The Snail Martyrs

I often see statues of Buddha in people’s gardens, and every time I do, I have a small secret smile, because I know an old story about the Buddha that most people haven’t yet heard. It involves one of our most-hated garden pests and the sacrifice they made to further the cause of enlightened thought.

It’s the Snail Martyrs story, and it goes like this:

Snail Head Buddha Print by FlyingFishGiftsOne day, the Buddha was on a walk and began thinking very deeply. He came to a tree and sat down in its shade to continue his meditation.

Hours passed, and the Buddha became so immersed in thought that he didn’t notice the sun moving across the sky. The sun beat down on his bare head, and still he sat thinking.

A snail was making its way along the ground, and he noticed the Buddha sitting there, thinking important thoughts. Snails are tough creatures, but they are made of moisture, and have to be very careful of drying out, so the snail saw right away that the Buddha’s head was soon going to become a painful distraction to his great thoughts.

As fast as it could, the snail made its way up the Buddha’s robe to his head, and sat there, with his mucous-y body cooling the Buddha’s smooth, bare skin. Other snails noticed and followed the first one, covering Buddha’s head in a neat cap of spiral shells and cool, damp bodies.

Hours passed, and the snails became parched and dry. When evening fell and Buddha stood, noticing his surroundings once more, he found he was wearing 108 snails, all of whom had given their lives to further Buddha’s path to enlightenment.

These snails are now honored as martyrs and are shown on many statues of the Buddha to remind us of their sacrifice.

Photo of Buddha from Flying Fish Gifts, which sells the photo as a print.

Photo of snail by RandySonOfRobert on Flickr.


  1. says

    LOL, Michelle, people do rather freak out with a sharp stick, don’t they? :)

    I love the banana slugs. We have a local chocolatier that makes very realistic looking chocolate banana slugs, and they make me very happy.

  2. says

    And you, Genevieve, continue to offer enlightenment! This story is new to me (and that’s saying something, as I live in a town packed with Buddhists, including the one sitting next to me on the couch). Thank you!

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