2021-05-11 Stories - The Sky Is Falling
3:37PM May 11, 2021
Good day everyone. This week, for these little Dharma talks, I'm telling stories – Buddhist stories. Some of these stories contain wonderful teachings and messages. Some of them are like Aesop's Fables – kind of wisdom fables.
There is one that I'm fond of, partly because I've taught it a lot to children. And sometimes in telling the story to children, I've had them act it out. There's a lot of running around – and sometimes yelling – that goes along with it. So I'll tell you this story, but please don't take it as just a children's story. Some of these stories are of tremendously great value. And this one in particular, I think, applies to a lot that has been happening in the United States with fake news, fear, anger, and things like that.
It is one of the Jataka Tales. It's one of the classic canonical stories, fables, that are purported to be the past life stories of the Buddha, when he was an animal. He is the wise animal in these stories.
In this story, there is a rabbit. The rabbit is not the Buddha – the Buddha's coming. It is a nice, comfortable day – middle of the day – and the rabbit decides to take a nap underneath a tree. He falls asleep and is contentedly sleeping, napping. Everything is fine in the universe. Then, suddenly, something large falls on the ground right next to the rabbit. Clunk! Boom! Bang! And the rabbit wakes up with a jolt and concludes that the sky is falling.
The rabbit jumps up and runs along yelling, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" He comes across other rabbits. And the other rabbits say, "Why are you running?"And he says, "Run, run, because the sky is falling!" So the other rabbits join him, and they run into more rabbits. And – the same story – more rabbits are running and they're all yelling out, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
Then they come across a group of deer, and the deer say, "What are you doing?" And the rabbits say, "The sky is falling! Run. Run." And first one deer begins to run. Then the whole herd of deer begins to run. And they're all yelling, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" And they go along further.
They come across rhinoceroses, and the rhinoceroses say, "What are you doing?" "Well, the sky is falling! You have to run! Run for safety!" So first one rhinoceros, then many rhinoceroses begin running, and by this time, the ground is shaking because there is so much weight and so many animals are running, afraid of the falling sky.
And then they come across elephants, and pretty soon there is a huge herd of elephants, pounding against the ground, shaking the ground. And everyone yelling frantically, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" They're heading to a big cliff. They are beside themselves in their fear. They don't even know where they are going. They are heading toward the cliff, and they are all going to fall right off.
But, towering above this cliff, on another cliff – on a kind of mountain top – is a great lion. The lion in this story is the Buddha. And the lion looks down and sees what's going on. He sees the danger that all these animals are in. So, with a giant leap, the lion leaps down in front of the charging animals and roars, "Stop!" All the animals screech to a halt in front of the lion. And the lion says to them calmly, "What is going on here?"
And the elephant says, "Well, the sky is falling! The sky is falling!" And the lion says, "Well, who told you that?" "Well, the rhinoceroses told me that." So the lion asked the rhinoceroses as well, "Who told you that?" "Well, the deer told me that." Asking the deer, the deer said, "The rabbits." Asking the rabbits, the rabbits all then turn around and point to the first rabbit, "That's the one who told us." And the lion said to that rabbit, "Where did you get the idea that the sky is falling?" And the rabbit said, "Well, there was this loud bang, something falling right next to me." And the lion said, "Well, take us there."
And so with some trepidation, the rabbit led the whole large gathering of animals and the lion back underneath the tree. It happened to be a mango tree. And lying on the ground next to where the rabbit had napped was a mango. It was a mango that had fallen off the tree and landed right next to the head of the rabbit. So the lion pointed that out, and said, "There's no sky falling, just a mango." So everyone relaxed and went back to their different activities.
So this story is about not running from what we're afraid of. It's about taking a good look to investigate: What is really happening here? Ask yourself this very important question: From where have I learned this – some rumor, some idea? What is the source of that? Then, what is the source of that?
The idea is understanding the source of our information. Is it just our opinion, like it was for the rabbit, I guess? A wild guess? Is it rumor? Is it what we've heard from someone else? We don't really know for ourselves, but we have heard, "Oh, I've heard a story. This is how it is out there."
And then, if fear is triggered, if anger is triggered? If it's something we've seen and seen directly, maybe it's reasonable. But if it is many steps removed from the original, aren't we becoming like the herds of animals running toward a cliff? Aren't we starting to create realities – creating worldviews, understandings, enemies, scenarios, and doomsday ideas, which we're running from and are preoccupied with – so that we lose our sensibilities?
And who is going to be the lion who stops us, who says "Stop!"? Let's go back and look – really take a good look or investigate what is really happening here. Let's follow the steps back. Probably, there is not going to be a lion or a Buddha who is going to jump in front of us.
But the Buddha, for us these days, represents our own capacity to say "Stop" – a real healthy stopping. Stopping our running away. Stopping running in circles. Stopping our spinning out. Really stop. And turn and look at what is happening. Turn and look towards the danger – if it is appropriate to look at it, to look towards our fear.
Courage is needed in Buddhist practice to stop and look at what we are afraid of. To stop and look at what we are angry at. To really look. What is really going on here? What is the real source of my reactivity, my reaction?
Recently, I was somewhat angry with someone – maybe mildly – but it was kind of an annoyance or irritation. And I stopped to take a look at it. And I realized, very quickly, that a huge percentage of how I was irritated or annoyed had to do with the stories I was making up about situation, not about the actual situation. I didn't actually have all the information about what was happening. I was guessing. And then the guess, making a picture of what it was. And then I was reacting to my own picture, not to the person. Then I realized, "Oh. It is not the other person I have to contend with. I have to contend with myself." I stopped, and looked, and saw. "Where is it?" And found it in myself.
So you have the ability to stop. You have the ability to then turn, look, and see what is really the source of this. Where is the beginning of this? Maybe it was just a mango that fell on the ground. To support this ability to stop and take a good look, you have your breathing. Have a habit of coming back and just breathing with a situation. Breathing – not to deny anything or turn away from anything, but breathing consciously – that gives us patience. It gives us a little bit of room – breathing room, space – for the mind to look, investigate and see what is really going on. We don't have that if we're caught up in all the animals of our mind, spreading rumors to each other, spinning out, with the whole zoo of our mind starting to race and run toward the cliff. Stop. Take a look.
So, the sky is falling. If you think that is the case, stop and take a good look at where that idea came from. Maybe you will find instead – yes, maybe – that there is a sweet, ripe, mango waiting for you. Some treasure, some sweetness, something delicious and wonderful that is waiting for you if you really look deeply at the situation, including yourself.
So thank you, and we'll continue storytelling tomorrow.