Sunday, November 11, 2012

Not Zen 31: Not Enough Power

There was a bull hippopotamus known along his stretch of river for being gentle. Other bulls killed their rivals in defense of their territory. He never did. He was so large and strong, he was able to drive other males away without crippling them. He never slew any of the male children from his herd as other bulls did. He rarely raised his voice, not even to the egrets who picked at the wounds on his back.

He never exhibited a temper when defending the females and calves. His stretch of river became a haven for peaceful animals. They knew that if they kept a respectful distance from the herd, the bull would not object and they could drink in peace.

One day, a pair of crocodiles slipped into the river and swam towards a hippo calf. The bull, alarmed, charged the two hunters. They turned to fight.

The bull crushed the smaller crocodile between its jaws. He expected the other crocodile to flee but instead it redoubled its efforts. Every time it rushed for the calf, the bull moved to block it. Finally, next to the shore, the bull hippo rolled over on the great crocodile, pinned it, broke its jaws, and tore at it until it was dead.

When the fight was over, none of the usual birds came to clean the bull although he had many wounds that needed tending. The bull called for them. A female, too, asked for the birds to come. The gazelles on the shore told the birds to go help. But no bird would do it. They were afraid. They had not seen the bull kill in so many years, they had forgotten what a dangerous animal he was. Now it was fresh in their minds. The bodies of the two crocodiles lay broken in the water.

The storks told the egrets to go. The egrets asked the sandpipers. Finally, a single sandpiper volunteered to fly out to the bull. It landed on the edge of the water but did not approach the great beast.

"Why are you afraid?" the hippo asked. "Have I done wrong?"

"You have torn your enemies asunder," said the sandpiper. "You are mighty. We are nervous. You may notice that the gazelles and foxes have told us to go to you but they will not come down the hill to drink."

"Yesterday, you sang my praises. Nothing has changed."

"Hasn't it?" asked the bird. "That is the question for the rest of us. You have always been the greatest power on the river. But you never used your power to kill. You were always gentle."

"I didn't kill those crocodiles because I was powerful!" protested the hippo. "If I could have turned them aside without hurting them and without letting a calf be taken, I would have done it. But they would not turn away. I had to kill them because I didn't have enough power to stop them in any other way."

The sandpiper turned to make sure its flock was watching. Then it fluttered onto the bull's great head and walked slowly to the middle of his back.

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