Look! The Wild Geese Are Taking the Tortoise Away



The Wild Geese Are Taking the Tortoise Away

~ Adapted from The Mahīśāsaka Vinaya, Vol. 25 ~
~ Commented by Ven. Miu-King ~


Once upon a time,
There lived two merciful wild geese
On a mountain lakeside. 
They became close friends
With a petulant tortoise. 

On one occasion,
Serious drought persisted. 

Wild geese were worried:
“The lake is now drying up,
Our dear friend will suffer
An inevitable disaster.” 

They pondered how to help,
And soon came up with a wise idea. 

They said to the tortoise,
“This lake is drying up rapidly,
You have no way
To survive the drought. 

If you hold the middle of a stick
In the mouth,
And we each
Take one end of the stick
Into our beak,
Then we can carry you
To a place with ample water,
On condition
That you must not talk while flying.” 

The tortoise was deeply touched
By their friendship
And accepted their proposal. 

The next morning,
They set off for their new home. 

They were flying, and flying,
Over the lake, over the mound,
Over the country, over the town.

This, being a rare sight,
Caught the school kids’ eyes. 

So surprised, they shouted,
With their fingers pointing to the sky,
Wild geese are taking the tortoise away! 
Wild geese are taking the tortoise away!” 

In great anger,
The tortoise yelled back,
“NONE of your… busi…ness…!” 

In no time,
The poor tortoise lost the stick,
Fell directly to the ground,
And died!

──《彌沙塞部和醯五分律》 卷25

Buddha told this tale to illustrate the immediate effect of invectives.  Just as if one holds an axe in the mouth, simply one false move could cause him great harm or even death.  Similarly, with unwholesome speech like invectives, one would immediately experience mental distress, such as sorrow, grief and remorse, or even physical injury if the opponents fight back.  Yet, that is not the end of the story.  Using improper language or hurtful words toward others may result in great sufferings in the three lower realms in future lives. 

Buddha then said the verse,
“To praise what is reprehensible
Or to criticize what is commendable
Will result in great misery
In the end.”


Everyone desires happiness.  Everyone tries hard to pursue it.  Yet most people are still not happy.  According to Buddhism, practicing patience or forbearance is a crucial step to attain happiness.

When encountering adversities or difficulties in life, getting angry or irritated does you no good.  Prompt habitual reaction or complaining not only fails to solve the problem, but may very likely worsen the situation.  However, if you can practice patience, your mind becomes peaceful and calm.  As your mind is peaceful, people around you also experience the serenity, so their minds easily become peaceful, too.  In addition, as the mind remains calm, you see things more clearly, and you can make wise decisions and take wise action.  Being patient is indeed a very practical way to deal with conflicts.
One may question, “Practicing patience and forbearance sounds worthwhile and beneficial.  However, if you do not fight back when being offended, you may seem weak.  The fools may scorn you or even take advantage of you.  Therefore, patience and forbearance should not be applied unconditionally to every situation.”

In Mahā Prajna-Paramita Sastra, Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna clears up the doubt.  If you are unwilling to practice patience and remain calm for fear that the fools may think you surrender, you should think of the faults of doing so.  Because the fools scorn those who practice patience, while the sages look down on those who fight back.  If you count the cost, you would rather be despised by the fools than by the sages.  Because the fools scorn those who deserve praise, while the sages only berate those who deserve to be berated.  Thus, practicing patience is a wise decision.

Moreover, if you are unwilling to practice patience and behave impulsively just to prove you are not a coward; with this unyielding mind, whatever you say and whatever you do may very likely hurt others as well as yourself.  The unwholesome deed itself is demerit.  However, if you practice patience, your mind will remain gentle and peaceful.  You are actually protecting yourself as well as others from performing improper conduct.  The wholesome deed itself is great merit.  Therefore, practicing patience is a wise decision.

Furthermore, the Buddha said in the sutras that by perfecting the practice of patience and forgiveness, one would eventually obtain the thirty-two physical marks of the Buddha.  It is obvious that as soon as one gets angry, one’s face changes immediately and turns ugly.  However, if one practices patience, one’s face becomes serene right away, and this good karma will result in admirable looks in afterlives.  Therefore, practicing patience is a wise decision.

With the above reasons, one should practice patience without hesitation.

One may then question, “How could it be possible to bring the mind to a peaceful state if one simply forces himself to shut up and unconditionally endure all severe conflicts?”

Indeed, it would be difficult or even impossible to face all kinds of experiences in life by practicing patience without the support of practicing wisdom.  However, if you constantly practice wisdom and contemplate on impermanence and emptiness, you will gain the insight on non-self, seeing all phenomena as dependently originated; your attachment to the ego will be lessened gradually.  With the mind dwelling on emptiness, it then becomes easier to practice patience and forbearance toward all the pleasant and unpleasant conditions you may encounter.  Keep practicing constantly and diligently, your mind is bound to be peaceful.  Only when your mind is peaceful can you experience the inner happiness.

THE path taught by the Buddha is the only path to attain the genuine and lasting happiness.

Like a flame in the mind,
Burns out the forest of merits.
To follow the Bodhisattva’s path,
One must practice patience
And preserve the mental peace.