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Bhutanese tapestry
   
Bhutanese Tapestry    

Once upon a time an elephant came upon a giant tree in the forest by the river bank. He rested under its shade for a rest.

Soon a monkey came to rest there also. The elephant said, "This is my tree. I found it first." The monkey replied, "Do you see any fruit on this tree?" "No" said the elephant. The monkey said triumphantly, "Ah! I was here before you. I ate up the fruits on this tree before you got here." The elephant then bowed to the monkey, "OK, you're my big brother, since you came here first." "Wait a minute" said the rabbit that hopped by, "When I saw this tree, it was just a sapling with only a few branches and certainly not any fruit. So I was here before both of you." Then the elephant and monkey bowed to the rabbit: "OK, you're our big brother, since you were here first." Just then, they heard "Ha! Ha! Ha!" from a partridge on the treetop: "This tree wouldn't have sprouted if I didn't spit out the seed from a fruit I had eaten. So I was here before all of you." Then the elephant, monkey, and rabbit, all bowed to the partridge, "OK, you're truly our big brother, since you planted this very tree." Then they decided to share the tree together in peaceful harmonyó enjoying the beauty of the tree's fragrance, the nourishment of the tree's fruits, and the bounty of the tree's shade. Other animals in the forest often see them together with the partridge on top of the rabbit who is held up by the monkey who rides on top of the elephant. Henceforth, they were called "the four harmonious brothers", and by their example, peace reigned throughout the jungle.

In one of the Buddha's previous lifetimes, in the forest of Kashika, there lived four noble beings - a bird, a monkey, a rabbit, and an elephant. The four, who drank at the same spring, soon became friends. One day they decided that it would be proper to show the greatest respect for the eldest among them. To determine their respective ages, each one recalled the height of a nearby nyagrota tree when he had first seen it.

The elephant said, “I must be the oldest.  I remember that when I was born the shadow of the tree fell across my body.”

The monkey said, “I must be the older than the elephant.  When I was born the tree had the same size as me.”

The rabbit said, “I must be older than either of you.  When I was born, the seed of the tree was just sprouting.  I took a young leaf and ate it.”

The partridge said, “I am older than any of you.  When I was born I ate the fruit of a tree south of this spring.  The seed of the nyagrota tree passed through my body as waste.  So I planted it.”  

The four then showed each other respect accordingly. The elephant placed the bird on the crown of his head, the rabbit on his neck, and the monkey on his back. Then the bird said, "Now we must keep the five basic disciplines throughout our lives." This they did, and to insure that all other beings did the same, the bird initiated all those with wings, the elephant initiated all those with fangs, the rabbit initiated all those with paws, and the monkey initiated all those with fur. Even today, these animals are depicted in Buddhist art as a portrait of harmony, especially in Buddhist monastery wall paintings.

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