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Extinguishing the Fire
 

“Fire! Fire!” In the midst of a great feast, the villagers turned their heads in a drunken stupor. Through their hazy vision, they saw rapidly spreading flames, threatening to engulf them. They desperately looked around for a way out, but were too drunk to get up.

“We’re done for! We might as well all get ready to die,” somebody started to weep. However, one clear-headed person called out, “Isn’t the most honored and venerated Buddha staying in our village right now? Oh, Buddha, please help us escape from this disaster wrought by the God of Fire!”

Everybody prayed quietly, and a few moments later the Buddha appeared as if from nowhere. At once, his strong and solemn voice brought on a sense of calm. “Each sentient being has three fires burning within them: the fire of greed; the fire of anger; and the fire of ignorance. I will use the water of supreme wisdom to put out these fires. If what I say is true, this raging fire will be instantly extinguished.” Miraculously, in the flash of an eye, the fire disappeared without a trace.

“This is wonderful!” The villagers, with newfound faith in and gratitude for the Buddha, wept in joy. Then, the Buddha began to speak eloquently of the Dharma. Upon hearing him, the villagers were all liberated and attained the first level of enlightenment.

The monks who came with the Buddha witnessed this and thought it was unbelievable. “Buddha,” they asked, “what did they do in that past so that their lives can be saved and their minds purified today?”

The Buddha slowly began to tell them the story about how he had forged good relations with the villagers during the past three great kalpas when he was perfecting the bodhisatva practice.

“One day, a ferocious wind came and caused the bamboo bushes to chafe together with such violence that they caught fire, setting the whole mountainside forest ablaze, so all life would surely end. Then a parrot called Joy, feeling sorry for creatures without wings to fly away, soaked up water with his small wings from the nearby sea. It flew back and forth, hundreds of thousands of times, between the sea and the forest, trying to extinguish the fire. His steadfastness moved Indra, a heavenly god, who enquired, “How can you, being so small, hope to put out such a great fire?” The parrot replied, “My heart is more powerful than the fire! Even if I cannot put out the fire in this lifetime, I swear I will do it in the next.” Indra was deeply touched and, using supernatural powers, sent brimming clouds to rain on the mountainside, thus instantly saving every living being on the mountain.

The Buddha stated, “In a previous existence I was the parrot. The birds and the beasts in the forest were the villagers in a previous life. At that time, I put out the fire to save their lives. This time, again, I put out the fire to save their lives, and also extinguished the destructive fires in their hearts so they might attain peace.”

The monks carefully reflected on the meaning of this story, and then asked the Buddha, “How can the villagers attain the first level of enlightenment straight away?” The Buddha replied, “That’s because when the Kashyapa Buddha first appeared, they had the strength of purpose to keep the five precepts. Due to their steadfast observance of the precepts, they are able to truly realize the truth today and reach first stage of arhatship!”

Reflection

By observing the five precepts, the villagers accumulated blessings and merits to attain enlightenment upon hearing the Dharma. Owing to its spirit of selflessness and diligence, the compassionate parrot was able to attain Buddhahood in the future. When we practice Buddhism, are we also steadfast in upholding the five precepts, and maintaining our spirit of compassion and diligence?