Mahasupina Jataka (#77)

temple painting of Mahasupina Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. One night the king had sixteen vivid dreams and he awoke in fear wondering what they foretold. That morning he told his chaplains about the dreams and they said there would be grave misfortune if they did not sacrifice animals at every crossroads. The king ordered them to do it and gave them all the money they would need. But there was one young righteous chaplain among them who rebuked the others for proposing to kill animals, which is against the precepts. They responded that they were going to do it because they would make a great deal of money and he should keep his mouth shut. Refusing to take part in their scheme, the young chaplain left the palace and sat in the royal park.

From his home in the Himalayas, the Bodhisatta divined what was happening and wished to save the animals that were about to be killed. He magically flew to the royal park to see the young chaplain, who explained that the king was a righteous man, but was being led astray by the others. The Bodhisatta offered to consult with the king in order to stop the impending slaughter and the young chaplain got the king to agree.

The king related the dreams to the Bodhisatta, who explained them and told the king he had nothing to worry about. The dreams were all about the distant future, when kings become stingy and wicked and the world is perverted and decayed. The dreams and their prophecies were as follows.

  • Four black bulls entered the royal courtyard looking like they were going to fight, but they only roared and postured. – There will be a great drought and famine, and storm clouds with thunder and lightning will gather, but no rain will fall.
  • Tiny trees and shrubs emerged from the soil and promptly bore fruit. – People will have short lives so men will start to father children with young girls.
  • Cows suckled on their calves right after they were born. – People will no longer give respect to elders.
  • Some men unhitched a team of strong oxen and had young ones try to pull the load, but they were unable. – Kings will stop relying on wise lords and hire the young and foolish as advisors.
  • A horse had mouths on both sides of its head and it ate with both. – Kings will appoint greedy men as judges and they will take bribes from both sides in disputes.
  • People held an expensive golden bowl and asked a jackal to urinate in it. – Kings will start respecting low-class people instead of the nobles and the nobles will be forced to marry their daughters off to low-class men.
  • A man wove a rope and a she-jackal ate the completed rope as fast as he wove it. – Women will stop being modest and responsible and will start drinking alcohol and will eat up the families’ food stockpile.
  • Masses of people came to pour water into an overflowing pitcher while not pouring any in the empty pitchers around it. – Kings will become poor and demand all citizens provide food for the palace, so they will not have enough for themselves.
  • There was a deep pool, muddy in the middle but crystal clear along the shore where many people and animals came to drink. – People will flee from the towns to live in border regions, out of the reach of kings.
  • Rice cooked in a pot came out unevenly; some moist, some raw, and some cooked well. – Rain will never fall evenly on the land, so some crops will flood, some will wither, and some will thrive.
  • Buttermilk was traded for sandal wood. – Dharma will be corrupted into promoting greed.
  • Empty pumpkins sank into water. – Kings will show favor to the low-class, who become established, and the nobles will become impoverished.
  • Blocks of solid rock as big as houses floated on water. – Kings will show favor to the low-class while the wisdom of nobles and religious leaders will drift by and not be taken to heart by people.
  • Tiny frogs chased and gobbled up huge snakes. – Women will come to rule over men and be in charge of households.
  • A flock of golden-sheened mallards escorted a wicked crow. – Kings will rely on the lower-class to serve them because they will fear being overthrown by the nobles, so the only work available for the nobles will be serving the lower-class.
  • Goats chased and devoured panthers, and wolves ran away at the sight of the goats. – The low-class shall be the royal favorites and take over the property of the nobles, and when the nobles complain about it to the king, he will have them beaten.

After he had explained all the dreams, the Bodhisatta floated into the air to give the king a sermon about following the five precepts and then flew back home. And since the dreams were not about him, the king called off the sacrifices.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

One night King Pasenadi, a righteous ruler and devoted supporter of the Buddha, had sixteen vivid dreams and awoke in fear of what fortune they foretold. When he told them to his chaplains, they predicted that disaster was inevitable, either harm to his kingdom, life, or wealth. They said they must sacrifice animals at every crossroads and the king told them to do it. As their preparations proceeded that day, they repeatedly told the king they needed to expand the offering ceremony and he gave them more money. His exceptionally wise chief queen, Mallika, grew suspicious and suggested the king consult the Buddha, so he went to the monastery.

After hearing the sixteen dreams, the Buddha explained their meanings and told him he had nothing to fear. The dreams were all about the distant future and his chaplains were just using this as an opportunity to make a lot of money. The Buddha convinced the king to call off the animal sacrifices and then told him this story to explain that kings of the past have had the very same dreams and their chaplains had also exploited them for their own greed.

The king and the righteous young chaplain were earlier births of Ananda and Sariputta, two of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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