Clear-sighted the Great, King of the World – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Impermanence]
[Mahāsudassana-Jātaka]
The Buddha told this story to the venerable Ānanda as
he lay on his deathbed in the town of Kusinārā with regard to
Ānanda’s saying that the Buddha ought not suffer his end in
such a sorry little suburban town in the jungle, but rather in
Rājagaha or some other large city. The Buddha responded
that in the past, in the days of the Universal Monarchy of
King Clear-sighted the Great [Mahāsudassana], this town
was then a mighty city surrounded by jeweled walls. And at
Ānanda’s request, the Buddha told this story of the past, and
pronounced the Mahāsudassana Sutta²⁸.
It is said that there are two ways to practice religion.
One is to live apart from the ordinary everyday world as a
monk, a nun or a holy one. Those who are sincere in this way
have as their highest goal the direct experience of complete
Truth – full Enlightenment [Nibbāna].
The other way to practice religion is within the ordinary
world. Those who are sincere in this way have as their
highest goal the harmony of an undivided world, living
peacefully under a perfectly wholesome ruler – a ‘King of the
²⁸ The Mahāsudassana Sutta is the 17ᵗʰ Sutta of the Dīghanikāya.
World’ [cakkavattin].
Once upon a time the Enlightenment Being was born
and given the name ‘Clear-sighted’ [Sudassana]. As he grew
up he developed ten rules of good government [dasa-rāja-
dhamma-s]: absence of hidden ill will, absence of open
hostility, harmlessness, self-control, patience, gentleness,
charity, generosity, straightforwardness and goodness.
The people of the world began to notice the
wholesomeness and fairness of Clear-sighted, who lived
strictly according to these rules. Gradually those in his
vicinity volunteered to live under his authority as king, rather
than under the dishonest politicians of the time.
As his reputation spread, every king in the world came
to Clear-sighted and said, “Come, oh lord. You are welcome.
My kingdom is your kingdom. Advise me how to rule in your
name.”
Then Clear-sighted said, “Do not destroy life. Do not
take what is not given. Do not behave wrongly in sexual
desires. Do not speak falsely. Do not take alcohol that clouds
the mind. My commands to the world are only these five.²⁹
As long as these five are obeyed, my sixth rule is freedom for
all to follow local customs and religions.”
After all the people on earth had come to live under his
peaceful rule, he became known as Clear-sighted the Great
[Mahāsudassana], King of the World. His royal city, the
capital of the whole world, was called Kusāvatī. It was a
beautiful and prosperous city with four magnificent gates –
one golden, one silver, one jade and one crystal.
²⁹ These are the pañca-sīla-s, the first five of the ten sikkhā-pada-s, or
‘Training
Steps.’
Outside the gates, Kusāvatī was surrounded by seven
rows of palm trees – a row with golden trunks and silver
leaves and fruits; a row with silver trunks and golden leaves
and fruits; a row with cat’s-eye trunks and crystal leaves and
fruits; a row with crystal trunks and cat’s-eye leaves and
fruits; a row with agate trunks and coral leaves and fruits; a
row with coral trunks and agate leaves and fruits; and finally
a row with trunks and leaves and fruits of every kind of jewel
found in the world!
When breezes blew through these marvelous palms the
sweet sounds of gentle music were heard throughout the city.
This music was so enticing and pleasant that some of the
citizens were enchanted into stopping their work and dancing
for joy!
Clear-sighted the Great, King of the World, had a couch
encrusted with jewels from the wonderful palms. After a
long, righteous and peaceful reign, he lay on the rich couch
for the last time. He knew that his end was near.
Of all his 84,000 queens, the one who loved him most
was called, ‘Most-pleasant’ [Subhaddā]. Sensing the state of
his mind she said, “You rule over all the cities of the world,
including this beautiful Kusāvatī with its four magnificent
gates and seven rows of marvelous palms. Think about this
and be happy!”
The King of the World said, “No, my dear queen, don’t
say that. Instead you should advise me to give up attachment
to the cities of the world and all they contain.” Surprised, she
asked, “Why do you say this, my lord?” “Because today I
will die,” he said.
Then Queen Most-pleasant started to cry, wiping away
the tears as they flowed. And all the other 84,000 queens also
broke into tears. And the king’s ministers and his whole
court, both men and women, could not keep from weeping
and sobbing. All eyes overflowed with tears.
But King Clear-sighted the Great said, “Your tears are
useless. Be at peace.” Hearing this the wailing subsided and
his subjects became silent. Then he said to Queen Most-
pleasant, “Oh my queen, do not cry, do not lament. Anything
that comes into being, whether it be a kingdom including the
whole world, or just a tiny sesame seed – it cannot last
forever. Anyone who comes into being, whether it be the
King of the World, or the poorest petty thief – all must decay
and die. Whatever is built up, falls apart. Whatever becomes,
decays. The only true happiness is in the moment when
becoming and decaying are not.”
In this way the Enlightenment Being got them to think
about what most people don’t want to think about – that all
things come to an end. He advised them to be generous and
wholesome. Then the King of the World, like everyone else,
died. He was reborn as a god in a heaven world, where in
time, like everyone else, he died.
The story told, the Buddha identified the births:
“Queen Most-pleasant in those days is today Rāhula’s
mother. Rāhula then was the king’s eldest son. The king’s
ministers and courtiers are today the Buddha’s disciples.
And King Clear-sighted the Great was I who am today the
Buddha.”
The moral: “‘All good things come to an end.’”