Sonam Chöpel’s Chicken Story

18 February 2013 § 6 Comments

Although I can’t remember exactly why, Ron asked me a few years ago if I’d write up Sonam Chöpel’s chicken story. (It was something to do with producing a text to read out loud to test a recording device—Ron will remember.) I agreed because I’m a bit of pushover, but as Sonam Chöpel never tells a story the same way twice, I had to take notes for a couple of weeks (Rinpoche was asking for it every other night) before putting fingers to keyboard. The result was the following, which, as you can see, is a pastiche of the Heart Sutra. Looking at it now I can see it doesn’t really work, certainly not as well as the Football Sutra, but I’ve decided to swallow my pride and post it nonetheless, as it’s topical.

Homage to the Master of all Chicken Stories!

Thus have I heard. Once when Sonam Chöpel was serving supper at Khyentse Labrang, together with a great gathering of the Sangha from Vancouver, Hong Kong and Taiwan, he entered the samadhi that expressed the paranoia of the Chicken Farmer from Bhutan.

And at the same time, noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, whilst eating his food, saw in this way: he saw a vision of the story of the paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer.

Then, through the power of Sonam Chöpel, he-who-must-be-obeyed Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche asked noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, “Tell us a story, Ron.”

Addressed in this way, noble Ron Stewart, the bodhisattva raconteur, said to he-who-must-be-obeyed Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, “Oh Rinpoche, there once was a Chicken Farmer in Bhutan who hated his nasty neighbour and felt sure that one day he would do him wrong. And sure enough there dawned a day when one of the Farmer’s chickens was gone! ‘Oh, Oh, cried the Chicken Farmer as he jumped up and down with glee, ‘My neighbour’s robbed me! I must go to town and seek justice from a court of law!’ And off he went to court.

At the law court, a lawyer told the Chicken Farmer, “Oh Chicken Farmer, you cannot press a suit against your nasty neighbour for theft unless you have a witness to the crime!” And so the Chicken Farmer hurried to the local bar where he asked a poor Nepali immigrant, “Oh poor Nepali immigrant, my nasty neighbour stole from me, but I can’t take him to court without a witness to the crime. Here, take the handsome sum of fifty rupees and come to court. Tell the judge you saw the crime, and justice will be done!”

Bent and brown, the poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, I really need the handsome sum of fifty rupees, so kindly offered, but if my lie is found out I will be ejected from Bhutan before you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle’, so please find yourself another stooge.”

“No, no,” cried the determined Chicken Farmer, “my poor Nepali immigrant, that is not how things will transpire. You will not be found out! And I will give you the princely sum of one hundred rupees, and justice will be done!”

Again the bent and brown, poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, I really need the princely sum of one hundred rupees, so kindly offered, but if my lie is found out I will be ejected from Bhutan before you can say, ‘Where is Ali!’, so please find yourself another stooge.”

“No, no, no, no, no!” bawled the frantic Chicken Farmer, “you infuriating poor Nepali immigrant, that is not how things will transpire. You will not be found out! Just say two words, “I saw”, when the judge questions you and I will give you the kingly sum of two hundred rupees, and justice will be done!”

Once more the bent and  brown, poor Nepali immigrant thought over the Chicken Farmer’s proposition, then replied, “Honorable Chicken Farmer, you have won my help. I really need the kingly sum of two hundred rupees, so kindly offered, and will say the two words you require.” And off they went to court.

Beady-eyed, the judge stared hard at the poor Nepali immigrant and asked, “Did you, poor Nepali immigrant, see the Chicken Farmer’s nasty neighbour stealing something from his farm?”

“I saw!” replied the poor Nepali immigrant, much to the relief of the Chicken Farmer who clapped his hands with joy.

“How big was it?” continued the judge, beady-eyed and staring hard.

Shocked and confused, the poor Nepali immigrant raised his bony hand up as high as his shoulder—he had no idea what it was the nasty neighbour stole! The judge’s beady eyes bulged bigger and he exclaimed, “Can a chicken be so big?” And the poor Nepali immigrant raised his other hand in graceful mudra to indicate the height of an ordinary chicken.

Thus concludes the story of the paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer.

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§ 6 Responses to Sonam Chöpel’s Chicken Story

  • Koh Florence says:

    hahahahhah, amazing write up! love, Florence

  • janineschulz says:

    Thank you Florence!

  • Lesley says:

    I have sat through the telling of this story and others on at least three different continents. I always heard the telling by Ron. At first it was nervously funny, then it was funny, then it was tedious, then it was irritating, and on the next telling for some reason the whole thing turned funny again. Rinpoche has strange ways…. Your last few posts have been acidly hilarious! hugs

  • janineschulz says:

    Just the threat of one of his stories is enough to bring me out in hives, while Rinpoche never fails to find them all hysterically funny. I guess that’s what liberation does for you…

  • Kali says:

    I loved this post, Janine! You add much wit and value to this story 🙂 Rinpoche had Sonam Chopel tell this “joke” to my sister and I during our visit to Bhutan fourteen years ago. It took him around 45 minutes to tell the story, or at least it felt around that long, and Rinpoche seemed so full of anticipation of a hilarious punch-line that we were waiting for an incredibly hilarious ending. In this particular version, the “graceful mudra” you describe was accompanied by the the false witness saying to the judge, “Oh, I forgot to lift my other hand.” At which point, Rinpoche clapped his hands together and burst out laughing, and my sis and I were left there thinking, “Is that it?” And then, of course, the punch line had to be repeated, which finally stimulated some laughter on our part, but only because we found this anti-climactic, long-winded joke so absurd and Rinpoche’s love of the story (or perhaps secret absurdist style teaching) so endearing. Thank you for condensing the story of The Paranoid Bhutanese Chicken Farmer. If it were to be condensed further, I am now convinced that it would have the all-resounding sound “Ah”.

    • janineschulz says:

      Thank you Kali. It felt good to purge my system of this particular story while Sonam Chopel was in retreat. I imagine that, now he’s out, he’ll be telling it again, and again, and again. I’ve come to the conclusion that as a sangha, we don’t have the merit for him to reduce it to an “Ah”…

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