In which, Chitragriva, the king of the pigeons, narrates the story of the tiger and the traveller, a tale of caution.
The Story of the Tiger and the Traveller.
Chitragriva, the king of the pigeons, began his story.
“Well, it was like this. Once when I was in the forests of the Deccan, I was looking for food. That’s when I noticed an old tiger. He was sitting on the banks of a pool. The tiger must have just had a bath, for he was still wet. He held some kusha grass in one hand. If you are unaware, the kusha grass is used for sacred rituals and pujas.
The tiger held the grass out for everyone to see and called out,
“Hello people! Look, I have a golden bangle. If you want it, get it. I have no use for the bangle.”
Hmm, if someone was to give you something so precious just like that, what would you do?
A little while later, a traveller came by. Imagine his surprise at the offer of the golden bangle. Let’s be honest, most of us would have been surprised and a little bit tempted. The traveller was too. He thought, “Oh, what smashing luck!” Immediately after, caution reared its head, “I better be careful. This looks a bit suspicious to me. You can’t get good things from bad things. Even nectar, which can save our lives, can kill if it’s mixed with poison.”
But free gold!! It was so tempting. So up popped another thought in his mind.
“Isn’t there always an element of risk in getting things we greatly desire? Hmm? If I want it badly enough, I must be ready to take that risk. Well, let me try and see what I can do.”
The traveller demanded, “Where’s your bangle? Show it to me!”
The tiger held out hand with the bangle.
But the man was still not convinced. “Okay, how can I trust you? You are a ferocious beast, after all!”
The tiger looked at the man calmly. Then it said,
“Hmmm! To be honest, I was a fierce creature in my younger days. I showed no mercy to any other living being, and killed people and animals, even cows, without hesitation. But the sad truth is the results of my actions caught up with me. Look at me! I’m all alone in this world. My wife and children are dead. Just when I was wandering aimlessly, I met a yogi. Fortunately he became my spiritual guru and my life changed. My guru’s words opened my eyes. He guided me to give up my former life and to follow dharma. He even advised me to give up my worldly possessions and to do charitable acts. Besides, have you noticed how old I am? I hardly have the teeth and claws to rip anything! This gold bangle is all I’ve left of all my worldly possessions. Here, you can have it. You look poor. It will probably do you more good, What use is the gold bangle to me anymore?”
He looked so blameless and pure. But the man’s resolve to be careful wavered. Could this really be the case? Can the tiger really have changed that much?
The tiger saw the doubt in the man’s eyes and shook his head gently.
“I don’t blame you. You see, it is the way of the world to doubt someone because of their background. They don’t value people for how they live; whether they help others and live with good morals. They’ll believe in someone who is more powerful, even if that person does many immoral things. My problem is that no one will trust me because of my past.”
The tiger closed his eyes and sighed at how unfair life was. His shoulders slumped and he looked down at the ground. Then, his piercing eyes measured the stranger as he continued, “I say! You look like a poor man. This gold bangle could make a big difference to you. Take it. After all, what is the point in giving charity to someone who is already wealthy? Ha? It makes sense to give medicines to a sick person, doesn’t it? What benefit would it be to give it someone who is healthy?” he questioned the traveller.
“But me, now, I’ve come to a place in my life where I can see that others value their lives as much as I value mine! I will work to keep others safe just as I would keep myself safe. And you know what? I have been learning to live with dharma that if I find something precious on the road, like diamonds or rubies, I’ll just ignore it all. What use are all these riches to me, a saintly spirit?”
The man’s face scrunched as he considered the tiger’s words. He thought,
“There is some truth to what the tiger says! We tend to think that a person who talks confidently, is rich, dresses well and comes from a powerful family, is always good. On the other hand, if the person is poor, not very educated, and is less sure of themselves, we don’t trust that person.”
The tiger pleaded with the traveller again, “Come, my dear man! Cross that pond and get over here. Take the bangle away from me so that I’ll be free to pray and meditate.”
The traveller was elated. Not only was he lucky to get a gold bangle for free, but he was also blessed to have met a great soul! With that thought he stepped into the pond and waded in.
Alas, he had not given much thought to the muddy bottom. The further he made his way in, the harder it was to pull his feet out. The tiger waited patiently until the man stopped, exhausted.
“Oh dear! My dear fellow! I thought you were sinking. Let me come and help you out of that muck.” The man was sure that he saw smile on the tiger’s face as it entered the pond. And then it struck the traveller that he’d been played for a fool. But it was a little too late,
“Oh, how stupid, stupid, I have been! I believed someone just because he talked about being good and doing charity. I believed his words and overlooked his nature. My I greed for something that was not mine made me place my trust in someone who was clearly pretending to be something he was not! It is my mistake.”
But there was nothing he could do but become the tiger’s dinner!”
Chitragriva turned to the other pigeons and said,
“This is why I said we must be careful! You see, the story of the tiger and the traveller has a lesson for us. The tiger may have killed the traveller but the man died because of his greed. The same thing can happen to us if we let our greed cloud our judgement!”
The other pigeons were not thrilled by Chitragriva’s caution. That happens, doesn’t it? Sometimes, we want to do something special. Then our friends and family advise us to think and plan before we start the new adventure. But we get impatient and get annoyed with them. Has that ever happened to you? So, what did the other pigeons do?
One of them argued with king Chitragriva. “Yea, yea! You can never enjoy anything can you? It is always ‘Be careful! Don’t do this! Don’t do that!’ If we keep listening to you, we’ll have to go hungry all the time! If you go looking for something bad, you’ll definitely find it. If you criticize and doubt everything, guess what? You’ll never be happy!”
The rest of the pigeons nodded and cooed. He is right! Chitragriva DOES find fault with everything. He is always looking for something to go wrong. They turned their back on their king and as one, flew down to feed the grains.
Oh, imagine their dismay when they found themselves trapped! That’s the trouble with greed. Even those who are wise can fall into traps because of their greed. The pigeons realized that their king had been right.
Click here to listen to other episodes of the Hitopadesha:
Episode 1: Hitopadesha: Introduction
Episode 3: Unity is Strength