The Starving Tiger – from Jataka Tale #1


Born in a past life Buddha was born as a brahmin in a wealthy family. As a Bodhisattva, the Buddha chose to renounce a life of privilege. He became a beloved teacher, living a simple life in a forest retreat. One day, he was walking with a disciple up a mountain path to find a suitable place to practice.  As they passed a ravine, they heard the anguished roar of a tiger.

Far below, they saw a weak and starving mother tiger who had just given birth. Crazed with hunger, she was eyeing her tiny cubs as food. Her desperate hunger was about to overcome her natural love and care for her offspring.

Quickly, the Bodhisattva sent his student off in search of something to feed the tiger. The Wise One knew, however, that food was scarce and that feeding the flesh of one helpless animal to another would only prolong the cycle of suffering. Instead, he acknowledged the benefit of using his own body to prevent the tiger from devouring her young ones. With that thought, he cast himself off the cliff into the ravine below.

“Two things alone cause people to ignore the suffering of others: attachment to pleasure and the inability to give aid. But if I cannot feel pleasure while another being suffers, and if I have the power to help, how can I ignore them?”

This teaching is about generosity. What does it have to do with Buddha’s previous life? In Buddhism, Buddha did not become Buddha suddenly, but very slowly. That means in his previous life and lives he practiced the Six Perfections all the time. So these stories tell us how Buddha perfected the Six Perfections and this one is particularly about generosity.

When we talk about generosity and being generous with your wealth and virtue we also talk finally about something particularly that you own: your own body, right, a very high level practice of generosity.

Demo Rinpoche, Jewel Heart Ann Arbor – Jataka Tales teaching – January 10, 2021

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