A Buddhist Tale
- [T]here’s a famous Buddhist story about the monk going on pilgrimage to India, who is asked by an old woman to bring back a relic of the Buddha. The monk makes his trip, totally forgetting the request, until he’s on the last leg of the journey home. Frantic, he notices a dog’s carcass on the roadside, so he pries out a tooth. On his return, he presents it to the old woman who is effusively grateful. She installs the tooth in an elaborate shrine and venerates it daily. After awhile, it takes on a sublime glow, drawing people from all the countryside round about, and many miracles occur.
The usual interpretation is that it is the faith of the woman that does all this–the tooth is just the focus that allows her faith to grow. In some versions, the Buddha or one of the bodhisattvas appears and announces that the tooth is real, since he (the bodhisattva), being aware of the monk’s dilemma, compassionately appeared in the form of a dead dog in order to fulfill the request as well as to test the woman’s faith.