Yesterday morning I decided to sit outdoors to enjoy my coffee and the outdoors at the same time. I noticed one of the young rabbits that visits the yard sometimes. The little creature appeared to be checking me out, too. Its nose twitched and its ears adjusted towards me. The rabbit made no effort to leave. So, it nibbled on grass while I sipped coffee.
Just then, I thought about the old Buddhist Jataka Tale about the Rabbit in the Moon. It’s one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s parables about virtue. The fable tells about a revered teacher that was born as a rabbit with three friends, a monkey, a jackal, and an otter.
The rabbit was the wisest of the four creatures, he regularly preached that among other moral precepts the alms should be freely given.
One night of the full Moon, always a special time on the Buddhist calendar, the rabbit reminded his friends to keep the precepts and offer food to any beggars who approach them.
Later, the otter found fish, the jackal found a roasted lizard, and the monkey found some mangoes. The animals saved the food to eat later on. Meanwhile, the rabbit realized that his food, grass, would be unacceptable to a beggar, so the rabbit would have to offer himself as food.
When the pledge to sacrifice himself occurred to the rabbit, one of the Buddha’s protectors, Sakka, decided to test the rabbit and his friends. He disguised himself as an old Brahmin who needed food so he could perform his priestly duties.
Sakka went to each animals’ lair and requested nourishment. The otter, the jackal, and the monkey offered the food they had found. Sakka thanked each and said he might return for the food later.
Finally, Sakka went to the rabbit’s abode and requested food. The rabbit happily replied that the Brahmin should build a fire and the rabbit, himself, will jump into the fire and become roasted as a meal for the holy man.
Sakka built the fire. The rabbit willfully jumped into the center of the flames. However, the fire did not harm the little creature. The rabbit asked the holy man why the fire did not kill or hurt him. The Brahmin revealed his true identity as Sakka. The rabbit reaffirmed his willingness to sacrifice himself to any alms seeker, regardless of identity.
Sakka was so satisfied with the rabbit’s behavior that, he extracted the living essence from a mountain and drew the image of the rabbit on the surface of the Moon. This was done to remind people about the great virtue of the rabbit.
After the Moon was decorated, the four animals continued to live together practicing the precepts in harmony and Sakka returned to his heavenly realm.
As I finished mentally visualizing the story, I noticed the rabbit in my yard was still wiggling its nose and munching grass. I thanked the bunny for reminding me about the Rabbit in the Moon.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes from The Dhammapada book of wisdom. “Conquer anger with non-anger. Conquer badness with goodness. Conquer meanness with generosity. Conquer dishonesty with truth.”