About 400 years ago, there was a great monk called Liench’ih, which means Lotus Pond. He hoped all living creatures could be born again in the lotus pond in Amitabha’s Pure Land.
Once he saw a man with a bunch of centipedes strung out on a sliver of bamboo. They were suffering. Liench’ih asked, “Would you be so kind as to free those centipedes?”
“No way! These are poisonous centipedes that make good medicine. I won’t let them go, but I might sell them to you, if you paid.”
“Fine with me. How much do you want?” Even though that man was very rude, Master Liench’ih smiled and talked politely to him. He bought all the centipedes, but they were almost dead because they had been skewered on that bamboo spike. Only one was still in good shape. It looked at Liench’ih for a long time. Then it ran away on all of its legs.
Some time later, Liench’ih and a friend were sitting around talking about Buddhist sutras, or holy books. Suddenly, his friend’s face went pale. “Look at the size of that centipede!”
A huge, hairy, scary centipede was crawling up Master Liench’ih’s sleeve. His friend ran for a stick to brush it off, but the centipede wouldn’t move. Liench’ih didn’t seem worried.
“What if it bites you?”
Liench’ih talked to the centipede. “Could you be that centipede I set free a while back? If you are, just sit there quietly and I’ll teach you about Buddhism.”
The centipede didn’t move, so the Master very gently said, “Anyone who wants to thoroughly understand what all the Buddhas know, has to see that the nature of everything in the material universe is a product of our minds.
“All life is made by our minds. A person with a vicious heart becomes a wolf or a tiger. A person with a poisonous mind becomes a snake or a scorpion, or some other poisonous insect.
“You are now a poisonous centipede. Is this just chance? No, you must have had a poisonous mind in a past life. If you want to leave behind your sufferings, leave behind your poisonous mind, and you will be free. But only you can free yourself.
“Understand? That’s good. Now, it’s time for you to go. Be good!”
The centipede slowly crawled out the window. The master’s friend slowly crawled out from under his seat.
The Master told him, “You may think animals are free, but they live in fear. Worse than that, they live in ignorance. Life is full of suffering. If you want to be free from rebirth, ask Amitabha to take you to live in his Pure Land. There you can study to become a Buddha yourself. You will be free from rebirth, and you can save other living creatures. Isn’t that better than living and dying and living and dying?”