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Is A Sheep As Good As A Lamb?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

By Shravasti Dhammika
A popular story in the life of the Buddha and retold in Arnold's famous poem concerns the Buddha and the injured lamb. The Buddha came across a shepherd driving a flock of sheep along a road. Trailing behind the rest of the flock was a lamb with an injured foot. The Buddha picked it up and then asked the shepherd where he was taking the animals, and he replied that he was taking them to Rajagaha for a great sacrifice which King Bimbisara was holding. The Buddha carried the lamb all the way to Rajagaha, met the king, preached to him about the futility of sacrifices, the sanctity of life and the importance of kindness to all being, and the king cancelled the sacrifice.
The story is a popular one, especially in Sri Lanka, where it is often depicted on Vesaka cards and occasionally even appears in temple wall paintings. I have heard it being taught in Buddhist Sunday schools and once I attended a kids' art competition where the winning painting was of the Buddha holding a lamb. Certainly it’s a lovely story and the image of a holy person, any holy person, tenderly holding an animals is a particularly poignant one. The question is 'Where does this story come from?' Well, despite pretty much having been incorporated into the Buddha's biography, the earliest version of the story comes from…The Light of Asia. It is an invention of Sir Edwin Arnold. And where did he get it from? Who knows! But I would suspect that when he created it he was very much influenced by the Christian idea of the 'good shepherd' and those popular images of Jesus holding a lamb. That he should graft a Christian concept/image onto a Buddhist narrative to make it more familiar to a Western readership, was very skillful of him. Less laudable is the fact that many traditional Buddhists know so little of their own sacred scriptures that they actually think something written by an Englishmen in just 130 years ago is from those sacred scriptures.
If you would like to read The Light of Asia have a look at

I am very happy to inform you that the whole of my book A Guide to Buddhism A to Z is now on the internet in Serbo-Croatian due to the diligence and dedication of my friend Branko. Please have a look at http://www.yu-budizam.com/adoz/index.html The English is available at www.buddhismatoz.com Anyone want to do it in Hindi, French, Finnish, Spanish or Swahili?



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