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Eighty Thousand Flies

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If you kill out of anger,
Your enemies will be never-ending;
If you kill anger,
That will kill your enemies once and for all.


In one of his past rebirths, the Buddha was a giant ocean turtle. One day, while he was far from any land, he saw that a ship carrying some merchants had been wrecked and was sinking. The merchants were about to drown, but the turtle rescued them by carrying them the long way to the nearest shore on his back. After carrying them to safety, he was so exhausted that he fell asleep on the beach. But while he slept, eighty thousand flies began to eat their way into his body. The turtle awoke in great pain, and realized what had happened. He saw that there was no way to be rid of all the flies; if he plunged into the sea, all of them would die. So, being a bodhisattva, he stayed where he was and let the flies eat away his body. Filled with love, he made the prayer, “Whenever I attain enlightenment, may I, in turn, consume all these insects’ negative emotions and actions, and their belief in true existence, and thus lead them to buddhahood.”

As a result of this prayer, when the Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma for the first time in Varanasi, the former flies had been reborn as the assembly of eighty thousand fortunate celestial beings who were present. Had the turtle killed the insects in anger by diving into the sea, however, there would have been no end to his sufferings. The result of killing a single being out of anger is to be reborn in the hell realms for the duration of five hundred human lives, or a great kalpa.

Excerpted from “The Heart of Compassion” in The Collected Works of Dilgo Khyentse: Volume One, page 303
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