Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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11. The Story of Śakra (Karuṇā)
(Compare Fausböll, Jātaka I, p. 202,
translated by Rhys Davids, Buddhist Birth Stories, pp. 284-287.)

Neither adversity nor the brilliancy of sovereign power can relax in the high-minded the virtue of compassion towards living beings. This will be taught now.

In the time when the Bodhisattva, having well practised meritorious actions for a long time, and having come into possession of the virtues of charity, self-restraint, continence and compassion, was directing his extraordinary performances for the benefit of others, once, it is said, he became Śakra, the Lord of the Devas.

1. The magnificence of the Chief of the Celestials shone in a higher degree and displayed a greater majesty, since that rank had fallen to his share. Something analogous may be seen, when a palace adorned by a covering of fresh stucco is made resplendent by the moonbeams.

2. The rich lustre of that mighty state, to conquer which the sons of Diti dared push forward against the impetuous advance of the world-elephants and expose their breasts to their pestle-like tusks, that brilliancy was his. But though he easily enjoyed that happiness, [105] at his command, nevertheless, that bliss did not stain his heart with pride.

Ruling heaven and earth in the proper manner, he acquired splendid glory, which pervaded the whole universe. Now the Demons The spirits of darkness, called Daityas (sons of Diti) or Dānavas (Sons of Danu) or Asuras.01 could not bear the renown nor the very wonderful bliss which he enjoyed, and waged war against him. They marched to his encounter to fight him with an enormous army of elephants, chariots, horsemen and footmen, being the more terrible, as they were drawn up in the proud array of battle and made a noise as awful as that of the wild Ocean. Through the glittering blaze of their various kinds of offensive and defensive weapons they hardly suffered themselves to be looked at.

3. He for his part, though attached to the precepts of righteousness, felt however within his heart the disposition to indulge in the frenzy of fighting. He was prompted to do so by the pride of his enemies, by the danger of his own men, unpleasantly interrupted in their peaceful sport, also by the regard of his majesty and of the traditional line of conduct along the path of political wisdom.

So he mounted his excellent golden chariot, to which a thousand excellent horses were put. This chariot was decorated in front with a beautiful, high-floating banner which bore a figure in the attire of an Arhat It is curious to see this Śakra of the Buddhists making profession in this manner of his Buddhistical faith. If this trait is an old one, Śakra is here represented as a digambara, as he in fact is. The Sabdaratnāvalī gives Arha as a name of Indra; see Petr. Diet. s. v. arha 2.02 for its emblem. Its outer appearance was exceedingly brilliant, owing to the lustre reflected by the manifold precious stones and jewels that adorned it, and to the brightness which irradiated its flanks and which proceeded from the different flaming weapons, sharp-pointed and well-disposed to be ready for use, on both sides of the chariot. On the inside it was covered with a fine [106] white blanket. Standing on it and surrounded by his great divine host of different arms, elephants, chariots, horse and foot, the Great Being met the forces of the Demons just on the border-line of the Ocean.

4. Then a great battle took place, destructive of the firmness of the timid as well as of the shields and mail-coats pierced by the strokes of the weapons with which they fought each other.

5, 6. Various cries were heard in the tumult of that struggle. Stay! Not in this manner! Here! Look out! Where are you now? You will not escape me! Strike! You are a dead man!

So challenging one another they fought. And this noise mixing with the clashing and crashing of the arms all over the battle-field and the sound of the drums, made Heaven shake and almost burst.

7. The elephants on both sides, rushing on each other with great fury increased by the smell of the flowing juice, offered the frightful spectacle of mountains swept along by the wind of a world-destroying period.

8. Like portentous clouds, the chariots swept over the field, their floating standards resembling the lightning, and the rattling noise they made being as the roaring of the thunder.

9. Sharp arrows were flying over both armies, and fell down amidst the warriors of both the Devas and the Demons, hitting banners and royal umbrellas, bows and spears, shields and cuirasses, and the heads of men.

10. At the end the army of Śakra took to flight, frightened by the fiery swords and arrows of the Demons. The Lord of the Celestials alone held still the field, barring with his chariot the host of his enemies.

When Mātali, the charioteer of the Lord of the Devas, perceived that the army of the Demons, high-spirited and overjoyed, was coming over them with a tremendous noise of loud war-cries and shouts of victory, whereas the army of the Devas was almost [107] intent on flight, he thought it was now the proper time to retreat, and so he turned the chariot of the Ruler of the Devas. While they were making the ascent, Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, caught sight of some eagle-nests which were placed on a silk-cotton tree just in the line of direction of the chariot-pole, so that they must needs be crushed by it. No sooner had he seen them, than seized with compassion he said to Mātali, his charioteer:

11. “The birds” nests on this silk-cotton tree are filled with not yet winged young ones. Drive my chariot in such a manner that these nests will not fall down crushed by the chariot-pole.”

Mātali answered: “In the meanwhile the crowds of the Demons will overtake us, sir.”

Śakra said: “Never mind. Do you but take the proper care in avoiding these eagle-nests.” Upon which Mātali answered:

12. “Nothing short of turning the chariot can save the birds, O Lotus-eyed One. But we have at our heels yon host of foes who after a long time are at last getting the better of the Devas.”

At this moment Śakra, the Lord of the Devas, moved by the utmost compassion, showed his extraordinary goodness of heart and firmness of intention.

13. “Well then,” said he, “turn the chariot. Better is it for me to die by the terrible club-strokes of the chiefs of the Demons than to live blameful and dishonoured, if I should have murdered those poor terror-stricken creatures.”

Mātali promised to do so, and turned his car, drawn by a thousand horses.

14. Now the foes who had witnessed his heroism in battle, seeing that the chariot turned, were overtaken with fear, and got into confusion. Their ranks gave way like dark rain-clouds driven away by the wind. Returning from the battle-field on the border of the Ocean to his residence in Heaven, Śakra must needs drive upward.03 [108]

15. In the case of a defeat one single man turning his face to the enemy and barring the way of the enemy's forces, will sometimes abate the pride and haughtiness of the victors by the unexpectedness of his heroic valour.

16. The sight of the broken ranks of the hostile army encouraging the host of the Devas, made them return. For the Demons, terror-stricken and fleeing, thought no more of rallying and resisting.

17. Then the Devas, whose joy was mingled with shame, paid homage to their Lord; after which, brilliant and beautiful by the radiance of victory he quietly returned from the battle-field to his city, where his zenana impatiently longed for him.

In this way was the victory gained in that battle. It is for this reason that the saying goes:

18. The low-minded do wicked actions in consequence of their cruelty. Average men, though pitiful, will do so, when come into distress. But the virtuous, even when in danger of life, are as little capable of transgressing their proper line of conduct as the Ocean its boundary.

[In this way the Lord did long ago protect animal life even at the risk of his own and of the loss of the Celestial sway. Keeping then in mind that it does not at all befit a wise man to offend living beings, much less to sin against them, a pious man must be intent on practising compassion towards the creatures.

And the saying that Dharma in truth watches him who walks in righteousness (dharma), We have here a remarkable quotation from the Holy Writ of Northern Buddhism. The wording of this sentence in the original dharmo ha vai rakṣati dharmacāriṇam, is the exact Sanskrit counterpart of the first pāda of a well-known Pāli stanza uttered by the Lord (see Fausböll, Jātaka I, p. 31; IV, p. 54, and the other passages quoted there):
Dhammo have rakkhati dhammacāriṁ
is to be propounded here too.

Likewise this (story) may be adduced when discoursing on the Tathāgata, and when treating of listening with attention to the preaching of the Law.] [109]