The Timid Hare And The Flight Of The Beasts
: Stories To Read Or Tell From Fairy Tales And Folklore
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta reigned in Benares, the Bodhisatta came
to life as a young lion. And when fully grown he lived in a wood. At this
same time there was near the Western Ocean a grove of palms mixed with
vilva trees. A certain hare lived here beneath a palm sapling, at the foot
of a vilva tree.
One day this hare after feeding came and lay down beneath a young palm
tree. And the thought stru
k him: "If this earth should be destroyed, what
would become of me?" And at this very moment a ripe vilva fruit fell on a
palm leaf. At the sound of it, the hare thought, "This solid earth is
collapsing," and starting up he fled without so much as looking behind him.
Another saw him scampering off as if frightened to death, and asked the
cause of his panic flight. "Pray, don't ask me," he said. The other hare
cried, "Pray, sir, what is it?" and kept running after him. Then the hare
stopped a moment and without looking back he said, "The earth here is
breaking up." And at this the second hare ran after the other. And so first
one and then another hare caught sight of him running, and joined in the
chase till one hundred thousand hares all took flight together. They were
seen by a deer, a boar, an elk, a buffalo, a wild ox, a rhinoceros, a
tiger, a lion, and an elephant. And when they asked what it meant and were
told that the earth was breaking up, they too took flight. So by degrees
this host of animals extended to the length of a full league.
When the Bodhisatta saw this headlong flight of the animals, and heard that
the cause of it was that the earth was coming to an end, he thought: "The
earth is nowhere coming to an end. Surely it must be some sound which was
misunderstood by them. And if I don't make a great effort, they will surely
perish. I will save their lives."
So with the speed of a lion he got before them to the foot of a mountain,
and lion-like roared three times. They were terribly frightened at the
lion, and stopped in their flight, stood huddled together. The lion went in
amongst them and asked why they were running away.
"The earth is collapsing," they answered.
"Who saw it collapsing?" he said.
"The elephants know all about it," they replied.
He asked the elephants. "We don't know," they said; "the lions know." But
the lions said, "We don't know; the tigers know." The tigers said, "The
rhinoceroses know." The rhinoceroses said, "The wild oxen know." The wild
oxen, "The buffaloes." The buffaloes, "The elks." The elks, "The boars."
The boars, "The deer." The deer said, "We don't know; the hares know." When
the hares were questioned, they pointed to one particular hare and said,
"This one told us."
So the Bodhisatta asked, "Is it true, sir, that the earth is breaking up?"
"Yes, sir, I saw it," said the hare.
"Where," he asked, "were you living when you saw it?"
"Near the ocean, sir, in a grove of palms mixed with vilva trees. For as I
was lying beneath the shade of a palm sapling at the foot of a vilva tree,
methought, 'If this earth should break up, where shall I go?' And at that
very moment I heard the sound of breaking up of the earth, and I fled."
Thought the lion: "A ripe vilva fruit evidently must have fallen on a palm
leaf and made a 'thud,' and this hare jumped to the conclusion that the
earth was coming to an end, and ran away. I will find out the exact truth
about it." So he reassured the herd of animals, and said: "I will take the
hare and go find out exactly whether the earth is coming to an end or not,
in the place pointed out by him. Until I return do you stay here." Then,
placing the hare on his back, he sprang forward with the speed of a lion,
and putting the hare down in a palm grove, he said, "Come, show us the
place you meant."
"I dare not, my lord," said the hare.
"Come, don't be afraid," said the lion.
The hare, not venturing to go near the vilva tree, stood afar off and
cried, "Yonder, sir, is the place of dreadful sounds," and so saying, he
repeated the first stanza:
"From the spot where I did dwell
Issued forth a fearful 'thud';
What it was I could not tell,
Nor what caused it understood."
After hearing what the hare said, the lion went to the foot of the vilva
tree, and saw the spot where the hare had been lying beneath the shade of
the palm tree, and the ripe vilva fruit that fell on the palm leaf, and
having carefully ascertained that the earth had not broken up, he placed
the hare on his back and with the speed of a lion soon came again to the
herd of beasts.
Then he told them the whole story, and said, "Don't be afraid." And having
thus reassured the herd of beasts, he let them go.
Verily if it had not been for the Bodhisatta at that time, all the beasts
would have rushed into the sea and perished. It was all owing to the
Bodhisatta that they escaped death.
Alarmed at sound of fallen fruit,
A hare once ran away;
The other beasts all followed suit,
Moved by that hare's dismay.
They hastened not to view the scene,
But lent a willing ear
To idle gossip, and were clean
Distraught with foolish fear.
They who to Wisdom's calm delight
And Virtue's heights attain,
Though ill example should invite,
Such panic fear disdain.
These three stanzas were inspired by Perfect Wisdom.