Eastern Stories and Legends
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Title: Eastern Stories and Legends
Author: Marie L. Shedlock
Release Date: June 23, 2018 [eBook #57380]
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Eastern Stories and Legends
I recollect riding late one night alongthe high-road from Galle to Colombo. Theroad skirts the shore. On the left hand thelong breakers of the Indian Ocean broke inripples on the rocks in the many little bays.On the right an endless vista of tall cocoanutpalms waved their top-knots over a park-likeexpanse of grass, and the huts of the peasantrywere visible here and there beneath the trees.In the distance a crowd had gathered on thesward, either seated on the grass or leaningagainst the palms. I turned aside—no roadwas wanted—to see what brought them therethat moonlight night.
The villagers had put an oval platformunder the trees. On it were seated yellowrobed monks with palm-leaf books on theirlaps. One was standing and addressing thefolk, who were listening to Bana, that is“The Word”—discourses, dialogues, legends,or stories from the Pali Canon. The storieswere the well-known Birth-stories, that is theancient fables and fairy-tales common to theAryan race which had been consecrated, asit were, by the hero in each, whether man oranimal, being identified with the Buddha ina former birth. To these wonderful storiesthe simple peasantry, men, women and children,clad in their best and brightest, listenthe livelong night with unaffected delight,chatting pleasantly now and again with theirneighbors; rising quietly and leaving for atime, and returning at their will, and indulgingall the while in the mild narcotic of the betel-leaf,their stores of which afford a constantoccasion for acts of polite good-fellowship.Neither preachers nor hearers may have thatdeep sense of evil in the world and in themselves,nor that high resolve to battle with andovercome it, which animated some of the firstdisciples. They all think they are earning“merit” by their easy service. But there is atleast, at these full-moon festivals, a genuinefeeling of human kindness, in harmony alikewith the teachings of Gotama and with thegentle beauty of those moonlit scenes.
1. See Rhys Davids’ Buddhism (S.P.C.K.), pp. 57, 58.
It is not only under the palm groves ofthe South that these stories are a perennialdelight. Wherever Buddhism has gone theyhave gone with it. They are known and lovedon the plains of Central Asia, in the valleysof Kashmir and Afghanistan, on the coldtablelands of Nepal, Tartary and Tibet,through the vast regions of India and China,in the islands of Japan and the Malay archipelago,and throughout the jungles of Siamand Annam.
And not only so. Soldiers of Alexanderwho had settled in the East, wandering merchantsof many nations and climes, crusadingknights and hermits who had mixed withEastern folk, brought the stories from Eastto West. They were very popular in Europein the Middle Ages; and were used, more especiallyby the clergy, as the subjects of numeroushomilies, romances, anecdotes, poemsand edifying plays and mysteries. The characterof the hero of them in his last or formerbirths appealed so strongly to the sympathies,and especially to the religious sympathies, ofmediæval Christians that the Buddha (underanother name) was included, and has eversince remained, in the list of canonized saintsboth in the Roman and Greek Churches; anda collection of these and similar stories—wronglybut very naturally ascribed to a famousstory-teller of the ancient Greeks—hasbecome the common property, the householdliterature, of all the nations of Europe; and,under the name of Æsop’s Fables, has handeddown, as a first moral lesson-book for ourchildren in the West, tales first invented toplease and to instruct our far-off cousins inthe distant East.
So the story of the migration of the storiesis the most marvelous story of them all. And,strange to say, in spite of the enormous outpouringof more modern tales, these old oneshave not, even yet, lost their charm. I usedto tell them by the hour together, to mixedaudiences, and never found them fail. Out ofthe many hundred Birth-stories there are onlya small proportion that are suitable for children.Miss Shedlock, so well known on bothsides of the Atlantic for her skill and judgmentin this regard, has selected those shedeems most suitable; and, so far as I canjudge, has succeeded very admirably in adaptingthem for the use of children and of teachersalike. Much depends, no doubt, upon the telling.Could Miss Shedlock herself be the teller,there would be little doubt of the success. ButI know from my own experience that less ablestory-tellers have no cause at all to be discouraged.
2. For the details of this story the introduction to myBuddhist Birth Stories may be consulted; and for the historyof the Jâtakas in India the chapter on that subject in myBuddhist India.
The reason is, indeed, not far to seek. Thestories are not ordinary ones. It is not onsharpness of repartee, or on striking incidents,that their charm depends. These they havesometimes. But their attraction lies rather ina unique mixture of subtle humor, cunningmake-belief, and earnestness; in the piquancyof the contrast between the humorous incongruitiesand impossibilities of the details, andthe real serious earnestness, never absent butalways latent, of the ethical tone. They neverraise a boisterous laugh: only a quiet smile ofdelighted appreciation; and they leave a pleasantaroma behind them. To the child-mindthe impossibilities are no impossibilities at all,they are merely delightful. And these quaintold-world stories will continue to appeal tochildren, young and old, as they have done, theworld over, through the long centuries of thepast.
T. W. Rhys Davids.
These stories of the Buddha-Rebirths arenot for one age or for one country, but forall time, and for the whole world. Their philosophymight be incorporated into the tenetsof faith of a League of Nations without destroyingany national forms of religious teaching.On the other hand those who prefer thefoundation of more orthodox views will beastonished to find their ethics are identical withmany of those inculcated in the stories: herewe find condemnation of hypocrisy, cruelty,selfishness, and vice of every kind and a constantappeal to Love, Pity, Honesty, loftinessof purpose and breadth of vision. And shouldwe reject such teachings because they weregiven to the World more than 2,000 years ago?Since it is wise to take into consideration theclaims and interests of the passing hour it iswell to re-introduce these stories at a momentwhen, perhaps more than ever before, Eastand West are struggling to arrive at a clearerunderstanding of one another.
In Tagore’s essay on the relation of the Individualto the Universe, he says: “In the Westthe prevalent feeling is that Nature belongsexclusively to inanimate things and to beasts;that there is a sudden unaccountable breakwhere human nature begins. According to it,everything that is low in the scale of beings ismerely nature, and whatever has the stamp ofperfection on it, intellectual or moral, is humannature. It is like dividing the bud andthe blossom into two separate categories andputting their grace to the credit of two differentand antithetical principles. But the Indianmind never has any hesitation in acknowledgingits kinship with nature, its unbrokenrelation with all.”
This is perhaps the best summing up of thevalue of this collection. Since the publicationof the book in 1910, I have had many opportunitiesof testing the value of the dramaticappeal in these stories both for adults and boysand girls of adolescent age. When presentedat this impressionable period, the inner meaningwill sink more deeply into their minds thanthe same truths presented in a more directand didactic fashion.
I am greatly indebted to Professor RhysDavids, not only because he has placed thematerial of his translations from the Pali atmy disposal, but also because of his unfailingkindness and help in directing my work. Iam fortunate to have had the restraining influenceof so great a scholar so that I might notlose the Indian atmosphere and line of thoughtwhich is of such value in these stories.
I most gratefully acknowledge my indebtednessto the Cambridge Press, by whose courtesyI have been able to include several ofthe stories published in their volumes.
I present here a selection from over 500stories.
Marie L. Shedlock.
|1. The Hare that ran away||1|
|2. The Monkey and the Crocodile||8|
|3. The Spirit that lived in a Tree||13|
|4. The Hare that was not afraid to die||19|
|5. The Parrot that fed his Parents||27|
|6. The Man who worked to give Alms||35|
|7. The King who saw the Truth||41|
|8. The Bull that demanded fair Treatment||49|
|9. The Bull that proved his Gratitude||57|
|10. The Horse that held out to the End||63|
|11. The Monkey that saved the Herd||71|
|12. The Mallard that asked for too much||77|
|13. The Merchant who overcame all Obstacles||81|
|14. The Elephant that was honored in Old Age||87|