These four animals gather for a meeting to decide what can be done. They conclude that a peaceful, harmonious society is one that respects its elders. So, they set about determining who among them is eldest. The bird claims it dropped the seed where the tree is now growing. The rabbit claims it hopped around the sapling. The monkey claims it climbed on the tree when it was still small. The elephant admits to being the youngest, as it has only known the tree at its maturity. From that moment on, the valley is peaceful as these “four harmonious friends” lead their society into prosperous times.
It is also beleived that these story holds wider meaning, while the bird planted the seed earlier, the hare watered it, the monkey fertilised it, and the elephant protected it – till it grew into a big beautiful tree full of fruits. Synergising their individual talents, they could reach farther for more literally fruitful results. A version says that when the plant was just a sprout, the bird could scratch around it to find bits to eat. As he was unable to fly, it became difficult to get enough to eat as it grew taller. The hare would eat what was on the ground and lift the bird on his back to reach higher. This was followed by the monkey and the elephant for reaching higher heights, as they collaborated and shared without selfishness.
These ‘four harmonious brothers’ became literally towering good examples in the forest. The bird initiated those with wings to be good, the elephant those with fangs, the hare those with paws, and the monkey those with fur. They even influenced the human kingdom to be moral, which led to higher rebirths. Though simple, this remarkable story bears great truth on the importance of interdependent cooperation despite differences in size, strength and even species (or race and human-imposed ‘caste’). It also speaks of unity, integrity, friendship, generosity, and selflessness for the greater good. Underlying too are the themes of respecting the spiritual potential of animals, and the protection instead of exploitation of nature.
The Thunpa Punshi is often painted to adorn thangkas, door curtains, tables, vessels and walls of Buddhist temples and homes. It is believed that wherever this picture is displayed, the wholesome deeds of its beholders and the harmony among them will increase, making much auspiciousness available. There will be no discord or separation between family and friends too, as the picture is a powerful reminder of how we should stay together to help one another. As we all have varying strengths and weaknesses, we can complement one another to accomplish that which we could never achieve alone. Are you initiated by the four harmonious friends yet? Be a harmonious friend today!