The Young Man Who Refused to Kill

Grade Level: 
9, 10, 11, 12
Generosity of Spirit
Young Man Who Refused to Kill (The)
A Tibetan Tale: After criticism and misunderstanding, a young man is rewarded for his compassion toward all living beings.

Tell me a story...

Once there was a young man named Tashi who was not very skilled in the ways of the world. Try as he might the young man's father could not make him hunt for food—the son would refuse to take a life, and would not even eat the meat that his poor father brought home for the family pot.

Tashi had three sisters, all of whom had married rich men, and often his father and mother would lament their bad luck for having been left with a son who would not be able to take care of them in their old age, a son who would not hunt for game or fowl and who was so meek and mild in his ways.

"He should have been a monk," his mother would cry, "for what good is he to us, this son of ours? When we are old we will have to beg from our daughters and neighbors to save us from starvation." Such was his parents' constant plaint, but still the boy refused to take a life. "All life is sacred," he would say. "I cannot kill another living being."

One day Tashi's father insisted that the boy accompany him on a hunting trip. They walked for many miles and the father was getting very weary for it was a poor day and all he had managed to catch was a small rabbit. The father thought, "It is this son of mine; he brings bad luck."

The young man was sitting on a rock eating his meager ration of fruit and cheese and carving the prayer of Chenrezik into the rock beside him: OM MANI PADME HUM. All along the path there were similar prayers carved into the rocks by travelers, for the path led up to a holy shrine which would be visited by travelers as they passed on their way. Chenrezik, the patron saint of Tibet, Lord of Compassion, commanded a great devotion from the people, and even Tashi's father, when he saw what his son was doing, silently mouthed the powerful prayer over and over again, moving the worn beads of his rosary through his fingers as he did so. Taking life was against his Buddhist beliefs, but he had to provide his wife with food, and he did try to kill the animals as humanely as possible, praying for them as he did so. It was plain to the father that he would never make his son see sense, the boy would never take a life, no matter how hungry they were, and he could see no way out of the situation.

Father and son walked on a little further, the father keeping a watch out for small animals and birds. Suddenly, through the trees, the father saw a sight that made him catch his breath. There in the field that bordered their path he saw a large hare. It was indeed the best thing that had come his way for many a week, and he was determined not to miss it. Taking up his sling the father crept through the trees to get a better view of the large brown animal. The hare was running toward them, his powerful hind legs pushing him forward at such a rate that it was impossible for the father to get a clear aim.

Suddenly, the hare stopped, as if sensing that there was danger. He twitched his nose, turned his head from side to side, and pricked his ears, listening. He was so near now that the boy could see the hare quite clearly, and so could his father who was just ready to send a large stone flying from his sling when the boy stood up and shouted, "No father, no; do not kill him!" The hare leaped into the air and was gone in a second, running for cover into a barley field which provided welcome refuge from his angry assailant.

The father stood spellbound for a few minutes, his face had turned ashen white and anger surged through his body. "Why?" he said to his son. "Why did you do that?" Tashi felt uncomfortable, he knew that his father was angrier than he had ever seen him before and that he could probably expect the beating of his life.

The father could control himself no longer. Taking a large rock from the side of the pathway he walked toward his son. "I will [hurt] you," he said, "I will [hurt] you, my only son." So saying, the father made to throw the rock at [Tashi], but he backed away, frightened now and pleading with his father to spare his life. Just on one side of the path was a rocky incline, and on the side of the slope was a small cave. The opening was just a small crack and the young man backed toward it, just managing to squeeze himself into the cave before his father sent the rock hurtling toward [him]. The rock struck his leg and he screamed out in pain.

Once inside the cave Tashi knew he was safe, since the opening was far too small for his father to enter. Tashi could not tell how large his rocky prison was, for it was dark and very difficult to see inside the cave. Inching his way along one of the jagged walls he reached the end of the cave just a few yards away from the entrance, and there, his leg pouring blood, he lay down and soon lapsed into unconsciousness.

It was many hours later when Tashi, roused into consciousness by the sound of footsteps, sat up and painfully recalled the events that had led up to his being injured and seeking refuge from his angry father. The footsteps grew louder. He called out for help, but his voice was weak and only a feeble whisper left his lips. Mustering all the energy he could, Tashi called again, this time louder. The footsteps stopped and he could hear voices softly murmuring outside the cave.

Suddenly, a head appeared at the opening, two eyes peered in at him and a voice shouted for him to come out of the cave. "I cannot move," he replied. "I am injured and find it difficult to move the few yards to the opening of the cave."

The head disappeared and was soon replaced by another. Then a small robed body maneuvered itself through the crack and crawled along the cave to Tashi. He could see that it was a monk moving toward him with outstretched hands to support him and lead him to safety. Once outside the cave Tashi saw that there were three monks, traveling together on pilgrimage to the holy shrines.

They carried him to a soft bank of grass, set him down and tended to his leg. Then, after sharing their food with him the monks asked Tashi to tell them his story, how he had come to be in such a sorry situation. The boy related his tale, telling them about his unwillingness to hunt for food, and how finally his father, driven to despair, had tried to kill his only son.

The monks listened without speaking; then the head monk invited the boy to accompany them on their travels. This he did, dressed in the robes of a mendicant monk.

After a few days they came to the house of Tashi's eldest sister. The head monk approached the door, knocked, and when the sister appeared, asked for alms. The sister went to fetch food for the wandering monks, but just as they were leaving she asked, "Have you seen my lost brother on your travels?" He has been missing for many days and we are worried about him."

The head monk replied that they had not met with her brother on the way, but if they did they would surely tell him of her concern. The eldest sister did not recognize her brother dressed in the robes of a monk.

Soon they came upon the house of the young man's second sister. Once again the head monk approached the house and asked for alms, which he was given, and once again he was asked whether or not they had met with the lost brother. The head monk replied that they had not met with the young man and they went on their way.

When they came to the house of Tashi's youngest sister to ask for alms she immediately recognized her lost brother and hugged him, begging him to stay with those who loved him.

The three sisters gathered at the youngest sister's house and a feast was held to celebrate Tashi's return. The monks were given many gifts and were asked to stay as guests for as long as they pleased, but they declined and left the youngest sister's house to resume their travels.

Tashi thanked his sisters for their help and concern, but asked them to give him their blessings for he wanted to leave and make a life of his own. The sisters were sad to see their only brother go out into the world, and they gave him a gift of a magic horse which could speak. Tashi took the horse and made his way toward the remote regions of the land.

Before he had gone very far Tashi came to a vast plain. The horse spoke to him. "Kill me," he said. "Put my skin on the plain and scatter my hair all around so that the wind will carry it to the far corners of the plain."

The young man was horrified and refused to kill the horse. Instead he set down his pack, ate the food his sisters had given him, and prepared to rest for the night. During the night the horse threw himself over a steep precipice and was instantly killed.

When Tashi woke the next morning he looked for the horse, but he was nowhere to be seen. Searching all over the plain the young man came to the precipice, and peering down saw the shattered body of the horse. Feeling a great sadness and thinking of their conversation the night before, Tashi decided to do what the horse had asked. He took the skin, spread it out in the center of the plain, then scattered the horse's hair all around, throwing it up in the air so that the wind caught it and carried it to the farthest corners of the plain.

Instantly, the horse's skin became a huge mansion, and the hair became herds of sheep and yaks, grazing on the plain as far as the eye could see. The horse appeared before the boy and spoke once more. "You have shown only compassion toward other living beings; this is your reward." As soon as he had spoken the horse galloped off into the distance and disappeared. The young man noticed that where the horse's hooves had touched the ground little patches of gold appeared.

Looking around his new home, Tashi thought about his parents and wondered how they were managing to survive. He decided to go and see them and bring them home to live with him in the mansion. "My father and mother will never want for food again," he thought.

Tashi dressed in monk's robes again, for he did not want his parents to know of his new-found wealth, then he packed two bread pancakes and made his way to his parents' home. He climbed onto the roof of their house, peered down through a small window and saw his mother and father crouched in front of the fire. Tashi threw down a bread pancake. His mother seized it, declaring, "Gifts from heaven." The father snatched it from her and began to eat greedily. Tashi threw down the second pancake for his mother.

Then Tashi climbed down from the roof and knocked on the door of his parents' house. His mother answered and immediately recognized her son. Taking him in her arms she hugged him and begged him not to leave them again. The young man's father, too, was overcome with emotion and asked his son's forgiveness.

Tashi told his parents about his new home and his wealth and took them with him to the mansion on the plain. There he set his mother on a throne of purest gold, his father on a throne of purest silver, and he, their only son, sat on a throne of the pinkest shell.

NOTE: A Tibetan will sometimes purchase an animal from a butcher, and it will be allowed to live out its natural life, wearing a red woolen collar to show its special status. The owner believes this meritorious act may go a little way toward balancing out the often repeated unmeritorious act of eating meat. In a cold climate where meat production is easy and the growing of crops and vegetables can be difficult, meat was one of the staples of the Tibetan diet. But Tibetans did not delude themselves as to its incompatability with Buddhist teachings on harmlessness to all living creatures. Hence the often repeated invocation: "If an animal's flesh be eaten by one of merciful mind it will be led on the road of pure and perfect mercy" (in future lives). Being human though, Tibetans have frailties of nature, as do all of us, so the popular attitude is that the main responsibility lies with the butcher!


“The Young Man Who Refused to Kill.” Hyde-Chambers, Fredrick and Aubrey. Tibetan Folk Tales. Boulder & London: Shambhala, ©1981 pp. 76-82.

Used with the permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc.
"From TIBETAN FOLK TALES by Frederick and Audrey Hyde-Chambers, ©1981. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston."