(Told by Narada Maha Thera)
"A man was forcing his way through a thick forest beset with thorns and stones. Suddenly to his great consternation, an elephant appeared and gave chase. He took to his heels through fear, and seeing a well, he ran to hide in it. But to his horror he saw a viper at the bottom of the well. However, lacking other means of escape, he jumped into that well, and clung to a thorny creeper that was growing in it. Looking up, he saw two mice--a white one and a black one--gnawing at the creeper. Over his face there was a beehive from which occasional drops of honey trickled.
This man, foolishly unmindful of this precarious position, was greedily tasting the honey. A kind person volunteered to show him a path of escape. But the greedy man begged to be excused till he had enjoyed himself.
The thorny path is Samsara, the ocean of life. Man's life is not a bed of roses. It is beset with difficulties and obstacles to overcome, with opposition and unjust criticism, with attacks and insults to be borne. Such is the thorny path of life.
The elephant here resembles death; the viper, old age; the creeper, birth; the two mice, night and day. The drop of honey correspond to the fleeting sensual pleasures. The man represents the so-called being. The kind person represents the Buddha.
The temporary material happiness is merely the gratification of some desire. When the desired thing is gained, another desire arises. Insatiate are all desires.
'Sorrow is essential to life, and cannot be evaded.
Nirvana, being non-conditioned, is [quiescent].'"
From Thus Have I Heard, edited by Minh Thanh and P.D. Leigh.