Long ago, there lived a rich old man who was a lecher and skinflint by nature. He lusted after pleasure but couldn’t bear to part with his money.
One twilit evening, with the clouds tinged a delicate rosy shade and a light breeze blowing, the old man was in his garden. The cones on the old pine tree rustled gently and, in this scene of tranquility, the old miser was overcome by a hankering for lamb. Suddenly, a brainwave! He had an idea how to eat as much lamb as he wanted without paying for it and without losing face.
The old man told his servant to bring his sons to him. When his sons arrived, they found their father in a posture of prayer, solemnly intoning, “Tree Spirit! Tree Spirit! Please continue to bless this house! Please bless us! Please bless us!”Then, the old man turned around and exclaimed, “My sons! Why are we so blessed? Verily because of this old pine tree! You should offer sacrifices to the Tree Spirit every year.” The young men followed their father’s injunction, and immediately slaughtered a great number of lambs, and moreover, built a shrine for offering sacrifices to the Tree Spirit. As he had intended, the old man was soon supping on lamb and felt most satisfied with himself.
Year by year, the old man weakened, and at last he fell gravely ill. Just before the end, he dreamed that a herd of sheep came and demanded his life. As a result, in his next life he became a lamb in his very own flock of sheep.
When the day of worship came round again, the old man’s sons chose to sacrifice the lamb which was actually their father’s new incarnation. Only now did remorse enter the old man’s heart: “My sons! This old pine tree is just an old pine tree. I just wanted to satisfy my appetite. Please don’t keep piling wrong on wrong; otherwise, there can be no escape from suffering.” Just at the moment the old man’s sons picked up their butcher’s knives, an Arhat passed by begging for food and prevented the slaughter.
Pointing to the lamb, the Arhat said, “Don’t kill it! This lamb is your father!” Through divine power, the sons saw the lamb’s previous incarnation. Seeing this, the old man’s sons could not contain their tears and swore the oath, “From now on, I will never kill! I will only do good deeds to plant the fields of blessings, and make offerings to the Three Jewels.”
In the cycle of rebirth through the six realms, one can never escape the principle of causality. The Buddhist scripture says that all sentient beings were our parents in our past lives. When facing other creatures, should we be greedy or compassionate?