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:
One 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.
11 responses to “The Snail Martyrs”
I think I can go home now; that was my tidbit of learning for the day.
I agree with this comment.
What a great story!
Now if we could only find a story like that about the west coast banana slugs that would make us stop & think of them in a different light instead of freaking out with a sharp stick…
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.
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!
Aww, thanks Daff! Glad you enjoyed it.
What an enlightening story (pardon the pun).
This story makes my heart warm. Thank You.
I am a Buddhist from N.H. that lives i Holland now 20 years. I have a tiny 3 square meter Garden. I don’t like to kill anything. And refuse to use poisons even ‘human safe’ ones to kill the snails. Beer traps still kill them. I’ve tried to but undesirable snail borders around my favorite plants but that was not a success. I would prefer the garden to not be devoured by snails. So every spring I’m on the look out for snails to relocate to another safe location before they lay their eggs. (btw. don’t try to separate 2 snails that are in the act…it gets ugly). Slugs are hard to spot but the bigger shelled snails i take for a bike ride. The other day I pulled almost 300 from this small space. My neighbors think I’m crazy (crazy like the snail man) not that that matters. Do you know of a better ‘aware’ way to keep their numbers down ? Thanks in advance !
Chickens got my population down to nothing in about a month, if you don’t keep chickens, maybe ask to borrow a few? They have their own issues though, namely eating plants, scratching up mulch, and pooping everywhere. Beyond that, going outdoors with a flashlight on dewy nights and picking them, as you mentioned. And keeping the garden SO neat and tidy that there is nowhere good to reproduce, and growing plants they don’t like (anything with sturdy, hairy, waxy leaves, or strong herbal oils in the foliage), will help.
What is the source of this story? I cannot find anything in suttas/sutras, only other blogs.
I was told the story from a monk at a retreat.