Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
The Buddha told this story while he was dwelling in
Jetavana temple with regard to a certain monk who was lax in
meditation, and who was thinking of giving up monkhood.
In order to show the value of perseverance, the Buddha said
to the assembly of monks gathered together in the preaching
hall that in ancient times there was a king who had lost his
kingdom. But through perseverance, he regained it. The
monks then requested that the Buddha tell the story. And the
Buddha told this story of the past:
Once upon a time, in Benares in northern India, the
Enlightenment Being was born into the royal family. When
he became king he was called Goodness the Great
[Mahāsīlava]. He had earned this title by trying to do good all
the time, even when the results might not benefit him. For
example, he spent much of the royal treasury on the building
and running of six houses of charity. In these houses food
and aid were given freely to all the poor and needy who came
along, even to unknown travelers. Soon King Goodness the
Great became famous for his patience, loving-kindness and
compassion. It was said that he loved all beings just like a
father loves his young children.
Of course King Goodness observed the holy days by
not eating. And naturally he practiced the ‘Five Training
Steps’ [pañca-sīla-s, the first five sikkhā-pada-s], giving up
the five unwholesome actions [akusala-kamma-s]. These are:
destroying life, taking what is not given, doing wrong in
sexual ways, speaking falsely, and losing one’s mind from
alcohol. So his gentle kindness became more and more pure.
Since he wished to harm no one, King Goodness the
Great even refused to imprison or injure wrongdoers.
Knowing this, one of his highest ministers tried to take
advantage of him. He cooked up a scheme to cheat some of
the women in the royal harem. Afterwards it became known
by all and was reported to the king.
He called the bad minister before him and said, “I have
investigated and found that you have done a criminal act.
Word of it has spread and you have dishonored yourself here
in Benares. So it would be better for you to go and live
somewhere else. You may take all your wealth and your
family. Go wherever you like and live happily there. Learn
from this lesson.”
Then the minister took his family and all his belongings
to the city of Kosala. Since he was very clever indeed, he
worked his way up and became a minister of the king. In time
he became the most trusted adviser to the King of Kosala.
One day he said, “My lord, I came here from Benares. The
city of Benares is like a beehive where the bees have no
stingers! The ruling king is very tender and weak. With only
a very small army you can easily conquer the city and make
The king doubted this, so he said, “You are my
minister, but you talk like a spy who is leading me into a
trap!” He replied, “No my lord. If you don’t believe me, send
your best spies to examine what I say. I am not lying. When
robbers are brought to the King of Benares, he gives them
money, advises them not to take what is not given, and then
lets them go free.”
The king decided to find out if this was true. So he sent
some robbers to raid a remote border village belonging to
Benares. The villagers caught the looters and brought them to
King Goodness the Great. He asked them, “Why do you want
to do this type of crime?”
The robbers answered, “Your worship, we are poor
people. There is no way to live without money. As your
kingdom has plenty of workers, there is no work for us to do.
So we had to loot the country in order to survive.” Hearing
this, the king gave them gifts of money, advised them to
change their ways, and let them go free.
When the King of Kosala was told of this, he sent
another gang of bandits to the streets of Benares itself. They
too looted the shops and even killed some of the people.
When they were captured and brought to King Goodness, he
treated them just the same as the first robbers.
Learning of this, the King of Kosala began marching
his troops and elephants towards Benares.
In those days the King of Benares had a mighty army
which included very brave elephants. There were many
ordinary soldiers, and also some who were as big as giants. It
was known that they were capable of conquering all India.
The giant soldiers told King Goodness about the small
invading army from Kosala. They asked permission to attack
and kill them all.
But King Goodness the Great would not send them into
battle. He said, “My children, do not fight just so I may
remain king. If we destroy the lives of others we also destroy
our own peace of mind. Why should we kill others? Let them
have the kingdom if they want it so badly. I do not wish to
The royal ministers said, “Our lord, we will fight them
ourselves. Don’t worry yourself. Only give us the order.” But
again he prevented them.
Meanwhile the King of Kosala sent him a warning,
telling him to give up the kingdom or fight. King Goodness
the Great sent this reply: “I do not want you to fight with me,
and you do not want me to fight with you. If you want the
country, you can have it. Why should we kill people just to
decide the name of the king? What does it matter even the
name of the country itself?”
Hearing this, the ministers came forward and pleaded,
“Our lord, let us go out with our mighty army. We will beat
them with our weapons and capture them all. We are much
stronger than they. We would not have to kill any of them.
And besides, if we surrender the city, the enemy army would
surely kill us all!”
But King Goodness would not be moved. He refused to
cause harm to anyone. He replied, “Even if you do not wish
to kill, by fighting many will be injured. By accident some
may die. No one knows the future – whether our attackers
will kill us or not. But we do know whether our present
actions are right or wrong. Therefore I will not harm, or
cause others to harm, any living being!”
Then King Goodness ordered the city gates be opened
up for the invaders. He took his ministers to the top floor of
the palace and advised them, “Say nothing and try to remain
The King of Kosala entered the city of Benares and saw
that no one was against him. He surrounded the royal palace.
He found that even the palace doors were open to him. So he
and his soldiers entered and went up to the top floor. They
captured the innocent King Goodness the Great. The soldiers
tied the hands of the defeated king and all his ministers.
Then they were taken to the cemetery outside the city.
They were buried up to their necks, standing straight up, with
only their heads above ground. But even while the dirt was
being trampled down around his neck, the Great Being
[Bodhisatta] remained without anger in his mind and said
Their discipline and obedience to King Goodness were
so great that not a single minister spoke a word against
anyone. But the King of Kosala had no mercy. He said
roughly, “Come nighttime, let the jackals do as they please!”
And so it came to pass that, at midnight, a large band of
jackals wandered into the cemetery. They could smell a feast
of human flesh waiting for them.
Seeing them coming, King Goodness and his ministers
shouted all at once and scared the jackals away. Twice more
this happened. Then the clever jackals realized, “These men
must have been put here for us to kill and eat.” No longer
afraid, they ignored the shouts. The jackal king walked right
up to the face of King Goodness.
The king offered his throat to the beast. But before he
could bite into him, the king grabbed the jackal’s chin with
his teeth. Not harming him, King Goodness gripped him
tightly so the jackal king howled in fear. This frightened his
followers and they all ran away.
Meanwhile the jackal king thrashed back and forth,
trying madly to free himself from the mighty jaws of the
human king. In so doing, he loosened the dirt packed around
the king’s neck and shoulders. Then King Goodness released
the screaming jackal. He was able to wiggle himself free
from the loosened earth and pull himself up onto the ground.
Then he freed all his frightened ministers.
Nearby there was a dead body. It just so happened that
it was lying on the border of the territories claimed by two
rival demons. They were arguing over the division of the
body, insulting each other in ways that only demons can.
Then one demon said to the other, “Why should we
continue quarreling instead of eating? Right over there is
King Goodness the Great of Benares. He is famous in all
worlds for his righteousness. He will divide the dead body for
They dragged the body to the king and asked him to
divide it between them fairly. He said, “My dear friends, I
would be glad to divide this for you. But I am filthy and
dirty. I must clean myself first.”
The two demons used their magic powers to bring
scented water, perfume, clothing, ornaments and flowers
from the king’s own palace in Benares. He bathed, perfumed
himself, dressed, and covered himself with ornaments and
The demons asked King Goodness if there was
anything else they could do. He replied that he was hungry.
So, again by their magic powers, the demons brought the
most delicious flavored rice in a golden bowl and perfumed
drinking water in a golden cup – also from the royal palace in
When he was satisfied, King Goodness asked them to
bring him the sword of state from the pillow of the King of
Kosala, who was sleeping in the palace in Benares. With
magic this too was easily done. Then the king used the sword
to cut the dead body in two halves, right down the spine. He
washed the sword of state and strapped it to his side.
The hungry demons happily gobbled up the fairly
divided dead body. Then they gratefully said to King
Goodness, “Now that our bellies are full, is there anything
else we can do to please you?”
He replied, “By your magic, set me in my own bedroom
in the palace next to the King of Kosala. In addition, put all
these my ministers back in their homes.” Without a word, the
demons did exactly as the king had asked.
At that moment the King of Kosala was fast asleep in
the royal bedchamber. King Goodness the Great gently
touched the belly of the sleeping king with the sword of state.
The king awoke in great surprise. In the dim lamplight he
was frightened to see King Goodness leaning over him with
sword in hand. He had to rub his eyes to make sure he was
not having a nightmare!
Then he asked the great king, “My lord, how did you
come here in spite of all my guards? You were buried up to
your neck in the cemetery – how is it you are spotlessly
clean, sweet smelling, dressed in your own royal robes, and
decorated with fine jewelry and the loveliest flowers?”
King Goodness told him the story of his escape from
the band of jackals. He told of the two demons who came to
him to settle their quarrel. And he told how they gratefully
helped him with their magic powers.
On hearing this, the King of Kosala was overcome by
his own shame. He bowed his head to King Goodness the
Great and cried, “Oh great king, the stupid ferocious demons,
who live by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of dead
bodies – they recognized your supreme goodness. But I, who
was lucky enough to be born as an intelligent and civilized
human being – I have been too foolish to see how wonderful
your pure goodness is.
“I promise never again to plot against you, my lord –
you who have gained such perfect harmlessness. And I
promise to serve you forever as the truest of friends. Please
forgive me, great king.” Then, as if he were a servant, the
King of Kosala laid King Goodness the Great down on the
royal bed, while he himself lay on a small couch.
The next day the King of Kosala called all his soldiers
into the palace courtyard. There he publicly praised the King
of Benares and asked his forgiveness once again. He gave
back the kingdom and promised that he would always protect
King Goodness. Then he punished his adviser, the criminal
minister, and returned to Kosala with all his troops and
King Goodness the Great was sitting majestically on his
golden throne, with its legs like those of a gazelle. He was
shaded from the sun by the pure white royal umbrella. He
taught his loyal subjects saying, “People of Benares,
wholesomeness begins with giving up the five unwholesome
actions once and for all. The highest qualities of the good
person, whether ruler or subject, are loving-kindness [mettā]
and compassion [karu ā]. Filled with these qualities, one
cannot harm another – no matter what the reason or the cost.
No matter how dangerous the threat, one must persevere until
the greatness of the good heart wins in the end.”
Throughout the rest of his reign, the people of Benares
lived peacefully and happily. King Goodness the Great
continued performing wholesome works. Eventually he died
and was reborn as he deserved.
The Buddha then identified the births in this way:
“The bad minister in those days is today Devadatta.
The king’s good ministers are today the Buddha’s disciples.
And I, myself, was King Goodness the Great.”
The moral: “Refusing to harm others, the good heart wins
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