The thousandth celestial wife of the Garland God slipped and fell to earth, where she took mortal form and served as an attendant in a temple. Death finally released her and she went back to heaven to tell her lord of the ways of men.Which is a pretty flat and accurate depiction of the first of our two stories. However (aha!) she is described as Chinese, which is a pretty neat trick, since, upon her falling from heaven, she winds up in a high-caste family. Even I know the difference between China and India! PC wins!
More seriously, though, it says something that in 1908 this volume, Sacred Writings 2, would have Christian/Buddhist/Hindu/Mohammedan texts. (Sacred Writings 1 is Confucian/Hebrew/Christian.) Don't they know they're encouraging heresy? I guess in some ways it's almost easier to include other religions in 1908, when they were safely far from Boston and environs; nowadays, when it's more a "but would you want your sister to worship one?" question, maybe (some) people are a little more threatened.
This also goes to the question of whether anyone cares anymore about broadmindedness, the very quality the Harvard Classics is kind of a touching tribute to.
Anyway, to our stories. The first one has been summarized already. Two critical details have been overlooked, however. The first is that, though our heroine fell from heaven and always longed for her god-husband (I have no idea if this is an accurate translation; I can only go by what's in my book) while she was on earth, nevertheless she married and had four kids. What the earth-husband thought of the whole tale is unrecorded. Kids who, like me, spent some time in church wondering what Joseph thought of the First Christmas will recognize a kindred question.
The other detail is the moral of the story, which occurs in the middle. (The story's pretty short, though.) The god Garland-wearer delivers it, and it is:
“Men, it appears, are born to a life of only one hundred years, yet they recklessly lie down and sleep away their time. When will they ever get free from misery?”When? Never, of course -- why do you think they sleep so much? And how do you escape misery? By taking care of the priests and the temple. Nice racket they have there -- see, maybe there is common ground after all!
The second story is about the Hare-mark in the moon, and it also takes place in India, or, as the DRG might call it, "China." It turns out the future Buddha was born as a hare, and he and his buddies the otter, jackal, and monkey were going to keep the fast day. Well, the non-Buddha animals laid some food aside to give to supplicants, but the hare decided to offer himself. Sakka, who apparently is some kind of authority, finds his marble throne growing hot at this (nice touch), and decides to disguise himself and test him out:
When Sakka heard this speech, he made a heap of live coals by his superhuman power, and came and told the Future Buddha. The latter rose from his couch of dabba-grass, and went to the spot. And saying, “If there are any insects in my fur, I must not let them die,” he shook himself three times. Then throwing his whole body into the jaws of his liberality, he jumped into the bed of coals, as delighted in mind as a royal flamingo when he alights in a cluster of lotuses.Except it doesn't burn him up, because...well, it's hard to say. I guess because he was so willing to burn up, he doesn't in fact burn up. Sacred Writings are full of neat tricks like that.
Also, it's always nice to see the word "flamingo" in your nightly reading.