Once upon a time there was a king called Brahmadatta who was ruling in Benares, in northern India. One night he had 16 frightening nightmare dreams. He awoke in the morning in a cold sweat, with his heart thumping loudly in his chest. The 16 dreams had scared him to death. He was sure they meant that something terrible was about to happen. In a panic, he called for his official priests, to ask their advice.
When the priests arrived at the royal bed chamber, they asked the king if he had slept well. He told them that it had been the worst night of his life, that he had been scared to death by 16 dreams, and that he was desperate to find out their meanings.
At this the priests’ eyes lit up. They asked him, “What were these dreams, your majesty?” King Brahmadatta told them all 16 dreams. The priests pounded their foreheads and exclaimed, “Oh what horrors! It couldn’t be worse, your majesty. Such dreams as these can mean only one thing – danger!”
The king asked them, ‘What danger, oh priests? You must tell me the meaning at once!” They replied, It is certain, your majesty, these dreams show that one of three disasters will take place – terrible harm to the kingdom, to your life, or to the royal wealth.”
The king had feared as much. He wrung his hands as the sweat kept pouring from his body. He was shaking all over with terror and panic. He asked, “Tell me, oh worthy royal priests, is there any way to avoid this disaster?” “Indeed, it is very dangerous,” they said. “If you do nothing, the end is certain. But we can prevent it. If we couldn’t, then all. our training and learning would be useless. Trust us, lord.”
The panic-stricken king cried out, “Just tell me what to do, priests. I’ll do anything! What can you do to save me, my kingdom and my wealth?” “We must offer the greatest animal sacrifice that has ever been seen,” they said. “We must kill, as sacrificial offerings, four of every type of animal that lives!”
Although he was usually a gentle, kind and merciful ruler. King Brahmadatta was so frightened that he couldn’t think straight at all. Paralyzed with fear, he put all his hope and faith in his priests. He gave them permission to prepare the gigantic slaughter.
The priests said, “Have no fear, your majesty, we will take care of everything. We will prevent the coming doom!” They knew they would be paid well to perform the sacrifice. And the meat from the killed animals would be theirs as well. Their secret thoughts were, “This is a great way for us to get piles of money, and the best food and drink too!”
The priests got to work organizing the biggest sacrifice Benares had ever seen. Just outside of town they dug a huge pit. Into it they put the most perfect ones they could find of all the animals – land animals. birds and fish. From each kind they selected four to be killed in the ceremony.. It became known as the ‘Four-from-all’ sacrifice.
Meanwhile, the king’s senior teaching priest had a promising young pupil. He was gentle and compassionate, and very well-educated. He wondered about all that was happening. So he asked the teacher priest, “Oh master, you have taught me well the wise teachings of old. Can you show me anywhere it says the killing of one will save the life of another?”
The priest answered, “What kind of question is that? Open your eyes and be realistic, my boy. Don’t you see that this great sacrifice, the Four-from-all, will make us rich? You must be trying to help the king hold onto his riches! ”
The idealistic and sincere pupil said, “You have not answered my question, master. If this sacrifice is to be your work, it shall be mine no longer!” With these words he departed and went to the royal pleasure garden to consider what he would do.
It just so happened that the Enlightenment Being had been born into a rich high class family. For many generations the men in that family had been priests, just like the ones who were now preparing the Four-from-all sacrifice. But when the Bodhisatta grew up he abandoned the life of a rich priest. Instead he went to the Himalayas and lived as a humble forest monk. He concentrated his mind in meditation and entered high mental states. He gained the sweetest inner happiness, and even miraculous supernatural powers.
This forest monk loved all the animals. When he heard about what was happening in Benares he was filled with tenderness and compassion. He decided, “I must teach the ignorant people and release them from the chains of superstition. I will go to the city at once!” Then he used his supernatural power to fly through the air to Benares. In an instant he was seated on a rock in the king’s pleasure garden. His gentle nature made him glow like a golden sunrise.
The idealistic young student approached and recognized him as a great holy man. He bowed respectfully and sat on the ground. The forest monk asked him, “Young man, do you have a good and just king reigning here in Benares?”
“Yes. ” said the student, “our king is kind and good. But he is being misled by the royal priests. He had 16 dreams which left him completely panic-stricken. The priests took advantage of this when he told them his dreams. They have convinced him to have a huge sacrifice and kill many animals. Oh holy one, please tell the king the true meanings of his dreams. Free the many helpless beings from fear and death.”
The holy man said, “If he comes and asks me, I will tell him.” “I will bring him, sir,” said the young man. “Kindly wait here a short while until I return.”
The student went to the king and told him there was a marvelous holy man seated on a rock in the royal pleasure garden. He told him he had said he could interpret the king’s dreams. Hearing this, the king went with him to the garden. A crowd followed behind.