Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

Dharma Verse Stories

1. Impermanence

3. Like Cattle Led to Their Slaughter

Once, the Buddha was staying at the bamboo park of Rājagṛha. Accompanied by his disciples, he went into the city to teach the Dharma at someone’s invitation. When this was done, they left the city in the afternoon. On the road, they encountered someone driving a large herd of cattle back to the city. The cattle were fat, well-fed, jumping, cavorting, and butting heads with each other.

The Bhagavān then spoke in verse about this:

The Buddha went to the bamboo grove, washed his feet, and withdrew to sit. Venerable Ānanda then came forward, bowed his head, and asked, “Bhagavān, when we were on the road, you spoke three verses, but their meaning is unclear. Could you please reveal it?”

The Buddha told Ānanda, “Did you see the person driving that herd of cattle?”

“Yes, I did see them.”

The Buddha told Ānanda, “This butcher family’s herd of cattle was once a thousand head. That butcher’s son is sent out of the city daily in search of good water and grass to fatten them up. They then select the choicest of them each day and slaughter them. They may slaughter over half of them, and the remaining cattle are unaware of it. They butt heads with each other, jumping, cavorting, and calling out. I spoke these verses just because they are harmed by their lack of knowledge.”

The Buddha said to Ānanda, “Is it only these cattle? The worldly person is like this, too. They make suppositions about the self, not understanding impermanence. Gluttons for the five desires, they nourish their bodies, delight their minds, have extreme thinking, and then do violence to each other. With impermanent lives, they’ll face their deaths at some unknown time. How is their hazy unawareness any different than that of the cattle?”

At the time, there were two monks seated there who nurtured greed. They were encouraged after hearing this teaching, and they achieved the six spiritual penetrations and became arhats. The assembled audience rejoiced and bowed to the Buddha.

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 14 August 2021