The Story of Pan Ku

At the beginning of time only Chaos existed. The chaotic universe had the shape of an egg, when the giant Pan Ku appeared out of nowhere. While he slept, he began to grow. His head became a huge globe, and his limbs legs grew broad and elongated until they reached unimaginable dimensions. Then, one day, Pan Ku awoke and his enormous eyes blinked open, but all he could see was darkness and disorder. In a fit of annoyance, he lifted his mountain of a fist and smashed the egg of chaos into a myriad of countless pieces. The shattered fragments of chaos floated gently apart. The pieces that were "yang" (those which were light and bright and hot) flew upward and became the sky. The pieces that were "yin" (those which were hard and dark and cold and heavy) dropped downward to form the earth. Pan Ku drew himself to his fullest height and stood between them. His feet were planted firmly on the ground and his immense head supported the dome which was the heavens. Between the two, the giant Pan-Ku continued to grow about three meters (ten feet) each day, increasing the distance between the sky and the Earth. He stood there holding the sky and earth apart for eighteen thousand years and, all the time, the sky rose up higher and higher and the earth became thicker and heavier, until finally they set in their places. During this time, Pan Ku carved the universe into a pleasing shape. When Pan Ku was finally satisfied with the appearance of the earth and was comfortable that the celestial spheres were fixed and firm, he set a massive sky-supporting mountain at each of the four corners of the world. (which is why China has four holy mountains) After 18,000 years Pan-Ku died. His breath became the white, fluffy clouds that sailed across the sky and also became the winds that swept the earth, keeping it fresh and sweet. His booming voice turned into the thunder. His eyes lived on as the moon and the sun, and his blood flowed into all the waters of the world--the oceans, the seas, the lakes, and the rivers. Pan Ku's skin and hair became the plants and the trees, while his bones and teeth dissolved into metals, minerals and precious and cinnabar, jade and diamonds, pearls and rubies, iron and salt. So glorious did Pan Ku's world become, that the gods deigned to leave paradise and visit the earth. One visitor, the dragon goddess Nu Kua, was dissatisfied. The earth was certainly beautiful but there was something missing. It seemed lonely. Nu Kua knelt upon the ground and scooped up a lump of yellow clay. She toyed with it for a long while, tapping it with her curved dragon's claws, rubbing it into a ball in the palms of her hands, squeezing it...and pressing it...and molding it. She shaped a head with a broad brow, two eyes, a straight nose and a smiling mouth--much like her own. But, instead of bestowing a replica of her own sinuous, serpentine body upon the tiny figure, she sculpted a torso, two arms and a pair of legs. She put the little clay doll carefully on the ground and breathed a cloud of warm, heavenly incense over it. Suddenly, the small arms flexed, the minuscule head swiveled, the tiny legs kicked out and the figure began to dance. Gathering more clay, Nu Kua made another figure...and then another...until the earth was full of people. For a while, she sat entranced as she watched her creations explore the world around them, but soon it was time for Nu Kua to return to her own universe. She was reluctant to leave, but had one final task to perform before she was compelled to go. Although Nu Kua might be immortal, her small artifacts were not. They were made of clay and would eventually age, wear out and then die. So, she lifted them up, two by two, and whispered into their ears, instructing them, very delicately, in the art and purpose of marriage. Then, confident that the human race would now be able to perpetuate itself, she flew home to her magnificent palace in the sky.

Chinese Astrological Signs

Once upon a time the Emperor in Heaven called for a race amongst all the animals in creation. The rules were that on a particular day all the animals had to run a particular course and the winners of the race - the 12 fastest animals - would be immortalized as constellations in the skies and in the 12-year astrological cycle. The faster animals like the dragon thought they had it in the bag. Otoh, some animals are not so fast but very clever. And some animals are not so fast and not so clever but diligent and hard working. The Rat and the Cat went to the Ox with a plan. They knew that the faster animals would likely be over-confident and lazy and sleep in, so they proposed that the three of them start out on the race course at the break of dawn. The Ox agreed. He carried the Rat and the Cat on his back, methodically plodding along the course. By the time the other animals were starting to wake up, he was already mostly done with the course. There only remained a river to cross. Just as the Ox was in the deepest part of the river, smack dab in the middle, the Rat pushed the Cat off the Ox's back. The Ox continued on, not even noticing while the Cat struggled in the water. By that time the other animals had started the race and the faster ones were zipping along. But it was too late; the Ox had to great a lead. He headed towards the finish line and just as he was about to cross it and would have been the first animal, the Rat leaped off the Ox's nose, making him the winner. The Ox came in second. The cat struggled in the water. The Dragon got distracted by the sun and went to chase it. The Tiger zoomed past the struggling Cat, across the river and through the finish line. Tiger was third. Rabbit was fourth. The Cat continued to struggle in the water (they are not the best swimmers, after all). The Dragon suddenly remembered he was in a race and zipped past the finish line. Dragon was fifth, followed by what Chinese call the "Little Dragon," Snake. Snake was sixth. After that, Horse and Sheep swam past the half-drowned Cat and came in seventh and eighth. The poor Cat wailed in despair as she clawed at the water, making very slow headway towards the shore. All the while, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig swam passed her. They were ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth. Finally, she made it to dry land and ran as fast as she could across the finish line. But it was too late. The twelve animals had already been decided. And that is why, there is no Cat in the Chinese constellations. And that is also why, Cats chase Rats whenever they see them up to this day.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?" The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant. "When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?' "Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush. "Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter. "Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene. "Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus." Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim For preacher and monk the honored name! For, quarreling, each to his view they cling. Such folk see only one side of a thing.

The Poisoned Arrow

(from the Culamalunkya-sutta) There was once a man named Malunkyaputta, who had heard the Buddha preach the Dharma and been moved to take up Buddhist practice. However, one afternoon, Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, greeted him and said: "Sir, when I was alone meditating, these thoughts occured to me: There are these problems that the Blessed One has not explained. Namely, 1) is the universe eternal or not eternal?, 2) is the universe finite or infinite?, 3) is the soul the same as the body or are they two different things?, 4) does the Buddha exist after death or does he not exist after death?, 5) does the Buddha simultaneously exist and not exist or does he simultaneously not exist and not not-exist? The Blessed One has not explained these problems to me, and that bothers me. I will go to the Blessed One and ask him about these things. If the Blessed One explains these things to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If the Blessed One does not explain these things to me, then I will go look for someone else who might. So if the Blessed One knows the answers to these questions let him explain them to me now. If the Blessed One does not know the answers to these questions, then let him say that he doesn't know." The Buddha replied to Malunkyaputta, 'Did I ever say to you, "Malunkyaputta, if you come lead the holy life under me I will explain these questions to you?"' "No, Sir." 'Then, Malunkyaputta, did you say to me, "Sir, I will lead the holy life under you if you explain these questions to me?"' "No, Sir." "So under these circumstances, who is refusing whom? 'Malunkyaputta, if anyone says, "I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions," he may die with these questions unanswered. Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him a physician. Suppose the man then says to the physician, "I will not allow you to remove this arrow until I have learned who shot me: the age, the occupation, the birthplace, and the motivation of the person who wounded me. I will not allow you to remove this arrow until I have learned the kind of bow with which I was shot, the type of bowstring used, the type of arrow, what sort of feather was used on the arrow, and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made." That man would die before having learned all this. In exactly the same way, anyone who should say, 'I will not follow the teaching of the Buddha until the Buddha has explained all the multiform truths of the world' - that person would die before the Buddha had explained all this."


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative