Once a fine sheep, a goat and an ox who were with other animals feeding in the courtyard happened to hear about The Great Vegetarian Debate, and their faith in the Dharma was greatly renewed. “We take refuge in the Triple Gem,” they thought, “in the wise and compassionate Buddha, his meaningful message, and in those living ones who follow his ways. Wonderful are the lamas who protect the lives and well-being of we poor, helpless, destitute domestic animals, who only live to serve!” Such thoughts reverberated around in their thick skulls, as they contentedly munched bits of fodder and hay.
The vegetarian debate taking placed in the house must have been concluded, and the assembly dispersed, when suddenly one of the lamas appeared in their midst, holding an old and well-polished bodhi seed rosary and muttering to himself: Om Mani Padme Hum, the mantra of the Great Compassionate One, while eyeing the herd one by one. One beefy layman in workman’s dress accompanied him.
“Ah, kind and venerable sir,” thought our large fine sheep to himself, “How fondly you gaze my way, praying to compassionate Chenrayzi for me. I take refuge in the sangha of the Buddha!” The lama suddenly pointed at the sheep, and the servant rushed forward with a large knife in one hand and a rope in the other, and led the bemused sheep away to be slaughtered.
The faithful ox and devoted goat also observed these proceedings, not without alarm, feeling dismay about their own possible fate as well as doubt about the lama’s compassion and the Dharma in general.
“Anyway,” the ox mused philosophically, “our budding Mr. Sheep was just a little bit too proud of his fine fleece and overfed paunch; no wonder the hungry monk took him to the table. Nothing of the kind will happen to a hard working draught animal like myself, who has been dragging their heavy plow through the rocky soil day after day in the hot sun for so long. Their appreciation will certainly protect me. The lama is our refuge!” All too suddenly, the monk with his mala and the knife-wielding servant returned, and the lama eyed Mr. Big Ox with favor; then he too was hustled away.
Casting a wry eye on all these proceedings, the horny old goat still remained undaunted, his faith unshaken. “Who would want an old crock like me? Even my skin is scarred, not to mention my tough flesh!” And, kicking up his heels, the goat gloated: “Refuge in the compassionate Buddha who protects all beings without partiality!” But when the lama and his assistant returned, their knife wet with blood, the befuddled old goat was likewise carried off.
The rest of the herd, feeding contentedly, observed all this. They thought how lucky their three friends were to be invited in for dinner by the party of monks, and their faith in their masters was renewed. But one of the bats hanging upside down in the eves, being shaken out of daylong somnolence by the pitiful, distant sound of cries echoing from the slaughterhouse, thought to himself: “The Buddha is our sole refuge; the power of a monk’s mantras and prayers are only as good as his heart.” Then he dozed off again.
Excerpted with permission of the author, from THE SNOWLION’S TURQUOISE MANE: 150 Wisdom Tales from Tibet, by Surya Das, HarperCollins.
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