The Noble Ibex: A Jataka Tale
Once upon a time, the Buddha was born as a magnificent ibex. The forest in which he lived was far from civilization and therefore tranquil, inhabited by many creatures both small and large. Along the banks of clear, babbling brooks were found rare flowers, which blossomed nowhere else on earth. Trees towered above the lush undergrowth and kept the forest cool and mild.
The noble ibex that lived in this forest, the Former Buddha, was as beautiful as he was sleek and swift. He had the body of an animal but the intelligence and empathy of a human being. So deep was his kindness for all living creatures that he often trod delicately so as not to crush anything. He ate nothing but the tips of grasses already gone to seed.
As this region was renowned for its great beauty, hunting parties would at times make long journeys to reach it. On one such occasion, a king and his friends camped on the edge of the forest, hoping to bag large amounts of game before the end of their stay. One morning, the king set out on horseback with his small group following him. Not long after, the king caught a glimpse of the splendid ibex and wanted to hunt him down. Snapping his reins across his horse's neck, the king dashed away in chase, leaving the group far behind.
When the ibex heard the quick pounding of hooves, he turned and saw the king swiftly bearing down upon him. The king's bow was drawn taut and an arrow ready in the sites. Although the ibex could have fought the king's attack, he chose to avoid violence, even in self-defense. So the ibex spun around and took off with great speed towards the dense center of the forest, confident the king could not catch him. Through the thick forest he sprang, still pursued by the king, but the distance between them was increasing. The ibex came to a familiar, small, deep chasm and leapt over it effortlessly. But the king's horse, coming to that same rocky cliff, abruptly pressed his weight backwards and refused to jump. The king had been watching the ibex, not the forest floor. So when the horse stopped with a jolt, the surprised king fell forward, headlong, into the chasm.
After a time, the ibex heard no hoof beats in pursuit. He slowed and twisted his head around to examine the situation behind him. There in the distance he spotted the rider-less horse at the chasm's edge and correctly guessed what had happened to the king. A sudden welling of kindness overcame him. He anticipated that the king must be in severe pain, surely having broken a number of bones in the fall. He knew also that the king would never survive long in this forest because there were many tigers and other beasts.
The ibex walked up to the chasm edge and saw the king far below, moaning and writhing in pain. He no longer looked upon the king as his enemy, but felt his suffering keenly. The Former Buddha gently inquired, "I hope your majesty has no serious wounds? Might the pain of your injuries be diminishing by now?"
The king looked up at the ibex in utter astonishment. He felt a dreadful pang of remorse for his behavior towards this noble animal. Oh, how the king felt his shame!
"You see, your Excellency," comforted the Ibex, "I am no wild devil to be hunted for sport. I am just a peaceful creature living within the bounds of this beautiful forest."
"Oh!" blurted the king. "It is I who acted as a beast, not you! Can you ever forgive me?" he asked. "My physical pain right now," continued the king, "is far less than the pain I feel for having threatened a noble creature as yourself."
"Sire," responded the ibex, "let me help you out of your predicament. I can rescue you if you'll trust me." The ibex took the king's silence as a sign of goodwill and knew that the king would accept his help. He then searched for a boulder as heavy as a man and practiced lifting it. When he felt he could do it safely, without slipping, he made his way down the rocks beside the king. "If you mount me as you would your horse, your Excellency, I believe I can leap out of the chasm with you on my back," offered the ibex.
The king followed these directions and held on as best he could. In an instant the ibex leapt in a great arc onto the cliff rim. There the king found his waiting horse but was so overtaken by the goodness of the ibex he could not leave. "What can I do to repay you?" begged the king. "If you would come to my palace, we would see that your every need was met. I can't bear to think of you left in this forest with hunters in pursuit. Please, please come back with me," insisted the king.
"Sire, do you think I, who am so contented in the forest, could really adjust to that? I love nothing better than to live here, in peace. But there is one great favor I would ask of you."
"Anything," said the king.
"I ask that you give up hunting for sport. You now realize that all creatures want happiness and security. Can it be right to do to them what you yourself would despise? A true king," proclaimed the ibex, "will gain his people's love by showing great goodness, not by showing power."
The grateful king agreed to the request. "Now, let me show you the way back to safety," suggested the ibex. "Mount your horse and I will guide you home to your camp."
The king soon returned to his palace, and the ibex disappeared into the shelter of the forest. But forevermore, the king lived by the wise words of the noble ibex, the Former Buddha. He forbade hunting for sport throughout his kingdom's domain. He protected his people, but no longer waged costly wars against nearby countries. His kingdom flourished. And thus, the good king was greatly loved and respected by his people as the gentlest and wisest of all kings.