I have finally finished my Dictionary of Flora and Fauna in the Pali Tipitaka, a project that has taken nearly three years. It will not be ready for the press for at least another 12 months. There are 754 entries and over 3000 references. The animal that gets most space is the elephant and the plant is rice. A long introduction includes all information from the Tipitaka pertaining to plants and animals in general. While doing research for this book in the ancient literature of India I came across so many fascinating references to plants and animals, much of which I have not been able to use. Some of this material is so beautiful or interesting or quirky that I have kept it anyway. Below is an example of such material. It is a charming passage from Bana’s Harshacarita which describes king Harsha's impressions on arriving at Venerable Divakaramitra’s forest hermitage in the Vindhyan Mountains. It was the idea of monkeys worshiping stupas and birds reciting the Dhamma that made this delightful passage appeal to me so much. The translation is Thomas and Cowell’s which I have modified slightly.
Then in the midst of the trees, while he was yet at a distance, the holy man's presence was suddenly announced by the king's seeing Buddhists from various provinces seated in different situations, - perched on pillars, seated on the rocks, dwelling in bowers of creepers, lying in thickets, in the shadow of the branches or squatting on the roots of trees, - all diligently following their own tenets, pondering, urging objections, raising doubts, resolving them, giving etymologies, disputing, studying, and explaining, and all gathered here as his disciples. Even some monkeys who had taken the Three Refuges were busy performing the ritual of the stupa, while some devout parrots, skilled in the Shakya sastras, were explaining the Abhidharmakosa, and some mynas who had obtained calm by expositions of the duties of Vinaya, were giving lectures on the Dharma, and some owls, who had gained insight by listening to the ceaseless round of instruction, were muttering the various births of the Bodhisattva, and even some tigers who had given up eating flesh under the calming influence of Buddhist teaching were waiting in attendance, while some young lions sat undisturbed near his seat showed at once what a great sage he was, as he thus sat as it were on a natural lion-throne. His feet were licked by some deer who seemed to drink in his calmness; he demonstrated universal love by a young dove which sat on his left hand like a lotus dropped from his ear, while he dazzled the spectators by the rays which streamed from the nails of his other hand, as he poured water on a peacock, which stood near with its neck uplifted, like an emerald water-jar, or scattered grains of panic and rice for the ants. He was clad in a soft yellow robe, as if he were the dawn in the East teaching the other quarters to assume the red robe, while they reflected the pure red glow of his body like a finely cut ruby; with his gently eye lowered in humility, he seemed to rain ambrosia to revive the little insects which the crowd had inadvertently crushed. He was like Avalokiteshvara, absorbed without faltering in austerity, revealing the real nature of all things to his student, one whom even the Buddha himself might well approach with reverence.