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Thuenpa Puen Zhi - The tale about Four Harmonious Friends

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Anyone who visited Bhutan will know about or have seen the sculpture/painting of The Four Harmonious Friends, also known as Thuenpa Puen Zhi. It is a story about four friends, which includes a bird, a rabbit, a monkey and an elephant. The four friends symbolise unity, respect, peace and harmony.

The four harmonious friends lived by a big fruit tree in a place near Varanasi, India. When the tree started to bear fruits, they argued among themselves on the rights of the fruits, which they have been enjoying. For justifications to have more rights, they discussed who was the oldest among them. For this they counted their age against the number of years of growth of the tree.

Each one of them shared their experience on the growth of the tree when they first saw it. Firstly, the elephant expressed that the tree was fully grown when he saw it for the first time as a calf, whereas the monkey remembered the tree as a seedling. Meanwhile, the tree was a mere sapling when the rabbit was a bunny, whilst the bird said that it had eaten the fruit near the tree and excreted the seeds, which grew into the tree. They came to an understanding that the bird was the oldest, followed by the rabbit, the monkey, and the elephant was the youngest among them.

What we learn from this tale is that respect has to be made irrespective of the size or strength of the individual, and that usually, it has to be made based on seniority. Therefore, based on seniority and merits of the individuals, the four friends respected each other and lived harmoniously forever by sharing the fruits of the tree.

Another version of the tale

In the beginning, it was only the bird when the tree was growing. It was able to enjoy the fruits within its reach. But with the growth of the tree, it became difficult for the bird to reach the fruits, as it was not able to fly.

While the bird was having difficulties in reaching the fruit, the rabbit came along to help the bird. Through cooperation, they could enjoy the fruits. Over the period of time, the tree grew bigger, which made it difficult for them to reach for the fruit. However, in the midst of the problem a monkey came along who climbed the tree and dropped the fruits on the ground for the rabbit and the bird.

Nevertheless, it did not always work, as the tree grew into a full size, thereby making it more difficult for three of them to reach the fruits. At last the elephant came and helped them to get the fruits.

With the help of each other, all of them were able to enjoy and share the fruits of the tree throughout the season.

The moral of the parable is that one has to have an open mind to help anyone at any time, and seek help and advice from others, and not to work solely based on assumptions. In the Bhutanese proverbs, there is a saying that ‘one has to ask others even after knowing everything, and better to ride a horse even if one can run fast’. In this regard, it is important for every leader to adopt this principle and moral values in planning and implementing activities through cooperation and collaboration to aspire the vision and reap the fruits of missions.

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