A Buddhist Folktale

SL: Okay so, would you like to tell me your story?

QL: Sure. Um, okay so this is an old Buddhist story that I also heard from somebody else, I never read it so, I might mess it up a bit. Um so, in Buddhism um, a lot of us are vegetarians because, I think, many times killing is considered like the worst thing you can do, so the story is about this butcher whose job obviously is to slaughter animals and, um so one day he decides that he wants to change his ways, and um, he approaches a monk who passes by his village um to ask him if he can tag along to go see the Buddha with him. And this monk says, like ‘No, you’ve done so many bad things in your whole entire life, and you can’t come, like you don’t deserve it.’ So the butcher, um tears out his heart and he gives it to the monk and says like ‘Can you please bring this to the Buddha, and he’ll see that I mean what I say.’ So the monk takes it reluctantly, and on the way he uh, throws it out because he just doesn’t think it’s worth his time, and when he reaches the Buddha, um he is not accepted as much as the butcher. And um I guess the moral of the story is um, no matter how long you’ve been doing bad or how long you’ve been doing good it doesn’t matter, and like every action counts. Yeah, that’s the story.

SL: So who told you the story?

QL: Um, this older person in my poetic cinema class actually. Um she’s also Buddhist, and we were just telling stories.

SL: So what is your take on this story? Like what do you think of it?

QL: I think, in certain ways I question it, like ‘How did the Buddha know?’ and stuff like that, because I think um, Buddhism is not so much about gods as opposed to like teachers, so it’s kinda like this omniscient guy is kinda concerning to me, but I do, I am very interested in the idea of like, forgiveness. I agree that um, nobody’s beyond like, forgiveness or changing their ways, or rehabilitation, whatever.

SL: So is this story kind of related to like, the after life, since like the butcher wants to make amends so that he can die and be at peace? Like I don’t know how Buddhism works, so.

QL: Oh, um I think, in this way, yes, or um…although like I don’t think we believe in kind of like, an after life but there is kind of a, rebirth into this life again, so it’s to make amends with the life he’s lived and to live out the rest of his life doing things that he believes are good, and if he did believe in rebirth, I’m not sure I think some Buddhists don’t, then um, it would guarantee that in the next life he has on this world that it would be a better life.

Although this story is not one that can be directly related to ghosts, it does seem to have some similar themes. The tale centers around the idea of making amends for one’s wrong actions. In Western culture, this might be done so that one can be at peace in the afterlife, possibly to avoid being stuck in the realm of ghosts or suffering in hell. However, in Buddhist religion, beliefs are somewhat different, which is why I asked QL if this story is meant to be related to the afterlife. In learning that for Buddhists the afterlife is simply another life to live in this world, it was easier for me to understand the story. The butcher wants to be forgiven for his wrongdoings so that he is not haunted by them either in this life or any to come afterwards.

QL never implied that this story was spooky or strange, but to others not familiar with Buddhism it might be. The butcher tears out his heart so that he can be absolved of his sins by the Buddha. Although it never crossed QL’s mind, it might for someone else who hears the tale. One might understand this part of the story to mean that the butcher is now dead; he has killed himself in order to prove that he was a good man at heart. The purpose of the rest of this story could be seen as the butcher’s hopes of being forgiven and relieved, thus able to rest peacefully and not remain as a distraught soul on the earth. It is clear that the point of this story is to prove that one always has a chance to change his or her ways, whether that be for good or bad, but to other listeners, the story could have been taken as something much closer to the paranormal genre than to fables that teach a moral lesson.