A Buddhist Story Retold by Sharon

     Long ago in the dense jungle of India near the town of Varanasi lived a grouse, a rabbit, a monkey and an elephant. They had always loved each other, and despite the fact that they were of different species and different temperaments they dwelt together in peace and harmony. They had been together such a long, long time that they couldn't quite remember when it all started or who it was who came first, for they had grown so close that they felt as if they were one great Spirit. 

     Wishing to know which among them was the eldest so that they might accord one another appropriate respect, the grouse asked each of them to tell how they first remembered seeing a particular tree. The elephant and the monkey recalled seeing the tree when it was the same size as themselves. The rabbit said he could remember having drunk dew drops off it when it was so small it held only two tiny leaves. The bird said that he had eaten some seeds from a neighboring tree and that the tree in question had sprouted from his droppings. Discovering their proper order of seniority in this way they went about with the monkey riding on the elephant's back, the hare on its shoulders and the grouse perched on top of the hare. 

     Having done all of the things that animals do in their lives the four brothers decided to enter a path of virtue by observing five basic moral precepts. They vowed from that day forward not to kill any living thing. Not to take any thing that wasn't freely given. Not to engage in sexual misconduct as was the habit of their less civilized cousins. Not to lie to each other or any other living creature. Not to eat the intoxicating fermented berries that in the past had rendered them quite silly. 

     Having made these precepts the basis of their conduct, they set out to teach them to the other animals in the forest. Over the years the resulting harmony brought great peace and prosperity, health and well being to the forest kingdom. All who entered the forest felt the peacefulness of the animals and were overcome with a peacefulness of their own as a result of being there.

     One day, the king and queen and their ministers asked a clairvoyant hermit to tell them the cause of the animals good fortune and the great peacefulness that overcame all who entered the forest. The hermit explained that it was because of the animals' good conduct. When they expressed a wish to see the animals who had lived so virtuously, the hermit told them it was unnecessary for they could achieve the same results by following the same precepts the animals followed and he laid before them the five precepts that they might begin to follow them themselves. The king and queen followed the precepts as did all of their subjects and in no time the kingdom enjoyed great wealth and prosperity. 

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