Four Harmonious Brothers

Originally told by the Buddha (circa 500 B.C.)
Found in canonical text Foundation of Discipline
('Dul-ba gzhi, Skt. Vinayavastu)
by blo bzang grags pa'i dpal (1357-1419),
Modern version by Dagyab Rinpoche,
Buddhist Symbols in Tibetan Culture
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1995, pp. 106-108

Web Links:
Tibetan authorship |
Bibliography |
Four Harmonious Friends
(text from Buddhist Symbols) |
Four Harmonious Brothers |
Story of TCCW Logo |
Grimm Brother's
Bremen Town Musicians
Buddhist Animal Symbolism:
Elephant, Monkey, Hare, Birds |

Peace: Four Harmonious Brothers

Retold by Peter Y. Chou

Once upon a time an elephant came upon a giant tree in the forest by the river bank. He rested under its shade for a rest. Soon a monkey came to rest there also. The elephant said, "This is my tree. I found it first." The monkey replied, "Do you see any fruit on this tree?" "No" said the elephant. The monkey said triumphantly, "Ah! I was here before you. I ate up the fruits on this tree before you got here." The elephant then bowed to the monkey, "OK, you're my big brother, since you came here first." "Wait a minute" said the rabbit that hopped by, "When I saw this tree, it was just a sapling with only a few branches and certainly not any fruit. So I was here before both of you." Then the elephant and monkey bowed to the rabbit: "OK, you're our big brother, since you were here first." Just then, they heard "Ha! Ha! Ha!" from a partridge on the treetop: "This tree wouldn't have sprouted if I didn't spit out the seed from a fruit I had eaten. So I was here before all of you." Then the elephant, monkey, and rabbit, all bowed to the partridge, "OK, you're truly our big brother, since you planted this very tree." Then they decided to share the tree together in peaceful harmony— enjoying the beauty of the tree's fragrance, the nourishment of the tree's fruits, and the bounty of the tree's shade. Other animals in the forest often see them together with the partridge on top of the rabbit who is held up by the monkey who rides on top of the elephant. Henceforth, they were called "the four harmonious brothers", and by their example, peace reigned throughout the jungle.

Notes: I read this story in Dagyab Rinpoche's Buddhist Symbols in Tibetan Culture the day before attending Arjia Rinpoche's second lecture on "Tibetan Sacred Arts" at Stanford University on Monday, March 17, 2003, at the Faculty Club's Gold Lounge. Arjia Rinpoche used the "Four Brothers" as his logo for the Tibetan Center for Compassion & Wisdom (TCCW). His telling of the story was more lucid than the version in Dayab Rinpoche's book or any of the versions posted on the Internet. For this, I'm deeply grateful for this wonderful tale of peace & harmony. The image above was scanned from Buddhist Symbols with blemishes and specks removed in Adobe Photoshop. The grayscale image was rendered blue-cyan to portray the pervasive blue sky that symbolize a mind that is expansive and enlightened to embrace all mankind as harmonious brothers and sisters.

Symbolism: Dagyab Rinpoche suggested that the pyramid hierarchy of bird, rabbit, monkey, elephant "represents the different generations, the social classes, or simply the cooperation of different types of individuals." If Buddha told this story, he's probably not referring to India's four caste systems or to age seniority. The Blessed One is speaking about spirtual awakening. I recall Plato's charioteer who reins the horses to keep his chariot in perfect balance and harmony. That is, when our body (elephant), mind (restless monkey), and emotion (hare in the moon) are balanced, our soul (bird) is open to the spirit (Tree of Life). In the song The Twelve Days of Christmas: "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree." Let this first gift be a reminder of the Bird— Christos (Bringer of Light) and Buddha (The Awakened One) are here & now to awaken us to Pure Cosmic Consciousness. (PYC)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (3-21-2003)