Jataka: The Hare that Was not Afraid to Die

You will see a reference to Sakka (Sakra) in this story, who is the lord of the gods in the Buddhist cosmology. He is associated with the god Indra in the Indian tradition. You can read more at Wikipedia.

This story, like the previous story, is about the value of self-sacrifice in the Buddhist tradition, and it also provides an explanation for the origin of the "rabbit in the moon." For other folktales about a "moon rabbit," see Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Jataka Tales unit. Story source: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock (1920).


(Seal of Chanthaburi province, Thailand)



The Hare that Was not Afraid to Die

AND it came to pass that the Buddha was born a Hare and lived in a wood; on one side was the foot of a mountain, on another a river, on the third side a border village.

And with him lived three friends: a Monkey, a Jackal, and an Otter; each of these creatures got food on his own hunting ground. In the evening they met together, and the Hare taught his companions many wise things: that the moral law should be observed— that alms should be given to the poor —and that holy days should be kept.

One day the Buddha said: "Tomorrow is a fast day. Feed any beggars that come to you by giving from your own store of food." They all consented.

The next day the Otter went down to the bank of the Ganges to seek his prey. Now a fisherman had landed seven red fish and had buried them in the sand on the river’s bank while he went down the stream catching more. The Otter scented the buried fish, dug up the sand till he came upon them, and he called aloud: "Does any one own these fish?" And, not seeing the owner, he laid the fish in the jungle where he dwelt, intending to eat them at a fitting time. Then he lay down, thinking how virtuous he was.

The Jackal also went off in search of food, and found in the hut of a field watcher a lizard, and a pot of milk-curd. And, after thrice crying aloud, "To whom do these belong?" and not finding an owner, he put on his neck the rope for lifting the pot, and grasping the spits and lizard with his teeth, he laid them in his own lair, thinking, "In due season I will devour them," and then he lay down, thinking how virtuous he had been.

The Monkey entered the clump of trees, and gathering a bunch of mangoes, laid them up in his part of the jungle, meaning to eat them in due season. He then lay down and thought how virtuous he had been.

But the Hare (who was the Buddha-to-be) in due time came out thinking to lie in contemplation on the Kusha grass. "It is impossible for me to offer grass to any beggars who may chance to come by, and I have no oil or rice or fish. If any beggar come to me, I will give him my own flesh to eat."

Now when Sakka, the King of the Gods, heard this thing, he determined to put the Royal Hare to the test. So he came in disguise of a Brahmin to the Otter and said: "Wise Sir, if I could get something to eat, I would perform all my priestly duties."

The Otter said: "I will give you food. Seven red fish have I safely brought to land from the sacred river of the Ganges. Eat thy fill, O Brahmin, and stay in this wood."

And the Brahmin said: "Let it be until to-morrow, and I will see to it then."

Then he went to the Jackal, who confessed that he had stolen the food, but be begged the Brahmin to accept it and remain in the wood; but the Brahmin said: "Let it be until to-morrow, and then I will see to it."

And he came to the Monkey, who offered him the mangoes, and the Brahmin answered in the same way.

Then the Brahmin went to the wise Hare, and the Hare said: "Behold, I will give thee of my flesh to eat. But thou must not take life on this holy day. When thou hast piled up the logs I will sacrifice myself by falling into the midst of the flames, and when my body is roasted thou shalt eat it and perform all thy priestly duties."

Now when Sakka heard these words he caused a heap of burning coals to appear, and the Wisdom Being, rising from the grass, came to the place, but before casting himself into the flames he shook himself, lest perchance there should be any insects in his coat who might suffer death.

Then, offering his body as a free gift, he sprang up, and like a royal swan, lighting on a bed of lotus in an ecstasy of joy, he fell on the heap of live coals. But the flame failed even to heat the pores of the hair on the body of the Wisdom Being, and it was as if he had entered a region of frost.

Then he addressed the Brahmin in these words: "Brahmin, the fire that thou hast kindled is icy cold; it fails to heat the pores of the hair on my body. What is the meaning of this?"

"O most wise Hare! I am Sakka, and have come to put your virtue to the test."

And the Buddha in a sweet voice said: "No god or man could find in me an unwillingness to die."

Then Sakka said: "O wise Hare, be thy virtue known to all the ages to come."

And seizing the mountain he squeezed out the juice and daubed on the moon the signs of the young hare.

Then he placed him back on the grass that he might continue his Sabbath meditation and returned to Heaven.

And the four creatures lived together and kept the moral law.





(900 words)









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