Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Toad King

I met this guy on the path in a park along Lake Pepin (Minnesota) yesterday. I had just finished doing walking meditation along with several other leaping creatures, who seemed to appear and disappear with every slow step. It was very fortunate to have these paths in the woods to myself, although maybe it's silly to say "to myself" given all the hopping, jumping, and chasing going on around me.

Well, I got to thinking about toads and Buddhism, since I seemed to recall seeing a toad in some story or teaching along the way. And sure enough, in Thailand, there is the story of The Toad King. Here is a version of the story:

"When the Lord Buddha was in his bodhisatta incarnation as King of the Toads, and married to Udon Khuruthawip, his sermons drew everyone, creatures and sky-dwellers alike, away from Phaya Thaen, King of the Sky.

Angry Phaya Thaen withheld life-giving rains from the earth for seven years, seven months, and seven days. Acting against the advice of the Toad King, Phaya Naga, King of the Nāga (and personification of the Mekong) declared war on Phaya Thaen — and lost.

Persuaded by Phaya Naga to assume command, King Toad enlisted the aid of termites to build mounds reaching to the heavens, and of venomous scorpions and centipedes to attack Phaya Thaen’s feet, and of hornets for air support. Previous attempts at aerial warfare against Phaya Thaen in his own element had proved futile; but even the Sky must come down to the ground. On the ground the war was won, and Phaya Thaen sued for peace. Naga Rockets fired in the air at the end of the hot, dry season are not to threaten Phaya Thaen, but to serve as a reminder to him of his treaty obligations made to Lord Bodhisatta Phaya Khang Khok, King of the Toads, down on the ground. For his part Phaya Nak was rewarded by being given the duty of Honor Guard at most Thai and Lao temples.

After the harvest of the resulting crops, Wow thanoo, man-sized kites with a strung bow, are staked out in winter monsoon winds. They are also called Túi-tiù, singing kites, from the sound of the bowstring singing in the wind, which sing all through the night, to signal Phaya Thaen that he has sent enough rain."

What I love about this story is how the solution and the problem are so interdependent. Specifically, the earth is parched for water, and the way to get water is to summon the skills of all these earthy, little creatures. They all work together, and need to work together, to get the attention of the Sky King. There's such reverence for the skills of these creatures people often dismiss as ugly or troublesome at best. It's a good reminder for us all, that every being in its own way is contributing to this life - and that if you remove anything, deny any being an existence, it all changes.

p.s. Remember to kiss the toad for good luck on the way out.

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