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At the Feet of The Mother

Alexandra David-Neel and Mr. Tiger

A Buddhist story

As I am still unable to read to you this evening, I am going to tell you a story. It is a Buddhist story which perhaps you know, it is modern but has the merit of being authentic. I heard it from Alexandra David-Neel who, as you probably know, is a well- known Buddhist, especially as she was the first European woman to enter Lhasa. Her journey to Tibet was very perilous and thrilling and she narrated one of the incidents of this journey to me, which I am going to tell you this evening.

She was with a certain number of fellow travellers forming a sort of caravan, and as the approach to Tibet was relatively easier through Indo-China, they were going from that side. Indo-China is covered with large forests, and these forests are infested with tigers, some of which become man-eaters… and when that happens they are called: “Mr. Tiger.”

Late one evening, when they were in the thick of the forest — a forest they had to cross in order to be able to camp safely — she realised that it was her meditation hour. Now, she used to meditate at fixed times, very regularly, without ever missing one and as it was time for her meditation she told her companions, “Carry on, I shall sit here and do my meditation, and when I have finished I shall join you; meanwhile, go to the next stop and prepare the camp.” One of the coolies told her, “Oh! no, Madam, this is impossible, quite impossible” — he spoke in his own language, naturally, but I must tell you Madame David-Neel knew Tibetan like a Tibetan — “It is quite impossible. Mr. Tiger is in the forest and now is just the time for him to come and look for his dinner. We can’t leave you and you can’t stop here!” She answered that it did not bother her at all, that the meditation was much more important than safety, that they could all withdraw and that she would stay there alone.

Very reluctantly they started off, for it was impossible to reason with her — when she had decided to do something, nothing could prevent her from doing it. They went away and she sat down comfortably at the foot of a tree and entered into meditation. After a while she felt a rather unpleasant presence. She opened her eyes to see what it was… and three or four steps away, right in front of her was Mr. Tiger! — with eyes full of greed. So, like a good Buddhist, she said to herself, “Well, if this is the way by which I shall attain Nirvana, very good. I have only to prepare to leave my body in a suitable way, in the proper spirit.” And without moving, without even the least quiver, she closed her eyes again and entered once more into meditation; a somewhat deeper, more intense meditation, detaching herself completely from the illusion of the world, ready to pass into Nirvana… Five minutes went by, ten minutes, half an hour — nothing happened. Then as it was time for the meditation to be over, she opened her eyes… and there was no tiger! Undoubtedly, seeing such a motionless body it must have thought it was not fit for eating! For tigers, like all wild animals, except the hyena, do not attack and eat a dead body. Impressed probably by this immobility — I dare not say by the intensity of the meditation! — it had withdrawn and she found herself quite alone and out of danger. She calmly went her way and on reaching camp said, “Here I am.”

That’s my story. Now we are going to meditate like her, not to prepare ourselves for Nirvana (laughter), but to heighten our consciousness!

8 March 1957

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It is not the personality, the character that is of the first importance in rebirth — it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it.