Once there was a woodcutter who went into the mountains and lost his way in the snow. The time was approaching dusk, the snow was deep, and the cold was freezing; the woodcutter would be dead before long.
He advanced into a dense wood whereupon he saw, already there in the wood, a bear whose body color was deep blue and whose eyes were like two torches. The man was scared half to death, but the bear, upon seeing the woodcutter’s distress and fear, soothed and admonished him, saying, “You need not be afraid. A father and mother sometimes are treacherous to a child, but I am completely without ill will toward you.” Then it stepped forward, lifted the woodcutter up, and carried him into a cave to warm his body. After letting him recuperate, it picked various roots and fruits and encouraged him to eat what he liked, and, afraid that the woodcutter’s coldness would not thaw, it hugged and lay with him.
It thus tenderly nursed him for six days, until, on the seventh day, the weather cleared and the path became visible. The man then had the strength to return home and the bear, having already recognized this, again picked sweet fruits and served them to the man until he was satisfied. The bear then escorted the man out of the woods and politely bade him farewell.
The man dropped to his knees and said in thanks, “How can I repay your kindness?”
The bear said, “I want no reward. I only hope that just as I have protected you, you would act likewise toward my life.”
The man respectfully assented and, carrying his wood, he descended the mountain. On his way down, he met two hunters, who asked him, “What kinds of creatures have you seen in the mountains?”
The woodcutter replied, “I have not seen any other beast at all; I have only seen one bear.”
The hunters begged him, “Can you lead us to him?”
The woodcutter answered, “If you can give me a share of two-thirds, I will show you.” The hunters thereupon agreed and together they set off.
At length they slew the bear and divided its flesh into three. As the woodcutter, with both hands, went to take the bear meat, through the force of his bad karma both of his arms dropped off—like pearls on a string that is cut, or like chopped lotus roots. The hunters were alarmed by this and in astonishment they asked the reason for it. The woodcutter, ashamed, related the plot in detail.
These two hunters berated the woodcutter, saying, “The bear showed you this great benevolence! How could you have responded with such evil treachery? It is a wonder that your body has not rotted!” At this, the woodcutter and the hunters together took the meat to donate to a monastery.
There, an elder among the monks entered into the immovable state of zazen and reflected upon what kind of meat had been offered. He realized that it was the flesh of a great bodhisattva who had produced benefit and joy for all living beings. At length, he left the immovable state and told the monks of this matter. The monks were shocked to hear it. Together, they gathered fragrant firewood to cremate the flesh, collected the remaining bones, prepared a memorial, performed prostrations, and served offerings.