The Elephant, the Monkey and the Kapinjala Bird

From Nagarjuna's Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
(Dharmamitra Translation)

There once was a time when people in Jambudvipa did not know enough to render proper reverence and respect to those who are older and those who are virtuous. At that time the use of words alone as a method for teaching them had not yet been able to succeed in converting them [to this understanding]. At that time a bodhisattva transformed himself into a kapi~njala bird. This bird had two close friends. The first was a great elephant and the second was a monkey. They all lived together around the base of a pippala tree. They were inquiring of one another, wondering, "We don't know who among us ought to be accorded the status of 'elder.'"

The elephant said, "In the past I viewed this tree when it was shorter than the height of my belly. Now it is so huge. From this we can deduce that I ought to be known as the eldest."

The monkey said, "In the past I've squatted down and plucked with my hand at the top of the tree. From this we can deduce that I should be recognized as the eldest."

The bird said, "In the past I fed on the fruit of such trees in the pippala forest. The seed then passed out with my feces and as a result this tree was born. It can be deduced from this that I ought to be recognized as the eldest." The bird continued, saying, "As a matter of propriety, the first born, being the eldest, ought to be the recipient of offerings."

The great elephant immediately took the monkey on his back and the bird then rode on the back of the monkey. They traveled all around in this fashion. When all of the birds and beasts observed this they asked them, "Why are you going about like this?"

They replied, "We mean by this an expression of reverence and offerings to the one who is the eldest." The birds and the beasts all accepted this teaching and all practiced such reverence. They no longer invaded the fields of the people and no longer brought harm to the lives of other animals. The people were all amazed that all of the birds and beasts no longer engaged in harmful activities.

The hunters went into the forest and observed that the elephant bore the monkey on his back, that the monkey carried along the bird, and that they cultivated respectfulness and so transformed the creatures that the creatures all cultivated goodness. They passed this on to the people of the country. The people all celebrated this and remarked, "The times are growing peaceful. Though they are but birds and beasts, still they are possessed of humanity." And so the people too modeled themselves on this. They all cultivated propriety and respectfulness. From ancient times until the present this transformative teaching has flowed down through a myriad generations. One should know that this was a Dharma body bodhisattva.

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