Jataka 50

Dummedha Jātaka

The Evildoers

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University

In this story the Bodhisatta becomes the King. He uses his authority to end the practice of animal sacrifice and to force his subjects to follow the Five Precepts. This may seem a little heavy-handed, but maybe it is not really such a bad idea. Imagine laws that promote good behavior.

A thousand evildoers.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about actions done for the world’s good, as will be explained in the Twelfth Book in the Mahā Kaṇha Jātaka (Jātaka 469).

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was reborn in the womb of the Queen Consort. When he was born, he was named Prince Brahmadatta on his naming day. By the time he was sixteen years of age, he had been well educated at Takkasilā University, he had learned the Three Vedas by heart, and he was versed in the Eighteen Branches of Knowledge (also called the 18 vidhyasthanams). And his father made him a minister in the government.

Now in those days the Benares folk were enamored of festivals to gods, and they used to show honor to gods. It was their practice to sacrifice many sheep, goats, poultry, swine, and living creatures, and to perform their rituals not merely with flowers and perfumes but with gory carcasses. The future Lord of Mercy thought to himself, “These people are led astray by superstition. Men cruelly sacrifice life. They are given up to paganism. But when I become King at my father’s death, I will end this destruction of life. I will devise some clever scheme whereby the evil will be stopped without harming a single human being.”

With this in mind, the prince mounted his chariot one day and drove out of the city. On the way he saw a crowd gathered at a holy banyan tree. There was a fairy who had been reborn in that tree, and they were praying to the fairy to grant them sons and daughters and honor and wealth. Descending from his chariot, the Bodhisatta went over to the tree and acted like a worshipper. He made offerings of perfumes and flowers, sprinkled the tree with water, and circumambulated its trunk. Then mounting his chariot again, he went back into the city.

Thereafter the prince made similar journeys to the tree, and he worshipped it like a true believer in gods.

In due course, when his father died, the Bodhisatta ascended to the throne. Shunning the four evil courses (desire, aversion, delusion, and fear), and practicing the ten royal virtues (generosity, morality, renunciation, honesty, gentleness, asceticism, non-violence, patience, uprightness), he ruled his people in righteousness. And now that he was King, the Bodhisatta determined to fulfill his vow. So he called together his ministers, the brahmins, the nobility, and the other orders of the people, and he asked them whether they knew how he had become King. But no one could tell him.

“Have you ever seen me reverently worshipping a banyan tree with perfumes and the like, and bowing down before it?”

“Sire, we have,” they answered.

“When I did this, I was making a vow. The vow was that if I ever became King, I would offer a sacrifice to that tree. And now that I have come to be King with the help of that god, I will make my promised sacrifice. So prepare it with all speed.”

“But what are we to sacrifice?” they asked.

“My vow,” said the King, “was this. I will sacrifice all who are addicted to the Five Sins (breaking the Five Precepts), which includes the slaughter of living creatures, and all who walk in the Ten Paths of Unrighteousness (killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, malicious speech, harsh speech, idle chatter, covetousness, ill will, and wrong view). Then I will make my offering with their flesh and their blood and with their entrails and their vital organs. So proclaim by the beat of the drum that our lord the King in his days as prince vowed that if he ever became King, he would execute and offer up as a sacrifice all of his subjects who break the Precepts. And now the King will execute 1,000 of those who are addicted to the Five Sins or walk in the Ten Paths of Unrighteousness. I will make a sacrifice with the hearts and the flesh of the 1,000 in the god’s honor. Proclaim this so that everyone will know it throughout the city. Anyone who violates this decree after today,” added the King, “will be executed and offered as a sacrifice to the god in fulfillment of my vow.” And to make his meaning clear the King uttered this stanza:

I once vowed to execute 1,000 evildoers

In pious gratitude.

And there are so many evildoers,

That I can now fulfill my vow.

Sacrifice Animals at Your Own Risk

Figure: Sacrifice Animals at Your Own Risk

Obedient to the King’s commands, the ministers proclaimed the decree by the beat of the drum throughout the length and breadth of Benares. Such was the effect of the proclamation on the townsfolk that not a single person persisted in the old wickedness. And throughout the Bodhisatta’s reign not a single man was convicted of breaking the decree. Thus, without harming a single one of his subjects, the Bodhisatta made them observe the Precepts. And at the close of a life of generosity and other good works, he passed away with his followers to inhabit the city of the devas.

The Master said, “This is not the first time, monks, that the Buddha has acted for the world’s good. He acted in the same way in bygone times as well.” His lesson ended, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “The Buddha’s disciples were the ministers of those days, and I myself was the King of Benares.”