Saturday, June 04, 2005

Two stories

From my recent reading. Scholar of religions Jacob Needleman's The Heart of Philosophy describes his attempt to be a teacher of philosophy in a more Socratic sense, by leaving the ivory tower and conducting experimental classes with high school students and with their parents. His reflections lead him to a much more "rooted" interpretation of the "heart" of philosophic activity. At any rate, here are two stories that he relates to his students during this trial.

The Tiger Cub--a story from Hinduism.

A female tiger, late in her pregnancy, spies a herd of goats and, charging after them in her awkward condition, she stumbles against a jagged rock. She strikes her head and is killed, but the cub is born.

With the danger passed, the goats return and, seeing the tiny cub, they raise him as their own. The cub begins to grow up, contentedly, as though he were a goat. He feeds on grass and even automatically imitates the bleating sound that the goats make. He is quite happy.

All is well until one day another tiger, a great and fierce male tiger, spies the herd. He, too, charges after the herd and the goats flee in panic. The cub, however, does not move. He sees this enormous, awesome being bearing down upon them and he sees all his brothers and sisters running past him, their eyes wild with terror. For some reason that the cub does not understand, he feels no fear whatever, not even when the great tiger passes right next to him.

Seeing the cub there amidst the goats, the tiger is startled and stops in his tracks. "What are you doing here!" he angrily roars. The cub blinks his eyes and gives out a pathetic, gravelly bleating sound. The tiger cannot believe what he sees and hears, and he roars again in utter disgust. Forgetting about his hunt, he snatches the cub by the scruff of his neck and carries him off into the jungle in his huge jaws. There, by the side of a reflecting pool, he dangles the cub over the water so that he can see his own relfection. "Look at yourself!" growls the tiger. "You see! You are one of our tribe!" In fact the cub is astonished to see that he has the same kind of face as this awesome creature who is holding him. But all he can do is give out another bleating, goatlike cry.

Infuriated beyond measure, the great tiger carries the cub to its lair where, in the corner of the cave, there lies an antelope, a fresh kill. The tiger sets the cub down next to the bloody meat and orders him: "Eat!" But the cub, who has never eaten anything but grasses and leaves, the fare of goats, is repelled and refuses with yet another bleating sound. The tiger insists, but the cub is nauseated by the very sight and smell of the raw meat in front of him. Finally, his patience exhausted, the great tiger snatches up the in one gigantic paw and forces the meat down the cub's throat. The poor little cub gags and chokes as he involuntarily swallows the new food. Then, suddenly, something remarkable happens. The cub begins to feel a strange and wondrous warmth surging through him, a sensation like nothing he has ever known before. Suffused with this warmth, he cries out in joy and the sound that comes from him is the same roar of the tiger, the sound which every other beast of the jungle trembles to hear.

The great tiger smiles with satisfaction. "Now," he says to the cub, "you know what you are! Come, let us go together to the hunt!"

Second story: An "eastern story" Needleman quotes from Tolstoy's My Confession.

Long ago has been told the Easter story about the traveller who in the steppe is overtaken by an infuriated beast. Trying to save himself from the animal, the traveller jumps into a waterless well, but at its bottom he sees a dragon who opens his jaws in order to swallow him. And the unfortunate man does not dare climb out, lest he perish from the infuriated beast, and does not dare jump down to the bottom of the well, lest he be devoured by the dragon, and so clutches the twig of a wild bush growing in a cleft of the well and holds on to it. His hands grow weak and he feels that soon he shall have to surrender to the peril which awaits him on either side; but he still holds on and sees two mice, one white, theother black, even in measure making a circle around the main trunk of the bush to which he is clinging, and nibbling at it on all sides. Now, at any moment, the bush will break and tear off, and he will fall into the dragon's jaws. The traveller sees that and knows that he will inevitably perish; but while he is still clinging, he sees some drops of honey hanging on the leaves of the bush, and so reaches out for them with his tongue and licks the leaves.

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