The Hare in the Moon

A Traditional Buddhist Tale Retold by Teri West

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Once, in a far-away land, in a time long ago, in a deep forest, lived four friends. They were a jackal — which is a kind of wild dog — an otter, a monkey, and a hare.

The four friends lived very happily together, and what they liked to do best of all was to visit a wise old man who lived in the forest. He spent most of his time sitting peacefully under a tree. He was their friend and teacher, and told them wonderful stories.

One evening, when the moon was full, and the four friends were sitting peacefully under his tree with their friend the wise man, he told them that he had an important lesson for them. He told them that, whenever the moon was full, the friends were to be sure to find someone to help; someone for whom they might do a favour, or perform some service.

The four friends were very excited by this, and for the next few weeks, until the moon was to grow full again, they were each hoping that they would, as their teacher had told them, find someone in need of their help.

The time of the full moon soon came around again. It was a still evening, and the moon began to rise above the tops of the trees, as round as a penny, and silver bright, when into the forest came an old, old woman. She was poorly dressed, and walked slowly. She was thin, and looked as if she had not eaten for a while, and finding a tree to lean against, she sat down to rest.

Soon, the jackal came by, and seeing the old woman, thought that here was someone who looked as if she needed help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Jackal, I am tired, and hungry — I haven’t eaten all day — do you think you could find me something to eat?” The jackal was pleased; here was someone who needed help, and he would be able to do as his teacher had asked him. “Just wait here, Grandmother,” he said, “I will find you something to eat!”

The jackal ran off to a place in the forest where he knew that a lion had killed a deer and left some of the meat hidden for when he might be hungry again. The jackal tore off a piece of tender deer meat, ran back to the old woman, and dropped it at her feet.

“Dear Brother Jackal,” she said, “I am sorry, but I have made a promise never to eat the meat of the deer.”

The jackal was a little disappointed that he could not help the old woman, but he had a piece of tender deer meat to take back to his children, and so off he went.

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As the moon rose higher in the sky, the otter came by, and seeing the old woman, thought that here was someone who surely looked as if she needed help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Otter, I am tired, and hungry — I haven’t eaten all day— do you think you could find me something to eat?” The otter was pleased; he would be able to do as his teacher had asked him. “Just wait here, Grandmother,” he said, “I will find you something to eat!”

The otter ran to the river, and soon caught a beautiful rainbowcoloured salmon fish, which he carried back to the old woman in his jaws, and dropped it at her feet. “Dear Brother Otter,” she said “I am sorry, but I have made a promise never to eat the flesh of fish.”

The otter was a little disappointed that he could not help the old woman, but he had a fine salmon fish to take back to his children, and so off he went.

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As the moon rose higher and higher in the black night, and the stars began to twinkle merrily, along came the monkey. When the monkey saw the old woman, he thought this was indeed someone who needed his help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Monkey, I am tired, and hungry — I haven’t eaten all day — do you think you could find me something to eat?” The monkey was pleased; he would be able to do as his teacher had asked him. “Just wait here, Grandmother,” he said, “I will find you something to eat!”

The monkey scampered away to a mango tree, where he knew the mangos would be perfectly ripe, and climbing right to the top, he picked the largest, juiciest mango, and carrying it carefully back to where the old woman was sitting, he dropped it at her feet. “Dear Brother Monkey,” she said, “I am sorry, but I have made a promise never to eat the fruit of the mango tree.”

The monkey was a little disappointed that he could not help the old woman, but he had a fine mango to take back to his children, and so off he went.

The moon had climbed right to the very top of the sky, when the hare came by, and seeing the old woman, thought that here was someone who looked as if she needed help. The old woman spoke to him. “Dear Brother Hare, I am tired, and hungry, I haven’t eaten all day — do you think you could find me something to eat?” The hare thought and thought, but hares eat leaves, and grasses, and spring flowers, and he knew that human people did not eat such things. Then he thought some more, and said to the old woman, “Grandmother, if you will build a fire, I can give you something to eat!”

So, between them, the old woman and the hare gathered sticks and lit a fire. When the fire was burning brightly, the hare jumped — right into heart of the flames! He was offering himself as a meal for the poor, hungry old woman.

But instead of burning the hare, the flames were cool, and they lifted him up gently and laid him on the grass beside the fire.

When the hare looked back to where the old woman had been, she was not there anymore. In her place was a great being, with shining light all around him, and dressed in glowing saffroncoloured robes. Looking down kindly upon the astonished hare, he said, “For your compassion, and your bravery, in offering yourself as a meal to one who was in need, dear hare, you shall be remembered forever!”

Then, the great being reached out, broke off the tip of a mountain, and on the face of the full moon he drew a picture of a hare.

So, next time you see the moon full and round as a penny and silver-bright, look carefully, and perhaps you will see the hare drawn there with the tip of a mountain, by a great being, long, long ago.

Teri West, True Door of Virtue, is a professional storyteller, singer, musician, and clown who lives on a cliff-top in North Devon, England. She practices with the Westcountry Sangha.

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