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Jataka 77

Mahāsupina Jātaka

The Great Dreams

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


This is an unusual Jātaka Tale because a) it is relatively long and b) it includes many prophecies.

This story begins with two of the most important people from the Buddha’s time: King Pasenadi, who was the King of Kosala, and his Queen Mallika. Here we see them completely in character. King Pasenadi was an intelligent and educated man. An entire section of the Saṃyutta Nikāya is devoted to conversations between him and the Buddha. But he is also somewhat erratic, and tends to backslide from the Buddha’s Dharma to the Brahmin religion. That is what he does in this story.

Queen Mallikā has just a small role in this story, but it is a pivotal one. Unlike her husband, Mallikā was deeply loyal to the Buddha. She often – as she does in this story – puts King Pasenadi back on the proper path.

This story has many prophecies that have eerie parallels to modern day politics. There is also an interesting passage in which the Buddha warns of a time when people teach the Dharma for money. He says that when this happens, it means that the Dharma has become corrupted. Sadly, this is the way that the Dharma has come to the West, as a sort of commercial enterprise.


Bulls first, and trees.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about sixteen great dreams. For in the last watch of one night (so tradition says) the King of Kosala, who had been asleep all night long, dreamed sixteen great dreams. Then he woke up in fear and alarm as to what they might mean for him. His fear of death was so strong that he could not move. He just lay there huddled up in his bed. Now when the night grew light, his brahmins and chaplains came to him, and with due respect they asked whether his majesty had slept well.

“How could I sleep well, my courtiers?” answered the King. “For at daybreak I dreamed sixteen great dreams, and I have been in terror ever since! Tell me, my advisors, what does it all mean?”

“We shall be able to judge once we have heard them.”

Then the King told them his dreams, and he asked what those visions meant.

The brahmins started to wring their hands. “Why wring your hands, brahmins?” the King asked.

“Because, sire, these are evil dreams.”

“What will come of them?” the King asked.

“One of three calamities: harm to your kingdom, harm to your life, or harm to your wealth.”

“Is there a remedy?”

“Undoubtedly these dreams in themselves are so fierce that they are very dangerous. Nonetheless we will find a remedy for them. Otherwise, what good is our study and learning?”

“What do you propose to do to avoid the evil?”

“Wherever four roads meet, we will offer a sacrifice, sire.”

“My directors,” the King cried in terror, “my life is in your hands. Work quickly and for my safety.”

“We will be paid a large sum of money and get food of every kind,” the jubilant brahmins thought. Telling the King to have no fear, they left the palace.

Outside the town they dug a sacrificial pit and gathered many four-footed creatures, perfect and without blemish, and a multitude of birds. But still they kept discovering that they were missing something or other, and they kept going back to the King to ask for this, that, and the other thing. Now their actions were being watched by Queen Mallikā who went to the King and asked why these brahmins kept coming to him.

“I envy you,” the King said. “A snake in your ear, and you do not know about it!”

“What do you mean, your majesty?”

“I have dreamed such unlucky dreams! The brahmins tell me they point to one of three calamities, and they are anxious to offer sacrifices to avoid 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 would that be, my dear?” asked the King.

“Do you not know the greatest person in all the world, the all-knowing and pure, the spotless master brahmin? Surely, he, the Blessed One, will understand your dreams. Go, ask him.”

“And so I will, my Queen,” said the King. And away he went to the monastery, where he saluted the Master and sat down.

“What, pray tell, brings your majesty here so early in the morning?” asked the Master in his sweet tones.

“Sir,” said the King, “just before daybreak I dreamed sixteen great dreams which so terrified me that I told them to the brahmins. They told me that my dreams foretold evil, and that to avoid the threatened calamity they must offer a great sacrifice wherever four roads met. And so they are busy with their preparations, and many living creatures have the fear of death before their eyes. But I pray you, who are the greatest person in the world of men and devas, you into whose sight comes all possible knowledge of things past and present and to be, I pray you to tell me what will come of my dreams, Oh Blessed One.”

“It is true, sire, that there is no one other than me who can tell what your dreams mean or what will come of them. I will tell you. Only first you have to tell me about 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, she-jackal, waterpot,

A pond, raw rice, and sandal-wood,

And gourds that sank, and stones that swam,

With frogs that gobbled up black snakes,

A crow with gay-plumed retinue,

And wolves in panic-fear of goats!

“How was it, sir, that I had the following dream? Four black bulls, like collyrium (a black eye shadow) in hue, came from the four cardinal directions to the royal courtyard with a vow to fight. People flocked together to see the bull fight until a great crowd had gathered. But the bulls only made a show of fighting. They roared and bellowed and finally they went off without fighting at all. This was my first dream. What does this mean?"

“Sire, that dream will not manifest in your days or in mine. But hereafter, when rulers are stingy and unrighteous, and when people are not righteous, in days when the world is corrupt, when good is waning and evil waxing, in those days of the world’s backsliding, no rain will fall from the heavens. The feet of the storm will be crippled, the crops will wither, and famine will be on the land. Then the clouds will gather as if to rain from the four quarters of the heavens. People will hurriedly carry the rice and crops indoors so that the women can spread them out to dry for fear the harvest will get wet. Then with shovels and baskets in hand, the men will go to bank up the dikes. As a sign of coming rain, the thunder will bellow, the lightning will flash from the clouds. But just likes the bulls in your dream that did not fight, the clouds will pass by without raining. This is what will come of this dream. But no harm will come to you from it, for it was in regard to the future that you dreamed this dream. What the brahmins told you they only said to get money and food from you.”

And when the Master had told the meaning of this dream, he said, “Tell me your second dream, sire.”

“Sir,” the King said, “my second dream was this. Little tiny trees and shrubs burst through the soil, and when they had barely grown the size of a hand high, they flowered and bore fruit! This was my second dream. What does this mean?”

“Sire,” the Master said, “this dream will manifest in days when the world has fallen into decay and when men are short lived. In times when passions are strong, quite young girls will go to live with men. These women will conceive and bear children. The flowers of this union will typify their origins, and the fruit their offspring. But you, sire, have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your third dream, Oh great King.”

“I saw cows sucking the milk of calves who were born that same day. This was my third dream. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will manifest only in days to come, when respect is no longer given to elders. For in the future men, showing no reverence for parents or parents-in-law, shall control the family wealth, and if they so desire, will give food and clothing to their elders, but if they do not wish to do so, they will withhold their gifts. Then the elders, destitute and dependent, will exist only by favor of their own children, like big cows suckled by calves a day old. But you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your fourth dream.”

“I saw men unyoking a team of draught oxen, sturdy and strong, and harnessing young steers to draw the load. And the steers were not up to the task. They refused and stood still so that the wagons did not move. This was my fourth dream. What does this mean?”

“Here again the dream will not manifest until the future, in the days of unrighteous rulers. For in days to come, unrighteous and stingy rulers will show no honor to wise people skilled in knowledge, fertile in virtue, and able to conduct business. They will not appoint aged councilors of wisdom and of learning to the courts of law and justice. Instead they will honor the very young and the very foolish, and appoint them to preside in the courts. And these latter, ignorant of both diplomacy and practical knowledge, will not be able to handle the burden of their honors or to govern. And because of their incompetence, they will throw off the yoke of office. Meanwhile, the aged and wise people, who are properly able to cope with all the difficulties, will remember how they were passed over. And they will refuse to help, saying, ‘It is no business of ours. We are outsiders. Let the people of the inner circle see to it.’ They will stand aside, and ruin will fall upon those rulers in every way. It will be like when the yoke was put on the young steers who were not strong enough for the burden instead of the team of sturdy and strong draught-oxen, who alone were able to do the work. However, you have nothing to fear from this dream. Tell me your fifth dream.”

“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 does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will only manifest in the future, in the days of unrighteous and foolish rulers. These rulers will appoint unrighteous and covetous people to be judges. These base ones, fools, despising the good, will take bribes from both sides as they sit in the seat of judgment, and they will be filled with this two-fold corruption, just as the horse ate the fodder with two mouths at once. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your sixth dream.”

“I saw people holding out a polished, golden bowl worth a hundred thousand pieces, and begging an old jackal to get into the bowl where it would atrophy and grow weak. And I saw the beast do it. This was my sixth dream. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will only manifest in the future. For in the days to come, unrighteous rulers, even though they come from a race of rulers, will mistrust the descendants of the noble and will not honor them. Instead they will appoint fools. The noble will be brought low and the fools will be put in power. Then the great families will be forced to live in dependence on the upstarts. They will offer them their daughters in marriage. And the union of the noble maidens with the foolish will be like the atrophying of the old jackal in the golden bowl. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your seventh dream.”

“A man was weaving rope, sir, and as he wove, he threw it down at his feet. There was a hungry female jackal under his bench. She kept eating the rope as he wove, but the man did not know it. This is what I saw. This was my seventh dream. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future. For in days to come, women will lust after men and alcohol and fine clothes, and they will travel abroad seeking the joys of this world. In their wickedness and extravagance these women will get drunk with their lovers. They will parade about in clothes and jewelry and perfumes. They will be heedless of even the most pressing of their family duties. They will keep watching for their lovers, even at crevices high up in the outer wall. They will crush the seed corn that should be sown so they can provide good cheer. In all these ways they will plunder the stores won by the hard work of their husbands in the fields and barns, devouring the poor men’s substance just as the hungry jackal under the bench ate the rope of the rope maker as he wove it. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your eighth dream.”

“I saw a big pitcher at a palace gate that was full to the brim and stood among a number of empty ones. And from the four cardinal points, and from the four intermediate points as well, a constant stream of people of all four castes kept coming. They carried water in pots and poured it into the full pitcher. The water overflowed and spilled away. But they kept 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 does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future. For in days to come the world will decay. Countries will grow weak. Its rulers will grow poor and stingy. The richest of them will have no more than 100,000 pieces of money in his treasury. Then these rulers will make their people only work for them. The working people, leaving their own work, will sow grain and seedlings. They will keep watch and reap and thresh and harvest for the ruler’s sake. They will plant sugar cane, make and operate sugar mills, and boil down the molasses for the ruler’s sake. They will lay out flower gardens and orchards, and gather in the fruits for the ruler’s sake. And as they gather in all the different kinds of produce, they will fill the ruler’s granaries to overflowing, not giving so much as a glance at their own empty barns. Thus, it will be like filling up the full pitcher, heedless of the empty ones. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your ninth dream.”

“I saw a deep pool with steep banks all around. It was over-grown with the five kinds of lotuses. Two-footed creatures and four-footed creatures from every side flocked there to drink its water. The middle of the pond was muddy, but the water was clear and sparkling at the edges where the creatures went down into the pool. This was my ninth dream. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future. For in days to come rulers will grow unrighteous. They will rule after their own will and pleasure, and they will not execute judgment with righteousness. These rulers will lust after riches and grow fat on bribes. They will not show mercy, love, and compassion toward their people. They will be fierce and cruel, amassing wealth by crushing their subjects like sugar-canes in a mill and by taxing them even to their last penny. Unable to pay the oppressive tax, the people will flee from villages and towns and cities and take refuge at the borders of the realm. The heart of the land will be a wilderness, while the borders will be full of people, just as the water was muddy in the middle of the pool and clear at the margin. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your tenth dream.”

“I saw rice boiling in a pot without getting done. By ‘not getting done’ I mean that it looked as though it was divided into three parts. One part was wet, one part hard and raw, and one part cooked properly. This was my tenth dream. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future. For in days to come rulers will grow unrighteous. The people surrounding the rulers will grow unrighteous as well, as will the noble and the householders, townsmen, and countryfolk. Yes, all people will grow unrighteous, even including sages and brahmins. Next, their very guardian deities - the spirits to whom they offer sacrifice, the spirits of the trees, and the spirits of the air - will become unrighteous as well. The very winds that blow over the realms of these unrighteous rulers will grow cruel and lawless. They will shake the mansions of the skies and kindle the anger of the spirits that live there so that they will not allow rain to fall. And if it does rain, it will not fall on everywhere at once. And any kind shower will not fall on tilled or sown lands to help them in their need. In each district and village and over each separate pool or lake, the rain will not fall at the same time on the whole area. If it rains on the upper part, it will not rain on the lower. Some crops will be ruined by a heavy downpour. Some will wither from drought. And some will thrive with friendly showers to water them. So the crops sown in a single place, like the rice in the one pot, will have no uniform character. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your eleventh dream.”

“I saw sour buttermilk bartered for precious sandal-wood worth 100,000 pieces of money. This was my eleventh dream. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future, in the days when the Dharma is becoming corrupt and losing its influence. For in days to come many greedy and shameless Dharma teachers will arise. They will preach the very words where I lamented against greed for their own personal gain! In pursuit of personal gain and taking their stand on the side of religious sectarians, they will fail to make their teaching lead to Nirvana. Their only thought, as they preach, will be to induce men and women by fine words and sweet voices to give them their money and to be given gifts. Others, seated in the highways, at the street corners, at the doors of rulers’ palaces, will stoop to preaching for money. And as they barter the Dharma - my doctrine that leads to the riches of Nirvana - away for food or money, they will be like those who bartered away precious sandalwood worth 100,000 pieces of money for sour buttermilk. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your twelfth dream.”

“I saw empty pumpkins sinking in the water. What does this mean?”

“This dream will also manifest in the future, in the days of unrighteous rulers, when the world is corrupt. For in those days, rulers will not show favor to the noble, but to the foolish only. These fools will become powerful and wealthy, while the noble will sink into poverty. In the government, in the palace gates, in the council chamber, and in the courts of justice, the words of the foolish alone (who the empty pumpkins typify) will be established, as though they had sunk down until they rest on the bottom. So, too, in the assemblies of the Saṇgha, in the greater and lesser councils, and in conduct regarding bowls, robes, lodging, and the like, only the words of the wicked and the vile will be considered to have power, not that of the modest monks and nuns. Thus, everywhere it will be like when the empty pumpkins sank. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your thirteenth dream.”

Hereupon the King said, “I saw huge blocks of solid rock, as big as houses, floating like ships upon the waters. What does this mean?”

“This dream will also not manifest before such times as those of which I have spoken. For in those days unrighteous rulers will honor the foolish, who will become powerful while the noble sink into poverty. The upstarts alone shall have respect, not the noble. In the halls of government, in the council chamber, or in the courts of justice, the words of the nobles learned in the law (and it is they who the solid rocks typify) will drift idly by. Their wisdom will not sink deep into the hearts of men when they speak. The upstarts will merely laugh at them scornfully, saying, ‘What is this these fellows are saying?’ So too in the assemblies of the Saṇgha, as said before, the excellent among the Saṇgha will not be deemed worthy of respect. Their words will not sink deep. They will drift idly by, even as the rocks floated upon the waters in your dream. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your fourteenth dream.”

“I saw tiny frogs, no bigger than tiny wildflowers, swiftly pursuing huge black snakes, chopping them up like so many lotus-stalks and gobbling them up. What does this mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until those days to come such as those of which I have spoken, when the world is decaying. For then men’s passions will be so strong and their lusts so hot, that they will use their power to control the very youngest of their wives as well as their slaves and hired servants, oxen, buffalos and all cattle, gold and silver, and everything that is in the house.

“As for the poor husband, if he should ask where the money or a robe is, he will be told at once 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 so in different ways the wives will establish their power over their husbands with abuse and goading taunts just as they would with slaves and servants. Thus, it will be like the tiny frogs, no bigger than tiny wildflowers, gobbling up the big black snakes. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your fifteenth dream.”

“I saw a village crow in whom was embodied the whole of the Ten Vices. He was escorted by a flock of those birds who, because of their golden sheen, are called Royal Golden Mallards. What does this mean?”

(The Ten Vices are killing, stealing, adultery, slandering, reviling, lying, flattery, jealousy, hatred, and ‘folly’, the last of which includes not believing in the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṇgha, and holding wrong views.)

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future in the reign of weak rulers. In days to come rulers will arise who will know nothing about elephants or the arts, and they will be cowards in the field. Fearing to be deposed and cast from their high status, they will put their footmen, bath attendants, barbers, and such - and not the noble - into power. Thus, shut out from favor and unable to support themselves, the noble will be reduced to attending on the upstarts, just as when the crow had the Royal Golden Mallards for an entourage. However, you have nothing to fear from this. Tell me your sixteenth dream.”

“Before this, sir, it always used to be panthers that preyed on goats. But I saw goats chasing panthers and devouring them - munch, munch, munch! - while at the mere sight of the goats far away, terror-stricken wolves fled - quaking with fear - and hid themselves in their refuge in the thicket. This was my dream. What does it mean?”

“This dream, too, will not manifest until the future, in the reign of unrighteous rulers. In those days the foolish will be raised to ministers and be made favorites, while the noble will sink into obscurity and distress. Gaining influence in the courts of law because of their favor with the ruler, these upstarts will claim the great estates, the clothing, and all the property of the noble. And when the noble plead their rights before the courts, the ruler’s followers will have them beaten and punished and taken by the throat and cast out with words of scorn, such as: ‘Know your place, fools! What? Do you oppose us? The ruler will know of your insolence, and we will have your hands and feet chopped off and other tortures applied!’ The terrified noble ones will be forced to affirm that their own belongings really belong to the overbearing upstarts, and they will tell the favorites to take them. And they will hurry home and cower in an agony of fear. Likewise, evil monks and nuns will harass good and worthy monks and nuns, until these latter, finding no one to help them, will flee to the jungle. And this oppression of the noble and of the good monks and nuns by the foolish and by the evil will be like the scaring of wolves by goats. However, you have nothing to fear from this. For this dream, too, only has meaning for the future.

“It was not truth, it was not love for you, that prompted the brahmins to prophesy as they did. No, it was greed and the mind that is fed by covetousness that shaped all their self-seeking words.”

Thus the Master explained the meaning of these sixteen great dreams, adding, “You, sire, are not the first to have these dreams. They were dreamed by kings of bygone days as well. And then, as now, the brahmins used them as a pretext for sacrifices. But at the insistence of the wise and good, the Bodhisatta was consulted, and the dreams were explained in the same manner in past times as they have just now been explained.” And so saying, at the King’s request, he told this story of the past.


Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was born as a brahmin in the North country. When he came of age, he renounced the world for the life of a recluse. He won the higher Knowledges (supernormal powers) and the Attainments (eight jhānas), and he lived in the Himalaya country in the bliss that comes from Insight.

In those days, in just the same way, Brahmadatta dreamed these dreams at Benares, and he asked the brahmins about them. And the brahmins, then as now, started preparing a sacrifice. There was a young brahmin of learning and wisdom among them. He was a student of the King’s chaplain. He said to the chaplain, “Master, you have taught me the Three Vedas. Isn’t there a text that says ‘The killing of one creature does not give life to another’?”

“My son,” the chaplain replied, “this means money to us, a great deal of money. You only seem to want to spare the King’s treasury!”

“Do as you will, master,” the young brahmin said. “But as for me, there is no point in staying here with you.” And so saying, he left him, and went to the royal pleasure garden.

That same day the Bodhisatta, knowing all this, thought to himself, “If I visit the realm of men today, I will be able to save a great many from suffering.” So, passing through the air, he landed in the royal pleasure garden and seated himself, radiant as a statue of gold, upon the Ceremonial Stone.

The young brahmin went to him and with due respect seated himself by the Bodhisatta in all friendliness. They had a sweet conversation. The Bodhisatta asked whether the young brahmin thought the King ruled righteously. “Sir,” the young man answered, “the King is righteous himself, but the brahmins make him do things that are evil. The brahmins were asked about the meaning of sixteen dreams that the King had, and they leaped at the opportunity to perform a sacrifice. Oh, sir, it would be a good thing if you would tell the King the real meaning of his dreams and in so doing save great numbers of creatures from their death?”

“But, my son, I do not know the King, and he does not know he me. Still, if he should come here and ask me, I will tell him.”

“I will bring the King, sir,” the young brahmin said, “if you will only be so good as to wait here a minute until I come back.” And having gotten the Bodhisatta’s consent, he went before the King. He told the King that an air-travelling recluse had appeared in the royal pleasure garden. The recluse said he would explain the King’s dreams. Would his majesty describe them to this man?

When the King heard this, he left at once to the pleasure garden with a large entourage. Saluting the recluse, he sat down by the holy man’s side. He asked him whether it was true that he knew what his dreams meant. “Certainly, sire,” the Bodhisatta said, “but first describe the dreams to me.”

“Readily, sir,” answered the King, and he began as follows:

Bulls first, and trees, and cows, and calves,

Horse, dish, she-jackal, waterpot,

A pond, raw rice, and sandal-wood,

And gourds that sank, and stones that swam,

and so forth, ending up with

And wolves in panic-fear 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.

Figure: The King Meets the Wise Recluse

Figure: The King Meets the Wise Recluse

“Enough,” said the Great Being. “You have nothing to fear or dread from all this.” Having thus reassured the King, and having freed many animals from bondage, the Bodhisatta again took up his position in mid-air. From there he exhorted the King and established him in the Five Precepts, ending with these words, “Henceforth, Oh King, do not align with the brahmins in slaughtering animals for sacrifice.” His teaching ended, the Bodhisatta passed straight through the air to his own home. And the King, remaining faithful to the teaching he had heard, passed away after a life of alms-giving and other good works to fare according to his karma.


His lesson ended, the Master said, “You have nothing to fear from these dreams. Away with the sacrifice!” Having had the sacrifice dismissed, and having saved the lives of many creatures, he showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “Ānanda was the King of those days, Sāriputta was the young Brahmin, and I was the recluse.”