The Bodhisatta was once a king’s chaplain way back during the world’s first era. The king possessed four supernatural powers: he could fly, he had four sword-wielding gods in each direction to defend him, his body smelled of sandalwood, and his mouth smelled of lotus. The king had grown up with the Bodhisatta’s younger brother, and while still a prince he promised to make him the royal chaplain when he became king. When the prince took the throne, the Bodhisatta retired to live as an ascetic in the royal park, and he chose his son to replace himself as chaplain instead of his brother, taking the decision out of the new king’s hands.
The brother resented the Bodhisatta’s decision, but could do nothing about it since he was his junior. But the king still wanted his friend to be chaplain, and he decided to make it happen with a lie: he would simply declare that his friend was the elder brother and the Bodhisatta the junior. Word spread of the king’s plan, and the city was shocked because nobody had ever lied before. People wondered what a lie looked like; “Is it blue or yellow or some other color?” they asked. The brother warned the king that the Bodhisatta’s supernatural powers were strong and the king would suffer if he tried this, but the king vowed that after seven days he would do it.
On the seventh day, a great multitude assembled in the courtyard to watch the king lie. The king stood in the air while the Bodhisatta sat in front and warned him that lies bring destruction and lead to hell. Though these words filled him with fear, the king did not back down and said, for all to hear, “You, sir, are the younger and your brother is the elder.” Immediately the king fell to the ground, the four guardian gods threw down their swords in disgust and disappeared, his body smelled like an open drain, and his mouth stank like a rotten egg.
The Bodhisatta told the king if he spoke the truth, everything would be restored, but the king did not believe him and repeated the lie, this time sinking into the earth up to his ankles. Again the Bodhisatta told him that one word of truth would set him free, but the king was obstinate and said it again, sinking down to his knees. Four more times the Bodhisatta urged the king to speak the truth, and four more times the king repeated his lie, sinking down to his hips, navel, chest, and finally the earth opened and the flames of hell leaped up and seized him.
The city was filled with fear, and the king’s five sons wanted help from the Bodhisatta. He told them to each walk away in a different direction and establish a new city to live in at the spot where they saw a royal white elephant, a pure white royal horse, a maned lion, a wheel frame made of jewels, and two mountains rubbing up against each other making the sound daddara.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The king who told the first-ever lie was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis and tried to kill him three times. One time the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing how Devadatta’s wickedness had caused him to sink into the ground down to hell, and he told them this story so they knew that Devadatta had also told lies and been swallowed by the earth in the past.