The Rabbit in the Moon

Zen Master Ryokan

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This tale, retold by Zen monk-poet Ryokan (c. 1758–1831), draws on an old Chinese legend of a rabbit who lives in the moon. It is one of many Jataka tales, stories of Shakyamuni Buddha’s previous lives that illustrate acts of selflessness. 

It took place in a world

long long ago

they say:

a monkey, a rabbit,

and a fox

struck up a friendship,

mornings

frolicking field and hill,

evenings

coming home to the forest,

living thus

while the years went by,

when Indra,

sovereign of the skies,

hearing of this,

curious to know

if it was true,

turned himself into an old man,

tottering along,

made his way to where they

were.

“You three,”

he said,

“are of separate species,

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