The Prince Who Had A Plan – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
[The Power of Superstition]
Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta was
ruling in Benares, in northern India. The Enlight-
enment Being was born as his son the prince. Be-
ing quite intelligent, he completed his entire edu-
cation by the age of 16. So, at this early age, his
father made him second in command.
In those days, most people in Benares wor-
shipped gods. They were very superstitious. They
thought gods caused things to happen to them,
rather than being results of their own actions. So
they would pray to these gods and ask special fa-
vours. They would ask for a lucky marriage, or the
birth of a child or riches or fame.
They would promise, the gods that, if their
prayers were answered, they would pay them, by
making offerings to them. In addition to flowers
and perfumes, they imagined the gods desired the
sacrifice of animals. So, when they thought the
gods had helped them, they killed many animals –
goats, lambs, chickens, pigs and others.
The prince saw all this and thought, “These
helpless animals are also subjects of the king, so I
must protect them. The people commit these un-
wholesome acts due to ignorance and superstition.
This cannot be true religion. For true religion of-
fers life as it really is, not killing. True religion of-
fers peace of mind, not cruelty.
“I fear these people believe in their
superstitions too strongly to give them up. This is
very sad. But perhaps their beliefs can at least be
put to good use. Some day I will become king. So
I must begin to make a plan to let their
superstitions help them. If they must offer
sacrifices, let them kill their own greed and
hatred, instead of these helpless animals! Then the
whole kingdom will benefit.”
So the prince devised a clever long term
plan. Every so often, he rode in his grand chariot
to a popular banyan tree just outside the city. This
was a huge tree, where the people prayed and
made offerings to a god they thought lived there.
The prince came down from his chariot and made
the same offerings as the others – incense,
flowers, perfumes and water – but not animal
sacrifices.
In this way he made a great show, and the
news spread about his offerings. Pretty soon, all
the people thought he was a true believer in the
great god of the banyan tree.
In due time, King Brahmadatta died and his
son became king. He ruled as a righteous king,
and the people benefited. So all his subjects came
to trust and respect him as a just and honourable
king.
Then one day, he decided it was the right
time to carry out the rest of his plan. So he called
all the leading citizens of Benares to the royal as-
sembly hall. He asked them, “Worthy ministers
and loyal subjects, do you know how I was able to
make sure that I would become king?” No one
could answer.
He said, “Do you remember that I often
gave wonderful sweet offerings to the great god of
the banyan tree?” “Yes, our lord,” they said.
The king continued, “At each of those
times, I made a promise to the powerful god of the
tree. I prayed, ‘Oh mighty one, if you make me
King of Benares, I will offer a special sacrifice to
you, far greater than flowers and perfumes.’
“Since I am now the king, you all can see
for yourselves that the god has answered my
prayers. So now I must keep my promise and offer
the special sacrifice.”
All those in the assembly hall agreed. They
said, “We must prepare this sacrifice at once.
What animals do you wish to kill?”
The king said, “My dear subjects, I am glad
you are so willing to cooperate. I promised the
great god of the banyan tree that I would sacrifice
anyone who fails to practice the Five Training
Steps. That is, anyone who destroys life, takes
what is not given, does wrong in sexual ways,
speaks falsely, or loses his mind from alcohol. I
promised that, if any do these things, I will offer
their guts, and their flesh and blood on the great
god’s altar!”
Being so superstitious, all those in the hall
agreed that this must be done, or the god would
surely punish the king and the kingdom.
The king thought, “Ah, such is the power of
superstition that these people have lost all com-
mon sense! They cannot see that, since the first
training step is to give up killing, if I sacrificed
one of my subjects, I would be next on the altar!
And such is the power of superstition that I could
make such a promise, and never have to carry it
out!
So, with full confidence in the power of su-
perstition, the king said to the leading citizens,
“Go into all the kingdom and announce the prom-
ise I made to the god. Then proclaim that the first
one-thousand who break any of the training’ steps
will have the honour of being sacrificed, to keep
the king’s promise.”
Lo and behold, the people of Benares be-
came famous for carefully practising the Five
Training Steps. And the good king, who knew his
subjects so well, sacrificed no one.
The moral is: Sacrifice your own wrong
doing, not some helpless
animal.