The Reality of Mankind 1
Buddhism is the teachings of the Buddha, also known as Sakyamuni Buddha. He is called this way because he was from the Sakya clan in India.
When learning Buddhism, the most important thing to know is the purpose of listening to its teachings. Sakyamuni explained the objective of listening to Buddhism in a famous parable.
This parable shocked Leo Tolstoy, renowned Russian writer of War and Peace. Tolstoy said, "I have never heard any parables which reveal human reality as genuine as this Eastern fable."
During the time of Sakyamuni, a king by the name of Shoko, decided to attend a lecture of Buddhism. Sakyamuni was pleased at his attendance since it tended to be difficult for persons in power to hear Buddhism due to their vanity and high position. For this reason, Sakyamuni preached about the purpose of listening to Buddhism in a parable called:
“The Reality of Mankind”
Billions of years ago, a traveler was trudging all alone across a vast wilderness.
It was a lonely evening in the fall, and the cold wintry wind swept across the bitter plain. The traveler was hastening his pace toward home when suddenly, he spotted some white objects scattered along the roadside. He picked one up, wondering what it could be and to his horror discovered it was a human bone.
“Now why would there be human bones scattered around here?” the traveler wondered as he felt an eerie feeling come over him.
He cast his eyes around but saw neither a crematory nor a graveyard in the vicinity. Seized with a very chilling feeling, the traveler couldn’t even take a single step forward.
As he kept staring at the white bones, he heard a weird growl and the sound of ominous footsteps coming toward him.
“What is that sound?” the traveler wondered as he looked ahead. To his terror, it was a huge tiger, fierce from starvation and charging straight for him.
Instantaneously, he realized the meaning of those bones. Travelers who had passed here like himself had become the tiger’s prey, and these bones were the remains of their dead bodies.
As soon as he realized this, he panicked even more before running back down the road he had come from with all his might. However, no matter how desperately or quickly he could run, it was still just a competition between a tiger and a human being. There was just no way he could outrun a tiger. The distance between them drew closer and closer. He could even hear the tiger’s violent snort just behind him.
Somewhere in his haste, the traveler made a wrong turn leading to the edge of a steep cliff.
“Oh no!” he cried. “I’ve taken the wrong road!” But it was much too late to turn back now.
A pine tree stood on the top of the cliff. It was useless to climb it for safety, however, because tigers are expert tree climbers.
The traveler while running in circles around the tree – not knowing what else to do – managed to find a lifesaver. It was a wisteria vine hanging from the base of the pine tree leading down the precipice.
“Great! This’ll do it!” The traveler quickly clung to the vine and narrowly escaped the hungry tiger.
The tiger, losing its prey, growled fiercely from atop the cliff.
“Thanks to this vine, I’m safe for now.”
Thinking he was out of danger, the traveler casually looked down to see what it was like below him and gasped in surprise and terror.
What he saw was a vast, fathomless sea with swift currents swirling dangerously. But not just that. Amidst the whirlpool were three dragons – blue, red, and black – waiting for him to fall. Their mouths were wide open ready to devour him. Seeing this dreadful scene below the traveler tightened his grip.
Out of luck yet again, he was now in a more desperate situation.
After hanging around for a while however, he began to feel hungry and looked around for something edible.
Suddenly upon peering upward, he discovered what horrified him the most. It was more frightening than either the menacing tiger or the three deadly dragons below him. He involuntarily cried out from the sheer terror.
Two mice, one white and the other black, had appeared from nowhere, and were taking turns gnawing the vine, his only lifeline. The traveler’s face turned pale and his body was shaking in fear. He shook the vine rigorously to shoo the mice away, but to no avail. The mice just kept taking turns chewing on his wisteria vine.
But a strange phenomenon started occurring as he shook the vine. With each shake, something had come dripping down.
The traveler caught some of it with his hand and to his utter astonishment discovered it was a delicious-looking drop of honey. Instinctively, he licked it and found it to be the most delicious honey that he had ever tasted in his life.
He wondered, “Why would honey be dripping down from above?” And as he looked up again he saw a beehive on the branch from which the vine hung.
Hoping to taste it once more, he shook the vine again and as he hoped, more honey came dripping down.
“Once more. Just once more.”
The traveler kept on licking the honey intoxicated with delight, and forgetting all the dangers he was in from the tiger, the three dragons, and even the dreadful black and white mice. All he had in mind now was how to obtain more honey.
When Sakyamuni Buddha’s sermon reached this point, someone in the audience shouted.
“Noble Sakya! Please stop!” It was King Shoko. “I am too frightened to hear this story anymore. How can this traveler be so foolish? How could he ever forget he was in such danger, simply being distracted by honey drops?”
“Please listen carefully, King,” Sakyamuni Buddha replied. “This traveler refers to you. He represents not only you but the whole human race.”
At these words, all the audience stood up in shock. Sakyamuni went on to describe how this traveler represented the reality all human beings are in now.
Find out what each symbol means and see this story artistically rendered in the next series right here on this website.