Lions and Tigers


“All living beings have been Buddhas from the very beginning. It is like ice and water : apart from water no ice can exist.” Hakuin’s Meditation Song.

The most troublesome problem for human nature in any age is the question of reputation and profit. Its solution means the difference between ignorance and enlightenment, between sinking and swimming.

There are only two paths : to make use of reputation and profit as their master, or to be driven by them as their slave. Generally people take the second.

On this point there is an amusing story. A great tiger, the pride of a certain Zoo, died. The proprietor was greatly worried about the effect on the Zoo’s popularity, and finally evolved a plan to have the dead tiger stuffed and hire someone to get inside it and imitate a living tiger. It was difficult to find a man, but in the end by including in the salary a daily ration of two gallons of rice-wine, he got a drunken good-for-nothing to take on the job.

Every day this man got into the skin of the stuffed tiger and postured in the cage before the audience, occasion ally having a drink of the wine. One public holiday, the Zoo was full of spectators. There was a great crowd in front of the tiger and the lion in the next cage, and among them were two merry students. One remarked : ” Of course there is nothing as strong as a tiger.

The old poem says :

` A tiger-roar, the towering mountain, and the moon above ‘

and all that, and certainly this one is a splendid beast.” The other retorted : ” Don’t talk nonsense The lion is the King of the Beasts, isn’t he ? And the proverb says, too, that one roar from the lion makes all the animals quake, which settles it. The lion in this next cage is really magnificent.” In this way an argument began, and finally they appealed to the proprietor to pit the lion against the tiger in front of everyone, undertaking to indemnify him against any loss.

At this, the tiger was naturally terrified, but before he could do anything the connecting door between the cages was thrown open and the lion sprang furiously into the tiger’s cage. The spectators caught their breath. The tiger got to his feet, trembling. For a few moments the lion seemed to play with the tiger like a cat with a mouse. Then he sprang on the tiger and caught him by the ear, hissing into it :

” You needn’t tremble like that-I’m a two-gallon man too !

” Of course the story is a satire on present-day life ; aren’t people nowadays all like that underneath, if you pierce through the skin ? But if we look from the viewpoint of Hakuin’s phrase

” all living beings have been Buddhas from the very beginning,”

we find still another meaning in the parable. Lion and tiger, in different forms, they are pathetically exposed in cages before the public gaze. But within them there is always a noble human being. There are only two paths,

to live wearing the skin,

or to tear it off and live undisguised.

According to its owner’s heart, it is treasure Or it becomes an enemy,The yellow gold.

(Translated from a lecture by Setsusan Amakuki, a well-known modern Zen master.)


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