Buddha used to tell a story…
A man came across a tiger in the fields. The man started to run away and the tiger came after him. The man reached a huge abyss. There was no way ahead, so he climbed over the edge of the cliff, caught hold of the roots of a wild shrub and hung there over the abyss. The tiger reached him and started sniffing around from the top of the cliff. When the trembling man looked down, he saw another tiger standing at the bottom of the valley ready to devour him. And then he saw two rats – one black one and one white one – slowly gnawing away at the shrub roots. At that very moment the man saw a very ripe and juicy fruit on the branches of the shrub. Supporting himself against the root with one hand, the man reached out and plucked the fruit with the other. The fruit was very tasty!
Please explain this story to us.
The story is even older than Buddha, but the meaning that Buddha gave to it was entirely his own. Both his meaning and the older meaning are worth understanding. The story represents the essence of Hindu thinking. But Buddha gave it a totally new meaning, and that gave the story a completely new dimension. The way Buddha defined the story is really unique.
So first we will look into the story from the Hindu point of view. That has its own significance. And then we will also be able to see how the same symbol can become the basis for two different viewpoints. If our way of looking changes, then what we are looking at also changes. The world is in our vision, not in the objects themselves. The way the world is perceived depends entirely on the one who is looking at it.
The basis of Hindu thinking is that the world is maya – illusion. The happinesses found in it are ephemeral, they are not real; one moment they are here, the next moment they are gone. Death will wipe clean the slate of life, and in fact it is doing so each moment. Those two rats, the black one and the white one, are day and night: they are eating away at the root of life. All the time we are living we are dying too; the death process begins with birth itself. No sooner is a child born than it begins to die – the two rats have begun gnawing into its life. The infant’s roots have hardly begun to develop, yet already their ending has begun. Here, life and death are together. Birth is one step, and death is the very next step – so what we call our birthday is also our deathday. Yes, there may be a certain distance in between – seventy years, or even one hundred years – but the actual distance still involves only two steps.
Birth and death are really of the same nature. Hindus say that whatever is born will die. So whoever can see deeply will see death within birth itself. Hence birth is not really a happy event – or, if it is, then death is not to be mourned over. That you rejoice over birth and weep over death simply shows that you are blind.
Time is eating away at your roots, and with every moment that passes there is a little less of you. And Hindus say that there is no way to save yourself; nothing in the world can help you because the world is only an extension of death. No matter where you run, no matter where you hide, death will find you out. Mind thinks it will be able to find some way to be saved – some shelter, some security, some mountain in which to hide. So the mind creates walls made of wealth, prestige and position – or knowledge, science and technology – and thinks it is safe.