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The Story of the Red Tree

Told by Thich Nhat Hanh to the Children During a Dharma Talk in Plum Village

In every Buddhist temple, there is a big bell. Early each morning, a young monk invites the bell to sound. When people hear the bell, they practice mindfulness-not only the monks in the temple, but also people in the village. At one time, most families did not have a clock. So householders used the temple bell to be mindful and also to know the time. Imagine a village where everyone practices mindful breathing at the sound of the bell. Very peaceful.

There was once a village butcher who did not practice mindfulness of breathing when he heard the temple bell. At 4:30 every morning, he woke to the sound of the bell, ready to kill one or two pigs. He had to earn a living. So he used the bell that way, very different from other people. It was a small village and he was the only butcher. Of course he was not the only person responsible for the death of the pigs, because although they did not kill, other people ate the pigs.

One morning the butcher planned to kill a big pig instead of two middle-sized ones, but the bell did not sound at 4:30, so he overslept. When he woke up late, he blamed the monks. He crossed the street and climbed the hill to the temple to ask why the bell did not sound. He was angry. When you kill a lot of living beings, you water the seeds of violence in yourself and you become easily angry. He blamed the novice for not waking him up on time, and he was also angry with the high monk of the temple. The butcher found the high monk and demanded, "Why did the novice not invite the bell to wake me this morning?" And the, monk told him the truth.

That night, about two o'clock in the morning. the high monk dreamed that a lady and her twelve children came to him, crying and crying. The lady prostrated in front of him and begged, "Teacher, please save our lives. If you don't, we will die." The monk asked, "What should I do to help you?" The lady answered, "It's easy. Just don't let the novice invite the bell this morning and we'll be safe." The monk told the butcher, "When I woke up at three o'clock this morning, I remembered the dream. So I went down to the novice center and asked the novice in charge not to invite the bell this morning."

The butcher did not consider the dream important. He said, "'You are silly. Because you believe in these things, I missed the opportunity to perform my job." Then he left the temple and went home. Although it was late, he decided he could still go on with his work. Later in the day, the villagers would come to buy his meat, and it was better to be late than to have no meat to sell. So he sharpened his long butcher's knife, and brought it to the pigpen. There he saw that the pig he planned to kill had given birth to twelve baby pigs in the night!

The monk's story came back to him. He saw the mommy pig with the twelve baby pigs as a family, and understood that if the bell had waked him up at 4:30, he would have killed both the mommy and the twelve children. The realization struck him like lightning and he began to shiver all over. He ran back to the temple, looking for the monk. His hand still held the big, brilliant knife. You know, he did not practice mindfulness. He didn't know that he was holding a very big knife and racing into the temple as though he was going to kill the monks.

He met the high monk in the front yard outside the Buddha Hall. He wanted to make a prostration in front of the monk and a prostration in the direction of the Buddha who sat in that Buddha Hall, but he had the big knife. You don't come to the temple to make prostrations with,a knife. His enlightenment was so powerful that he had great strength in him. So with all his might, he plunged the knife deep into the ground before the monk and also before the temple. Most of the knife went deep into the soil, but the handle was left showing. He was so strong. He had a lot of energy, that energy of repentance, that energy of enlightenment. And then he began to make prostrations in front of the monk and the Buddha Hall, and he vowed that he would quit killing animals for meat.

The monk invited him in, offered him tea, and asked what he would do. He helped him with the ideas of practicing beginning anew, and they discussed transforming his slaughterhouse into a vegetarian restaurant. So the butcher became a student of the high monk. He took the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. He made a vegetable garden in the backyard, and learned how to make delicious vegetarian dishes.

But the most wonderful thing that happened is that a beautiful tree grew from the spot where the butcher plunged the knife into the ground. The tree is all red the bark, the roots, the branches, die leaves, even the flowers that bloom all over it in spring are red. It's a wonderful transformation. A knife that was used to kill became a beautiful tree offering us oxygen, offering us peace and joy.

I do not know the name of that tree in English. If any of you find out the name of the tree that is red from the roots up to the flowers, please write and tell me what it is called in the West.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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