Garland of Birth Stories Jatakamala, Vol. 2
The Buddha once said, “A long time ago, there was a rabbit king who lived with his companions in the mountain. They ate wild vegetation and nuts when they were hungry, and drank spring water from the mountains when they were thirsty. The rabbit king revered the four immeasurable states of mind (Skr:catvāri-apramānāṇi): kindness, compassion, joy, and generosity and practiced them with sincerity. He also taught his companions the notion of benevolence and harmony and exhorted them to refrain from doing evil deeds so they would be reborn into a human form and practice Buddhism in their next life. His companions were delighted and faithfully accepted the king’s teachings.
At the time, an immortal one lived alone deep in the mountains and also practiced the four immeasurable states of mind. He was focused on his goals and was determined to achieve them. He never wandered into a state of laxity. He often recited sutras and taught the Dharma. The sound of his Dharma propagation was smooth and pleasing and could fill his listeners with great joy. The rabbit king and his followers often gathered at the immortal one’s place to listen to him expounding the Dharma. They also offered fruits to the immortal one. A year later, the rabbit king and his followers came to be filled with dharma-joy.
As the cold winter approached, however, the immortal one started packing his robes, bowl, and deer-skin water container and decided to live in the more populated area at the mountainside through the winter months. Seeing the immortal one all packed and ready to leave, the rabbit king became very sad, and his eyes welled up with tears. Unwilling to part ways with the immortal one, the rabbit king pleaded, “Where are you going? You are like our parent, whom we constantly rely upon. Please stay here so that we can see you daily and listen to your teachings. Is that fine with you?”
The immortal one replied, “Although my body was brought about by the four great elements of earth, water, fire, and wind, it still requires due care on the path of cultivation! The extremely cold winter is soon approaching, and fruits, vegetables, and spring water will no longer be available. Neither will the cave be able to shelter me from the snow and chilly winter wind. I will be away only temporally, and I will be right back after the winter is over. Please do not feel depressed on account of my temporary absence.”
The rabbit king then said, “My followers and I will search for fruits and nuts to make offerings to you. Please have compassion and liberate us. I hope you’ll change your mind and stay here. If you leave, we will no longer be able to sustain our daily lives as we will be continuously filled with depression! If you don’t have any food right now, I can offer my very body to you.”
The immortal one was greatly moved by the rabbit king’s sincerity and for a moment was speechless. As the immortal one believed in the deity of Fire (editor’s note: he did not know the correct principle of the Dharma), a charcoal fire was burning in his dwelling place. The rabbit king thought to himself, “The immortal one’s silence might mean his consent to my request.” The rabbit king then jumped into the fire without hesitation. The immortal one tried to rescue the rabbit king, but it was too late. The rabbit king was then reborn into the tuṣita heaven. He manifested the magnificent deportment and virtues of a bodhisattva. His appearance was extremely noble.
The immortal one blamed himself for failing to save the rabbit king from sacrificing its life to seek the Dharma for his followers’ benefit. The immortal one thus started abstaining from food, and within a short period of time, he died and was also reborn into the tuṣita heaven.
The Buddha then told the bhikkhus, “I was the rabbit king in my previous life. All of you, Buddhist bhikkhus, were the followers and families of the rabbit king. The immortal one was Dīpankara Buddha.”
In fact, Buddha Sakyamuni had become Buddha a long time before Dīpankara Buddha’s completion of his Buddhahood. He continues to manifest as a tireless bodhisattva that cultivates the “causal” practices [that are conducive to enlightenment] of teaching other bodhisattvas to earnestly carry out acts of sincere devotion, such as charitable giving, for the benefit of sentient beings and to guide them away from self-indulgence in this impermanent life.
Practitioners wishing to follow the Buddha’s zealous and diligent cultivation must have the attitude of as if putting out a fire burning right at the top of their head. They need to urgently eliminate their delusion and attachment to the six sense objects (form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects, and mental objects). They must also remove their firm grasp on their “self” and “self-belongings.” They will then gradually accumulate virtues of liberation on the path of cultivation. They should also endeavor to bring benefits to their relatives, good friends, and all others with whom they have karmic connections!
This article is an excerpt from Electronic Journal of True Enlightenment, Issue 58