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Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
The parable of the "Six Animals and One Pillar" appears in a Buddhist scripture. This is a story that Shakyamuni told people when he preached in an area to the north of Shravasti in ancient India:
A man kept six animals in his house: a dog, a bird, a poisonous snake, a fox, a sisumara (a kind of crocodile), and a monkey. They were all tightly leashed to a single pillar of the house. They hated to stay inside, and each yearned to go to its favorite place. The dog longed for the village, the bird for the skies, the snake for the hole, the fox for the burrow, the sisumara for the sea and the monkey for the forest. Yet no matter how hard they struggled or strained, they were too securely tied to the pillar to be able to escape.
Shakyamuni Buddha continued:
The six animals represent our six senses or desires: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and consciousness. Desires insatiably demand objects. The eyes yearn for beautiful colors, the ears for pleasing voices, the nose for its favorite fragrances, the tongue for good tastes, the body for agreeable textures and the consciousness for self-satisfaction. Even though each of them vies with the others to gush forth, one will never be controlled by them if they are tightly tied to a pillar.
The single pillar, by the way, stands for a type of meditation. This was a way of practice taught in early sutras for purifying the body of the impurities caused by desires. However, the essence of Mahayana Buddhism is not to eliminate desires but to develop and establish a state of life which cannot be ruled by desires. To expand on the meaning of the above parable, we could say that the "single pillar" means a pillar of the mind which is never swayed by desire, just as a large tree is not shaken by a storm. Nichiren Daishonin states the same idea in one of his writings: "More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all." ("The Three Kinds of Treasure," WND-1, 851)My late teacher, Josei Toda, loved sake, but he used to say, "It's quite all right to drink sake; just don't let the sake drink you." What he meant by this is that one should be the master of one's own desires. related article The Poor Woman's Lamp In a letter Nichiren wrote 700 years ago in appreciation of the sincere offerings made by a devout woman named Onichi-nyo, there is a passage which reads: "A poor woman cut off her hair and sold it to buy oil [for the Buddha], and not even the winds sweeping down from Mount Sumeru could extinguish the flame of the lamp fed by this oil."
The same is true of money . . . Even though you may live in luxury, if you are a slave, day in and day out, to money or fame, then you will feel barren and cold inside. Instead, you yourself must be the "master" of your own life. In other words, you must conquer yourself, in the true sense of the word. I feel we have reached a time when each of us, as individuals as well as members of society at large, must seriously consider what we need to do in order to conquer our weaknesses.