Once it happened that this elephant who was Buddha in a past life was living in a forest and the forest caught fire, the forest was on fire. It was a very terrible fire. The whole forest was burning and all the animals and birds were escaping from the forest. This elephant was also running. The forest was very big, and from running and the heat all around and the fire he got tired. Just then he saw a tree which was not yet on fire. There was shade there, so he rested just for a single minute under the shade of the tree.
After he had rested, the moment came when he wanted to move. He raised one leg. When he raised his leg a small hare, a white hare, who was also tired from running, came under his foot just to rest there. So this elephant thought, “If I put my foot on the earth this hare will be killed.” So he waited. He thought, “When this hare leaves, when he has rested, then I will move.”
But the hare would not move. The hare thought, “It is beautiful to be under the shade of the elephant, and there is no danger when the elephant is there, and the surrounding trees have not yet caught fire.” So he waited.
The hare did not move and, tired from standing on three legs, many times the elephant thought, “Crush this hare and move.” But then an idea came to his mind: “As I love my life this hare also loves his life. If I am escaping for my life and I am afraid of death this hare is also afraid of death.”
So he waited and died waiting there, because the fire came nearer and nearer and the tree caught fire. He waited for the hare and the hare would not move, so the elephant died standing on three legs. Buddha said, “Because of that awareness I was born as a man. The elephant changed into another being – man.” And he goes on relating many stories about his past.
You have also been in many spaces, many types of bodies – sometimes a tree, sometimes a bird, sometimes an animal. Hindus say that there are eight hundred and forty million types of existence, lives, and a man is born only when he has passed through eight hundred and forty million spaces. In the beginning Westerners used to laugh about this – such a great number! There seemed no possibility that eight hundred and forty million life forms exist. But now biologists say that this is almost the exact number, almost exactly this many species exist. And this is a miracle! How could Hindus fall upon this number?…because they had no biological research, they had known no Darwin, no Huxley. They must have come to this number through some other way. They say that they have come to this number through those who have remembered their past lives – Buddhas, Mahaviras, who could remember all the past lives.
Eight hundred and forty million is a very big number. And that’s why Hindus say that once you are born a man, don’t waste this life, because it is so precious, you have struggled for it for so long, for millions of lives you have waited for it. And for what are you wasting it – food, drink, sex? Eight hundred and forty million lives spent waiting for this life, and then wasting this life in futile things!