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Jataka 151

Rājovāda Jātaka

Advice to a King

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 quite a remarkable story about two kings who are concerned with moral purity. They both go to great lengths to discover faults in their behavior. It is reminiscent of Confucian models of moral behavior for civil servants and governing officials.


Rough to the rough.” The Master told this story while he was living in Jetavana. It describes how a king was taught a lesson.

It is said that one day the King of Kosala had just passed sentence in a very difficult case involving moral wrong. (This story is told in Tesakuṇa Jātaka, number 521.) After his meal, with hands not yet dry, he proceeded in his splendid chariot to visit the Master. The King saluted the Master - his feet beautiful like the open lotus flower - and sat down beside him.

Then the Master addressed him in these words: “Why, my lord King, what brings you here at this time of day?”

“Sir,” he said, “I missed my time visiting you because I was sitting on a difficult case. It involved moral wrong-doing. Now I have finished it. I have eaten, and here I am with my hands hardly dry to wait upon you.”

“My lord King,” the Master replied, “to judge a cause with justice and impartiality is the right thing to do. That is the way to heaven. Now when you have the advice of a being as wise as me, it is no wonder that you should judge your case fairly and justly. But the wonder is when kings have only had the advice of scholars who are not wise, and yet have decided fairly and justly, avoiding the Four Ways of Wickedness (actions based on desire, hatred, delusion, or fear) and observing the Ten Royal Virtues (charity, morality, altruism, honesty, gentleness, self-control, non-anger, non-violence, forbearance, uprightness). And after ruling justly they have gone to swell the hosts of heaven.” Then, at the King’s request, he told a story of a previous time.


Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was the King of Benares, the Bodhisatta was conceived by the King’s Queen Consort. After the ceremonies appropriate to her status were duly performed, she safely gave birth. On his name-day, they gave him the name “Prince Brahmadatta.”

In due course, he grew up. When he was 16 years old he went to Takkasilā University for his education. There he mastered all the branches of learning, and on his father’s death he became the King. He ruled with uprightness and righteousness, administering justice with no regard to his own will or whim. And because he ruled justly, his ministers for their part were also just. Thus, because all things were justly done, there was no one who brought a false suit into court. Eventually the bustle of all the suitors ceased within the precincts of the palace. All day long the ministers might sit on the bench and go away without seeing a single suitor. The courts were deserted.

Then the Bodhisatta thought to himself, “Because of my just government not one suitor comes to try a case in court. The old hubbub is quiet. The courts of law are deserted. Now I must search inward to see if I have any faults in me. If I find any, I will abandon them and live a good life hereafter.”

From that time on he tried continually to find someone who would tell him of a fault that he had. But of all those who were around him at court he could not find one such person. He heard nothing but good things about himself. “Perhaps,” he thought, “they are all too afraid of me to say anything ill but can only say what is good.”

And so he went about to try those who were outside his walls. But with these people it was the same. Then he made inquiries of the citizens at large, and outside the city he questioned those who belonged to the suburbs at the four city gates. Still there was no one who found any fault with him. All he heard were praises. Finally, intending to try the country side, he entrusted the government to his ministers, mounted his carriage, and taking only the driver with him, left the city in disguise.

He traveled all over the country, even to the frontier. Still he did not find a single fault finder. All he heard was praise. So he turned back from the journey, and set his face homewards again by the highroad.

Now it so happened that at this very time Mallika, the King of Kosala, had done the very same thing. He too was a just king, and he had been searching for his faults. But among those about him there was no one who found any fault. And hearing nothing but praise, he had been making inquiries throughout the country and happened to arrive at that same place.

These two met, in a place where the carriage road was deeply sunk between two banks, and there was not enough room for one carriage to pass another.

“Get your carriage out of the way!” said King Mallika’s driver to the driver of the King of Benares.

“No, no, driver,” he said, “get out of the way with yours! Know that in this carriage sits the great monarch Brahmadatta, lord of the kingdom of Benares!”

“Not so, driver!” replied the other. “In this carriage sits the great King Mallika, lord of the realm of Kosala! It is for you to make way and to give way to the carriage of our King!”

“Why, here’s a king too,” thought the driver of the King of Benares. “What in the world is to be done?”

Then a thought occurred to him. He would ask what the ages of the two kings was so that the younger should give way to the elder. And he asked the other driver how old his King was. However, he discovered that they were both the same age. Thereupon he asked the extent of this King’s power, wealth, and glory, and all points touching his caste and clan and his family. He discovered that both of them had a country 1500 kilometers long, and that they were alike in power, wealth, glory, and the nature of their family and lineage. Then he thought that the higher rank might be given to the better man. So he asked the other driver to describe his master’s virtues. The man replied by the first verse of the following poetry, in which he set forth his monarch’s faults as though they were so many virtues:

“Rough to the rough, King Mallika the mild with mildness sways,

Masters the good by goodness, and the bad with badness pays.

Give way, way place, O driver! Such are this monarch’s ways!”

“Oh,” said the driver of the King of Benares. “Is that all you have to say about your King’s virtues?”

“Yes,” said the other.

“If these are his virtues, what must his faults be?”

“I will tell you his faults, then,” he said, “if you will. But let me hear what your King’s virtues are!”

“Listen then,” the first responded, and he repeated the second verse:

“He conquers wrath by mildness, the bad with goodness sways,

By gifts the miser vanquishes and lies with truth repays.

Give way, way place, O driver! such are this monarch’s ways!”

(The PTS edition of this Jātaka equates this verse with Dhammapada 223:

Conquer anger

with lack of anger;

bad with good;

stinginess with a gift;

a liar with truth.)


The Virtuous King Conquers Wrath

Figure: The Virtuous King Conquers Wrath

At these words both King Mallika and his driver descended from their carriage. They loosed the horses and moved it out of the way, yielding to the King of Benares. Then the King of Benares instructed King Mallika, saying, “This is what you must you do,” after which he returned to Benares. There he gave alms and did good all his life, until the last he went to swell the hosts of heaven.

And King Mallika took the lesson to heart. After traversing the length and breadth of the land, and finding no one who found any fault with him, he returned to his own city. There he gave alms all his life and did good, until at the end he too went to swell the hosts of heaven.


When the Master ended this discourse, which he began for the purpose of giving a lesson to the King of Kosala, he identified the birth: “Moggallāna was the driver of King Mallika. Ānanda was the King. Sāriputta was the driver of the King of Benares, and I was the King.”