Mahasilava Jataka (#51)

painting of Mahasilava Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once the King of Varanasi, and he ruled righteously, wisely, and generously. He had expelled one of his advisors from the kingdom for making personal use of the royal harem, and this man later became the chief advisor to the King of Kosala. The ex-advisor convinced this king that the Bodhisatta was a weak leader and could easily be conquered. Upon hearing his plan, the King of Kosala suspected that his advisor was a traitor sent to lead him into a trap; but the advisor said he could prove it. He told the king to send some men to massacre a village across the border; then he would see that they would not be punished. The king did so. The murderous attackers were captured and sent to the palace, where the Bodhisatta asked why they had killed the villagers. When they answered that it was because they were poor and could not find work, the Bodhisatta made them promise not to do it again, gave them money, and set them free.

Though things transpired just as his advisor said they would, the King of Kosala was still not convinced. He repeated the test twice more, the last time inside the capital city, and after the same result he realized his new advisor was right about the Bodhisatta being a thoroughly righteous man and no threat at all. The now confident King of Kosala set out on conquest with his army and elephants. Varanasi had the bravest, fiercest warriors in all of India, and when word spread of the coming invasion, they begged the Bodhisatta to set them loose, as did his advisors. But the Bodhisatta was steadfast that he would not allow anyone to suffer, and he prohibited resistance. When the invaders arrived at the city, the Bodhisatta opened the gate and let them in. The effortlessly victorious King of Kosala ordered the Bodhisatta and his advisors bound and buried up to their necks in the cemetery, where at night jackals would come and eat them. At no point had an ill thought entered the Bodhisatta’s mind. And so loyal were his advisors that they said and did nothing.

At midnight the jackals arrived at the cemetery to feast on corpses and found the buried men. When the first jackal approached the Bodhisatta, he bit into the beast’s throat and did not let go. The captured jackal’s howling sent his companions fleeing, and as it struggled to free itself, its legs dug up dirt around the Bodhisatta. After enough time had passed, the Bodhisatta released his bite and let the jackal go. Then, through his mighty strength, he was able to dig himself out of the loosened dirt and free his advisors.

Nearby, two ogres had found a corpse lying right on the border of their territories and were quarreling over how to divide it. Since they could not decide, they dragged the body to the Bodhisatta and asked him to divide it. He agreed, but told them he first needed to freshen up. So the ogres used their magical powers to bring him scented water, robes, perfumes, food, and betel, all of which had been prepared for the King of Kosala. Refreshed, the Bodhisatta then told them to fetch the usurper’s sword of state from his room. The Bodhisatta used it to part the corpse straight down the spine and gave one half to each ogre. The Bodhisatta then asked the ogres to transport him to the King of Kosala’s bedroom.

Finding the king asleep, the Bodhisatta smacked him in the stomach with the flat of his sword. Struck with terror, he sat up and listened to the Bodhisatta explain how he managed to escape and get past all the guards into the room. Hearing the tale, the king realized he had made a mistake. He swore an oath of friendship and asked the Bodhisatta for forgiveness, which was granted. In the morning, the King of Kosala gathered all his men, praised the Bodhisatta, punished his chief advisor, and returned to his own kingdom. The Bodhisatta told those gathered around him that it was only because of perseverance that he had been able to save his kingdom with no lives lost, and people must have faith that doing good gives the best result.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One of the Buddha’s disciples stopped concentrating on the practice of his faith. When the Buddha heard about it, he told him this story to explain that once before, when it seemed that all hope was lost, some wise virtuous men did not waiver in their perseverance. The disciple became an arahant after hearing the story.

The exiled advisor was an earlier birth of Devadatta, a disciple of the Buddha who became his nemesis, and the Bodhisatta’s loyal advisors were earlier births of the Buddha’s disciples.

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