The stone ape was a rather arrogant creature, but this did not bother anyone because there seemed to be no one else around to bother. Until one morning. While swinging through the forest the stone ape suddenly saw in a clearing below a figure. The figure looked human enough, but the stone ape seemed to sense that there was somehow something different about this one. Curious as to whom the figure was, the stone ape swung down to the ground and asked the figure’s name.
“I am Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.” Replied Buddha. The stone ape had heard of the Buddha, and dimly remembered hearing that he was some kind of great being.
“You are great, Lord Buddha, but I am greater still.” replied the stone ape smugly. “I am stronger and faster, and can cover more distance in a single day than you could even dream of. In fact,” he added with a flourish of bravado, “I will! I’ll start out this very moment and journey to the very edge of the world. I’ll leave my mark there and meet you back in this clearing before the sun has set on this day!” The stone ape had hardly finished speaking before he had whirled around and set off, but Buddha merely smiled and settled beneath a tree to meditate.
How vast the forest was! The stone ape had never been so far from his own territory, but the forest seemed to go on forever. Still the stone ape journeyed on as the bright sun climbed higher in the sky towards noon. For the first time the stone ape passed great rivers, leaping over them with what seemed to be a new-found strength, bounding along with the exhilaration which comes from knowing one’s own powers. The forest was at last giving way to more hilly terrain, and still the stone ape journeyed on with a speed which even he had not imagined himself capable of. Now the afternoon sun began to be shrouded in mist and clouds, and the stone ape sensed that ahead must be the mountains at the world’s edge.
As if growing in power, the stone ape now reached up and grabbed hold of a cloud, swinging from cloud to cloud above snow-covered mountains and frozen rivers of ice. And when he saw ahead of him the tallest mountains of all, he knew that the edge of the world was only a little way ahead. At the very summit of the highest peak two great pillars rose up to almost touch the sky. The pillars marked the edge of the world, and with an extra great effort, the stone ape hurled himself on high and in the red light of the sinking sun scratched his mark on the two towering pillars.
But there was now no time to lose. Even as the sun was setting the stone ape set off again, speeding back over clouds, hills, rivers and forests, at last to arrive back in the twilit clearing where the Buddha was calmly waiting for him.
“All that I said I would do I have accomplished!” announced the stone ape. "While you have only been sitting here in this clearing I have journeyed to the very edge of the world! And I left my mark on two great pillars that stand there.”
“Oh?” said Buddha, and held out two of his fingers to show the stone ape. “You mean this mark here?”
Retold and adapted from an Indonesian folktale.
Painting by René Hausman