Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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2. The Story of the King of the Śibis (Dāna)
(Compare the Pāli Jātaka, No. 499, Fausböll IV, 401-412; Cariyāpiṭaka I, 8)

The preaching of the excellent Law must be listened to with attention. For it is by means of hundreds of difficult hardships that the Lord obtained this excellent Law for our sake. This is shown by the following.

In the time, when this our Lord was still a Bodhisattva, in consequence of his possessing a store of [9] meritorious actions collected by a practice from time immemorial, he once was a king of the Śibis. By his deference to the elders whom he was wont to honour from his very childhood, and by his attachment to a modest behaviour, he gained the affection of his subjects; owing to his natural quickness of intellect, he enlarged his mind by learning many sciences; he was distinguished by energy, discretion, majesty and power, and favoured by fortune. He ruled his subjects as if they were his own children.

1. The different sets of virtues, that accompany each member of the triad (of dharma, artha, and kāma) all together gladly took their residence, it seems, with him; and yet they did not lose any of their splendour in spite of the disturbance which might occur from their contrasts.

2. And felicity, that is like a mockery to those who have attained a high rank by wrong means, like a grievous calamity to the fool, like an intoxicating liquor to the feeble-minded - to him it was, as is indicated by its name, real happiness.

3. Noble-hearted, full of compassion, and wealthy, this best of kings rejoiced at seeing the faces of the mendicants beaming with satisfaction and joy at the attainment of the wished-for objects.

Now this king, in accordance with his propensity for charity, had caused alms-halls, provided with every kind of utensils, goods, and grains, to be constructed in all parts of the town. In this way he poured out the rain of his gifts, not unlike a cloud of the Kṛta Yuga. And he distributed them in such a manner, as well became the loftiness of his mind, supplying the wants of each according to his desire, with lovely deference and kind speed, whereby he enhanced the benefit of his gifts. He bestowed food and drink on those who were in need of food and drink; likewise he dispensed couches, seats, dwellings, meals, perfumes, wreaths, silver, gold, and so on, to those who wanted them. Then, the fame of the king's sublime munificence spreading abroad, people who lived in different regions and parts [10] of the world went to that country, with surprise and joy in their hearts.

4. The mendicants, when letting the whole world of men pass before their mind's eye, did not find in others an opportunity of putting forth their requests; to him it was that they went up in crowds with glad faces just as wild elephants go up to a great lake.

The king, on the other hand, when beholding them whose minds were rejoiced with the hope of gain flocking together from all directions, though the outward appearance of that mendicant people in travelling dress was anything but handsome, -

5. Nevertheless he received them, as if they were friends come back from abroad, his eyes wide-opened with joy; he listened to their requests, as if good news were reported to him, and after giving, his contentment surpassed that of the recipients.

6. The voices of the beggars spread about the perfume of the fame of his munificence, and so abated the pride of the other kings. In a similar way, the scent of the juice that runs out of the temples of the scent-elephant in rut, being scattered by the wind causes the bees to neglect the like fluid of the other elephants. In the original this simile is expressed by the rhetorical figure, called śleṣa.01

One day the king, making the tour of his alms-hall noticed the very small number of supplicants staying there, in consequence of the wants of the mendicant people being supplied. When he considered this, he -was uneasy, because his habit of almsgiving could not well proceed.

7. The indigent, when coming to him, quenched their thirst (for the desired boons), not he his (thirst for giving), when meeting with them. His passion for charity was so great, that no requester by the extent of his request could outdo his determination of giving.

Then this thought arose within him; “Oh, very blessed are those most excellent among the pious, to [11] whom the mendicants utter their desires with confidence and without restraint, so as to ask even their limbs! But to me, as if they were terrified by harsh words of refusal, they show only boldness in requesting my wealth.”

8. Now Earth, becoming aware of that exceedingly lofty thought, how her lord holding on to charity, had stopped the very attachment to his own flesh, trembled as a wife would, who loves her husband.

The surface of the earth being shaken, Sumeru, the lord of mountains, radiant with the shine of its manifold gems, began to waver. Śakra, the Lord of the Devas (Devendra), inquiring into the cause of this wavering, understood that it was the sublime thought of that king which produced the shivering of Earth's surface; and as he was taken up with amazement, he entered into this reflection:

9. “How is this? Does this king bear his mind so high and feel so great a rejoicing at giving away in charity as to conceive the thought of girding his resolution to give with the strong determination of parting with his own limbs?

Well, I will try him.”

Now the king, surrounded by his officials, was sitting (on his throne, in his hall) in the midst of the assembly. The usual summons by proclamation had been given, inviting anybody who was in need of anything; stores of wealth, silver, gold, jewels, were being disclosed by the care of the treasurer; boxes filled to the top with various kinds of clothes, were being uncovered; various excellent carriages, the yokes of which enclosed the necks of different well-trained beasts of draught, were being made to advance; and the mendicants were crowding in. Among them Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, having assumed the shape of an old and blind Brāhman, drew the attention of the king. On him the king fixed his firm, placid, and mild looks expressive of compassion and friendliness, and he seemed with them to go to his encounter and to embrace him. The royal attendants requested him to say what he was wanting, but he [12] drew near the king, and after uttering his hail and blessing, addressed him with these words:

10. “A blind, old man I have come hither from afar begging thy eye, O highest of kings. For the purpose of ruling the world's regular course one eye may be sufficient, O lotus-eyed monarch.”

Though the Bodhisattva experienced an extreme delight at his heart's desire being realised, a doubt arose within him as to whether the Brāhman had really said so or, this thought being always present to his mind himself had fancied so, and since he longed to hear the very sweet words of the eye being asked, he thus spoke to the eye-asker:

11. “Who has instructed thee, illustrious Brāhman, to come here and to ask from me one eye? No one, it is said, will easily part with his eye. Who is he that thinks the contrary of me?”

Śakra, the Lord of the Devas in the disguise of a Brāhman, knowing the intention of the king, answered:

12. “It is Śakra. His statue, instructing me to ask thee for thy eye, has caused me to come here. Now make real his opinion and my hope by giving me thy eye.”

Hearing the name of Śakra, the king thought: “Surely, through divine power this Brāhman shall regain his eyesight in this way,” and he spoke in a voice, the clear sound of which manifested his joy:

13. “Brāhman, I will fulfil thy wish, which has prompted thee to come here. Thou desirest one eye from me, I shall give thee both.

14. After I have adorned thy face with a pair of bright lotus-like eyes, go thy way, putting the bystanders first into doubt's swing as to thy identity, but soon amazing them by the certainty of it.”

The king's counsellors, understanding that he had decided to part with his eyes, were perplexed and agitated, and sadness afflicted their minds. They said to the king:

15, 16. “Majesty, Your too great fondness for charity makes you overlook that this is mismanagement leading [13] to evil. Be propitious, then, desist from your purpose; do not give up your eyesight!

For the sake of one twice-born man you must not disregard all of us. Do not burn with the fire of sorrow your subjects, to whom you have hitherto ensured comfort and prosperity.

17, 18. Money, the source of opulence; brilliant gems; milch cows; carriages and trained beasts of draught; vigorous elephants of graceful beauty; dwellings fit for all seasons, resounding with the noise of the anklets, Not only the houses, therefore, are meant, but also the (female) attendance; in other words, the epithet is indicative of the richness and magnificence of the habitations.02 and by their brightness surpassing the autumn-clouds: such are boons fit to be bestowed. Give those, and not your eyesight. O you who are the only eye of the world.

Moreover, great king, you must but consider this:

19. How can the eye of one person be put in the face of another? If, however, divine power may effect this, why should your eye be wanted for it?

Further, Your Majesty.

20. Of what use is eyesight to a poor man? That he might witness the abundance of others? Well then, give him money; do not commit an act of rashness!”

Then the king addressed his ministers in soft and conciliating terms

21. “He who after promising to give, makes up his mind to withhold his gift, such a one puts on again the bond of cupidity which he had cast off before.

22. He who after promising to give, does not keep his promise, being driven from his resolution by avarice, should he not be held for the worst of men?

23. He who having strengthened the hope of the mendicants by engaging himself to give, pays them with the harsh disappointment of a refusal, for him there is no expiation.

And with respect to your asserting ‘is divine [14] power of itself not sufficient to restore the eyesight to that man?’ you should be taught this.

24. That different means are wanted to carry out purposes, is well known, indeed. For this reason even Destiny (Vidhi), though a deity, needs some means or other.

Therefore, you must not exert yourselves to obstruct my determination to accomplish an extraordinary deed of charity.”

The ministers answered: “We have only ventured to observe to Your Majesty that you ought to give away goods and grains and jewels, not your eye; when saying this, we do not entice Your Majesty to wickedness.”

The king said:

25. “The very thing asked for must be given. A gift not wished for does not afford pleasure. Of what use is water to one carried off by the stream? For this reason. I shall give to this man the object he requests.”

After this, the first minister who more than the others had got into the intimate confidence of the king, overlooking, owing to his solicitude, the respect due to the king, spoke thus: “Pray, do it not.

26. You are holding an empire, which is vying with the riches of Śakra, to the attainment of which no one can aspire without a large amount of penance and meditation, and the possession of which may pave with numerous sacrifices the way to glory and Heaven; and you care not for it! and you are willing to give away both your eyes! With what aim do you wish so? Where on earth has there been seen such a way of proceeding?

27. By your sacrifices you have gained a place among the celestial gods, your fame is shining far and wide, your feet reflect the splendour of the head--ornaments of the kings (your vassals) - what then is it that you long for to give up your eyesight?”

But the king answered that minister in a gentle tone:

28 “It is not the realm of the whole earth for which [15] I am striving in this manner, nor is it Heaven, nor final extinction, nor glory, but with the intention of becoming a Saviour of the World I now provide that this man's labour of asking be not fruitless.”

Then the king ordered one eye of his, the lovely brightness of which appeared like a petal of a blue lotus, to be extirpated after the precepts of the physicians gradually and intact, and with the greatest gladness he had it handed over to the beggar, who asked it. Now Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, by the power of magic produced an illusion of such a kind that the king and his bystanders saw that eye filling up the eye-hole of the old Brāhman. When the king beheld the eye-asker in the possession of one unclosed eye, his heart expanded with the utmost delight, and he presented him with the other eye too.

29. The eyes being given away, the king's visage looked like a lotus-pond without lotuses, yet it bore the expression of satisfaction, not shared however by the citizens. On the other hand, the Brāhman was seen with sound eyes.

30. In the inner apartments of the palace as well as in the town, everywhere tears of sorrow moistened the ground. But Śakra was transported with admiration and satisfaction, seeing the king's unshaken intention of attaining Supreme Wisdom (Sambodhi).

And in this state of mind he entered into this reflection:

31. “What a constancy! What a goodness and a longing for the good of the creatures! Though I witnessed the fact, I can scarcely believe it.

It is not right, then, that this person of marvellous goodness should endure this great hardship for a long time. I will try to render him his eyesight by showing him the way for it.”

Afterwards, when time had healed the wounds caused by the operation, and lessened and almost lulled the sorrow of the inhabitants of the palace, the town, and the country, it happened one day that the king, [16] desirous of solitary retirement, was sitting with crossed legs in his garden on the border of a pond of lotuses. That spot was beset by fair and fine trees bent down by the weight of their flowers; swarms of bees were humming; a gentle, fresh, and odoriferous wind was blowing agreeably. Suddenly Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, presented himself before the king. Being asked who he was, he answered:

32a. “I am Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, I have come to you.”

Thereupon the king welcomed him and said that he waited for his orders. After being thus complimented, he again addressed the king:

32b. “Choose some boon, holy prince (rājarṣi); say on what thou desirest.”

Now the king being ever wont to give, and having never trodden the way of miserable begging, in conformity with his astonishment and his lofty mind spoke to him:

33, 34. “Great is my wealth, Śakra, my army is large and strong; my blindness, however, makes death welcome to me. It is impossible for me, after supplying the wants of the mendicants, to see their faces brightened by gladness and joy; for this reason O Indra, I love death now.”

Śakra said: “No more of that resolution! Only virtuous persons come in such a state as thine. But this thou must tell me:

35. It is the mendicants who have caused thee to come in this state; how is it that thy mind is occupied with them even now? Say on! do not hide the truth from me and thou mayst take the way to immediate cure.” This way is the Act of Truth, as Hardy, Manual of Buddhism, 197 calls it. In the Pāli Jātaka, Sakka incites the king to it in plain terms. Other instances of the saccakiriyā, as it is styled in the Pāḷi, will occur in Stories 14, 15, 16.03

The king replied: “Why dost thou insist upon my boasting myself? Hear, however, Lord of the Devas. [17]

36. As surely as the supplicatory language of begging people both now and before is as pleasing to my ears as the sound of benedictions, so surely may one eye appear to me!”

No sooner had the king pronounced these words than by the power of his firm veracity and his excellent store of meritorious actions one eye appeared to him, resembling a piece of a lotus-petal, encompassing a pupil like sapphire. Rejoiced at this miraculous appearance of his eye, the king again spoke to Śakra:

37. “And as surely as, after giving away both eyes to him who asked but one, my mind knew no other feeling but the utmost delight, so surely may I obtain also the other eye!”

The king had hardly finished, when there appeared to him another eye, the rival, as it were, of the first one.

38-40. Upon this the earth was shaken with its mountains; the ocean flowed over its borders; the drums of the celestials spontaneously uttered deep-toned and pleasing sounds; the sky in all directions looked placid and lovely; the sun shone with pure brightness as it does in autumn; It was spring when the miracle happened, as is to be inferred from the flowers being mentioned above.04 a great number of various flowers, tinged by the sandal powder which was whirling around, fell down from heaven; the celestials, including Apsarasas and Gaṇas, came to the spot, their eyes wide opened with amazement; there blew an agreeable wind of extreme loveliness; gladness expanded in the minds of the creatures.

41-43. From all parts were heard voices of praise, uttered by crowds of beings endowed with great magic power. Filled with joy and admiration, they glorified the great exploit of the king in such exclamations: “Oh, what loftiness! what compassion! see the purity of his heart, how great it is! oh, how little he cares for his own pleasures!

Hail to thee, renowned one, for thy constancy and valour! [18] The world of creatures has recovered their protector in thee, of a truth, as the lustre of thy eye-lotuses has again expanded! Surely, the stores of merit are solid treasures! After a long time Righteousness has, indeed, obtained an immense victory”!”

Then Śakra applauded him, “Very well, very well!” and spoke again:

44, 45. “Thy true feeling was not hidden from me, pure-hearted king; so I have but rendered thee these eyes of thine. And by means of them thou wilt have the unencumbered power of seeing in all directions over one hundred of yojanas, even beyond mountains.”

Having said these words, Śakra disappeared on the spot.

Then the Bodhisattva, followed by his officials, The sudden appearance of these officials and ministers is somewhat strange here. The Pāli Jātaka may account for it. 'At the same time, it is said there (4, p. 411) that [the eyes] reappeared, the whole attendance of the king (sabbā rājaparisā) was present by the power of Sakka.’05 whose wide-opened and scarcely winking eyes indicated the astonishment that filled their minds, went up in procession to his capital. That town exhibited a festival attire, being adorned with hoisted flags and manifold banners, the citizens looking on and the Brāhmans praising the monarch with hails and benedictions. When he had seated himself in his audience--hall, in the midst of a great crowd, made up of the ministers in the first place, of Brāhmans and elders, townsmen and countrymen, all of whom had come to express their respectful congratulations: he preached the Law to them, taking for his text the account of his own experience.

46-48. “Who in the world, then, should be slow in satisfying the wants of the mendicants with his wealth, who has beheld how I have obtained these eyes of mine, endowed with divine power, in consequence of charity-gathered merit?

In the circumference of one hundred of yojanas I see everything, though hidden by many mountains, as distinctly as if it were [19] near. What means of attaining bliss is superior to charity, distinguished by commiseration with others and modesty? since I, by giving away my human eyesight, have got already in this world a superhuman and divine vision.

49. Understanding this, Śibis, make your riches fruitful by gifts and by spending. The purport of this royal precept maybe illustrated by the corresponding parts of the narrative in the Pāli Jātaka. The precept is there given twice, in prose and in verse, see Fausböll's Jātaka IV, p. 41, 22, and p. 412, 7.06 This is the path leading to glory and future happiness both in this world and in the next.

50. Wealth is a contemptible thing, because it is pithless; yet it has one virtue, that it can be given away by him who aims at the welfare of the creatures; for if given away, it becomes a treasure (nidhāna), otherwise its ultimate object is only death (nidhana).”

So, then, it is by means of hundreds of difficult hardships that the Lord obtained this excellent Law for our sake; for this reason its preaching is to be heard with attention.

[This story is also to be told on account of the high-mindedness of the Tathāgata, just as the foregoing. Viz. the story of the tigress.07

Likewise when discoursing of compassion, and when demonstrating the result of meritorious actions appearing already in this world: “in this manner the merit, gathered by good actions, shows already here (in this world) something like the blossom of its power, the charming flowers of increasing glory.”]

In the list of the contents of the Avadānakalpalatā which Somedra added to that poem of his father Kṣemendra, I do cut find our avadāna, unless it should happen to be included in No. 91, which deals with a king of the Śibis. But the edition which is being published in the Bibl. Indica is not yet to far advanced. For the rest, like the story of the tigress, it is alluded to in the second pallava, verse 108: “And in my Śibi-birth I gave away both my eyes to a blind man, and with (the gift of) my body preserved a pigeon from the danger caused by a falcon.” [20]