quickly, he stretched his huge body as far as possible and made a bridge over the cliff to a bamboo grove on the other side.
"Come monkeys, run across my back to the bamboo grove," he called. And so the 80,000 monkeys escaped.
The human king watched all that happened. He was amazed, "This Monkey King has risked his life to save his whole troop! And all I'm doing is being selfish. I have learned a great lesson." Then he called to his archers, "Put down your bows. It isn't right to kill this King of Monkeys."
Forgetting about the mangoes, the human king went back to his palace by the river and ruled kindly and wisely for the rest of his life.
The Deer King
Long ago in a forgotten forest, lived a deer named Banyan. He was golden like the sun and his horns glistened like silver. His body was as large as a colt and his eyes sparkled like jewels-alight with wisdom. He was a King of Deer and watched over a herd of 500 deer.
Not far away, another herd of deer was watched over by another golden deer named Branch. In the tall grass and shadows of the deep forest, the two herds lived in peace.
One day, the King of Benares was out on a hunt and spied the beautiful green forest where the deer lived. "What a perfect hunting ground!" he declared and into the forests he dashed with his thousands of hunters and came upon the two herds of deer. Without a moment's hesitation, he notched an arrow in his bow. Suddenly he spotted the two golden deer. Never had he seen such beautiful creatures! "From this day on," he commanded, "No one is to harm or kill these golden deer."
Thereafter, he came to the forest everyday and killed more deer than was needed for his dinner table. As the weeks went by, many deer were wounded and died in great pain.
Finally Banyan Deer called the two herds together, "Friends, we know there is no escape from death, but this needless killing can be prevented. Let the deer take turns going to the chopping block, one day from my herd and the next day from Branch's herd."
All the deer agreed. Each day the deer whose turn it was went to the chopping block on the edge of the forest and laid its head upon the block.
One day, the turn fell to a pregnant doe from Branch's herd. She went to Branch Deer and begged, "Grant that I be passed over until after my fawn is born. Then I will gladly take my turn."
Branch Deer replied, "It is your turn. You must go."
In despair, the poor doe went to Banyan Deer and explained her plight. He gently said, "Go rest in peace. I will put your turn upon another." The deer king went and laid his golden head upon the chopping block. A deep silence fell in the forest.
When the king of Benares came and saw the golden deer ready for sacrifice, his heart skipped a beat, "You are the leader of the herd," he exclaimed, "You should be the last to die!" Banyan Deer explained how he had come to save the life of the doe.
A tear rolled down the cheek of the king. "Golden Deer King," he exclaimed. "Among men and beasts, I have not seen one with such compassion. Arise! I spare both your life and hers.
"So we will be safe. But what shall the rest of the deer do?" "Their lives I shall also spare." "So the deer will be safe, but what will the other four-footed animals do?" "From now on they too will be safe." "And what of the birds?" "I will spare their lives." "And the fish in the water" "The fish shall be spared- all creatures of the land, sea, and sky will be free."
Having saved the lives of all creatures, the golden deer raised his head from the chopping block and returned to the forest.
The Wounded Swan
One day when Prince Siddhartha and his cousin Devadatta were walking in the woods, they saw a swan. Quickly, Devadatta drew his bow and shot the swan down. Siddhartha rushed to the wounded swan and pulled out the arrow. He held the bird in his arms and caressed it.
Devadatta angrily shouted at Prince Siddhartha, "Give me the swan. I shot it. It belongs to me!"
"I shall never give it to you, You will only kill it!" said the prince firmly. "Let's ask the ministers of the court and let them decide."
The ministers all had different views. Some said, "The swan should be given to Devadatta." Others said, "It should go to Prince Siddhartha." One wise minister stood up and said, "A life belongs to one who saves it, not to one who will destroy it. The swan goes to the prince."
Prince Siddhartha took care of the swan until it could fly again. Then he turned it loose so it could live freely with its own kind.
Aniruddha and the Golden Rabbit
Once there was a poor farmer who offered his only bowl of rice to a holy man who was even poorer than he. This meant he would have nothing to eat that day. He went back to his work and forgot all about having given his rice away. Suddenly a rabbit hopped alongside the farmer and jumped on his back. The surprised farmer tried to brush it off. He tried to shake it off, he tried to knock it off, but the rabbit would not bulge.
He ran home to his wife, crying, "Get this rabbit off my back!" By this time the rabbit had turned into solid gold! The wife flipped the rabbit into the air. It hit the floor with a "Crackkk!" One of its golden legs broke off and another one magically grew in its place.
From that day on, whenever the farmer and his wife needed money, they would break off a piece of the golden rabbit. And from that life onward, Aniruddha was never poor. This was his reward for giving.
A LESSON IN MEDITATION:
Concentration on the Breath
A very simple way of meditating is concentrating on your breath. The breath is like a bridge between your body and mind. When you concentrate on your breath for a while, your body becomes relaxed and your mind becomes peaceful.
• Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight.
• Place your hands in your lap with the left hand on the bottom.
• Keep your eyes half-closed or closed.
• Concentrate on the tip of your nose. Notice your breath going in and out.
Full lotus is the best sitting posture. Begin by sitting in half-lotus, then work your way up to full lotus.
• Full-lotus- Sit on the edge of a cushion. Place your left ankle on your right thigh. Then lift your right ankle onto your left thigh.
• Half-lotus- Lift your left ankle onto your right thigh.
Note: It is best to sit at the same time and place everyday. Increase your sitting time little
by little. You may sit in a chair or stand if necessary.
asuras: Beings who like to fight.
Bodhi tree: A pipal tree that is known as the 'tree of enlightenment'. The tree under which Gautama achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha.
Bodhisattva: A compassionate being who enlightens himself and helps others to be enlightened.
Buddha: The Enlightened or Awakened One. The word 'Bodhi' means to awaken.
Buddha Hall: The main room inside a Buddhist temple.
Dharma: Teachings of the Buddha
enlightenment: Understanding the truth of life, freedom from ignorance.
Five Precepts: The five rules of conduct given by the Buddha to his disciples: no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no false speech, no intoxicants.
Four Noble Truths: The first teachings spoken by the Buddha: the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the Path leading to the end of suffering.
hungry ghosts: Ghosts that suffer a lot because they are greedy.
Jataka tales: stories about the past lives of the Buddha.
karma: 'Action' or the law of cause and effect. For every action there is a cause.
Kathina: A 'festival of giving' held in autumn, where people make offerings to the monks and nuns.
lotus posture: A meditation posture.
lotus: The lotus symbolizes the purity of the Buddha. It grows out of mud, yet it is not defiled by it.
Mahayana: The tradition of Northern Buddhism.
mantras: Symbolic phrases that Buddhists chant.
meditation: A method of calming and training the mind.
Middle Way: The path in life prescribed by the Buddha, the path between extremes.
Nirvana: An everlasting state of great joy and peace.
Noble Eightfold Path: The Buddha's prescription for ending suffering. It is made up of eight parts: right views, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
offering bowl: A bowl that nuns and monks receive offerings in.
Pali: An ancient language of India that the Buddhist Sutras were originally written in.
Pratyekabuddha: Hermits who become enlightened by themselves.
puja: A Pali word for Buddhist worship.
Sangha: The community of Buddhist nuns and monks.
Sanskrit: An ancient language of India that the Buddhist Sutras were written in.
Six Perfections: The six ideals that a Bodhisattva perfects: giving morality, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom.
stupas: Monuments to the Buddha
Theravada: The tradition of Southern Buddhism.
Three Refuges: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
Tripitaka: The 'three baskets', a collection of the Buddha's written teachings.
Triple Jewel: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
Ullambana: A Buddhist festival when offerings are given to the Sangha.
Wheel of Life and Death: The six worldly states of rebirth: gods, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings.
zafu: A round meditation cushion used in Japanese Buddhism.
Zen: Japanese meditation.
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