Once, the Buddha was a Monkey
A time long before now, aeons ago, the Buddha was a monkey. This monkey was small but was also the leader of a group of monkeys well known by the other animals in the jungle to be rather peculiar. They did not quarrel; they did not grieve death; they did not deceive other troops of monkeys in order to gain more food or trees to live in; they simply ate what they could, when they could, and let others be as they would be. Often times other monkey troops would swoop down upon them, stealing their food. But, the other monkeys did not seem to care all the same, as if each day was just another day, regardless of the hardships they endured.
On one such day, a group of men, hunters, came into the jungle. They were hunting for small game—rabbits, foxes, and the like—but came across the group of monkeys lead by the small one.
“Look here,” said one man, “These monkeys, they don’t run away as we approach.”
“Odd,” said another man, “Usually such creatures flee at the sight of us. Let’s try and get closer.”
The hunters approached the group of monkeys, who still did not move away but rather watched, inquisitively, as the men came closer. One monkey, the small leader, remained with his eyes closed, seated in the middle of his tribe. The men looked on curiously.
“Why do they look at us so?”
“I cannot say. Should we take a few? As food?”
The hunter thought to himself, contemplating such an easy catch for the day, then said, “It would make our day much easier if we did. We would have more time to do other things, more chores, or even have more time for entertainment. Perhaps we should.”
Just as the hunter stopped speaking, the small one rose to his feet, standing proudly as a man of much stature would. The hunters stood still, unsure what to make of such an odd site. Then, the small one picked an apple up off the ground next to him, and walked it over to the hunters, holding it up in offering.
One of the men turned to the others, “Hurry! Grab him! Before he runs away!”
The small one stood waiting, holding the apple, with a great amount of joy in his eyes. The other monkeys watched as their beloved leader stood in grave danger.
The hunter closest to the small one looked around at the other monkeys: no food of theirs could be seen anywhere. The apple appeared to be the only food they had for themselves.
“No,” said the hunter close to the small one, “We should not take any of them.” He then kneeled down in front of the small one, bowing.
“What are you talking about?” said the other hunter, “We must eat! We are starving!”
The hunter bowing rose back to his knees and took the apple. He looked at it as if it were solid gold and said, “These monkeys have no food. Who are we to take their flesh to feed ourselves?”
The other hunter was humbled as he looked around to see the truth—the monkeys had no food either.
The hunter with the apple took out his knife and spilt the apple in two. He then handed the other half back to the small one. The small one accepted the return, and walked back to his fellow monkeys, placing the half apple back down where it was before.
Then the small one walked back to the hunter, pointing to his knife. The hunter looked at the knife, then back to the monkey. He shook his head and said, “No. I won’t do such a thing.”
The small one shook his head, pointing to the knife, insisting upon his sacrifice. To the hunters’ amazement, the small one spoke, “It is not your decision, nor mine, to determine the right and wrong of your actions. You are hungry. Let me feed you with the body I have to offer in return for your generosity.”
The hunter let a few tears out as he woefully accepted the small one’s offer, “You are a true king, even amongst men. I and my friends behind me owe you our lives.”
He bowed once more to the small one, who then lay down in front of the hunter. The hunter then took the knife and plunged it directly into the small one’s heart, killing him swiftly and with little pain. The hunters gathered around the small one’s corpse, revering it. Then, they placed the corpse in their burlap bag, and returned home. Years later, the hunter who killed the small one died a peaceful and painless death. Centuries upon centuries later, he was reborn as the Buddha’s friend and closest disciple, Ananda.
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Small Disclaimer: Though I wrote this story, it is not mine. There are many fables--fictitious or mythological or otherwise--written to express the Buddha and his teachings. This one is no different, just a reinterpretation and rewriting of many combinations of writings and Buddhist teachings before it. I do not claim any rights or ownership to this story or its title (which is also the title of a published book containing small vignettes of Buddhist teachings such as this; check it out!).