Instead of trying to catch each rat separately, he draws them all out of town, in a long line of departing creatures who have been making life unbearable for the human community that they have infiltrated.
Viewed as a story that depicts a way of ridding our lives from the on-going afflictions of frustration, of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, manifestations of sickness and death, loneliness, loss, untreatable disease and infestation . . . This story could be depicting the Mahayana Buddhist path to liberation.
There is another story—more a simple analogy really—in which our painful life in this world is compared to a tree full of poison fruit, and the three paths of Buddhism (Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana), are ways of dealing with that poison fruit.
In the Hinayana path, the approach is to address each harmful tendency individually–recognizing, taking hold of, and plucking off each poison fruit one at a time.
In the Mahayana path (the way of the Bodhisattva) the entire tree of poison fruit is uprooted all at once. Instead of addressing each harmful habit individually, the Bodhisattva vows to seek enlightenment not just for herself but for all beings; pledging to return to this world again and again until all beings are liberated from the suffering of Samsara. With such an all-engaging goal, all other obstacles are swept up in this higher purpose.
And the Vajrayana path (in which the negative emotions of anger, hatred, lust, etc., are transformed into love, joy, wisdom, etc., the energy frozen in these harmful emotions is transformed. In this analogy, the Vajrayana master is represented as a peacock, of whom it is said that he thrives on poison fruit.
In the story of the Pied Piper, whose melody draws away the infestation of rats that is plaguing the community, I’m not sure if the piper is more like a Bodhisattva acting to rescue all beings, or like the Vajrayana master who understands how everything in life functions—emotionally, psychologically, physically—at such a deep level that he can deal with plagues, infestations and a broken society if he chooses to intervene.
But, since I am just one of those villagers left behind, I have to ask: what do we do when the possibility of a fresh beginning is handed to us? How do we take advantage of someone else’s deep understanding of ordinary life—on their penetrating mastery of the potential available to human beings alive at this time and in this community? How can we ourselves learn to deal with the rampant lack of caring that threatens everything that matters for the beings who still live here?
And on the subject of trees, those beings who have lived here on these shifting tectonic plates for time immemorial; they are the witnesses of the great stream of time that can still pull us back as we totter on the brink of ungrounded irrelevance; just as the majestic whales give witness to an ancient life in the oceans out of which our ancestors bumbled.
Could the Biblical story of the Tree of Knowledge–with its allegation that certain kinds of knowledge are prohibited to human kind–actually refer to the tree of poison fruit in the Buddhist analogy?
Yet to know is our vital birthright and offers us our only path forward to a future in which light and love can blossom and guide us.
The tree of life can become a tree of knowing, when we listen to our hearts. In this revised analogy, the branch of living knowledge must be grafted onto the roots of our lives in the world. We can recognize such knowing because it is accompanied by honest feelings. Whereas knowledge that is constructed from impulses not guided by heartfelt caring for the larger realm in which the spinning tops of our self-interest arise, is soon discovered to be the thousand poison fruits that continuously entice us.
To guide this evolution of caring, we set goals which are seeds that we gratefully plant in the ground of a greater Being, then patiently tend in the lives we live.