The Great Horse Knowing-one – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta ruled
in Benares, in northern India. He had a mighty
horse, who had been born in the land of Sindh, in
the Indus River valley of western India. Indeed,
this horse was the Enlightenment Being.
As well as being big and strong, he was
very intelligent and wise. When he was still
young, people noticed that he always seemed to
know what his rider wanted before being told. So
he was called Knowing-one.
He was considered the greatest of the royal
horses, and was given the very best of everything.
His stall was decorated and was always kept clean
and beautiful. Horses are usually faithful to their
masters. Knowing-one was especially loyal, and
was grateful for how well the king cared for him.
Of all the royal horses, Knowing-one was also the
bravest. So the king respected and trusted him.
It came to pass that seven neighbouring
kings joined together to make war on King
Brahmadatta. Each king brought four great armies
– an elephant cavalry, a horse cavalry, a chariot
brigade and ranks of foot soldiers. Together the
seven kings, with all their armies, surrounded the
city of Benares.
King Brahmadatta assembled his ministers
and advisers to make plans for defending the
kingdom. They advised him. “Do not surrender.
We must fight to protect our high positions. But
you should not risk your royal person in the be-
ginning. Instead, send out the champion of all the
knights to represent you on the battlefield. If he
fails, only then must you yourself go.”
So the king called the champion to him and
asked, “Can you be victorious over these seven
kings?” The knight replied, “If you permit me to
ride out on the bravest and wisest, the great horse
Knowing-one, only then can I win the battle.” The
king agreed and said, “My champion, it is up to
you and Knowing-one to save the country in its
time of danger. Take with you whatever you
The champion knight went to the royal sta-
bles. He ordered that Knowing-one be well fed
and dressed in protective armour, with all the fin-
est trimmings. Then he bowed respectfully and
climbed into the beautiful saddle.
Knowing-one knew the situation. He
thought, “These seven kings have come to attack
my country and my king, who feeds and cares for
and trusts me. Not only the seven kings, but also
their large and powerful armies threaten my king
and all in Benares. I cannot let them win. But I
also cannot permit the champion knight to kill
those kings. Then I too would share in the un-
wholesome action of taking the lives of others, in
order to win an ordinary victory. Instead, I will
teach a new way. I will capture all seven kings
without killing anyone. That would be a truly
great victory!”
Then the Knowing-one spoke to his rider.
“Sir knight, let us win this battle in a new way,
without destroying life. You must only capture
each king, one at a time, and remain firmly on my
back. Let me find the true course through the
many armies. Watch me as you ride, and I will
show you the courage that goes beyond the old
way, the killing way!”
As he spoke of ‘a new way’, and ‘the true
course’, and ‘the courage that goes beyond’, it
seemed the noble steed became larger than life.
He reared up majestically on his powerful hind
legs, and looked down on all the armies surround-
ing the city. The eyes of all were drawn to this
magnificent one. The earth trembled as his front
hoofs returned to the ground and he charged into
the midst of the four armies of the first king. He
seemed to have the speed of lightning, the might
of a hundred elephants, and the glorious confi-
dence of one from some other world.
The elephants could remember no such
horse as this, and so the elephant cavalry retreated
in fear. The horses knew that this their relative
was the worthy master of them all, and so the
horse cavalry and the chariot brigade stood still
and bowed as the Great Being passed. And the
ranks of foot-soldiers scattered like flies before a
strong wind.
The first king hardly knew what had hap-
pened, before he was easily captured and brought
back into the city of Benares. And so too with the
second, third, fourth and fifth kings.
In the same way the sixth king was cap-
tured. But one of his loyal bodyguards leaped out
from hiding and thrust his sword deep into the
side of the brave Knowing-one. With blood
streaming from the wound, he carried the cham-
pion knight and the captured sixth king back to
the city.
When the knight saw the terrible wound, he
suddenly became afraid to ride the weakened
Knowing-one against the seventh king. So he be-
gan to dress in armour another powerful war
horse, who was really just as big as Knowing-one.
Seeing this, though suffering in great pain
from his deadly wound, Knowing-one thought,
“This champion knight has lost his courage so
quickly. He has not understood the true nature of
my power – the knowledge that true peace is only
won by peaceful means. He tries to defeat the sev-
enth king and his armies in the ordinary way, rid-
ing an ordinary horse.
“After taking the first step of giving up the
killing of living beings, I cannot stop part way.
My great effort to teach a new way would disap-
pear like a line drawn in water!”
The great horse Knowing-one spoke to the
champion knight. “Sir knight, the seventh king
and his armies are the mightiest of all. Riding an
ordinary horse, even if you slaughter a thousand
men and animals, you will be defeated. I of the
mighty tribe of Sindh horses, the one called
Knowing-one, only I can pass through them harm-
ing none, and bring back the seventh king alive!”
The champion knight regained his courage.
The brave horse struggled to his feet, in great
pain. While the blood continued to flow, he reared
and charged through the four armies, and the
knight brought back the last of the seven warlike
kings. Again all those in his path were spared
from harm. Seeing their seven kings in captivity,
all the armies laid down their weapons and asked
for peace.
Realizing that the great horse Knowing-one
would not live through the night, King Brahma-
datta went to see him. He had raised him from a
colt, so he loved him. When he saw that he was
dying, his eyes filled with tears.
Knowing-one said, “My lord king, I have
served you well. And I have gone beyond and
shown a new way. Now you must grant my last
request. You must not kill these seven kings, even
though they have wronged you. For, a bloody vic-
tory sows the seeds of the next war. Forgive their
attack on you, let them return to their kingdoms,
and may you all live in peace from now on.
“Whatever reward you would give to me,
give instead to the champion knight. Do only
wholesome deeds, be generous, honour the Truth,
and kill no living being. Rule with justice and
Then he closed his eyes and breathed his
last. The king burst into tears, and all mourned his
passing. With the highest honours, they burned the
body of the great horse Knowing-one – the
Enlightenment Being.
King Brahmadatta had the seven kings
brought before him. They too honoured the great
one, who had defeated their vast armies without
spilling a drop of blood, except his own. In his
memory they made peace, and never again did
these seven kings and Brahmadatta make war on
each other.
The moral is: True peace is only won by peaceful means.

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