16 Dreams – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Mahāsupina-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story while at Jetavana monastery
with regard to 16 bad dreams that were had one night by
King Pasenadi of Kosala. King Pasenadi’s Brahmin advisers,
on being consulted, said that they foretold harm either to his
kingdom, his life or his wealth. And they prescribed all
manners of sacrifices in order to avert the danger. Mallikā,
the king’s wife, heard of this and suggested that the Buddha
should be consulted. The king followed her advice, and the
Buddha explained the dreams.
After explaining the dreams, the Buddha told Pasenadi
that he was not the first to have these dreams. They were had
by kings in the past, as well. And just as today, the Brahmin
priests found in them a pretext for sacrifices. But at the
intervention of the good, the Enlightenment Being was
consulted and the dreams were explained, just as today.
And saying this, at the king’s request, the Buddha told
the story of the past.
[Chapter 1. Panic]
Once upon a time there was a king called Brahmadatta
who was ruling in Benares, in northern India. One night he
had 16 frightening nightmare dreams. He awoke in the
morning in a cold sweat, with his heart thumping loudly in
his chest. The 16 dreams had scared him to death. He was
sure they meant that something terrible was about to happen.
In a panic, he called for his official priests, to ask their
advice.
When the priests arrived at the royal bedchamber, they
asked the king if he had slept well. He told them that it had
been the worst night of his life, that he had been scared to
death by 16 dreams, and that he was desperate to find out
their meanings.
At this the priests’ eyes lit up. They asked him, “What
were these dreams, your majesty?” King Brahmadatta told
them all 16 dreams. The priests pounded their foreheads and
exclaimed, “Oh what horrors! It couldn’t be worse, your
majesty. Such dreams as these can mean only one thing –
danger!”
The king asked them, “What danger, oh priests? You
must tell me the meaning at once!” They replied, “It is
certain, your majesty, these dreams show that one of three
disasters will take place – terrible harm to the kingdom, to
your life, or to the royal wealth.”
The king had feared as much. He wrung his hands as
the sweat kept pouring from his body. He was shaking all
over with terror and panic. He asked, “Tell me, oh worthy
royal priests, is there any way to avoid this disaster?”
“Indeed, it is very dangerous,” they said. “If you do nothing,
the end is certain. But we can prevent it. If we couldn’t, then
all our training and learning would be useless. Trust us, lord.”
The panic-stricken king cried out, “Just tell me what to
do, priests. I’ll do anything! What can you do to save me, my
kingdom and my wealth?” “We must offer the greatest
animal sacrifice that has ever been seen,” they said. “We
must kill, as sacrificial offerings, four of every type of animal
that lives!”
Although he was usually a gentle, kind and merciful
ruler, King Brahmadatta was so frightened that he couldn’t
think straight at all. Paralyzed with fear, he put all his hope
and faith in his priests. He gave them permission to prepare
the gigantic slaughter.
The priests said, “Have no fear, your majesty, we will
take care of everything. We will prevent the coming doom!”
They knew they would be paid well to perform the sacrifice.
And the meat from the killed animals would be theirs as well.
Their secret thoughts were, “This is a great way for us to get
piles of money, and the best food and drink too!”
The priests got to work organizing the biggest sacrifice
Benares had ever seen. Just outside of town they dug a huge
pit. Into it they put the most perfect ones they could find of
all the animals – land animals, birds and fish. From each kind
they selected four to be killed in the ceremony. It became
known as the ‘Four-from-all’ [Sabba-catukka] sacrifice.
Meanwhile, the king’s senior teaching priest had a
promising young pupil. He was gentle and compassionate,
and very well educated. He wondered about all that was
happening. So he asked the teacher priest, “Oh master, you
have taught me well the wise teachings of old. Can you show
me anywhere it says the killing of one will save the life of
another?”
The priest answered, “What kind of question is that?
Open your eyes and be realistic, my boy. Don’t you see that
this great sacrifice, the Four-from-all, will make us rich? You
must be trying to help the king hold onto his riches!”
The idealistic and sincere pupil said, “You have not
answered my question, master. If this sacrifice is to be your
work, it shall be mine no longer!” With these words he
departed and went to the royal pleasure garden to consider
what he would do.
It just so happened that the Enlightenment Being had
been born into a rich high-class family. For many generations
the men in that family had been priests, just like the ones who
were now preparing the Four-from-all sacrifice. But when the
Bodhisatta grew up he abandoned the life of a rich priest.
Instead he went to the Himalayas and lived as a humble
forest monk. He concentrated his mind in meditation and
entered high mental states [adhigama]. He gained the
sweetest inner happiness, and even miraculous supernatural
powers.
This forest monk loved all the animals. When he heard
about what was happening in Benares he was filled with
tenderness and compassion. He decided, “I must teach the
ignorant people and release them from the chains of
superstition. I will go to the city at once!” Then he used his
supernatural power to fly through the air to Benares. In an
instant he was seated on a rock in the king’s pleasure garden.
His gentle nature made him glow like a golden sunrise.
The idealistic young student approached and recognized
him as a great holy man. He bowed respectfully and sat on
the ground. The forest monk asked him, “Young man, do you
have a good and just king reigning here in Benares?”
“Yes,” said the student, “our king is kind and good. But
he is being misled by the royal priests. He had 16 dreams
which left him completely panic-stricken. The priests took
advantage of this when he told them his dreams. They have
convinced him to have a huge sacrifice and kill many
animals. Oh holy one, please tell the king the true meanings
of his dreams. Free the many helpless beings from fear and
death.”
The holy man said, “If he comes and asks me, I will tell
him.” “I will bring him, sir,” said the young man. “Kindly
wait here a short while until I return.”
The student went to the king and told him there was a
marvelous holy man seated on a rock in the royal pleasure
garden. He told him he had said he could interpret the king’s
dreams. Hearing this, the king went with him to the garden.
A crowd followed behind.
[Chapter 2. Roaring Bulls With No Fight]
King Brahmadatta knelt down before the holy man and
then sat next to him. He asked, “Your reverence, can you tell
me the meanings of my 16 dreams?”
“Of course I can,” said the forest monk. “Tell them to
me, beginning with the first eight.”
The king replied, “These were the first eight dreams:
roaring bulls with no fight,
midget trees bearing fruit,
cows sucking milk from calves,
calves pulling carts with bulls trailing behind,
a horse eating with two mouths,
a jackal urinating in a golden bowl,
a she-jackal eating a rope maker’s rope,
one overflowing pot with all the rest empty.”
“Tell me more about your first dream,” said the monk.
“Your reverence, I saw four pure black bulls who came
from the four directions to fight in the palace courtyard.
People came from miles around to see the bulls fight. But
they only pretended to fight, roared at each other, and went
back where they came from.”
“Oh king,” said the holy man, “this dream tells of
things that will not happen in your lifetime or in mine. In the
far-off future, kings will be unwholesome and stingy. The
people too will be unwholesome. Goodness will be
decreasing while evil increases. The seasons will be out of
whack, with sunstroke on winter days and snowstorms on
summer days. The skies will be dry, with poor clouds and
little water. Harvests will be small and people will starve.
Then dark clouds will come from the four directions, but
even after much thunder and lightning, they will depart
without letting rain fall – just like the roaring bulls who leave
without fighting.
“But have no fear, there will be no harm to the people
of today. The priests say this dream requires sacrifice, only
because that is how they earn their money. Now tell me your
second dream.”
“Your reverence, I had a dream where tiny midget
plants grew no more than one foot tall, and then flowered and
gave fruit.”
“Oh king,” said the holy man, “the soil will be poor for
growing crops, and humans will live short lives. The young
will have strong desires, and even young girls will have
babies – just like midget trees bearing fruit.
“But this will not happen until the distant future when
the world is declining. What was your third dream, oh king?”
“Your reverence, I saw cows sucking milk from their
own calves, born the same day,” said the king, shuddering
with fear.
“Be calm,” said the monk, “this too will not happen in
our lifetimes. But someday people will no longer respect
their mothers, fathers, mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law.
People will give everything to their own children, taking over
the savings of their elder parents and in-laws. Then, by whim
alone, they may or may not feed and clothe their elders. So
the elderly will be at the mercy of their own children – just
like cows sucking milk from their day-old calves.
“But clearly it is not like that today, oh king, so you
have nothing to fear. Now tell me your fourth dream.”
Somewhat relieved, the king continued, “Your
reverence, I dreamed I saw big strong full-grown bulls
following behind bullock carts. They were being pulled by
frail awkward calves. The calves stopped and stood still,
unable to pull the heavily loaded carts. Caravans could no
longer travel and goods could not be taken to market.”
“There will be a time,” said the holy man, “when
unwholesome stingy kings will no longer respect wise
experienced judges. Instead they will appoint young foolish
judges, granting them the highest privileges. But they will not
be able to make difficult decisions. They will become judges
in name only, doing no real work – just like the calves who
can’t pull the carts. Meanwhile, the older wiser ones will
offer no help, thinking it is no longer their concern – just like
the bulls trailing behind.
“Again you have nothing to fear, oh king, from those
far-off times when all the nations will be poorly run by the
young and foolish. What was your fifth dream?”
“Your reverence, my fifth dream was very strange
indeed. I saw a horse eating with two mouths, one on each
side of his head!” Again the king trembled as he spoke.
The forest monk said, “This will happen in another far-
off future time, when unwholesome foolish kings appoint
unwholesome greedy judges. Not caring in the least about
right and wrong, they will take bribes from both sides in the
same case – just like a horse eating greedily with two
mouths.
“Now tell me your sixth dream.”
“Your reverence, I dreamed I saw a golden plate worth
a hundred thousand pieces of money. People were holding it
and coaxing an old skinny jackal to urinate in it. And that’s
just what he did!” said the king, making a face.
“Oh king, this too will come to pass in a far-off time
when the kings will be outsiders, not born in the ruling
families of the countries they rule. So they will not trust the
experienced ministers from the native noble class. They will
replace them with low-class ministers they can control more
easily. Meanwhile the old nobles will depend on the new
ruling class. So they will offer their high-class daughters in
marriage to the low-class ministers – just like golden bowls
urinated in by jackals.
“But this will not happen in your time, oh king. What
was your seventh dream?”
“Your reverence, I dreamed I saw a man making a rope
and letting it pile up under his chair. There a hungry female
jackal was eating the rope as it fell, without the man knowing
it.”
“There will come a time,” said the monk, “when
women’s cravings will increase. They will desire men, strong
liquor, jewelry and all sorts of useless possessions. They will
spend a lot of time window-shopping. Paying more attention
to their lovers than to their husbands, they will ignore even
the most important household activities. And they will waste
all the money earned by their husbands – just like the jackal
devouring the rope that is produced by the rope maker.
“But as you can see, oh king, these times are not upon
us. Tell me about your eighth dream.”
“Your reverence,” said the king, “I saw one big pot full
of water, and many small empty pots, in front of the palace
gate. All the warriors, priests, merchants and farmers were
bringing water from all directions. But they were pouring it
only into the big pot. That one was overflowing and wasting
the water, while all the little pots remained empty!” Again
the king shook in fear as he spoke.
“Have no fear, oh king,” said the holy man. “Way off in
the future the world will be declining. The land will be less
fertile, so crops will be harder to grow. The richest will have
no more than 100,000 pieces of money – there will be no
more millionaires! Even the kings will be poor and stingy.
“The kings and the wealthy will make all the rest work
for them only. The poor will be forced to bring all their
products, grains, vegetables and fruits to the warehouses of
the rich and powerful. And the barns of the hard working
poor will remain empty – it will be like the big pot filled to
overflowing, with all the little ones empty.
“So now you know the meanings of your first eight
dreams. They have foretold:
thunderclouds with no rain,
young girls having babies,
the elderly at the mercy of their children,
young foolish judges with no help from the wise,
greedy judges taking bribes from both sides,
low-class ministers with high-class wives,
wives wasting the earnings of their husbands,
the rich taking from the poor leaving them nothing.
“So your mind may be at peace, oh king, regarding
these first eight dreams. Clearly such times are not upon us,
and these dangers are not to be feared in the present day.”
[Chapter 3. The Frightening Sound of
‘Munch, Munch, Munch’]
“Indeed,” said King Brahmadatta to the humble forest
monk, “you have set my mind to rest concerning my first
eight dreams. But my last eight dreams are even more
frightening. I must do something to prevent the doom they
predict.” Again the king began shaking uncontrollably with
fear and panic.
“Calm down,” said the holy man, “and tell me these
dreams also, that I may relieve your distress.”
The king replied, “These were my last eight dreams, the
ninth to the 16th:
a pond that’s muddy in the middle and clear by the shore,
rice cooking unevenly in a pot,
fine sandalwood traded for spoiled buttermilk,
empty pumpkins sinking in water,
solid rocks floating on water,
giant snakes gobbled up by tiny she-frogs,
royal golden swans waiting on a bad village crow,
the frightening sound of ‘munch, munch, munch’.”
“Please tell me the details of your ninth dream,” said
the monk.
“Your reverence, I dreamed I saw a pond which was
deep in the middle and shallow by the shore. It was filled
with all five kinds of lotuses¹⁷, and there were all kinds of
animals – two-footed and four-footed – drinking near the
shore. And yet the water remained clear by the shore, and got
muddy only in the middle. How could this be? What does
this mean?”
“Oh king,” said the forest monk, “in the distant future
there will be only unwholesome kings. They will rule based
on their will power, along with their anger and fear. They
will not care at all about wholesomeness and justice. They
will be much more interested in becoming rich from all kinds
of bribes, than in the well-being of the citizens. No longer
will rulers have patience, loving-kindness and compassion
towards the people they rule. Instead they will be rough and
cruel, crushing the people to squeeze the last penny from
¹⁷ The five kinds of lotuses are red, white, blue, yellow, and purple.
them in taxes – just as the sweet juice is squeezed from sugar
cane.
“Therefore the citizens, unable to pay the taxes and
bribes, will flee to the borderlands. Soon there will be less
people living in the corrupt central capitals, and the
borderlands will be heavily populated by the humble – just
like the pond that is muddy in the middle and clear by the
shore.
“But obviously there is nothing in this for you to fear,
oh good and wholesome king. What was your tenth dream?”
“Your reverence, I dreamed I saw rice cooking
unevenly in a pot. Some was overcooked, some well-cooked,
and some still raw.”
“Don’t worry about this either,” said the holy man.
“This dream foretells a time when all will be unwholesome,
not like today! Kings will be unwholesome, and so will
officials and ministers, priests and homemakers, city and
country folks. Amazing as it may seem, this dream indicates
a time when holy men will be unwholesome too! In addition,
even the gods, tree spirits and fairies will be unwholesome
and wicked!
“The winds will change quickly, sometimes blowing
too hard and sometimes not at all. These winds will shake the
heavenly homes of the sky gods. Therefore, in some places
rains will cause floods, it will rain just right in some areas,
and there will be terrible droughts in other places. It will be
like rice in the cooking pot – some overcooked, some well-
cooked, and some raw.
“Now tell me your 11th dream, oh king.”
“Your reverence, I dreamed I saw the finest
sandalwood, worth 100,000 pieces of money, being traded
for spoiled buttermilk. What is the meaning of this?”
“This too indicates a far-off future time, when
knowledge of Truth [Dhamma] is disappearing. There will be
many greedy shameless preachers who distort the Four
Necessities [catu-samuccaya-s]: food, clothing, shelter and
medicine. They will make these into luxuries, far richer than
they really need.
“They will teach the worthlessness of luxuries and the
unwholesomeness of greed, by preaching the Truth of
nonattachment [arahatta]. But in return for preaching, they
will require money and luxuries. So they will cause an
increase in craving, rather than showing the way towards
Liberation from craving [virāga, dukkha-nirodha]. They will
preach Truth [Dhamma] only so they can obtain worthless
things – just like priceless sandalwood traded for spoiled
buttermilk.
“Now let me hear your 12th dream.”
“Your reverence, I saw, in a dream, empty pumpkins
sinking to the bottom of the water.”
“Oh king, this foretells a distant future when the world
will be upside down. So once again, you have nothing to fear
in this life. Unwholesome kings will grant high positions to
the low class rather than the high class. The low-class will
quickly become rich and the high-class poor. In all
departments and functions, the ignorant words of the
uneducated low-class officials will be greatly respected – just
like empty pumpkins sinking to the depths of the water.
“Even among the religious, humble wholesome monks
will lose respect, while the unwholesome teachings of
shameless monks will be followed and adored – just like
empty pumpkins sinking to the bottom.
“What was your 13th dream?”
“Your reverence, I dreamed I saw solid rocks floating
on top of the water. How strange this seems. What does it
mean, wise one?”
“This too indicates the future era when the world will
be upside down. In all departments and functions, the wise
words of the well-educated nobles will be ignored, due to
their birth alone.
“Likewise among the religious, the words of Truth
[Dhamma] spoken by humble wholesome monks will be
ignored – just like solid rocks floating away on the surface of
the water.
“What was your 14th dream?”
“Your reverence, it was a frightening dream in which I
saw tiny female frogs chasing big long black snakes. When
they caught up to them they cut them and broke them in
pieces like water lily stumps, and then gobbled them up!”
“There is nothing for you to fear in this dream either, oh
king. This represents a future time when the world will be
declining. The wholesomeness in people’s natures will
decrease. Desires will increase in their minds until they are
enslaved by their cravings. Because of this, men will be
under the orders of their youngest prettiest wives. The
servants, bulls, buffalos and all other household wealth will
be managed by the youngest wives – due to the uncontrolled
desires of their husbands.
“These wives will treat their husbands like slaves,
keeping them under their thumbs. If the men ask about family
affairs, their wives will say, ‘There’s no need for you to ask.
Everything in my home belongs to me, not you!’ It will be
like big long snakes gobbled up by tiny she-frogs.
“Now tell me your 15th dream.”
“Your reverence, I saw a crow, the kind that lives near
villages. I knew he was filled with the ‘Ten Bad Qualities’.¹⁸
He was being followed and served by golden swans, the kind
seen as kings by other birds.”
“This too indicates a distant time when all kings will be
weaklings. They will be no good at riding elephants or
horses, or fighting battles. So you can easily see there is
nothing for you to fear, mighty king.
“Those weakling kings will be so afraid of being
overthrown that they will be afraid to give powerful positions
to worthy well-educated nobles. Instead they will appoint
foot servants, bath attendants, barbers and so forth. And the
nobles will have to become the lowest servants of the
untrained new officials – just like royal golden swans waiting
on a bad village crow.
“At last we have reached your 16th dream, oh king.
Describe it to me.”
“Your reverence, I will tell you my last dream, the only
¹⁸ The ‘Ten Bad Qualities’ [dasa-akusala-dhamma-s], or ten
unwholesome
actions [dasa-akusala-kamma-s], are destroying life; taking what is not
given;
doing wrong in sexual ways; speaking falsely; losing your mind from
alcohol;
eating at improper times; dancing, singing and playing music; wearing
garlands
and using unguents, perfumes and makeup; using luxurious chairs and
beds;
accepting jewelry and wearing jewelry so as to show off your wealth.
All the
akusala-kamma-s are based on greed, hatred and delusion, the three
types of
unwholesome thoughts [akusala-citta-s]. As crows are black, they are considered
to be filled with the ‘ten bad qualities,’ while things
that are white are said to be
wholesome.
one that still frightens me. Ordinarily, leopards chase and eat
goats. But in my 16th dream, I saw goats chasing leopards!
And when they caught them they ate them up, making the
sound, ‘munch, munch, munch!’ All the other animals who
heard this frightening sound and saw the meat-eating goats
approaching, ran and hid in the forest. The memory of this
dream still frightens me, holy one.”
“Alas, even this dream applies only to the far-off time
when the world will be ruled by unwholesome kings. The
lowly, who are unaccustomed to power, will become closest
to the kings. They will gain power while the nobles become
poor and unknown.
“In the law courts, the newcomers will confiscate the
inherited wealth from the nobles – all their lands, homes and
possessions. And when the nobles go to the courts to protest,
they will be told, ‘How dare you argue with us! You do not
understand the situation you are in. We will tell the king and
have your hands and feet cut off!’ The nobles will run away
and hide in fear.
“Likewise, bad monks will injure good monks as much
as they please. With no one to support and defend them, the
good monks will leave the cities and villages. They will live
in the jungle in fear of the bad monks. It will be like all those
who hear the sound of ‘munch, munch, munch’, and live in
fear of meat-eating goats.
“Oh king, now you know the meanings of all 16
dreams. The last eight have foretold:
over-taxed people fleeing to the borderlands,
an unwholesome world with uneven rains,
Truth being taught by preachers greedy for money,
ignorant and unwholesome words gaining respect,
wise words and Truth losing respect,
husbands enslaved by desires for their youngest wives,
educated nobles in the service of untrained newcomers,
noble and good living in fear of powerful and bad.”
[Chapter 4. Teaching]
King Brahmadatta bowed to the ground before the holy
man and said, “Your wisdom has taken my fear and panic
from me. Your compassion has kept me from doing terrible
unwholesome things to many helpless beings. My gratitude is
endless, oh holy monk.”
The Enlightenment Being said to the king, “Now you
must realize why your royal priests wanted to have a sacrifice
ceremony. It was not because they understood the Truth
[Sacca ], and it was not because they cared for you and your
well-being. Instead it was due to greediness. They wanted
only to get rich, eat fine food, and keep their jobs at your
court.
“Your 16 dreams have indicated disasters in the distant
future. What you do now will have no effect on them. Those
things will happen when the world is declining, when the
unreal is seen as real, when the unreasonable is thought to be
reasonable, and when the nonexistent seems to exist. It will
be a time when many will be unwholesome without shame,
and few will be ashamed of their own wrongdoing.
“Therefore, to prevent these things by performing a
sacrifice today is impossible!”
Remaining seated, the Bodhisatta miraculously rose
into the air. Then he continued his teaching: “Oh king, it was
fear that unbalanced your mind and brought you close to
killing so many helpless ones. Real freedom from fear comes
from a pure mind. And the way to begin purifying your mind
is to climb the five steps of training [pañca-sīla-s, the first
five sikkhā-pada-s]. You will benefit greatly from giving up
the five unwholesome actions [akusala-kamma-s]. These are:
– destroying life, for this is not compassion;
– taking what is not given, for this is not generosity;
– doing wrong in sexual ways, for this is not loving-
kindness;
– speaking falsely, for this is not Truth;
– losing your mind from alcohol, for this leads to
falling down the first four steps.
“Oh king, from now on do not join with the priests in
killing animals for sacrifice.”
In this way the Great Being taught the Truth
[Dhamma], freed many people from bondage to false beliefs,
and released many animals from fear and death.
In an instant he returned through the air to his home in
the Himalayas.
King Brahmadatta practiced the Five Training Steps.
He gave alms and did many other good things. At the end of
a long life he died and was reborn as he deserved.
* * *
The Buddha then identified the births, saying:
“Ānanda was the king in those days. Sāriputta was the
idealistic and sincere pupil. And I who am today the Buddha
was the humble forest monk.”
The moral: “Beware of the panic-stricken man. What he can
do is more dangerous than what scared him in the first
place.”