The Bodhisatta was once a king. He ruled the kingdom of Kuru righteously and generously, keeping the ten royal virtues and the five precepts, as did everyone else in the palace. His subjects were happy and prosperous, and he was loved across India.
The kingdom of Kalinga, on the other hand, was suffering drought and famine, and the people lived in fear and poverty. The King of Kalinga tried to make rain by giving alms, observing the holy days, making vows of virtue, and lying on a grass pallet for seven days, but the drought continued uninterrupted. Then his advisors suggested he could bring rain to the kingdom by borrowing the Bodhisatta’s auspicious state elephant. The King of Kalinga sent eight brahmins to Kuru to ask, and without hesitation the Bodhisatta gave them not only his elephant but also all its exquisite ornamentation and its mahout. The brahmins rode back to Kalinga, but still no rain fell.
Seeking other solutions, the advisors pointed out that the Bodhisatta faithfully followed the five precepts and this could be the source of the steady rain over his land. So the King of Kalinga sent the brahmins back to Kuru to return the elephant and take notes upon a golden tablet about the Bodhisatta’s practice of the five precepts. They were granted an audience and thanked the Bodhisatta for the use of his elephant, but explained that it had not brought them rain. Then they told the Bodhisatta that their king wished to follow the five precepts and asked him to explain them. The Bodhisatta grew somber and confessed that he had probably once broken the five precepts and so could not help them. During a festival, he shot arrows to the four directions to honor the gods, and one of them may have landed in a lake where it could have struck and killed a fish. The brahmins insisted that without intent there was no sin, so he agreed to tell them the five precepts: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lust, don’t lie, and don’t get intoxicated.
But due to his self-doubt, the Bodhisatta told them to speak with his mother, who he said kept the five precepts without fail. But she had her own uncertainty and also did not feel confident about sharing her knowledge. Throughout the day, the brahmins were passed on to ten people who all agonized over tiny transgressions just like the Bodhisatta did. Their stories demonstrated just how diligently the people of Kuru followed the five precepts.
- The Bodhisatta’s mother received two gifts, fine sandalwood perfume and a golden neckband, each worth one hundred thousand coins. She did not use either of these herself, so she passed them on to her daughters-in-law. Later, she worried that she had chosen wrong and should have given each of the women the opposite gifts.
- The queen had once looked at the viceroy with lust during a royal procession around the city, but she quickly regretted it and never acted on the urge.
- The viceroy paid his respects to the king each evening. Sometimes he went home afterward, and sometimes he spent the night in the palace. When it was the latter, his entourage would go home and come back to get him in the morning. One time he intended to stay at the palace just a short while, but it started raining, so he changed his mind and slept there. He forgot to tell his attendants, so they stayed up all night in the rain waiting for him to come out. The next morning when he saw them, he felt terrible that his absentmindedness had caused so many people so much discomfort.
- The royal chaplain had seen a beautiful chariot given as a gift to the king and wished he could have it, though he didn’t mention this to anyone. Later, the king offered him the chariot, but he refused because he felt so guilty about having previously desired it.
- The royal driver was once helping a farmer measure his field. He took one end of the rope, tied it to a stick, and walked to the edge of the field, where he found a crab hole. He did not want to place the stick in the hole, possibly hurting the crab; on the near side of the hole, causing the farmer to lose a bit of land; or on the far side of the hole, causing the king to lose a little land. But he had to choose, and he guessed that if the crab were there, it would have already shown itself; so he put his stick in the hole. And when he did, he heard a clicking sound from inside and worried he might have killed the crab.
- One evening while the charioteer was taking the king home from the royal park, storm clouds approached, so he poked the horses to speed them up. The horses interpreted this as a response to some danger, and ever after, when the horses reached that same spot, they rushed back to the palace at full speed and were very tired.
- A rich man passed by his rice paddy and saw a head of rice bursting open, so he grabbed a handful to take home. Then he realized he had not yet given the king his share of the harvest, which must be done before a farmer can take his own rice home.
- Once while the master of the royal granaries was measuring the portion of a farmer’s rice that would be given to the king, it began to rain. He quickly swept up a few loose grains that were being used as markers to keep count, tossed them into one of the heaps, and ran indoors. He became stressed because he couldn’t remember whether he had incorrectly put the loose grains on the pile that had already been measured or on the unmeasured pile where they had come from.
- Once when the gatekeeper called out the evening warning that the city gate was about to close, a poor man and a younger woman ran up just in time. The gatekeeper criticized them for cutting it so close when the king was in the city and insulted him by saying they had snuck out for a tryst. When the man explained that he was actually out collecting firewood with his sister, he felt remorse for his words.
- A high-class prostitute had taken one thousand coins from a man who promised to visit her soon. Three years passed and the man never came, but she was an honorable woman and did not take any more customers for that entire time. But she had grown very poor and so went to court. Because such a long time had passed, the judges cleared her obligation to the customer and told her she could go back to work as normal. Right after she walked out of court, a man propositioned her, and as soon as she held out her hand to take his money, she saw the man from three years ago and was filled with guilt, so she pulled her hand back and turned down her new suitor. The man from the past then revealed himself as Indra, king of the gods. Floating in the air, he explained that he had been testing her virtue, and she had shown herself to be so righteous that people should take their example from her. He filled her home with the seven precious jewels and returned to heaven.
With everybody’s story and advice recorded on the golden tablet, the brahmins returned home and gave it to their king. And when he fulfilled the five precepts, rain began to fall. The kingdom again thrived and the people no longer lived in fear.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One day after bathing in a river, two disciples saw geese flying overhead, and both claimed they could throw a stone and hit one in the eye. The first disciple missed, but the other hit a goose’s near eye and his stone came out through the other. The goose fell dead at their feet. Other disciples who saw this rebuked him for killing a living creature and took him to meet with the Buddha. He asked the disciple why he would do such a terrible thing after embracing the religious life that leads to salvation. Then the Buddha told him this story as an example of people feeling remorse over trivial things and said he should act like these ten people.
The Bodhisatta’s mother and queen were earlier births of the Buddha’s birth mother and wife. The other pious people were earlier births of some of the Buddha’s top disciples: in order of appearance, they were Nanda, Maha Kassapa, Maha Kaccana, Anuruddha, Sariputta, Moggallana, Punna, and Uppalavanna.