Sunday, July 12, 2009

Buddha, Elephant and Monkey

Recently, during our visit to the family in Ubon, I noticed at several temples that we visited, that there were frequently images or statues of and elephant and a monkey bowing before the Buddha image.

Curious, and having no idea of the symbolism, I got to googling. I found this article, quoted below, explaining the symbolism/significance of this representation of the Buddha.

...Once the Buddha felt really sad at the bickering going on between the monks at his monastery. In spite of all his teachings, in spite of the fact that his followers were basically good people who wanted sincerely to be on the Path, if there was one lot that wanted this -- the others wanted that. If there was one group that believed strongly in something, there would be others who believed something quite different. If one lot perceived things one way -- why, then, of course others perceived it in quite the opposite way. If some people were satisfied with something -- you can be sure there was an equal number who were not!

The people were human. The Buddha was human (something we tend to forget). Growing quite sad with all of this discord, he told them he was leaving the place for a while to allow them to find their own way to sort out their issues, and smiled gently as Ananda, his close disciple, wailed, "But, how?"

He left to live in solitude in the forest.

The forest was silent, the forest was peaceful; the forest was also cold. The Buddha climbed halfway up a small hill and found a sheltered cave near a small pool that provided a source of water for drinking and bathing, even though the water was icy cold.

As news of the Buddha's presence spread among the forest creatures, the birds and animals began to come by to breathe in his holy presence -- and yes, to worship the Holy One, as only they really knew how.

Among the creatures of the forest, a wise old elephant noticed how cold the water in the pool was, and made it his task every evening to roll down a huge rock from the very top of the hill, after it had been heated by the rays of the sun. Pushing and shoving mightily, he got it to finally end up -- SPLASH -- in the little pool near the Buddha's cave, where it warmed the water for the Lord Buddha's bath.

Then, each morning, with great effort he pushed and pushed, his mighty forehead against the huge rock, to get it back up to the top of the hill, so it would get heated by the sun again. Day after day, he rolled the huge hot rock downhill into the pool, bowing to announce to the Buddha that the task was done.

Monkey noticed all of this as he jumped around all over the place. Monkey too loved Lord Buddha. He too wanted to show his love and make an offering. So he went off swinging and leaping, climbed up a tree, snatched a good bit of a large honeycomb, fleeing the angry buzzing bees, and almost fell over Lord Buddha as he made a bumbling-tumbling bow before him, waving the dripping honeycomb in an awkward but joyous offering.

Lord Buddha smiled. Then Lord Buddha gently shook his head. "No," he said to Monkey, "I know you mean well, but to squeeze honey from that will kill the bees still inside. We cannot harm them.' And he instructed Monkey to leave the comb next to the tree from which he had broken it off, so that those bees could rejoin their hive...
This is the monkey and elephant at the base of a hill I climbed in Chaiyaphum. Up the hill there was a temple that can be seen from far away...I just had to get up there to see the temple and get an early morning view of the surrounding area...Pictures of that soon.Here is the same pair at the feet of Buddha at สวนรุขชาติน้ำตกวังก้านเหลือง the Wang Kan Luang Arboretum in Lopburi.Notice in the pictures of the monkey, he indeed does appear to be offering Buddha some honey comb. And there is also a rock near the elephant statues!The article mentioned above does also mention that there is a Buddha image for each day of the week. I believe this would explain some of the other images I have seen!

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