Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

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10. The Story of the Sacrifice (Śīla)

Those whose hearts are pure do not act up to the enticement of the wicked. Knowing this, pure-heartedness is to be striven after. This will be taught by the following.

Long ago the Bodhisattva, it is said, was a king who had obtained his kingdom in the order of hereditary succession. He had reached this state as the effect of his merit, and ruled his realm in peace, not [94] disturbed by any rival, his sovereignty being universally acknowledged. His country was free from any kind of annoyance, vexation or disaster, both his home relations and those with foreign countries being quiet in every respect; and all his vassals obeyed his commands.

1. This monarch having subdued the passions, his enemies, felt no inclination for such profits as are to be blamed when enjoyed but was with his whole heart intent on promoting the happiness of his subjects. Holding virtuous practice (dharma) the only purpose of his actions, he behaved like a Muni.

2. For he knew the nature of mankind, that people set a high value on imitating the behaviour of the highest. For this reason, being desirous of bringing about salvation for his subjects, he was particularly attached to the due performance of his religious duties.

3. He practised almsgiving, kept strictly the precepts of moral conduct (śīla), cultivated forbearance, strove for the benefit of the creatures. His mild countenance being in accordance with his thoughts devoted to the happiness of his subjects, he appeared like the embodied Dharma.

Now it once happened that, though protected by his arm, his realm, both in consequence of the faulty actions of its inhabitants and inadvertence on the part of the angels charged with the care of rain, was afflicted in several districts by drought and the troublesome effects of such a disaster.

Upon this the king, fully convinced that this plague had been brought about by the violation of righteousness by himself or his subjects, and taking much to heart the distress of his people, whose welfare was the constant object of his thoughts and cares, took the advice of men of acknowledged competence who were reputed for their knowledge in matters of religion. So keeping counsel with the elders among the Brāhmans, headed by his family priest (purohita) and his ministers, he asked them for some means of putting an end to that calamity.

Now they, believing a solemn sacrifice as [95] is enjoined by the Veda to be a cause of abundant rain, explained to him that he must perform such a sacrifice of a frightful character, inasmuch as it requires the massacre of many hundreds of living beings. But after being informed of everything concerning such a slaughter as is prescribed for the sacrifice, his innate compassionateness forbade him to approve of their advice in his heart; yet out of civility, unwilling to offend them by harsh words of refusal, he slipped over this point, turning the conversation upon other topics. They, on the other hand, no sooner caught the opportunity of conversing with the king on matters of religion, than they once more admonished him to accomplish the sacrifice, for they did not understand his deeply hidden mind.

4. “You constantly take care not to neglect the proper time of performing your different royal duties, established for the sake of obtaining the possession of land and ruling it. The due order of these actions of yours is in agreement with the precepts of Righteousness (dharma).

5. How then is this that you who (in all other respects) are so clever in the observance of the triad (of dharma, artha, and kāma), bearing your bow to defend the good of your people, are so careless and almost sluggish as to that bridge to the world of the Devas, the name of which is “sacrifice”?

6. Like servants, the kings (your vassals) revere your commands, thinking them to be the surest gauge of success. Now the time is come, O destroyer of your foes, to gather by means of sacrifice superior blessings, which are to procure for you a shining glory.

7, 8. Certainly, that holiness which is the requisite for a dīkṣita Before undertaking the performance of a great sacrifice, its performer has to be purified by the initiatory ceremony of dīkṣā. From that time till the final bath or avabhṛtha at the close of the sacrifice he is called a dīkṣita, and bound to the observance of many detailed prescriptions about his food, dress, residence, and his whole mode of living.01 is already yours, by reason of your [90] habitual practice of charity and your strictness in observing the restraint (of good conduct). Nevertheless, it would be fit for you to discharge your debt to the Devas By sacrifice, is the saying of the Hindus, man pays his debts to the Devas, by the Śrāddha and by offspring to his ancestors, by study and penance to the ṛṣis or old sages, by benevolence and kindness to men. See, for instance, Mhbh. I, 120, 17 foll.; Buddhacarita 9, 55.02 by such sacrifices as are the subject-matter of the Veda.

The deities being satisfied by duly and faultlessly performed sacrifice, honour the creatures in return by (sending) rain. Thus considering, take to mind the welfare of your subjects and your own, and consent to the performance of a regular sacrifice, which will enhance your glory.”

Thereupon he entered upon this thought: “Very badly guarded is my poor person indeed, being given in trust to such leaders. While faithfully believing and loving the Law, I should uproot my virtue of tender-heartedness by reliance upon the words of others. For, truly,

9. Those who are reputed among men to be the best refuge, are the very persons who intend to do harm, borrowing their arguments from the Law. Alas! such a man who follows the wrong path shown by them, will soon find himself driven to straits, for he will be surrounded by evils.

10. What connection may there be, forsooth, between righteousness and injuring animals? How may residence in the world of the Devas or propitiation of the deities have anything to do with the murder of victims?

11, 12. The animal slaughtered according to the rites with the prescribed prayers, as if those sacred formulae were so many darts to wound it, goes to heaven, they say, and with this object it is killed. In this way that action is interpreted to be done according to the Law. Yet it is a lie.

For how is it possible that in the next world one should reap the fruits of what has been done by others? And by what reason [97] will the sacrificial animal mount to heaven? though he has not abstained from wicked actions, though he has not devoted himself to the practice of good ones, simply because he has been killed in sacrifice, and not on the ground of his own actions?

13. And should the victim killed in sacrifice really go to heaven, should we not expect the Brāhmans to offer themselves to be immolated in sacrifice? A similar practice, however, is nowhere seen among them. Who, then, may take to heart the advice proffered by these counsellors?

14. As to the Celestials, should we believe that they who are wont to enjoy the fair ambrosia of incomparable scent, flavour, magnificence, and effective power, served to them by the beautiful Apsarasas, would abandon it to delight in the slaughter of a pitiable victim, that they might feast on the omentum and such other parts of his body as are offered to them in sacrifice?

Therefore, it is the proper time to act so and so.” Having thus made up his mind, the king feigned to be eager to undertake the sacrifice; and in approval of their words he spoke to them in this manner:

“Verily, well protected am I, well gratified, having such counsellors as Your Lordships are, thus bent on securing my happiness! Therefore I will have a human sacrifice (puruṣamedha) of a thousand victims performed. Let my officials, each in his sphere of business, be ordered to bring together the requisites necessary for that purpose. Let also an inquiry be made of the most fitting ground whereon to raise the tents and other buildings for the sattra. This is the appellation of great Soma-sacrifices lasting for many days, sometimes even for years.03 Further, the proper time for the sacrifice must be fixed (by the astrologers) examining the auspicious lunar days, karaṇas, muhūrtas, and constellations.”

The purohita answered: “In order to succeed in your enterprise, Your Majesty ought to take the avabhṛtha (final [98] bath) at the end of one sacrifice; after which you may successively undertake the others. For if the thousand human victims were to be seized at once, your subjects, to be sure, would blame you and be stirred up to great agitation on their account.” These words of the purohita having been approved by the (other) Brāhmans, the king replied: “Do not apprehend the wrath of the people, Reverends. I shall take such measures as to prevent any agitation among my subjects.”

After this the king convoked an assembly of the townsmen and the landsmen, and said: “I intend to perform a human sacrifice of a thousand victims. But nobody behaving honestly is fit to be designated for immolation on my part. With this in mind, I give you this advice: Whomsoever of you I shall henceforward perceive transgressing the boundaries of moral conduct, despising my royal will, him will I order to be caught to be a victim at my sacrifice, thinking such a one the stain of his family and a danger to my country. With the object of carrying this resolution into effect, I shall cause you to be observed by faultless and sharp-sighted emissaries, who have shaken off sleepy carelessness and will report to me concerning your conduct.”

Then the foremost of the assembly, folding their hands and bringing them to their foreheads, spoke:

15, 16. “Your Majesty, all your actions tend to the happiness of your subjects, what reason can there be to despise you on that account? Even (god) Brahmā cannot but sanction your behaviour.

Your Majesty, who is the authority of the virtuous, be our highest authority. For this reason anything which pleases Your Majesty must please us, too. Indeed, you are pleased with nothing else but our enjoyment and our good.”

After the notables both of the town and the country had accepted his command in this manner, the king dispersed about his towns and all over his country officers, notified as such by their outward appearance to the people, with the charge of laying hold of the evil-doers, [99] and everywhere he ordered proclamations to be made by beat of drum day after day, of this kind:

17. “The king, a granter of security as he is, warrants safety to everyone who constantly cultivates honesty and good conduct, in short, to the virtuous. Yet, intending to perform a human sacrifice for the benefit of his subjects, he wants human victims by thousands to be taken out of those who delight in misconduct.

18. Therefore, whosoever henceforward, licentiously indulging in misbehaviour, shall disregard the command of our monarch, which is even observed by the kings, his vassals, shall be brought to the state of a sacrificial victim by the very force of his own actions; and people shall witness his miserable suffering, when he shall pine with pain, his body being fastened to the sacrificial post.”

When the inhabitants of that realm became aware of their king's careful search after evil-doers with the aim of destining them to be victims at his sacrifice - for they heard the most frightful royal proclamation day after day and saw the king's servants, who were appointed to look out for wicked people and to seize them, appearing every now and then everywhere, they abandoned their attachment to bad conduct, and grew intent on strictly observing the moral precepts and self-control.

They avoided every occasion of hatred and enmity, and settling their quarrels and differences, cherished mutual love and mutual esteem. Obedience to the words of parents and teachers, a general spirit of liberality and sharing with others, hospitality, good manners, modesty, prevailed among them. In short, they lived as it were in the Kṛta Yuga.

19. The fear of death had awakened in them thoughts of the next world; the risk of tarnishing the honour of their families had stirred their care of guarding their reputation; the great purity of their hearts had strengthened their sense of shame. These factors being at work, people were soon distinguished by their spotless behaviour. [100]

20. Even though every one became more than ever intent on keeping a righteous conduct, still the king's servants did not diminish their watchfulness in the pursuit of the evildoers. This also contributed to prevent people from falling short of righteousness.

21. The king, learning from his emissaries this state of things in his realm, felt extremely rejoiced. He bestowed rich presents on those messengers as a reward for the good news they told him, and enjoined his ministers, speaking something like this:

22-24. “The protection of my subjects is my highest desire, you know. Now, they have become worthy to be recipients of sacrificial gifts, Viz. by the purity of their life and the holiness of their conduct.04 and it is for the purpose of my sacrifice that I have provided this wealth.

Well, I intend to accomplish my sacrifice in the manner which I have considered to be the proper one. Let every one who wishes for money, that it may be fuel for his happiness, come and accept it from my hand to his heart's content. In this way the distress and poverty, which is vexing our country, may be soon driven out.

Indeed, whenever I consider my own strong determination to protect my subjects and the great assistance I derive from you, my excellent companions in that task, it often seems to me as though those sufferings of my people, by exciting my anger, were burning in my mind like a blazing fire.”

The ministers accepted the royal command and anon went to execute it. They ordered alms-halls to be established in all villages, towns, and markets, likewise at all stations on the roads. This being done, they caused all who begged in order to satisfy their wants, to be provided day after day with a gift of those objects, just as had been ordered by the king.

25. So poverty disappeared, and the people, having received wealth from the part of the king, dressed and adorned with manifold and fine garments and ornaments, exhibited the splendour of festival days. [101]

26. The glory of the king, magnified by the eulogies of the rejoiced recipients of his gifts, spread about in all directions in the same way, as the flowerdust of the lotuses carried forth by the small waves of a lake, extends itself over a larger and larger surface.

27. In the printed text the first line of this stanza is deficient, two syllables at the end being wanting. I think this second pāda should be restored by the insertion of jane after nikhile.05 And after the whole people, in consequence of the wise measures taken by their ruler, had become intent on virtuous behaviour, the plagues and calamities, overpowered by the growth of all such qualities as conduce to prosperity, faded away, having lost their hold.

28. The seasons succeeded each other in due course, rejoicing everybody by their regularity, and like kings newly established, complying with the lawful order of things. Consequently the earth produced the various kinds of corn in abundance, and there was fullness of pure and blue water and lotuses in all waterbasins.

29. No epidemics afflicted mankind; the medicinal herbs possessed their efficacious virtues more than ever; the monsoons blew in due time and regularly; the planets moved along in auspicious paths.

30. Nowhere there existed any danger to be feared, either from abroad, or from within, or such as might be caused by derangements of the elements. Continuing in righteousness and self-control, cultivating good behaviour and modesty, the people of that country enjoyed as it were the prerogatives of the Kṛta Yuga.

By the power, then, of the king performing his sacrifice in this manner in accordance with (the precepts of) the Law, the sufferings of the indigent were put to an end together with the plagues and calamities, and the country abounded in a prosperous and thriving population offering the pleasing aspect of felicity. Accordingly people never wearied of repeating benedictions on their king and extending his renown in all directions [102]

One day one of the highest royal officials, whose heart had been inclined to the (True) Belief spoke thus to the king: “This is a true saying, in truth.

31. Monarchs, because they always deal with all kinds of business, the highest, the lowest, and the intermediate, by far surpass in their wisdom any wise men.

For, Your Majesty, you have obtained the happiness of your subjects both in this world and in the next, as the effect of your sacrifice being performed in righteousness, free from the blameable sin of animal-slaughter. The hard times are all over and the sufferings of poverty have ceased, since men have been established in the precepts of good conduct. Why use many words? Your subjects are happy.

32. The corruptions of this stanza in the MSS. have been corrected in the edition. In some points, however, I venture to propose some alterations. To gātreṇa of the MSS., gātre na of the ed., I should prefer gātreṣu. For mandodyamāḥ of the MSS., mandodyamah of the ed., I substitute mandodyamā and in pāda 3, I think keśaracanaśobhā is one word.06 The black antelope's skin which covers your limbs has the resemblance of the spot on the bright moon's surface, nor can the natural loveliness of your demeanour be hindered by the restraint imposed on you by your being a dīkṣita. See note on p. 95 supra. The sattra and the dīkṣā continue as long as the sacrifice is being performed. The king, therefore, is still wearing the skin of the black antelope, which he put on at the time of his consecration for the sake of performing the sacrifice, since he is obliged to observe this and many other restrictions of the dīkṣā. The minister says that to the pious monarch these obligations are no restraint with respect to his behaviour, which already before has been in accordance with the strictest precepts of the Law.07 Your head, adorned with such hairdress as is in compliance with the rites of the dīkṣā, possesses no less lustre than when it was embellished with the splendour of the royal umbrella. The white umbrella has been put aside for the time of the dīkṣā.08 And, last not least, by your largesses you [103] have surpassed the renown and abated the pride of the famous performer of a hundred sacrifices. Viz. Śakra, the Lord of the Devas. Here he is called śatayajvan, which is well-nigh synonymous with his common epithet of śatakratu.09

33. As a rule, O you wise ruler, the sacrifice of those who long for the attainment of some good, is a vile act, accompanied as it is by injury done to living beings. Your sacrifice, on the contrary, this monument of your glory, is in complete accordance with your lovely behaviour and your aversion to vices.

34. Oh! Happy are the subjects who have their protector in you! It is certain that no father could be a better guardian to his children.”

Another said:

35. “If the wealthy practise charity, they are commonly impelled to do so by the hopes they put in the cultivation of that virtue; good conduct, too, may be accounted for by the wish to obtain high regard among men or the desire of reaching heaven after death. But such a practice of both, as is seen in your skill in securing the benefit of others, cannot be found but in those who are accomplished both in learning and in virtuous exertions.”

In such a way, then, those whose hearts are pure do not act up to the enticement of the wicked. Knowing this, pure-heartedness is to be striven after.

[In the spiritual lessons for princes, also, this is to be said:

“Who to his subjects wishing good, himself exerts,
Thus brings about salvation, glory, happiness.
No other should be of a king the business.”

And it may be added as follows: “(The prince) who strives after material prosperity, ought to act in accordance with the precepts of religion, thinking a religious conduct of his subjects to be the source of prosperity.” [104]

Further this is here to be said: “Injuring animals never tends to bliss, but charity, self-restraint, continence and the like have this power; for this reason he who longs for bliss must devote himself to these virtues.”

And also when discoursing on the Tathāgata: “In this manner the Lord showed his inclination to care for the interests of the world, when he was still in his previous existences.”]

This story is not met with elsewhere, it seems, at least in this shape. No. 50 of the Pāli Jātaka is told with the same intention but in a different manner. The resolve of the Bodhisattva and his stopping bloody sacrifices is better accounted for in our text. [105]