An enthusiast was explaining about Buddhism to a friend, and told him, ‘Perhaps I can best give the spirit of it by one of the traditional stories. The bodhisattva – that is, the Buddha-to-be – was walking past a mountain, pondering the great questions, when he heard a mighty voice crying, “All beings must die.” It seemed that heaven and earth were resounding with the words.
‘The Buddha-to-be had already realized this truth in his own meditations, and he looked round to see where the voice came from. As his gaze turned to the mountain, the same great voice cried, “This is the law of all existence.”
‘The Buddha-to-be perceived that the voice came from the top of the mountain; he climbed it, to find that it was an extinct volcano. At the bottom of the crater, deep like an abyss, was coiled a huge dragon. As the Buddha-to-be looked down on it, the dragon opened its great mouth and roared, “There is a way beyond the law of extinction.” Then it was silent.
‘The Buddha-to-be shouted down, “You have declared three truths, and I have realized these in my own meditations. But I could go no further than this. Is there another truth, is there a fourth truth, which you have not declared?”
“There is,” cried the dragon, “but I am hungry and will not declare it unless I am fed. If you will throw yourself down here to me, I will roar out the fourth truth as you pass through the air, and you will know it for that instant.”
‘So great was the Buddha-to-be’s desire for truth, that he at once threw himself down, and as he fell, the dragon opened his great mouth and roared the last truth, the fourth and final truth. On hearing it, the Buddha-to-be became a Buddha, but his body fell into the dragon’s mouth. As it did so, the dragon changed into the form of a god, and caught the Buddha. That was how the Buddha learnt the final truth.’
‘How wonderful,’ said the friend, ‘but tell me, what was that fourth and final truth to obtain which the Buddha-to-be was ready to sacrifice his life?’
‘Oh. Well, er, I don’t remember it just at the moment. But isn’t it a beautiful story?’
© Trevor Leggett – The Fourth Truth