The Jakata tales are wonderful folklore-like tales from ancient India. They tell the adventures and accomplishments of the Buddha in previous lives as a bodhisattva, before he becomes the Buddha. In many stories, the Buddha is an animal who demonstrates the ideals of Buddhism.
In this story of compassion and redemption, the bodhisattva is named Vimalakirti. He is portrayed as an example of the ideal lay practitioner in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. In this wonderful adaptation of the Jakata tradition, Bartholowmew Klick tells the story of a very angry dragon and how the dharma changes him into a protector hero. Children of all ages should love this folk tale, which speaks so poignantly to the angry dragon in all of us!
Vimalakirti and the Angry Dragon
By Bartholomew M. Klick
Long ago there was an angry dragon. This irate great-serpent delighted in the pain and torment of others, and would often kill and torture people, just to hear them scream in anguish.
One day, the angry dragon came across Vimalakirti, the lay bodhisattva. “A rich man” the dragon exclaimed, “I can torture him, and then steal his gold to make a bed with!” The dragon let out a fierce roar, and flew towards Vimalakirti.
Vimalakirti, however, paid the dragon no mind, and sidestepping its attack, continued about his business. The Dragon become infuriated at his missed attack, and screamed, “You will pay for that dearly, pig!” Vimalakirti did not even turn his head, but instead replied, “You are no different from any other minor annoyance, and you shall not distract me.
The Dragon had a tremendous ego, and did not like being considered ‘ a minor annoyance.’ He yelled again, and breathed a ball of flame at the lay bodhisattva. Vimalakirti merely sidestepped and watched as the fire went by, admiring its beauty. The fire struck a banana cart that was in Vimalakirti’s possession, and burnt it to cinders.
However, through Vimalakirti’s power, the bananas were not ruined: instead they became cooked to perfection. The bodhisattva said, “What an excellent meal these fried bananas will make: the monks will surely enjoy them. How surprised they will be when I tell them who cooked them.
The dragon blinked in surprise—his ball of fire, meant to destroy Vimalakirti, would now feed the hated monks! He became even angrier, and declared to Vimalakirti “I shall feast upon your flesh and torture you all the while!” The bodhisattva replied, “and I shall pray for your well-being, dragon.”
The Dragon became confused, for most lizards are not mental giants. He asked the Bodhisattva how he could find compassion for one who threatened his existence. “You are not a threat, dragon. One time, long ago, you were my mother, and were sweet and tender to me- you whole-heartedly gave your life for me, without begrudging me anything, and for you I will do the same.”
Dragon meets Dharma
The dragon, now believing that he understood the Bodhisattvas meaning, said, “Then so be it- I will make your death a quick one!” and he took a step in Vimalakirti’s direction; Vimalakirti said, “Only through my past actions can I be harmed. If you can kill me, then I need to be killed to pay for my past-life evil deed.”
The Dragon seemed to consider this a moment and then tried to grab the Lay Bodhisattva with his great jaws, but all he ended up with was air for his dinner. After numerous attempts the Dragon finally wailed, “I cannot harm you!” Vimalakirti replied that this certainly seemed to be true.
“Know then, Dragon, that we are not capable of harming any but ourselves. Your actions are like smashing your own feet with a hammer, and have not yet felt the pain of it. It would be best for you to repent for your evil deeds before you suffer greatly in the hells for millions of years.
In a sudden flash of ‘Dragonly’ insight he saw that Vimalakirti was right—and his thoughts turned to the countless people he had tortured, maimed, and even killed and he began to weep. “What is to become of me? I will surely fall into the deepest hell for my crimes!”
The Scaled Protector
“If you devote yourself to protecting people instead of harming them then someone will do the same for you when the time of punishment is at hand. If you use your gifts for the protection of others, then your time in hell will be brief, and your next birth will be a happy one.
The Dragon saw the truth in Vimalakirti’s words, and made a vow to protect all those who needed protecting, placing himself under the Bodhisattva’s tutelage. In the ages that passed the Angry Dragon came to be called “The Scaled Protector,” and he devoted himself to preventing harm; his great wings fetched food during famines, his great talons shielded people from unjust attack, his great stature helped rescue people from high places and all of his other fierce attributes became devoted to doing good for others.
One day the Dragon saw foreign ships approaching to invade a distant island. He flew in front of them, and began to beat his wings, reversing the direction of the wind. The invaders tried to struggle through the fierce storm but finally had no choice but to turn and flee. As the ships sailed away, one of them fired their rear ballista at the dragon. The flaming ballista bolt pierced the dragon’s eye and went straight through his head, killing him instantly.
His body tumbled from the sky, into the sea below, creating a huge tidal wave, which destroyed almost all of the invaders fleet. To this day these islanders believe the Dragon to be their protector, and they celebrate the day that he saved their country from destruction.
The Dragon in Hell
The dragon fell through the water, struck hit the ocean bottom, and then felt himself continue to sink, until he found himself in a dank, dark pit, filled with flames, implements of torture, and demons, armed with fierce weapons.
The dragon felt great fear—these demons were far larger then a mere great-serpent! A great demon king, foul from head to toe, noticed the little dragon and chuckled evilly as he stepped toward him and attempted to impale him.
As the spear descended upon the Scaled Protector Vimalakirti appeared bearing a huge shield, which deflected the great spear with a bright flash visible throughout the entire hell realm and stunned the demons.
“Those who protect will always be protected!” Vimalakirti declared, and with a wave of his hand he made an opening for the dragon to depart through. The dragon, seeing all the pain and torture and hearing the screams of tormented beings all around him, sounds which at one time would have pleased him, gathered as many people as he could, and carried them with him into the Pure Land beyond Vimalakirti’s gate.