by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words
This page describes Story of King Ajatasattu contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as story of King Ajātasattu. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).
When the Prince was conceived in the womb of Vedelī, the Chief Queen of King Bimbisāra, the Queen strongly desired to drink the blood of the King’s right arm. It was hard to fulfil and she considered it inadvisable to tell anyone about it. She dared not express it openly and as a result she became lean, pale and haggard in her physical appearance.
Seeing this change in the Queen, the King asked what was wrong with her. The Queen at first refused to answer but the King pressed for an explanation and at last she revealed the craving that had made her unhappy.
The King was overwhelmed with love and said: “You silly Queen! Why should you think it is hard to satisfy your desire?” Thus reproving her for her reticence, the King sent for a physician and after having his arm cut with a small golden knife, he had the blood taken in a golden cup, mixed it with water and made the Queen drink it.
When the soothsayers heard the news, they predicted that the child in the Queen’s womb would become the enemy of the King, and that he would kill his father. On hearing their prediction, the Queen was worried. She did not wish to bear the potential murderer of the King. So she went to the garden to carry out abortion but her attempt was unsuccessful. In spite of her repeated attempts, she could not get rid of her pregnancy. (Later on the garden was named Maddakucchi——the garden where abortion was performed.)
King Bimbisāra inquired why the Queen often went to the garden and when he learnt what she was doing, he said: “We do not know as yet whether the child in your womb is a boy or a girl. Do not try to kill the child because, if you do so, our good reputation will be severely damaged all over Jambudīpa for our cruelty to our own child.” He deterred the Queen from doing so and kept her under surveillance. The Queen then decided to kill the child after its birth.
When the child was born, the guards took him to a safe place. The Prince grew up and when he was shown to the Queen, she became deeply attached to him. (She lost all her desire to kill her son.) King Bimbisāra later appointed the Prince his heir-apparent.
(The subsequent association of Ajātasattu with his evil friend Devadatta and his killing of his father to become king have been described in the section on Devadatta.)
From the day he ordered his father to be killed, King Ajātasattu was unable to sleep. As soon as he shut his eyes, he felt like being pierced by hundreds of spears and had dreamlike hallucinations about his destiny that kept him shaking and muttering. (This shows that those, who have done much evil, see signs of their impending descent into the lower worlds not only on their death-bed but long before the end of their lives.) The guards asked the King what ailed him but he just said: “Nothing.” These nightmarish hallucinations plagued the King and made him reluctant to go to sleep. So every night he gave audience for a long time to keep himself awake. (Dīgha Nikāya, Vol. 1.)
King Ajātasattu adored the evil Devadatta who was a thorn in the side of the Exalted One and so he gave alms lavishly to Devadatta and built for him a monastery in Gayāsīsa, and at the instigation of his teacher he killed his father who was a sotāpanna. In this way, he ruled out the possibility of doing any good deed leading to the Sotāpatti Path and ruined himself most disastrously.
On hearing that Devadatta was gorged by the earth, King Ajātasattu was afraid, lest he should share the fate of his former teacher. He could not indulge in royal pleasure nor could he sleep peacefully. He became tremulous, restless and jittery, like a young elephant pricked with a sharp iron stake, He had visions of the earth cracking, the flames from the Avīci hell coming out, the earth threatening to swallow him up and the custodians of hell making him lie on his back on the red-hot iron floor and poking him with iron stakes. So, trembling like a beaten fowl, King Ajātasattu could not find any support even for a moment nor could he stand firm and steady.
He wanted to see the Buddha, pay respect and ask about his problem but because of the enormity of his evil deed, he dared not go to the Buddha.
Then, when the festival of the planet Kattikā was held in Rājagaha on the full-moon night in the month of Kattikā (November), the whole city was decorated like a celestial city, and brightly illuminated with fire torches and flames. While seated amidst his ministers on the golden throne in the audience hall, King Ajātasattu saw the physician Jīvaka and thought: “I will take Jīvaka as my guide and go to the Buddha. But I should not admit frankly that I dare not go to the Exalted One and tell him (Jīvaka) frankly to take me there. Tactfully, I will extol the beauty of the night and then ask the ministers which real noble sāmana or brāhmana can inspire us with faith and devotion. When the ministers heard my words, they will glorify their respective teachers and the physician Jīvaka will glorify his teacher, the Exalted One. Then I will go and see the Exalted One with Jīvaka as my guide.”
After planning this strategy, King Ajātasattu said:
“(a) Ministers, tonight is so delightful, being free from snow, mist, cloud, Asurinda (an enormous semi-divine being that is supposed to create lunar eclipse) and smoke, the five disturbing things that disturb the beauty of the moon-lit night, or pollute the air. (b) Ministers, tonight is so beautiful, being free from the five elements. (c) Ministers, tonight is so lovely to look at, being free from the five disturbing elements. (d) Ministers, tonight our minds are calm and serene because the night is free from the five disturbing elements. (e) Ministers, tonight should be very memorable since it is free from the five disturbing elements.”
Having thus extolled the full-moon night, the King added:
“Which samaṇa or brāhmana should we see tonight, who can inspire us with faith and devotion?”
By saying this, the King gave a hint to the physician Jīvaka. (a) The King had committed a heinous crime by killing his father, a great patron of the Buddha and a sotāpanna-ariya at that time, and (b) by supporting Devadatta who did many things harmful to the Buddha. So he dared not go to the Buddha by himself. He knew that for the fulfilment of his desire to see the Buddha he must rely on Jivaka who had built a monastery for the Buddha and who served the Buddha’s medical needs.
Jīvaka did not fail to take his cue from the King. In fact, he knew it but because the assembly included many followers of the six heretical teachers, Jīvaka thought: “As followers of ignorant teachers, they themselves are ignorant, and they do not understand the rules to be observed at a meeting. If I start describing the noble attributes of the Exalted One, they will rise one by one and extol their teachers and then I will never come to the end of my description of the Exalted One’s noble attributes. As the teachings of their six heretical teachers do not have substance or anything worthy of note, the King will not be pleased with what they say and he will ask me directly. Then I will tell the King without any distraction about the noble attributes of the Exalted One and take him to the Buddha.” Thus thinking deeply, Jivaka said nothing despite the King’s hint and sat silently.
The ministers, who were the disciples of the six heretical teachers, thought: “Today the King extolled the beauty of the night of the Kattikā full-moon. He really must have the desire to see one of the samaṇas or brāhmanas, to ask questions and hear his sermon. The King will greatly honour the teacher whom he adores and whose sermon he hears. It augurs well for the minister whose teacher becomes the King’s teacher.” So each of them was bent on extolling his own teacher and leading the King to him. With this intention the ministers who were disciples of Pūrana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya and Nigantha Nāṭaputta extolled their respective teachers. (Read Sāmaññaphala Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya for their extolling speeches.)
King Ajātasattu had seen the heretical teachers before. When he first saw them, their physical appearance did not, in the least, impress him. On the contrary, he was much disappointed. Now, when he heard the words of his ministers, he felt like a man who sees a very sour and acid fruit brought and put in his hand when, in fact, he wishes to eat a golden coloured, sweet, delicious, ripe mango. He longed to hear the sweet Dhamma concerning the jhāna, supernormal powers, three characteristics of existence, etc. and so when he (in addition to his disappointment with the heretical teachers' physical appearance) heard their followers praising them, he became much dispirited and said nothing.
Although he was displeased with their saying, King Ajātasattu thought: “If I show my anger and have these ministers seized by the neck and turned out of the palace hall, other people will not have the courage to say anything, fearing that the King treats in the same way every one who speaks.” So, although he did not like their words, the King did not reproach them and remained silent.
Heroic Words of Jīvaka
King Ajātasattu thought: “Only the ministers whom I do not wish to listen to are talking. Physician Jīvaka, who I wish to hear, is silent like the Garuḷa bird that has swallowed the brain of a nāga. I am so unfortunate!” Then he had an afterthought: “Jīvaka is a disciple, an attendant of the quiet Exalted One. So he himself is quiet and lives in silence like a disciplined ascetic. He will not speak if I do not ask him. So I must act like a man, who when trampled by an elephant, has to clasp the animal’s foot.”
So thinking, the King said directly:
“Friend Jīvaka, why are you keeping silent? These ministers never tire of glorifying their teachers. Do not you have any teacher like these ministers? Do you have no teacher because you are a commoner without any official post or privileges granted by my father? Or do you have no teacher because of lack of faith?”
Thus the King asked Jīvaka directly, about the reason for his silence. Jīvaka thought: “The King wants me to speak of the attributes of my Teacher. Now, it is not the time for me to remain silent. But it is not proper for me to describe the noble attributes of the Buddha just as these ministers extol their teachers in a posture of reverence to the King.”
So Jīvaka rose, bowed most respectfully in the direction of the Teacher’s residence in Jīvaka’s mango-grove, raised his joined hands above his head and said:
“Great King! Do not think that I am the devotee of just a so called, self-styled samaṇa of doubtful characteristics. Certainly, at the time of my teacher’s conception in His mother’s womb, at the time of His birth, at the time of His renunciation, His attainment of Buddhahood, and His preaching of the Dhammacakka Sutta, the ten thousand universes shook quiveringly. In this and that way, the Exalted One performed miracles of fire and water. In this and that way, He came down to earth from the deva-world of Tāvatiṃsa. I will tell you about the Exalted One’s noble attributes to the best of my ability. Listen to me attentively.” With this preamble, Jīvaka went on to give an account of the Buddha.
“Great King, deva among the people! My Teacher, the Possessor of such attributes as Araham, and Sammasambuddha now lives with one thousand two hundred and fifty monks in the mango-grove monastery that we have donated to him.
“Our Teacher, the Exalted One, is an araham because He possesses the attributes of morality (sīla-guṇa), mental concentration (samādhi-guṇa), wisdom (paññāguṇa), liberation (vimutti-guṇa) and insight-knowledge of liberation (vimutti-ñāṇadassana-guṇa) that make Him worthy of special honour by devas, humans and Brahmās... He is an Exalted One (Bhagavā) because he possesses sixfold glory. Such good reputation of our Teacher, the Exalted One has spread beyond the highest abode of Bhavagga [in the arūpa or formless worlds].
“I want you, Great King, to see our Teacher, the Exalted One. If you see our Teacher, your mind will certainly become calm and serene.”
Preparations for The Visit to The Buddha
Even as he heard the noble attributes of the Buddha, King Ajātasattu was overwhelmed with five kinds of ecstasy. So, he wished to see the Buddha instantly and knowing that there was no one except Jīvaka who could arrange transport for his visit to the Buddha at that time, he told Jīvaka to go and prepare the elephant transport.
(Herein, there are various kinds of transport, such as horses, chariots, etc., but the elephant transport is the best of all transports. King Ajātasattu decided that he should go to the Supreme Buddha by means of the supreme transport. Horses and chariots are noisy, making their sounds audible in the distance. But the elephant makes no noise although it may not go quickly. The King considered it advisable to go to the quiet and calm Buddha by means of quiet and calm elephants. So he told Jīvaka to harness the elephants.)
Then Physician Jīvaka had five hundred female elephants and the state elephant adorned with all trappings.
The King did not tell him explicitly to prepare the female elephants for transport. But being intelligent, he got the female elephants ready with all equipments. In doing so, he was motivated by the reflection: “The King wants to go and see the Exalted One tonight. But kings have many enemies. If anything untoward happens to the King on the way, people will blame me and say that I lead the King out of the palace at an untimely hour of the night, heedlessly taking advantage of his compliance with my wish. Moreover, they will also blame the Exalted One, saying that the Exalted One preaches, taking advantage of His influence over people without regard for proper time. Therefore, I will make my plan so that the Exalted One and I maybe above reproach and the King may be well-protected.”
Again he thought: “Men are never in fear of women. So I will make the King go happily, surrounded by women.” After having five hundred female elephants adorned with full trappings, he had the five hundred female courtiers dressed as men and instructed them to accompany the King, each armed with swords and spears.
Still another thought occurred to Jīvaka: “On account of his heinous crime of parricide, there is no special good deed for this King Ajātasattu that will contribute to the attainment of the Path and Fruition in his present life. It is customary with the Buddhas to preach only when they see someone credited with extra-ordinarily good deed, which may serve as a support of spiritual progress (upanissaya-paccaya). Now, I will assemble the people. Then the Buddha will preach the Dhamma in view of the former good deed of someone in the assembly, the good deed essential to his spiritual uplift. The sermon will benefit many people.” Instantly, he sent a message to every part of the city, announcing also by the beat of drum, the King’s plan to visit the Buddha and hear the Dhamma, and that people are to go along with the King for his security according to their official position.
Then the people thought: “It is said that our King will go and see the Buddha. What kind of Dhamma will He preach? What can we profit by making merry in this planetary festival? We will go to the monastery where the Buddha is going to preach to the King.” So all of them waited for the King on the way with fragrant flowers in their hands.
After having done all the necessary things, Jīvaka told the King that the elephants were ready and that it rested with him to choose the time for his journey.
Ajātasattu’s Visit to The Buddha
Then King Ajātasattu mounted the royal elephant and with a female courtier dressed as a man and seated on each of the five hundred female elephants, and with fire-torches lighted, he set out from Rājagaha City with great royal pomp and splendour and went to Jīvaka’s mango-grove, which was then the residence of the Buddha.
Herein “great royal pomp and splendour”, may be explained as follows:
King Ajātasattu was the ruler of two countries, viz., Anga and Magadha, each three hundred yojanas in width. He was a great monarch and although no arrangements were made in advance for his visit to the Buddha, (as arranged by Jīvaka) five hundred female courtiers came out instantly dressed as men, with swords suspended from shoulders and with ruby-handled spears in their hands.
(Moreover sixteen thousand female dancers also accompanied the King. Behind those dancers, their attendant elderly women went along on foot.
(Behind the elderly women were the eunuchs who guarded the palace; behind the eunuchs were sixty thousand ministers exquisitely attired in various garments and walking on foot.
(Behind the princes were ten thousand brahmins, who, having bathed, smeared themselves with unguent and adorned themselves with golden flowers, etc., wore one hundred kahāpaṇa worth waist garment and donned five thousands kahāpaṇa worth outer robes covering the left shoulder. Raising their right hands and chanting: “May the Great King overcome all dangers!” they went on foot.
(Behind the brahmins were the musicians; behind them were the royal archers; behind them was the elephant-brigade; behind it was a big cavalry; behind it was the chariot-division; behind it was the infantry and behind the infantry were the members of eighteen assemblies dressed and adorned with various ornaments befitting their official position.
(Thus, as instructed by Jīvaka, the troops, ministers, etc. were deployed in such a way that the arrow shot from end of the procession could not reach the King. As for him, he walked close by the King, very vigilant to save the King’s life promptly in case of emergency.
(The fire-torches were so numerous that they could not be counted by hundreds or thousands. With such royal pomp and splendour the King went to the residence of the Buddha.)
King Ajātasattu’s Fright
King Ajātasattu came out of the city and as he approached the mango-grove, he became scared. He trembled with great fear and his hair stood on end.
He was much frightened because the silence in the monastery raised doubt about Jīvaka’s sincerity. As a matter of fact, Jīvaka had told him before that he would have to approach the Buddha silently. So the King had banned music and the musicians had only held their musical instruments during their journey. They had not spoken loudly and they all had travelled showing signs by their hands when necessary.
Now in the grove, not even the sneezing of a monk was to be heard, and kings usually delighted only in places where there was sound. King Ajātasattu became weary and sick of the deep silence and suspicious of Jivaka. He thought: “This Jīvaka says that there are one thousand two hundred and fifty monks in his grove. But I don't hear even the sneezing of someone in this place. Jīvaka may not be speaking the truth. Perhaps, he has deceived me and taken me out of the city. Perhaps, he wants to seize me and usurp my throne with the help of the army. Certainly, Jīvaka is strong enough to match the strength of five elephants. He is also hanging about me and there is no armed attendant near me. Oh! It is all over with me!”
Thus scared, King Ajātasattu was unable even to mask his fear with royal demeanour and he clearly expressed his fear to Jīvaka by asking:
“Jīvaka! You are not deceiving me are you? You are not handing me over to my enemies, are you? Why is it that among so many monks numbering one thousand two hundred and fifty, there is no sneezing, no coughing and no talking?”
Then Physician Jīvaka said:
“Great King, be not afraid. I do not deceive you. I will not hand you over to your enemies. Great King, go ahead. Within the circular hall there are oil lamps burning brightly.”
(Herein Jīvaka thought: “The King does not know that I never take life. If I do not console him, he will come to ruin here.” So he consoled the King to allay his fear effectively by telling him twice not to be afraid and assuring him that he was not being deceived.
(Then to make his assuring more weighty, he told the King twice to go forward and said the oil-lamps were burning brightly in the hall. The implication of this last remark was that the illumination in the hall left no doubt about the presence of good people and the absence of insurgents and robbers who always went about in the dark. Jīvaka’s speech was then deeply meaningful indeed.)
Ajātasattu’s Questions on The Advantages of Monastic Life
Then King Ajātasattu went by elephant as far as possible and at the gate of the monastery he dismounted. As soon as he put his feet on the ground, the power and glory of the Buddha pervaded his whole body. He sweated so profusely that he was nearly forced to change his garments. He remembered his parricide and became overwhelmed with fear. So he dared not go direct to the Buddha. Instead, he took Jīvaka’s hands and like a visitor looking around the monastery, he complimented Jīvaka, saying: “You have built this building wonderfully! You have built this building wonderfully!” When they came to the entrance of the circular meeting-hall, the King asked Jivaka where the Buddha was: In fact, it was customary with kings to affect ignorance and ask in spite of their knowledge.
Then Jīvaka thought: “The King is like a man who stands on earth and asks where the earth is; like a man who looks up to the sky and asks where the sun and the moon are; like a man who stands at the foot of Mount Meru and asks where Mount Meru is. I will now show him the Buddha.” So Jīvaka raised his joined hands towards the Buddha and said: “Great King, that person seated before the monks, leaning against the middle pillar and facing east is the Exalted One.”
Then King Ajātasattu approached the Buddha and paid his respect. Standing at a place, he looked again and again at the monks who were serene and dignified like a very clear lake, dead silent without any coughing or sneezing, their eyes calmly fixed on the Buddha without casting a single glance at the gorgeous gathering of the King and his people.
The King marvelled and exclaimed:
“The monks are so serene. May my son, Prince Udayabhadda, have such serenity!”
(Herein King Ajātasattu’s exclamation should not give one the impression that he wanted his son to lead a monastic life and become serene. In fact, at the sight of the monks, he became clear in his consciousness and remembered his son. Naturally, getting an object that is hard to come by or seeing something marvellous reminds one of one’s beloved relatives or friends. The King uttered the above words because he remembered his son (and not because he wanted to have his son ordained).
(In another sense, his exclamation was due to his worry about his son and his desire for the Prince’s serenity. For he thought: “The day will come when my son, seeing that I am still young, asks me where his grandfather is. If he comes to know somehow or other that his grandfather was killed by his father, he will take it into his head to kill me and become king.”
(In spite of his worry about his son and his desire to make the Prince serene, the King was destined to be killed by his own son. In the lineage of King Ajātasattu there were five cases of parricide: (1) Prince Ajātasattu killed his father, King Bimbisāra, (2) Prince Udaya killed his father, King Ajātasattu, (3) Prince Mahāmuṇḍika killed his father, King Udaya, (4) Prince Anuruddha killed his father Mahāmuṇḍika, and (5) Prince Nāgadāsa killed his father, King Anuruddha. Then the people of the country unanimously resolved to have nothing to do with the king who disgraced their lineage and made away with King Nāgadāsa.)
Before the King made his exclamation, the Buddha had divined the thought of King Ajātasattu as he stood in silence before Him. The Buddha knew that the King dared not speak to Him, that he remembered his son as he looked again and again at the monks and that unless He broke the ice, he would not have the courage to say anything.
So deciding to speak first, the Buddha said just after the King’s exclamation.
“O King! Your mind is now with your beloved one.”
Then King Ajātasattu thought: “Oh! Marvellous indeed is the greatness of the Exalted One! There is no one equal to me in having wronged the Exalted One. I killed (my father) the greatest supporter who was an ariya; donor of the Buddha. Not only that, misguided by Devadatta, I sent assassins to kill the Buddha. Perhaps, Devadatta thought he had my support when he rolled the rock from the Gijjhakuta hill to kill the Buddha. I have done so much evil and yet now the Buddha has started the conversation with me. The Buddha indeed firmly possesses the tādi attribute in terms of five characteristics. Therefore, we will never ignore such kind of Exalted One and never seek refuge (or a teacher) elsewhere.”
(The five tādi characteristics are (1) equanimity without any love or hatred in the vicissitudes (lokādhamma) whether desirable (iṭṭha) or undesirable (aniṭṭha) of life, (2) repudiation of defilements; (3) having crossed over the current of saṃsāra;(4) freedom from lust, etc.; (5) possession of morality, faith, etc. that makes him worthy of being pointed out as a man of moral integrity, faith, etc. (The Mahāniddesa contains its elaboration).
(Alternatively, (1) the ability to have desirable perception (iṭṭha-saññā) at will, in regard to undesirable (aniṭṭha) beings or phenomena; (2) the ability to have undesirable perception (aniṭṭha-saññā) at will, with regard to desirable (iṭṭha) beings and phenomena; (3) the ability to have desirable perception at will, in regard to both desirable and undesirable beings and phenomena: (4) the ability to have undesirable perception at will, in regard to both desirable and undesirable beings and phenomena and (5) the ability to have equanimity at will, in respect of both the pleasant and undesirable beings and phenomena. These five Noble Powers (ariyiddha) are the five tādi-characteristics.
So thinking, he was much delighted and in response to the Buddha’s remark, he said:
“Glorious Buddha, I love my son, Prince Udayabhadda, dearly. May my son, Prince Udayabhadda, have the same serenity that the monks now have.”
King Ajātasattu reflected: “If after paying respect to the Exalted One, I go to the monks, here and there, and pay respect to them, I will have turned my back to the Exalted One and that will mean irreverence to Him on my part. Certainly, a man, who, after paying respect to the king, goes to the crown prince and pays respect, show lack of respect for the king.” So after paying respect the Buddha, the King bowed to the monks with both hands raised from the place where he was standing and sat down at a proper place.
Then King Ajātasattu said:
“Glorious Buddha, if You permit me to ask, I would like to ask You a few questions about a certain thing.” The Buddha said:
“Great King, You may ask Me about anything you like,” thereby extending to the King the invitation of the Omniscient Buddhas.
(Note: Two kinds of invitation.)
Invitation of questions is of two kinds: (1) the invitation by Omniscient Buddhas and (2) the invitation by their disciples.
When someone wants to ask an Omniscient Buddha about something, the Buddha says confidently and without any reservation: “Ask me about anything you like. I will answer all your questions thoroughly.” This kind of invitation is made only by Buddhas and the intellectually mature Bodhisattas.
As for their disciples, they do not say “Ask me about anything,” but they say with reservation: “I will answer your question if I can, only after I have heard it.”
On being thus invited by the Buddha in the manner of Omniscient Buddhas, King Ajātasattu became much delighted and enthusiastic and he asked the following questions:
“Glorious Buddha, there are many skilled occupations and craftsmen. They belong to warriors riding elephants, warriors riding horses, worriers riding chariots, archers, flag-bearers, military strategists, commandos who slip behind the lines of the opposing army and cut off the enemies' heads, princes distinguished in fighting, daredevils who make speedy attacks on the enemy, warriors who are valiant like bull-elephants, very brave warriors, warriors clad in armour, trustworthy servants, cooks, barbers, those who bathe other people, butlers, flower stringers, laundry workers, weavers, maker of reed mat walls, potters, arithmeticians, and those who count by their fingers; besides these, there are many other similar crafts-men. These people live long, profiting by their skills. By means of their skills they make themselves, their parents, their wives and children and their friends comfortable and vigorous. Moreover, they give alms to monks and brahmins so as to reborn in the deva-world in their afterlife.”
“Exalted Buddha, can one point out the benefits of a monastic life like those of skilled occupations, benefits which one can realize by himself in the present life?”
Then the Buddha thought: “Nowhere at this place are many princes and ministers who are the followers of heretical teachers, those who are outside the pale of My Teaching. If I give my sermon in two parts, showing the impurity of their teachers' doctrines (kaṇhapakkha) in the first part and the purity of My doctrine (sukka-pakkha) in the second part, these people will blame Me, saying that I talk only about the doctrinal conflicts and controversies of the monks from the time of the arrival of their King who has come here with great effort to hear the Dhamma. As a result, they will not hear the Dhamma respectfully. If the King himself talks about the doctrine of the heretics, the people will not blame Me. They will let Me say what I like. In fact, people naturally follow the king (issarānuvattako hi loko). Now I will make it the King’s responsibility to describe the teaching of the heretics.” Then the Buddha asked the King if he remembered having put the question to the other monks and brahmins.
The King said that he did and the Buddha asked him how they had answered the question and urged him to state their answer if he did not mind it. The King said: “Sir! I do not mind doing so in a place where the Exalted One or a man like the Exalted One is sitting.”
(What is implicit here in the King’s reply is this: It is troublesome or hard to tell a person pretentious to be wise about anything because he is apt to criticize every sentence and every word. The real wise man, however, extols the speech that he hears if it is flawless and he corrects the language, sentences and words if there are flaws in the speech. The Buddha has no peer in the world in respect of real wisdom. Hence the King’s reply as mentioned above.)
Thus urged by the Buddha to recount the answers given by the heretical teachers, the King told Him how he once approached the six heretical teachers, viz., Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Nigantha Nāṭaputta and Sañjaya Belatthaputta and asked them about the advantages of monkhood in the present life. The six teachers described only their respective doctrines like a man, who being asked about a mango tree, describes a jack fruit tree, or vice versa. The answers were at variance with the question but, although the King was disappointed with the heretical teachers, he considered it inadvisable for a King like him to rebuke such religious persons as monks and brahmins in his country. So he neither accepted nor rejected their sayings. Nor did he show his displeasure by word of mouth. Instead, he got up and went back without taking note of their words and now he asked the Buddha about the present advantages of a monastic life.
Then the Buddha gave an elaborate talk on the advantages of monkhood in the present life. For example, (1) a man-slave was honoured by the king after his ordination; (2) a farmer who paid taxes to the king was honoured by the latter after he became a monk. (3) To show the higher advantages of monkhood, the Buddha referred to the life of a man of either low or high caste who had heard His Teaching, inspired with faith, he became a monk and practiced the (a) lower morality, (b) medium morality and (c) higher morality. Then he guarded his senses, developed mindfulness, easily contented, rejected hindrances; he gained the first jhāna, (4) the second jhāna, (5) the third jhāna and (6) the fourth jhāna. (7-14) Still making further progress, he attained insight-knowledge (vipassanā-ñāṇa), psychic powers (manomayidhi-ñāṇa), supernatural powers (iddhividha-ñāṇa), the divine-ear (dibbasota-ñāṇa), penetrative knowledge of the mind of others (cetopariya-ñāṇa), remembrance of former existences (pubbenivāsānussati-ñāṇa), knowledge of the dying and reappearance of other beings (cutupapata-ñāṇa) and extinction of all mental intoxicants (āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa or arahatta-magga-ñāṇa). Thus, the monk gained as the present advantages of his sacred life the eight kinds of progressively higher, extraordinary knowledge up to arahatship.
(For details, read the Sāmaññaphala Sutta of the Dīgha-Nikāya.)
Refuge sought by Ajātasattu
When the Buddha thus described in detail the present advantages of monkhood with arahatship as its apex, King Ajātasattu followed the whole talk attentively, expressing his appreciation verbally from time to time. He thought: “In the past, I did not ask many monks and brahmins about these matters but like a man who pounds the husks of grain, I have never received any thing substantial. Marvellous indeed is the greatness of the Exalted Buddha! He has answered these questions, enlightening me very much as if with the brilliance of a thousand oil-lamps. For a long time, ignorance has deceived me, making me blind to the greatness and power of the Exalted One.”
Overwhelmed with ecstasy arising from the contemplation of the Buddha’s attributes, the King clearly showed his faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha in the following words:
“Venerable Sir, very delightful indeed is the Teaching! Just as in the world what has been upside down is set right, just as what has been covered is uncovered, just as a man who has lost his way is shown the right way, just as torches are lighted in order that those who have eye-sights may see various visual forms in the darkness, so also, You have in many ways made the Dhamma very clear to me. Venerable Sir! I seek refuge in the Exalted One, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Let the Exalted One regard me, from today, as a lay devotee established in saraṇa-gamana for life.
“Venerable Sir! I am overwhelmed with guilt stemming from foolishness, confusion and ignorance. For the sake of kingly pleasures, I have killed my father, a great monarch who practised justice and ruled righteously. Let the Exalted One forgive me for the offence, regarding it as an offence that will make me mindful and vigilant in future.”
Thus the King sought refuge in the Buddha, etc. and apologized for his offense.
Then the Buddha said:
“O King! You are indeed overwhelmed with guilt arising from your foolishness, confusion and ignorance. You have killed your father, the great monarch who practised justice and ruled righteously. But we forgive you that offence because you admit it and make amends for it. If a man admits his offense, atones for it accordingly and guards himself against it in future, then such atonement and selfrestraint mean spiritual progress under the system of My Teaching.” Then King Ajātasattu said:
“Very well, Venerable Sir! We will now go. We have many things to do.” The Buddha replied: “O King! You may go as you wish.” The King accepted the Buddha’s Teaching with much pleasure, extolled it delightedly, rose from his seat, paid respect and went away.
King Ajātasattu’s Loss and Gain
Not long after the King’s Ajātasattu’s departure the Buddha addressed the monks: “Monks, the King has destroyed his own position. Monks, if King Ajātasattu had not killed his father, King Bimbisāra, the righteous monarch, who ruled his kingdom lawfully, the Sotāpatti Path-Wisdom would have occurred to him on the spot. (He would have become a sotāpanna-ariya.)”
The Buddha added: “Monks, if he had not put his father to death, he would have attained the Sotāpatti-Path while seated here as he heard this Sāmañña-phala Sutta. But now, on account of his association with his wicked friend, his potentiality to attain that Path has been injured. Nevertheless, since he has taken refuge in the Triple Gem and since his refuge which is my threefold Teaching is supreme, he may be compared to a man who, after having been sentenced to death for murder, escapes the death penalty by getting good support and by giving just a handful of flowers (as a small fine). Although he ought to suffer in the Avīci hell for his heinous crime of parricide, he will suffer only in the Lohakumbhī hell after his death, for he has the good support in My Teaching. He will land in that hell and remain there for thirty thousand years and come up and stay on the surface for thirty thousand years. Then (after sixty thousand years) he will be released from Lohakumbhī.
(Herein Ajātasattu’s gain will be mentioned according to the Commentary. One may asked: “Had he benefited from his hearing of the Sāmañña-phala Sutta?”) The answer is: Yes, he had, and his benefit is enormous. Since the moment of his parricide he had known no sleep, by day or by night, for there appeared to him signs of his woeful rebirth. Only after listening to the sweet and soothing Sāmaññaphala Sutta, he could sleep well whether it was day or night. And he lavishly honoured the Three Jewels. No other worldling had faith (pothujjanika-saddhā) that was equal to Ajātasattu’s. (Sound sleep, merit accrued from his honour done to the Triple Gem, possession of unique faith of a worldling, etc. were his gain that was realised in his present life. His afterlife benefit would be his attainment of Parinibbāna after becoming a Paccekabuddha, by the name of Vijitāvī.)
Note on Ajātasattu’s Enlightenment
If it is true that King Ajātasattu could have gained the Sotāpatti-Path Knowledge instantly but for his parricide, how can he become a Pacceka Buddha and attain Parinibbāna? If it is true that he will become a Paccekabuddha and attain Parinibbāna, how could he have gained the state of a sotāpanna? Enlightenment of a Paccekabuddha consists in the fulfilment of five things: (1) manussatta (a human life), (2) liṅga-sampatti (being a male), (3) vigatāsava-dassana (discernment leading to freedom from āsavas), (4) adhikāra
(service), and (5) chandatā (aspiration). Enlightenment of a disciple requires only two factors: (1) adhikāra and (2) chandatā. As regards the duration of time for their fulfilment of pāramīs, it takes two asaṅkhyeyyas and a hundred thousand aeons for the Enlightenment of a Paccekabuddha, one asaṅkhyeyya and a hundred thousand aeons for that of a Disciple. In realising the Four Truths, the former has no teacher while the latter has. For these reasons, are not the two kinds of Enlightenment basically different from each other?
The answer is that they cannot be different. For Ajātasattu will fulfil whatever is necessary for the attainment of Enlightenment as a Paccekabuddha, only after suffering for sixty thousand years in the Lohakumbhī hell. Indeed those who seek Enlightenment as a Disciple will gain it as Paccekabuddhas, if circumstances are not favourable for them to become Disciples. For they must have resolved to gain release as Paccekabuddhas. (This is the answer given by the first school of teachers. According to them, although the King had the potential for gaining release as a disciple, he could not do so in the present life because of his association with his evil friend, Devadatta, which made circumstances unfavourable and damaged the prospects for his attainment of sotāpatti-magga. But later on he will fulfil everything that will contribute to his attainment of Paccekabuddhahood and he will gain release.)
But according to other teachers, Ajātasattu had resolved to gain only the Enlightenment as a Paccekabuddha. But in the absence of any definite prediction of a Buddha, even those who have performed good deeds for Paccekabuddhahood cannot gain maturity of their Enlightenment in their capacity as Paccekabuddhas; instead they will attain Enlightenment as disciples in the presence of a Buddha. Hence the Buddha said: “Monks, if he had not put his father to death, he would have attained Sotāpatti Path while being seated here as he heard this Sāmaññā-phala Sutta.”
Of the three kinds of future personages, namely, the future Buddha, the future Paccekabuddha and the future Disciple, only the future Buddha is free from the pañcānantariya-kamma; the other two future Ones are not. That is true. Though Devadatta had been assured (though he had received the definite prediction) that he would become a Paccekabuddha, because of his grudge that he had long harboured, he committed the ānantariya-kamma by creating schism (saṅghabhedaka-kamma) and causing bloodshed to the Buddha (lohit'uppādaka-kamma) which were most serious crimes. Taking these into consideration, it may be understood that future Paccekabuddhas and future Disciples are not so invulnerable. It may also be understood therefore that King Ajātasattu missed his opportunity to gain Sotāpatti Knowledge in the present life because of his parricide and that he will later on become a Paccekabuddha by the name of Vijitāvī in accordance with the law of Paccekabuddha Enlightenment (Paccekabuddha-Bodhi Niyāma). This is the view of the other teachers. Choose between these two views what you think is more reasonable. (Exposition on the Sāmañña-phala Sutta, Sīlakkhandha Tika, Vol. II)
End of the Story of Ajātasattu