Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Buddha and the bunny

When Sage had been a kit she had lived for a time at a Buddhist temple.  Her first memories were of being taken from her mother and placed in a hutch with her littermates.  For the next several weeks she was cared for by one of the temple's monks.  As he cared for the kits he explained about Buddhism and told the kits they, like him, had Buddha nature, and animals and humans wer all sojourners in the cycle of birth and death.  He told them of the eightfold path, although he was unsure if rabbits were able to follow the precepts, as they lacked the intelligence of humans. 

Sage was the only kit who listened to the monk.  The others merely ran to the food he provided or ran from him when he cleaned the hutch, and chattered to each other when he stood and talked to them.  Sage tried to discuss the things he told them with the other kits, but it was obvious they hadn't listened and had no interest in any path that didn't lead directly to food. 

One day the monk brought a lot of other humans out to the hutch and talked to them about how much the Buddha loved animals.  He told them that the temple was releasing these rabbits to the wild to remind them all of this and to encourage them to live in partnership with nature instead of dominating it.  

He then lifted the hutch from its stand and put it on the ground.  After asking the humans to step back, the monk unlatched the hutch door.  He said to the now almost full-grown rabbits, "Go now and live your lived in harmony with all of creation."  Sage cautiously hopped to the door and the monk stepped back.  She bowed and said to him, "Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the Buddha's teachings with me.  I will try to follow the eightfold path to the best of my ability."  She hopped away, glancing back once or twice to see if any of the other rabbits were following, but they stayed huddled at the far end of the hutch, too afraid to leave. 

Sage left the temple grounds in search of a place to live.  It was a beautiful place, but the lawns were too smooth and there was no good place for a burrow.  Besides, she'd rather live with other rabbits, especially ones who had grown up in the wild.  She knew abstractly that there were animals who would happily make her their dinner - cats, dogs, large birds, but she didn't know how to avoid being caught.  

So, Sage hopped carefully through yards and down the road until she spotted a field of wildflowers.  As she looked at the field, a doe rabbit hopped out from behind a tree and began eating some hawkweed.  When she saw Sage she offered a greeting from around a mouthful of stem.  The doe introduced herself as Vetiver, and when she heard Sage's story she offered her a burrow in their warren.  

Sage settled in quickly and began to make friends with the other rabbits.  Some were like her littermates, interested only in food or finding the best spot to lie in the sun.  A few were interested when she told them about the Buddha and the eightfold path and they sat in their burrows late into the night debating their ability to follow it.  Personally, Sage felt that when she did her best she was a happier rabbit, and that was enough for her.  

One day Sage had traveled farther than usual looking for tasty plants to eat.  Their meadow had been mowed recently, and the nearby lawns had been stripped of their dandelions by the other rabbits.  As she squeezed under a fence she saw a lawn with beautiful grass a full three inches high, speckled with knotweed and clover.  She happily ate her way through the lawn, considering whether or not to tell the other rabbits of all these yummy flowers.  

She had just decided it would be the right and kind thing to do when she looked up and saw a small statue of the Buddha.  As she gazed at it she knew her decision was the right one, and that yes, rabbits can follow the eightfold path. 

  Photo courtesy of Daniel Singer

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