Animals Boast of Their Age
This animal fable narrates the story of animals competing over who is the oldest, which ends in the toad’s victory.
A long time ago, rabbit, turtle and toad were arguing over who was the oldest among them. Rabbit was the first to boast that he had been born during the time of the ancient celestial emperor Tianhuang. Then turtle offered that he had been born in the time of the first creator Pangu, which far preceded Tianhuang’s era. Toad, after listening to rabbit and turtle argue, began weeping. When the two animals asked toad why he was weeping, he kept on weeping, then finally said, hearing them mention Pangu and Tianhuang reminded him of his son, who died during the reign of Pangu, and his grandson, who died in Tianhuang’s reign.
In some variations of this narrative, the contest expands beyond age and into various races, including rolling an earthenware steamer down the hill and catching it at the bottom; height comparison; contests on who is weaker with alcohol; who sees the sunrise first; river-crossing; and running.
The focus of the narrative is one the triumph of the weak, achieved through wisdom. The tale usually features three different animals engaged in three contests, and the winner is the last contestant, which is usually the toad. The last contestant can exercise his wisdom by listening to the other contestants prior to his own turn.
The earliest written version of this narrative can be found in the Sipsongnyul (Sarvāstivāda Vinaya) section of the Buddhist sutra Goryeodaejanggyeong (Goryeo Tripitaka), printed in Goryeo. This version features an elephant, monkey and a desert bird, and different variations in different country feature animals from their natural surroundings. The food that the animals fight over also varies: For example, the Korean version features rice cakes (tteok), while the Mongolian version features butter. These elements make the narrative a good reference for comparing the transmission of Buddhist tales in different countries, including Korea and Mongolia.