The King With One Gray Hair – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[Ordination]
A very very long time ago, there were peo-
ple who lived much longer than they do today.
They lived many thousand years. At that time, the
Enlightenment Being was born as a baby named
Makhadeva. He lived 84,000 years as a child and
crown prince. At the time of our story, he had
been a young king for 80,000 years.
One day, Makhadeva told the royal barber,
“If you see any gray hair on my head, you must
tell me immediately!” Of course, the barber prom-
ised to do so.
Another 4,000 years passed, until Mak-
hadeva had been a young king for 84,000 years.
Then one day, while he was cutting the king’s
hair, the royal barber saw just one little gray hair
on all the king’s head. So he said, “Oh my lord, I
see one gray hair on your head.” The king said, “If
this be so, pull it out and put it in my hand.” The
barber got his golden tweezers, plucked out the
single little gray hair, and put it in the king’s hand.
At that time, the king still had at least an-
other 84,000 years left to live as an old king!
Looking at the one gray hair in his hand, he be-
came very afraid of dying. He felt like death was
closing in on him, as if he were trapped in a burn-
ing house. He was so afraid, that the sweat rolled
down his back, and he shuddered.
King Makhadeva thought, “Oh foolish
king, you have wasted all this long life and now
you are near death. You have made no attempt to
destroy your greed and envy, to live without hat-
ing, and to get rid of your ignorance by learning
the truth and becoming wise.”
As he thought this, his body burned and the
sweat kept rolling down. Then he decided once
and for all, “It is time to give up the kingship, be
ordained as a monk, and practice meditation!”
Thinking so, he granted the income of a whole
town to the barber. It amounted to one hundred
thousand per year.
Then the king called his oldest son to him
and said, “My son, I have seen a gray hair. I have
become old. I have enjoyed the worldly pleasures
of great wealth and power. When I die, I want to
be reborn in a heaven world, to enjoy the
pleasures of the gods. So I will be ordained as a
monk. You must now take the responsibility of
ruling the country. I will live the life of a monk in
the forest.”
Hearing of this, the royal ministers and the
rest of the court rushed to the king and said, “Our
lord, why do you suddenly want to be ordained?”
The king held up the gray hair in his hand
and said, “My ministers and subjects, I have real-
ized that this gray hair shows that the three stages
of life – youth, middle age and old age – are com-
ing to an end. This first gray hair was the messen-
ger of death sitting on my head. Gray hairs are
like angels sent by the god of death. Therefore,
this very day is the time for me to be ordained.”
The people wept at the news of his depar-
ture. King Makhadeva gave up his royal life, went
into the forest, and was ordained as a monk. There
he practised what holy men call the ‘Four Heav-
enly States of Mind’. First is loving-kindness,
tender affection for all. Second is feeling sympa-
thy and pity for all those who suffer. Third is feel-
ing happiness for all those who are joyful. And the
fourth state is balance and calm, even in the face
of difficulties or troubles.
After 84,000 years of great effort meditat-
ing and practising these states as a humble forest
monk, the Bodhisatta died. He was reborn in a
high heaven world, to live a life a million years
long!
The moral is: Even a long life is too short to
waste.