Ja 77 Mahāsupinajātaka cf. Sacy’s Kalilah and Dimnah, chapter 14; Benfey’s Pañcatantra § 225; JRAS. for 1893 page 509.
The Birth Story about the Great Dreams (1s)
In the present king Pasenadi had 16 dreams which leave him fearful. He asks his brahminical advisors and they suggest the dreams are inauspicious, and he should perform a great sacrifice to ward off the danger. The Buddha, however, assures him these are prophetic dreams about the bad times to come, and will not affect the good king himself. He then tells how these dreams were dreamt in a past life, and interpreted in a similar way.
The Bodhisatta = the ascetic (tapasa),
Sāriputta = the brahmin student (māṇava),
Ānanda = the king (of Benares) (rājā).
Keywords: Sacrifice, Fear, Pretexts.
“How could I sleep well, my teachers?” answered the king. “For just at daybreak I dreamed sixteen wonderful dreams, and I have been in terror ever since! Tell me, what it all means.”
“We shall be able to judge, on hearing them.”
Then the king told them his dreams, and asked what those visions would entail upon him.
The brahmins fell wringing their hands! “Why wring your hands, brahmins?” asked the king. “Because, sire, these are evil dreams.” “What will come of them?” said the king. “One of three calamities – harm to your kingdom, to your life, or to your riches.” “Is there a remedy, or is there not?” “Undoubtedly these dreams in themselves are so threatening as to be without remedy; but none the less we will find a remedy for them. Otherwise, what boots our much study and learning?” “What then do you propose to do to avert the evil?” “Wherever four roads meet, we would offer sacrifice, sire.” “My teachers,” cried the king in his terror, “my life is in your hands; make haste and work my safety.” “Large sums of money, and large supplies of food of every kind will be ours,” thought the exultant brahmins; and, bidding the king have no fear, they departed from the palace. Outside the town they dug a sacrificial pit and collected a host of fourfooted creatures, perfect and without blemish, and a multitude of birds. But still they discovered something lacking, and back they kept coming to the king to ask for this that and the other. Now their doings were watched by queen Mallikā, who came to the king and asked what made these brahmins keep coming to him.
“I envy you,” said the king, “a snake in your ear, and you not to know of it!” “What does your majesty mean?” “I have dreamed, oh such unlucky dreams! The brahmins tell me they point to one of three calamities; and they are anxious to offer sacrifices to avert the evil. And this is what brings them here so often.” “But has your majesty consulted the chief brahmin both of this world and of the world of Devas?” “Who, pray, may he be, my dear?” asked the king. “Know you not that chief personage of all the world, the all-knowing and pure, the spotless master-brahmin? Surely, he, the Fortunate One, will understand your dreams. Go, ask him.” “And so I will, my queen,” said the king. And away he went to the monastery, saluted the Teacher, and sat down. “What, pray, brings your majesty here so early in the morning?” asked the Teacher in his sweet tones. “Sir,” said the king, “just before daybreak
“True it is, sire, that there is none other save me, who can tell what your dreams signify or what will come of them. I will tell you. Only first of all relate to me your dreams as they appeared to you.”
“I will, sir,” said the king, and at once began this list, following the order of the dreams’ appearance:
“Bulls first, and trees, and cows, and calves,
Horse, dish, female jackal, waterpot,
A pond, raw rice, and sandalwood,
And gourds that sank, and stones that swam, See Mahāvīracarita, p. 13, Mahābhārata, ii. 2196.
With frogs that gobbled up black snakes,
A crow with colourful retinue,
And wolves in panic-fear of goats!”
1. “How was it, sir, that I had the following one of my dreams? I thought, four black bulls, like collyrium in hue, came from the four cardinal directions to the royal courtyard with avowed intent to fight; and people flocked together to see the bull-fight, till a great crowd had gathered. But the bulls only made a show of fighting, roared and bellowed, and finally went off without fighting at all. This was my first dream. What will come of it?”
“Sire, that dream shall have no issue in your days or in mine. But hereafter, when kings shall be stingy and unrighteous, and when folk shall be unrighteous, in days when the world is perverted, when good is waning and evil waxing apace – in those days of the world’s discontent there shall fall no rain from the heavens, the feet of the storm shall be lamed, the crops shall wither, and famine shall be on the land. Then shall the clouds gather as if for rain from the four quarters of the heavens; there shall be haste first to carry indoors the rice and crops that the women have spread in the sun to dry, for fear the harvest should get wet; and then with spade and basket in hand the men shall go forth to bank up the dykes. As though in sign of coming rain, the thunder shall bellow, the lightning shall flash from the clouds – but even as the bulls in your dream that fought not, so the clouds shall flee away without raining. This is what shall come of this dream. But no harm shall come therefrom to you;
2. “Sir,” said the king, “my second dream was after this manner: I thought little tiny trees and shrubs burst through the soil, and when they had grown scarce a span or two high, they flowered and bore fruit! This was my second dream; what shall come of it?”
“Sire,” said the Teacher, “this dream shall have its fulfilment in days when the world has fallen into decay and when men are shortlived. In times to come the passions shall be strong; quite young girls shall go to live with men, and it shall be with them after the manner of women, they shall conceive and bear children. The flowers typify their issues, and the fruit their offspring. But you, sire, have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your third dream, O great king.”
3. “I thought, sir, I saw cows sucking the milk of calves which they had borne that self-same day. This was my third dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall have its fulfilment only in days to come, when respect shall cease to be paid to age. For in the future men, showing no reverence for parents or parents-in-law, shall themselves administer the family estate, and, if such be their good pleasure, shall bestow food and clothing on the old folks, but shall withhold their gifts, if it be not their pleasure to give. Then shall the old folks, destitute and dependent, exist by favour of their own children, like big cows suckled by calves a day old. But you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your fourth dream.”
4. “I thought, sir, I saw men unyoking a team of draught-oxen, sturdy and strong, and setting young steers to draw the load; and the steers, proving unequal to the task laid on them, refused and stood stock-still, so that wagons moved not on their way. This was my fourth dream. What shall come of it?”
“Here again the dream shall not have its fulfilment until the future, in the days of unrighteous kings. For in days to come, unrighteous and stingy kings shall show no honour to wise lords skilled in precedent, fertile in expedient, and able to get through business; nor shall appoint to the courts of law and justice aged councillors of wisdom and of learning in the Dhamma. Nay, they shall honour the very young and foolish, and appoint such to preside in the courts. And these latter, ignorant alike of state-craft and of practical knowledge, shall not be able to bear the burden of their honours or to govern, but because of their incompetence shall throw off the yoke of office. Whereon the aged and wise lords, albeit right able to cope with all difficulties, shall keep in mind how they were passed over, and shall decline to aid, saying: ‘It is no business of ours; we are outsiders; let the boys of the inner circle see to it.’
5. “I thought, sir, I saw a horse with a mouth on either side, to which fodder was given on both sides, and it ate with both its mouths. This was my fifth dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall have its fulfilment only in the future, in the days of unrighteous and foolish kings, who shall appoint unrighteous and covetous men to be judges. These base ones, fools, despising the good, shall take bribes from both sides as they sit in the seat of judgment, and shall be filled with this two-fold corruption, even as the horse that ate fodder with two mouths at once. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your sixth dream.”
6. “I thought, sir, I saw people holding out a well-scoured golden bowl worth a hundred thousand pieces, and begging an old jackal to stale therein. And I saw the beast do so. This was my sixth dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall only have its fulfilment in the future. For in the days to come, unrighteous kings, though sprung of a race of kings, mistrusting the scions of their old nobility, shall not honour them, but exalt in their stead the low-born; whereby the nobles shall be brought low and the low-born raised to lordship. Then shall the great families be brought by very need to seek to live by dependence on the upstarts, and shall offer them their daughters in marriage. And the union of the noble maidens with the low-born shall be like unto the urinating of the old jackal in the golden bowl. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your seventh dream.”
7. “A man was weaving rope, sir, and as he wove, he threw it down at his feet. Under his bench lay a hungry female jackal, which kept eating the rope as he wove, but without the man knowing it. This is what I saw. This was my seventh dream. What shall come of it?” cf. the story of Ocnus in Pausanias x. 29.
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till the future. For in days to come, women shall lust after men and strong drink and finery and gadding abroad and after the joys of this world. In their wickedness and profligacy these women shall drink strong drink with their lovers; they shall flaunt in garlands and perfumes and unguents; and heedless of even the most pressing of their household duties, they shall keep watching for their lovers, even at crevices high up in the outer wall; aye, they shall pound up the very seed-corn that should be sown on the morrow so as to provide good cheer; in all these ways shall they plunder the store won by the hard work of their husbands in field and byre, devouring the poor men’s substance even as the hungry jackal under the bench ate up the rope of the rope-maker as he wove it.
8. “I thought, sir, I saw at a palace gate a big pitcher which was full to the brim and stood amid a number of empty ones. And from the four cardinal points, and from the four intermediate points as well, there kept coming a constant stream of people of all the four castes, carrying water in pots and pouring it into the full pitcher. And the water overflowed and ran away. But none the less they still kept on pouring more and more water into the over-flowing vessel, without a single man giving so much as a glance at the empty pitchers. This was my eighth dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment until the future. For in days to come the world shall decay; the kingdom shall grow weak, its kings shall grow poor and stingy; the foremost among them shall have no more than 100,000 pieces of money in his treasury. Then shall these kings in their need set the whole of the country-folk to work for them; for the kings’ sake shall the toiling folk, leaving their own work, sow grain and pulse, and keep watch and reap and thresh and garner; for the kings’ sake shall they plant sugar-canes, make and drive sugar-mills, and boil down the molasses; for the kings’ sake shall they lay out flower-gardens and orchards, and gather in the fruits. And as they gather in all the divers kinds of produce they shall fill the royal garners to overflowing, not giving so much as a glance at their own empty barns at home. Thus it shall be like filling up the full pitcher, heedless of the quite-empty ones. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your ninth dream.”
9. “I thought, sir, I saw a deep pool with shelving banks all round and over-grown with the five kinds of lotuses. From every side two-footed creatures and four-footed creatures flocked there to drink of its waters. The depths in the middle were muddy, but the water was clear and sparkling at the margin where the various creatures went down into the pool. This was my ninth dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till the future. For in days to come kings shall grow unrighteous; they shall rule after their own will and pleasure, and shall not execute judgment according to righteousness. These kings shall hunger after riches and wax fat on bribes; they shall not show mercy, love and compassion toward their people, but be fierce and cruel, amassing wealth by crushing their subjects like sugar-canes in a mill and by taxing them even to the uttermost farthing. Unable to pay the oppressive tax, the people shall fly from village and town and the like, and take refuge upon the borders of the realm; the heart of the land shall be a wilderness, while the borders shall teem with people – even as the water was muddy in the middle of the pool and clear at the margin. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom.
10. “I thought, sir, I saw rice boiling in a pot without getting done. By not getting done, I mean that it looked as though it were sharply marked off and kept apart, so that the cooking went on in three distinct stages. For part was sodden, part hard and raw, and part just cooked to a nicety. This was my tenth dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till the future. For in days to come kings shall grow unrighteous; the people surrounding the kings shall grow unrighteous too, as also shall brahmins and householders, townsmen, and countryfolk; yes, all people alike shall grow unrighteous, not excepting even sages and brahmins. Next, their very tutelary deities – the spirits to whom they offer sacrifice, the spirits of the trees, and the spirits of the air – shall become unrighteous also. The very winds that blow over the realms of these unrighteous kings shall grow cruel and lawless; they shall shake the mansions of the skies and thereby kindle the anger of the spirits that dwell there, so that they will not suffer rain to fall – or, if it does rain, it shall not fall on all the kingdom at once, nor shall the kindly shower fall on all tilled or sown lands alike to help them in their need. And, as in the kingdom at large, so in each several district and village and over each separate pool or lake, the rain shall not fall at one and the same time on its whole expanse; if it rain on the upper part, it shall not rain upon the lower; here the crops shall be spoiled by a heavy downpour,
11. “I thought, sir, I saw sour buttermilk bartered for precious sandalwood, worth 100,000 pieces of money. This was my eleventh dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till the future – in the days when my dispensation is waning. For in days to come many greedy and shameless monks shall arise, who for their belly’s sake shall preach the very words in which I inveighed against greed! Because they have deserted by reason of their belly and have taken their stand on the side of the sectaries, Reading titthakarānaṁ pakkhe, as conjectured by Fausböll. they shall fail to make their preaching lead up to Nibbāna. Nay, their only thought, as they preach, shall be by fine words and sweet voices to induce men to give them costly raiment and the like, and to be minded to give such gifts. Others again seated in the highways, at the street-corners, at the doors of kings’ palaces, and so forth, shall stoop to preach for money, yes for mere coined kahāpanas, half-kahāpanas, pādas, or māsakas! See Vinaya ii. 294 for the same list; and see page 6 of Rhys Davids’ “Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon” in Numismata Orientalia (Trübner). And as they thus barter away for food or raiment or for kahāpanas and half-kahāpanas my Dhamma the worth whereof is Nibbāna, they shall be even as those who bartered away for sour buttermilk precious sandalwood worth 100,000 pieces.
12. “I thought, sir, I saw empty pumpkins sinking in the water. What shall come of it?”
“This dream also shall not have its fulfilment till the future, in the days of unrighteous kings, when the world is perverted. For in those days shall kings show favour not to the scions of the nobility, but to the low-born only; and these latter shall become great lords, while the nobles sink into poverty. Alike in the royal presence, in the palace gates, in the council chamber, and in the courts of justice, the words of the low-born alone (whom the empty pumpkins typify) shall be established, as though they had sunk down till they rested on the bottom. So too in the assemblies of the Saṅgha, in the greater and lesser conclaves, and in enquiries regarding bowls, robes, lodging, and the like – the counsel only of the wicked and the vile shall be considered to have saving power, not that of the modest monks. Thus everywhere it shall be as when the empty pumpkins sank. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your thirteenth dream.”
13. Hereupon the king said: “I thought, sir, I saw huge blocks of solid rock, as big as houses, floating like ships upon the waters. What shall come of it?”
“This dream also shall not have its fulfilment before such times as those of which I have spoken. For in those days unrighteous kings shall show honour to the low-born, who shall become great lords, while the nobles sink into poverty. Not to the nobles, but to the upstarts alone shall respect be paid. In the royal presence, in the council chamber, or in the courts of justice, the words of the nobles learned in the Dhamma (and it is they whom the solid rocks typify) shall drift idly by, and not sink deep into the hearts of men; when they speak, the upstarts shall merely laugh them to scorn, saying, ‘What is this these fellows are saying?’ So too in the assemblies of the monks, as aforesaid, men shall not deem worthy of respect the excellent among the monks; the words of such shall not sink deep, but drift idly by – even as when the rocks floated upon the waters. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your fourteenth dream.”
14. “I thought, sir, I saw tiny frogs, no bigger than minute flowerets, swiftly pursuing huge black snakes, chopping them up like so many lotus-stalks and gobbling them up. What shall come of this?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till those days to come such as those of which I have spoken, when the world is decaying. For then shall men’s passions be so strong, and their sensual desires so hot, that they shall be the thralls of the very youngest of their wives for the time being, at whose sole disposal shall be slaves and hired servants, oxen, buffaloes and all cattle, gold and silver, and everything that is in the house. Should the poor husband ask where the money (say) or a robe is, at once he shall be told that it is where it is, that he should mind his own business, and not be so inquisitive as to what is, or is not, in her house. And therewithal in divers ways the wives with abuse and goading taunts shall establish their dominion over their husbands, as over slaves and bond-servants.
15. “I thought, sir, I saw a village crow, in which dwelt the whole of the Ten Vices, escorted by a retinue of those birds which, because of their golden sheen, are called Royal Golden Mallards. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till the future, till the reign of weakling kings. In days to come kings shall arise who shall know nothing about elephants or other arts, and shall be cowards in the field. Fearing to be deposed and cast from their royal estate, they shall raise to power not their peers but their footmen, bath-attendants, barbers, and such like. Thus, shut out from royal favour and unable to support themselves, the nobles shall be reduced to dancing attendance on the upstarts – as when the crow had Royal Golden Mallards for a retinue. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. Tell me your sixteenth dream.”
16. “Heretofore, sir, it always used to be panthers that preyed on goats; but I thought I saw goats chasing panthers and devouring them – munch, munch, munch! – while at bare sight of the goats afar off, terror-stricken wolves fled quaking with fear and hid themselves in their fastnesses in the thicket. Such was my dream. What shall come of it?”
“This dream too shall not have its fulfilment till the future, till the reign of unrighteous kings. In those days the low-born shall be raised to lordship and be made royal favourites, while the nobles shall sink into obscurity and distress. Gaining influence in the courts of law because of their favour with the king, these upstarts shall claim perforce the ancestral estates, the raiment, and all the property of the old nobility. And when these latter plead their rights before the courts, then shall the king’s minions have them cudgelled and bastinadoed and taken by the throat and cast out with words of scorn, such as: ‘Know your place, fools! What? Do you dispute with us? The king shall know of your insolence, and we will have your hands and feet chopped off and other correctives applied!’ Hereupon the terrified nobles shall affirm that their own belongings really belong to the overbearing upstarts, and will tell the favourites to accept them. And they shall get them home and there cower in an agony of fear. Likewise, evil monks shall harry at pleasure good and worthy monks, till these latter, finding none to help them, shall flee to the jungle. And this oppression of the nobles and of the good monks by the low-born and by the evil monks, shall be like the scaring of wolves by goats. Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom. For this dream too has reference to future times only.
Thus did the Teacher expound the import of these sixteen great dreams, adding, “You, sire, are not the first to have these dreams; they were dreamed by kings of bygone days also; and, then as now, the brahmins found in them a pretext for sacrifices; whereupon, at the instance of the wise and good, the Bodhisatta was consulted, and the dreams were expounded by them of old time
In the past when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born a brahmin in the north country. When he came to years of discretion he renounced the world for an ascetic’s life; he won the Super Knowledges and Attainments, and dwelt in the Himālayas in the bliss that comes from Absorption.
In those days, in just the same manner, Brahmadatta dreamed these dreams at Benares, and enquired of the brahmins concerning them. And the brahmins, then as now, set to work at sacrifices. Amongst them was a young brahmin of learning and wisdom, a pupil of the king’s family priest, who addressed his master thus, “Teacher, you have taught me the Three Vedas. Is there not therein a text that says ‘The slaying of one creature gives not life to another’?” “My son, this means money to us, a great deal of money. You only seem anxious to spare the king’s treasury!” “Do as you will, master,” said the young brahmin, “as for me, to what end shall I tarry longer here with you?” And so saying, he left him, and betook himself to the royal pleasure gardens.
That self-same day the Bodhisatta, knowing all this, thought to himself, “If I visit today the haunts of men, I shall work the deliverance of a great multitude from their bondage.” So, passing through the air, he alighted in the royal pleasure gardens and seated himself, radiant as a statue of gold, upon the Ceremonial Stone. The young brahmin drew near and with due obeisance seated himself by the Bodhisatta in all friendliness. Sweet converse passed; and the Bodhisatta asked whether the young brahmin thought the king ruled righteously. “Sir,” answered the young man, “the king is righteous himself; but the brahmins make him side with evil. Being consulted by the king as to sixteen dreams which he had dreamed, the brahmins clutched at the opportunity for sacrifices
When the king heard this, he repaired at once to the pleasure gardens with a large retinue. Saluting the ascetic, he sat down by the holy man’s
1. Usabhā rukkhā gāviyo gavā ca,
Asso kaṁso siṅgālī ca kumbho,
Pokkharaṇī ca apākacandanaṁ,
Lābūni sīdanti, silā plavanti.
Maṇḍūkiyo kaṇhasappe gilanti,
Kākaṁ Supaṇṇā parivārayanti,
Tasā vakā eḷakānaṁ bhayā hī ti.
Bulls, trees, cows, oxen and a horse, a golden bowl, jackal and pot, a lake, uncooked rice, sandalwood, pumpkins sinking, and stones floating. Frogs swallowing black cobra snakes, crows, surrounded by Supaṇṇas, these wolves that are afraid of goats.
And his majesty went on to tell his dreams in just the same manner as that in which king Pasenadi had described them.
“Enough,” said the Great Being, “you have nothing to fear or dread from all this.” Having thus reassured the king, and having freed a great multitude from bondage, the Bodhisatta again took up his position in mid-air, whence he exhorted the king and established him in the Five Precepts, ending with these words, “Henceforth, O king, join not with the brahmins in slaughtering animals for sacrifice.” His teaching ended, the Bodhisatta passed straight through the air to his own abode. And the king, remaining steadfast in the teaching he had heard, passed away after a life of alms-giving and other good works to fare according to his deeds.
His lesson ended, the Teacher said: “You have nothing to fear from these dreams; away with the sacrifice!” Having had the sacrifice removed, and having saved the lives of a multitude of creatures, he showed the connection and identified the Jātaka by saying: “Ānanda was the king of those days, Sāriputta the young brahmin, and I the ascetic.”
(Pāli note. But after the passing of the Fortunate One, the editors of the Great Redaction put the three first lines into the Commentary, and making the lines from ‘And gourds that sank’ into one verse (therewith), [The Commentator appears to be trying to explain why the one verse is 7 lines long, which is unusual indeed.] put the whole story into the First Book.)
last updated: August 2023