The Piety of the Hare
Once there were three pitiful old men who went into different parts of the forest to beg the animals they found there for food to eat. The first old man came upon a monkey who was sitting on a low tree branch.
“Monkey, I am but a poor, old man. Out of the goodness of your heart, please, bring me some food to eat.”
The monkey looked down at the old man and chattered, “Well, since I’m in this tree already, I suppose I could pull down some fruit for you,” and he reached up into the branches around him and dropped a few pieces of fruit down to the old man, hitting him on top of the head. BONK! The monkey laughed wildly and jumped up and down on his branch.
“Thank you, Monkey,” the old man said, rubbing his head, “this will last me into the evening, though it might have been nicer if you had handed them to me, rather than dropping them on my head!” And he went on his way into the forest.
The second old man came upon a fox slinking through the bushes.
“Fox, I am but a poor, old man. Out of the goodness of your heart, please bring me some food to eat.”
The fox stayed in the bushes and blinked up at the old man, wondering if this was a trick. “Okay, old man, I’ll bring you some food, but just you know that I’m a wily fox, and you won’t be able to trick me!” Then he snuck through the bushes to a hidden nest that he had smelled nearby. He darted forward, scaring the mother bird away and picked up two of the eggs in his mouth. He returned to the old man and laid the eggs at his feet.
“Thank you, Fox,” the old man said, “but I am disappointed you couldn’t find any food without having to steal.” And he went on his way into the forest.
The third old man came upon a rabbit sniffing at some flowers in a clearing with his little, pink nose.
“Rabbit, I am but a poor, old man. Out of the goodness of your heart, please bring me some food to eat.”
The rabbit looked up at the old man and twitched his nose, thinking. “Wait here and build a fire, and I will bring you something to eat,” the rabbit said after a moment and hopped into the thicket. He hid there while the old man built the fire and knew what he must do.
When the old man had finished his fire, the rabbit jumped into the clearing and leapt straight into the fire!
As this happened, the old man transformed into a fairy sage, and the two other old men appeared and transformed as well. The third sage lifted the rabbit unharmed from the magical fire he had built.
“Why did you leap into that fire, Rabbit?” the sage asked.
Rabbit shook himself, stunned to still be alive and replied, “I knew that the only food I could provide for you would be grass and flowers, since that is all I eat. But such food is not suitable for a human being, so I had nothing to offer. I could not let you go hungry, and I know that humans will eat cooked rabbit, so I gave myself, so that you could eat.”
The three fairy sages looked at one another and smiled. “Rabbit,” the third sage began, “as you may have noticed, we are not mere humans, but three fairy sages. You have touched us with your humble sacrifice and we would like nothing better than to reward you.”
The second sage continued, “Because of your great virtue, we would like to grant you immortality and allow you to live in the Moon Palace.”
The first sage finished, “There, you shall be the companion of the beautiful Moon Goddess, Chang’e, and you will serve her by pounding herbs for the elixir of immortality in a mortar and pestle.”
The rabbit’s eyes shone and his little nose twitched. “I would like that very much, sirs!”
And so he became the Moon Rabbit, also called the Jade Rabbit, and lives on the moon to this day, making the elixir of immortality.