The Prince and the She-devils – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
The Buddha told this story while living in a forest near
the town of Desakā in the Sumbhā country, with regard to the
Janapadakalyā i Sutta³⁰. The Buddha said on that occasion
that if the fairest maiden in all the countryside were to dance
and sing in public, and a man were told that if he carried a
bowl filled to the brim with oil through the crowd he would
win the maiden, but that if he spilt one single drop he would
lose his head, that man would not turn his attention to
anything else or grow slack in his efforts. In the same way
monks ought to cultivate mindfulness [sati] relating to the
The Buddha then said that this task was easy as the man
was escorted along by one who threatened him with a drawn
sword. But in past days, it was a truly hard task for the good
to preserve right mindfulness and to curb their passions so as
not to look at celestial beauty in all its perfectness. Yet even
so, they won out, and in so doing won a kingdom.
And saying this, the Buddha told an old story:
³⁰ The Janapadakalyā i Sutta, or Janapada Sutta appears in the Mahāvagga
the Sa yuttanikāya, Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 10. (Book 3 of the Mahāvagga is
the 47ᵗʰ chapter of the Sa yuttanikāya as a whole.)
[Chapter 1. Five Meals in the Forest]
Once upon a time King Brahmadatta was ruling in
Benares, in northern India. The Enlightenment Being was
born as the last of his 100 sons and grew up to be a wise
young man.
In those days there were Silent Buddhas [Pacceka-
Buddha-s] who came to the palace to receive alms food. They
were called Buddhas because they were enlightened – they
knew the Truth [Dhamma] and experienced life as it really is,
in every present moment. They were called Silent because
they did not preach the Truth. This was because they knew it
was a time when no one would be able to understand it.
However, being filled with sympathy for the unhappiness of
all beings, the Silent Buddhas wished to help anyone who
asked them.
One day the young prince was thinking about his 99
older brothers and wondering if he had any chance to become
King of Benares. He decided to ask the Silent Buddhas about
The next day the Silent Buddhas came as usual to
collect alms food in the palace. The prince brought purified
water and washed their feet. When they had sat down he gave
them appetizers to eat. Before giving the next course he said
to them, “I am 100th in line to the throne. What are the odds
that I will become King of Benares?”
They replied, “Oh prince, with so many older brothers
there is almost no chance you will ever be king here.
However, you might become King of Takkasilā. If you can
get there in seven days you can become king. But on your
way there is a dangerous forest. You must take the road
passing through it, since it would take twice as long to go
around it.
“That forest is known as ‘Devils Woods’ [Yakkha-
vana], because it is filled with all kinds of devils – he-devils,
she-devils, and even little children-devils! The she-devils
spend most of their time by the roadside. They use magic to
make buildings and entire cities appear along the way.
“The buildings have ceilings decorated with stars, and
gorgeous rich couches surrounded by silk curtains of many
colors. Sitting on these couches, the she-devils make
themselves look like the sweetest, most pleasant of
goddesses. With words dripping with honey they attract
travelers saying, ‘You look tired. Come in, sit down, have
something to drink and then be on your way.’
“Those who are persuaded to come in are invited to sit
down. Then the she-devils use their beautiful physical
appearance to trap their visitors with their own burning
desires. After giving in to their desires, the strangers are
killed by the she-devils and eaten while their blood is still
“In this way those who are attracted by sight are
trapped by the physical forms of women. Those who are
attracted by sound are trapped by their singing voices and
music. Those attracted by smell are trapped by the divine
perfumes they wear. Those attracted by taste are trapped by
the heavenly tasting delicacies they offer. Those attracted by
touch are trapped by their soft luxurious beds and velvet
“But if you, fair prince, can control all five senses, and
force yourself to avoid looking at those beautiful enticing
she-devils, only then can you become King of Takkasilā in
seven days.”
The grateful Bodhisatta replied, ‘Thank you venerable
ones, I will follow your advice. After hearing such warnings,
how could I take the chance of looking at them?”
Then he asked the Silent Buddhas to give him special
charms to protect him on his dangerous journey through
Devils Woods. So they chanted protective blessings onto a
string and some sand. He accepted the charms and paid his
farewell respects to them, and then to his royal parents.
Returning to his own home he announced to his
household servants, “I am going to Takkasilā to win the
kingship. You are to remain here.” But five of them said,
“We also wish to go with you.” “No,” said he, “you can’t
come with me. I have been warned that on the way there are
beautiful she-devils who trap people who can’t resist the
desires coming from their own five senses. Then they kill
their victims and eat them while their blood is still hot. It is
far too dangerous for you. I will rely only on myself and
travel alone.”
But the five would not listen. They said, “If we go with
you, oh prince, we will force ourselves to keep from looking
at those beautiful she-devils. We will accompany you to
Takkasilā.” “If you insist, then so be it,” said the prince, “but
keep your determination strong.”
³¹ Desires that arise from sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch are
known as the
‘five sensual desires’ [pañca-kāma-gu a-s]
The she-devils were waiting for them in Devils Woods.
They had already magically formed beautiful villages and
cities with lovely houses and palaces along the way.
It just so happened that one of the prince’s five servants
was easily enchanted by the sight of the curves and figures of
the bodies of women. So he began to fall behind in order to
admire them. The worried prince asked, “Why do you delay,
my friend?” “My feet ache,” said the man, “let me sit and rest
a while in one of these mansions. Then I will catch up with
you.” “My good friend,” said the prince, “those are she-
devils. Don’t chase after them!”
Nevertheless, blinded by the temptation of the sense of
sight, the man replied, “My lord, I can’t turn away. Whatever
will happen, let it happen!” Giving him one last warning, the
prince continued on with the other four.
The one who remained behind went closer to the
beautiful looking forms he was so attracted to. After pleasing
themselves fully with the man, the she-devils killed him and
ate him on the spot!
Then they went farther into Devils Woods and created
another mirage of a beautiful mansion. They sat inside and
began singing the sweetest melodies, accompanied by the
lovely sounds of all kinds of musical instruments. One of the
prince’s followers was enchanted by the sound of beautiful
music. So he too fell behind and was gobbled up by the still
hungry she-devils.
Farther down the road they created another magic
mansion filled with the scents of all kinds of divine perfumes.
This time the man who loved sweet smells fell behind and
was eaten as well.
Next the she-devils created a fabulous restaurant filled
with foods having the most heavenly flavors. Here the lover
of the tastes of the finest delicacies wandered in and was
devoured in turn.
Then the she-devils went still farther down the road,
created soft luxurious beds and velvet couches, and sat on
them. The last of the prince’s followers was one who loved
the touch of the softest fabrics and the most luxurious
comfort. So he too fell behind and met his death, and was
quickly eaten by the ravenous she-devils.
These events left the Enlightenment Being all alone in
Devils Woods. A certain she-devil thought, “Aha! This one is
very strong-minded indeed. But I am even more determined.
I will not stop until I have tasted his flesh!” So she alone
stubbornly followed him, even though the other devils gave
up the chase.
As she got closer to the edge of Devils Woods, some
woodsmen saw her and asked, “Lovely lady, who is it that
walks on ahead of you?” “We are newlyweds,” replied the
lying demon. “He is my too pure husband, who ran away
from me on our wedding night. That’s why I’m chasing after
The woodsmen caught up to the prince and asked,
“Noble sir, this delicate flower-like golden-skinned young
maiden has left her family to live with you. Why don’t you
walk with her, instead of making her chase after you?”
The prince replied, “Good people, she is not my wife.
She is a devil. She killed the five men who followed me and
ate them while their blood was still hot!”
Whereupon the lovely looking devil said, “See how it
is, gentlemen. Anger can make husbands call their own wives
devils and hungry ghosts! Such is the way of the world.”
Continuing to follow the prince, the determined she-
devil magically made herself look pregnant. Then she seemed
to be a first-time mother carrying her make-believe baby on
her hip. Whoever saw the pair questioned them just as the
woodsmen had. Each time the Bodhisatta repeated, “She is
not my wife. She is a devil. She killed the five men who
followed me and ate them while their blood was still hot!”
[Chapter 2. A Feast in the Palace]
Finally they arrived at Takkasilā. The she-devil made
her ‘son’ disappear and followed alone.
At the city gate the prince stopped and went into a rest
house. Because of the magic power of the charmed sand and
string he had gotten from the Silent Buddhas, the she-devil
was not able to follow him inside. She stayed outside and
made herself look as beautiful as a goddess.
The King of Takkasilā happened to see her as he was
going to his pleasure garden. Overwhelmed by her beauty, he
decided he must have her. He sent a servant to ask if she was
married. When he did so, she replied, “Yes, my husband is
inside this rest house.”
Hearing this, the prince called out from within, “She is
not my wife. She is a devil. She killed the five men who
followed me and ate them while their blood was still hot!”
And once again she said, “See how it is, sir. Anger can make
husbands call their own wives devils and hungry ghosts!
Such is the way of the world.”
The servant returned to the king and told him what both
had said. To which the king replied, “Un-owned goods
belong to the king.” So he sent for the she-devil and seated
her on a royal elephant. After the procession returned to the
palace, he made her his number one queen.
That evening the king had a shampoo and bath, ate his
supper, and went to bed. The demon had her supper, made
herself look even more beautiful than before, and followed
the king to his bed. After pleasing him, she turned on her side
and began to weep.
The king asked, “Why are you crying, my sweetheart?”
“My lord,” said she, “you picked me up from the roadside. In
this palace there are many jealous women. They will say,
‘She has no mother or father, no family or country. She was
found on the side of the road.’ Don’t let them make fun of me
like that, my lord. Give me power over the whole kingdom so
none will dare challenge me.”
“My lovely,” replied the king, “I have no such power
over the whole kingdom. My authority is only over those
who revolt or break the law.” But since he was so pleased by
her physical charms, the king continued, “My sweetheart, I
will grant you complete authority over all who dwell within
my palace.”
Satisfied with this, the new queen waited until the king
was asleep. Then she secretly ran off to her home in the city
of devils. She gathered together the she-devils, he-devils, and
even the hungry little children-devils. Then she took them all
back to the palace. She killed her new husband, the king, and
gobbled him up – all except his bones! The other devils ate
all the rest who lived in the palace – even the dogs and
chickens! Only bones were left behind.
The next morning the people found the palace doors
locked. Worried, they broke through the windows with axes,
went inside, and found human and animal bones scattered
around. Only then did they realize that the man in the rest
house was right, that the king’s new queen was a flesh-eating
Meanwhile, the Enlightenment Being had protected
himself from the murderous she-devil during the night. He
had spread the charmed sand on the roof of the rest house and
wound the charmed string around the outside walls. At dawn
he was still awake inside, standing alertly with sword in
After cleaning up the mess in the palace the citizens
discussed the situation among themselves. They said, “The
man in the rest house must be master of his senses, since he
did not even look at the she-devil’s dangerous beauty. If such
a noble, determined and wise man were ruling our country,
we all would prosper. Let us make him our new king.”
In unanimous agreement they went to the rest house
and invited the prince to be their king. When he accepted,
they escorted him to the palace, seated him on a pile of
jewels, and crowned him king.
He ruled righteously, following the ten rules of good
government [dasa-rāja-dhamma-s]. He avoided the four
ways of going astray – prejudice [upanāha], anger [kodha],
fearfulness [dosa] and foolishness [moha]. And he always
remembered the advice of the Silent Buddhas, that had led
him to the kingship. Unlike his five unfortunate followers, he
had resisted the blind desire for the pleasures of the five
senses. Only then could he benefit all his subjects with his
wise rule.
* * *
The Buddha said:
“The citizens of the kingdom are today the Buddha’s
followers. And I was the prince who won the kingdom.”
The moral: “Living only for pleasures of their senses, fools
are devoured.”

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