The Bodhisatta was once a king’s chaplain. The king was righteous, but his commander-in-chief took bribes and cheated people. One time a victim of the commander-in-chief’s corruption left court after losing his suit and saw the Bodhisatta. He fell at the Bodhisatta’s feet and begged him to tell the king the truth about the commander-in-chief. The Bodhisatta pitied the man and so took him back to the courthouse and judged the case himself, finding in the man’s favor. The king heard loud applause burst from the courtroom, and when told the reason for it, he appointed the Bodhisatta as judge.
Suddenly unable to demand bribes, the commander-in-chief decided to kill the Bodhisatta. He told the king that the Bodhisatta wanted to take the throne; and seeing how much the people loved him, the king believed it. The pair knew that the Bodhisatta would never do anything wrong that would deserve the death penalty, so they gave him an order they knew he could not follow and then they would execute him for his failure. The king told the Bodhisatta he had grown bored with his current royal park and needed him to make a new one by tomorrow, or else he would die.
The Bodhisatta knew that the greedy commander-in-chief must have turned the king against him, and he didn’t know what to do about it. While the Bodhisatta lay on his bed at home pondering the problem, the throne of Indra, king of the gods, became warm, and he divined that the Bodhisatta was in trouble. Indra went to the Bodhisatta’s house and asked how he could help. After hearing what the king was up to, Indra created a royal park on par with those in heaven. The king was surprised when, the next morning, the Bodhisatta brought him to see the magnificent new park. The commander-in-chief devised another impossible task; creating a lake possessing the seven precious jewels by the next day. And again, Indra came to earth to save the Bodhisatta by building a heavenly lake with a thousand islands and blooming lotuses of five colors. Next, the schemers asked for a house made of ivory, and then for a jewel suitable for the house. Again, Indra created both.
At this point, the commander-in-chief realized the Bodhisatta was getting divine assistance of some sort, so they adjusted their strategy. The Bodhisatta’s next task was to find a park-keeper who had all four virtues,1The four virtues used in this story are not the four perfect virtues discussed by the Buddha. something not even a god could just make. The Bodhisatta was dejected because he was sure that Indra could not complete this task for him. He felt it would be better to die a lonely death out in the wilderness than to die at the hands of a man, so he walked away from the city. Eventually he took a seat under a tree and reflected on goodness while waiting to die.
This time Indra came disguised as a forester and struck up a conversation. He told him of a craftsman who was completely virtuous, and the Bodhisatta returned to the city to meet him. He listened to the Bodhisatta explain why he had come, and agreed to go discuss the job with the king. The king was skeptical and asked the craftsman to explain how he came to grasp the four virtues, so he told stories about events from four of his past lives that made him renounce evil ways.
- Once when I was a king, the craftsman said, I was faithful to my wife, but she was not faithful to me. When my chaplain (who was the Bodhisatta in the Bandhanamokkha Jataka (#120)) refused her seduction, she schemed to have him killed and lied to me, saying the chaplain had demanded sex and beat her when she refused. I had him sentenced to death, but then I discovered the truth, and he convinced me to forgive her and her many lovers. And from that point on, I have been free of envy.
- Once when I was a king, I always ate meat and drank lots of alcohol. One holy day, when animals could not be slaughtered, some dogs ate the meat that had been prepared for my dinner the day before. The queen told the cook that I was so fond of my young son that if I held him while I ate, I would not notice that it was a meatless meal. She placed my son on my lap, and the cook brought my dishes. But my queen was wrong and I did notice. In a drunken rage, I broke my son’s neck and threw his body in front of the cook, telling him to prepare me some meat. Out of fear of me, he did it, and I ate my own son’s flesh. The next morning, I learned what I had done, and from that point on, I have abstained from alcohol.
- Once when I was a king, some fortune-tellers told me that my newborn son would someday die from a lack of water. Because of the prophecy, I had water tanks built around the city and water jars kept full at all crossroads and public squares. One day, while going to the park, my son saw many people paying respect to a private Buddha (those who reach enlightenment on their own and do not teach the path to others). Out of jealousy for seeing attention given to the holy man and not to himself, he dismounted his elephant and threw the private Buddha’s food onto the road and stepped all over it, crushing it into the dirt. The private Buddha flew away to his cave in the Himalayas, and my son burst into flames. All the water nearby dried up, and he died and went to hell. I was overcome with grief, and I realized that it only arose because I loved my son. Without passions, I would feel no pain. And from that point on, I have withheld affection.
- Once when I was an ascetic (who was the Bodhisatta in the Araka Jataka (#169)2There is an unexplainable incongruity here. This craftsman could not have been the ascetic from the other Jataka because that ascetic was the Bodhisatta, and a soul cannot inhabit two beings simultaneously.) I practiced charity for seven years, and then after death I lived in heaven for seven eons. After this, I have never surrendered to anger.
After hearing these tales, the king’s entire court rose up in raucous protest against the commander-in-chief for his wickedness against the Bodhisatta, and a mob dragged him out of the palace and beat him to death, tossing his body on a dunghill. From this point on, the king renewed his righteous rule.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
The commander-in-chief was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis. When he was advised that Devadatta had made plans to kill him, the Buddha told his disciples this story so they knew that Devadatta had also tried to kill him in the past but couldn’t even make him afraid.
The craftsman was an earlier birth of Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s top disciples.