Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births
Book 22 Mahānipāta
544. The Khandahala Jātaka
“In Pupphavati once there reigned,” etc. The Teacher, while dwelling on the Gijjhakuta mountain, related this story concerning Devadatta. Its substance is contained in the section relating to the sin of causing schisms in the community; it is to be fully known by studying the Tathagata’s conduct from his first becoming an ascetic down to the murder of King Bimbisara. As soon as he had caused him to be killed, Devadatta went to Ajatasattu and said to him, “O king, thy desire has attained its end, but mine has not yet attained it.” He replied, “What is your desire?” “I wish to have Dasabala killed and then myself become Buddha.” “Well, what have we to do?” “We must collect some archers together.” The king assented and collected five hundred archers, all able to shoot as quick as the lightning, and of these he chose out one-and-thirty and sent them to wait on Devadatta, telling them to carry out his commands. He called the chief one amongst them and said to him, “My friend, the ascetic Gotama lives on the Gijjhakuta mountain: at a certain time he walks up and down in his place of retirement during the day; do you go there and wound him with a poisoned arrow, and when you have killed him return hither by such a road.” Then he sent two archers by that road, and said to them, “You will meet a man coming by your road,—kill him and return by such a road.” Then he sent four archers by that road with the same instructions, and after that similarly eight and sixteen. If you ask why he did this, he did it to conceal his own wickedness. So this chief man among the archers bound his sword on his left side and his quiver on his back, and taking his bow made of a ram’s horn went to the Tathagata; but after he had strung his bow to wound him, and fixed the arrow, and pulled the string, he could not discharge it. His whole body became stiff as if it were crushed, and he stood terrified with the fear of death. When the Teacher saw him he spoke in a gentle voice, “Fear not, come hither.” He at once threw down his weapons and fell with his head on the Blessed One’s feet, saying, “My lord, sin has overpowered me like a child or a fool or a sinner; I knew not thy virtues, and I came here at the command of that blind dotard Devadatta, to take away thy life: forgive me, I pray.” He gained his pardon and sat down on one side. Then the Teacher revealed the Truths to him and caused him to attain the first grade of sanctification. Then he told him to return by another road than that ordered by Devadatta; and himself came down from his covered walk and sat at the foot of a tree. As the first archer did not return, the two others came along the road to meet him, and wondered why he delayed so long, until at last they saw the Buddha, when they went up to him, and after saluting him sat down on one side of him. Then he revealed the Truths to them also and made them attain the first grade of sanctification, and told them to return by another road than that ordered by Devadatta. In the same way, as the others came up and successively sat down, he established them also in the first grade of sanctification and sent them away by another road. Then the archer who first returned went to Devadatta and said to him, “Master, I was not able to kill the Allwise One, he is the Mighty One, the Blessed One of supernatural powers.” Thus they all recognised that they had saved their lives only through the Allwise One, and they embraced the ascetic life under him, and became arhats. This incident became known in the assembly of the Brotherhood, and one day they began to talk of it in the hall of truth; “Brethren, have you heard how Devadatta, in his enmity against one person, the Blessed One, has tried hard to deprive many people of their lives, and how they all saved their lives through the Teacher?” In came the Master and asked, “Brethren, what are you talking of as you sit here?” and when they told him, “This is not the first time,” said he; “he tried before this to deprive many people of their lives in his enmity against me”; and he told them a story of the past.
In the olden time this Benares was called Pupphavati. The son of King Vasavatti reigned there, named Ekaraja, and his son Candakumara was viceroy. A brahmin named Khandahala was the family priest: he gave the king counsel in temporal and spiritual matters, and the king, having a high opinion of his wisdom, made him a judge. But he, being fond of bribes, used to take bribes and dispossess the real owners and put the wrong owners in possession. One day a man who had lost his suit went out of the judgment hall loudly complaining, and, as he saw Candakumara passing by to visit the king, he threw himself at his feet. The prince asked him what was the matter. “My lord, Khandahala robs the suitors when he judges: I have lost my cause, although I gave him a bribe.” The prince told him to cease his fears, and, having taken him to court, made him the owner of the disputed property. The people loudly shouted their applause. When the king heard it and asked the reason, they replied, “Candakumara has rightly decided a suit which was determined wrongly by Khandahala: this is why there was such shouting.” When the prince came and had paid his homage, the king said to him, “My son, they say you have just judged a case.” “Yes, Sire.” He gave the office of judge to the prince and told him thenceforth to determine all suits. Khandahala’s income began to fall off, and from that time he conceived a hatred against the prince and watched for some fault in him. Now the king had little religious insight; and one day at dawn, at the end of his sleep he saw the heaven of the Thirty-three gods with its ornamented portico, and its walls made of the seven precious things, sixty yojanas in extent, with golden streets, a thousand yojanas in height, adorned with the Vejayanta and other palaces, with all the glories of the Nandana and other forests and the Nanda and other lakes and filled everywhere with heavenly beings. He longed to enter into it and he thought, “when the teacher Khandahala comes I will ask him the way to the world of the gods, and I will enter it by the road which he points out.” Khandahala came to the palace in the early morning, and asked whether the king had passed a happy night. Then the king commanded that a seat should be given him and asked his question. The Teacher has thus narrated it:
“In Pupphavati once there reigned a wicked king who in his need
Asked Khandahala, his base priest, brahmin in name but not in deed;
Thou art a seer to whom, they say, all sacred learning has been given,—
Tell me the road whose travellers rise by their good merits up to heaven.”
Now this was a question which, in default of an all-knowing Buddha or his disciples, one must ask of a Bodhisatta, but which the king asked of Khandahala; just as a man who for seven days had lost his way might ask guidance of another who had lost his way for a fortnight. He thought to himself, “Now is the time to see my enemy’s back, now I will kill Candakumara and fulfil my desire.” So he addressed the king:
“Exceeding many gifts bestow, those who deserve not death destroy,—
Thus men surpassing merit win and reach at last to heaven’s joy.”
The king asked:
“What are th’ exceeding many gifts? and who deserve not to be slain?
I’ll give the gifts, the victims slay, if you but make your meaning plain.”
“Thy sons, thy queens must offered be, thy merchant princes too must fall,
Thy choicest bulls, thy noblest steeds,—yea the four kinds of victims all”;
And thus, being asked the road to heaven, in answer to the question he declared the road to hell.
He said to himself, “If I take Candakumara alone they will think that I have done it through enmity to him”; so he put him in with a number of people. When the matter came to be talked about, the ladies of the royal palace, hearing the rumour, were filled with alarm, and at once raised a loud cry. Explaining this, the Master recited a stanza:
The entire royal family were agitated like a grove of sal trees shaken by the wind at the world’s end; even the brahmin asked the king whether or not it was possible for him to offer the sacrifice. “What dost thou mean, O teacher? If I offer it I shall go to the world of the gods.” “O king, those who are timid and weak of purpose cannot offer this sacrifice. Do thou assemble them all here, and I will make the offering in the sacrificial pit.” So he took sufficient forces and went out of the city, and ordered a sacrificial pit to be dug with a level floor, and surrounded it with a fence; for ancient brahmins had enjoined that this surrounding fence should be made, lest some righteous ascetic or brahmin might come and stop the rite.
The king also caused a proclamation to be made, “By sacrificing my sons and daughters and my wives I shall go to the world of the gods, do you go and announce this to them and bring them all here”; and he at once ordered them to bring his sons:
“Warn Canda, Suriya of my will, then Bhaddasena in his turn,
Sura and Vamagotta next,—they must all die: my will is stern.”
So they went first to Candakumara and said, “O prince, thy father desires to kill thee and go to heaven; he has sent us to seize thee.” “By whose instructions has he ordered me to be seized?” “By those of Khandahala.” “Does he wish to have me alone seized or others also with me?” “Others also with thee, for he desires to offer a sacrifice of the four kinds of victims.” He thought to himself, “He has no enmity against others, but he intends to put many to death in his enmity against me alone, because I prevent him from committing robbery by his unjust judgment; it is my duty to obtain an interview with my father and gain from him the release of all the rest.” So he said to them, “Carry out my father’s commands.” They took him to the palace yard and placed him by himself, and then they brought the other three and when they had set them near they informed the king. Then he bade them bring his daughters and place them near the others:
“Upaseni and Kokila, Mudita, Nanda, each in turn,
Tell the princesses of their doom,—they must all die: my will is stern.”
So they went and brought them weeping and wailing, and placed them near their brothers. Then the king uttered a stanza to order that his wives should be seized:
“Tell Vijaya, first of all my queens, Sunanda, Kesini, each in turn,
With all their beauty and their charms, they must all die: my will is stern.”
“Punnamukha and Bhaddiya, Singala, Vaddha, each in turn,
Bear to my merchants my command,—they all must die: my will is stern.”
The king’s officers went and brought them. When the king’s sons and wives were brought the citizens uttered not a word; but the merchants had a widely-spread kindred, and the whole city was troubled when they were seized, and loudly protested against their being sacrificed, and went with their relatives into the king’s presence. Then the merchants surrounded by their kindred begged the king to spare their lives. Explaining this, the Master said:
“The merchants raised a bitter cry, surrounded by their sons and wives,
“Leave but the topknot, shave our heads,—make us thy slaves, but spare our lives.”
Still however much they entreated, they could not find mercy. The king’s officers at last forced the rest to retire and dragged the merchants to stand near the princes.
Then the king ordered the elephants and the other animals to be brought:
“Bring hither all my elephants, of matchless might, and costly price,
My best of horses and of mules, let them all be the sacrifice;
Make ready for the sacrifice against to-morrow’s dawning light;
And bid the princes feast their fill, enjoying now their life’s last night.”
The king’s father and mother were still living, so men went and told them of their son’s purposed offering. In consternation they took their hearts in their hands and went weeping before, him, “Is it true, O son, that thou purposest such a sacrifice?”
The Teacher thus described it:
“The mother left her royal home, “My son, what means this monstrous thing?
Must thy four sons be put to death to swell thy cruel offering?”
The king answered:
“When I lose Canda I lose all; but him and them will I resign,
For by this costly sacrifice a heavenly dwelling will be mine.”
His mother said:
“To sacrifice thy sons, my child, can never lead to heaven’s bliss;
Give ear to no such lying words; the road to hell and night is this.”
The king replied:
So the mother went away, being unable to convince him by her words. Then the father heard the tidings and came to remonstrate.
The Teacher describes what happened:
“The father Vasavatti came: “Strange tidings fill my soul with fright!
Must thy four sons be put to death to crown to the full thy monstrous rite?”
“Give all thou canst and never harm a living thing of thine own will;
And with thy sons as body-guard shield thou thy land from every ill.”
Then Candakumara thought within himself, “All this sorrow has befallen so many people on my single account, I will entreat my father and so deliver them all from the pain of death”; so he thus spoke to his father:
“Let us be Khandahala’s slaves, but spare our lives and do not kill,
His horses and his elephants we’ll watch in chains, if such his will.
Let us be Khandahala’s slaves, but spare our lives and do not kill,
We’ll sweep his stables and his yards, and work in chains, if such his will.
Give us as slaves to whom thou wilt,—we are as bondsmen in thy hands;
Or banish us from thy domains to beg our bread in foreign lands.”
The king listened to his lamentations, and felt his heart broken; and his eyes filled with tears, and he ordered them all to be set free: “No one,” he said, “shall kill my sons, I have no need of the world of the gods.”
“These piteous pleadings for their lives do break my heart,—go set them free,
Release the princes, let them go: no more of sacrifice for me.”
On hearing the king’s words they set the whole multitude at liberty, beginning with the princes and ending with the birds. Khandahala was busily engaged in the sacrificial pit, and a man said to him, “You villain Khandahala, the king has released the princes; do you go and kill your own sons and offer a sacrifice with their throats’ blood.” “What has the king been doing?” he cried, and he rushed in haste and said to him:
“I warned thee that this sacrifice would prove a hard and toilsome one;
Why interfere to stop the rite when it is all so well begun?
They who give offerings such as these go by a certain road to heaven;
Or those who heartily approve, seeing the same by others given.”
The blinded king, hearing the words of the incensed brahmin, and having his thoughts fixed on religion, ordered his sons to be recaptured. Then Candakumara reasoned with his father:
“Why did the brahmin at our birth utter vain blessings on our path,
When ’twas our fate that we should die innocent victims of thy wrath?
Why didst thou spare us while still babes, too young as yet to feel the blow?
We are to die to-day instead, now that the joys of youth we know.
Think of us riding clothed in mail on horse or elephant to the fight,
And then as victims butchered here in sacrifice—can this be right?
See the wild birds who build their nests and sing amidst the trees all day,
They love their young and tend them well—and thou, would’st thou thy children slay?
Kings give these brahmins villages, choice cities are their appanage,
On every family they feed and gain a goodly heritage;
And ’Tis these benefactors, sire, whom they most readily betray;
The brahmin order, take my word, are faithless and ingrate alway.”
“These piteous pleadings for their lives do break my heart,—go set them free,
Release the princes and the rest, no more of sacrifice for me.”
Khandahala again rushed up as before and repeated his former expostulations; and the prince again reasoned with his father:
“If they who sacrifice their sons are, when they die, all glorified,
Then let the brahmin offer his: the king shall follow him as guide.
If they who sacrifice their sons go straight to heaven when they die,
Why does the brahmin offer not himself and all his family?
Nay rather, they who offer up such victims all shall go to hell,
And those who dare to approve the deed shall perish at the last as well.”
When the prince, as he uttered these words, found that he could not convince his father, he turned to the multitude who surrounded the king and thus addressed them:
I love the welfare of the king, I love to see your hearts rejoice,
And is there none among you found to utter one protesting voice?”
But not one spoke a word. Then the prince bade his wives go and implore the king to show pity:
“Go, noble ladies, with your prayers, implore the king, implore his priest,
To spare these guiltless sons of his, well-proved in battle’s sternest test;
Implore the king, implore the priest, to spare these sons unstained by crime,
Whose names are blazoned through the world, the glory of their land and time.”
They went and implored him to show mercy; but the king paid no regard. Then the prince feeling himself helpless began to lament:
“O had I but been born from courts aloof,
Under some cobbler’s, sweeper’s, outcast’s roof,
I should have lived my days to the end in peace,
Nor died a victim to a king’s caprice.”
Then he exclaimed:
“Loudly wails Sela when she sees her brothers sentenced by the king,
“My father longs for heaven, they say, and this forsooth his offering.”
But the king paid no regard to her either. Then the prince’s son Vasula, seeing his father’s grief, said, “I will entreat my grandfather, I will make him grant me my father’s life,” and he fell at the king’s feet and lamented.
The Teacher thus described it:
“Then Vasula with uncertain steps went this way, that way to the throne,
“O spare our father, children we,—leave us not helpless and alone.”
The king heard his lament, and his heart being as it were cleft in twain, he embraced the boy with tears in his eyes and said to him, “Be comforted, my child, I will give thy father up to thee,” and he uttered his orders:
“Here is thy father, Vasula; thy words o’erpower me,—he is free;
Release the princes, let them go,—no more of sacrifice for me.”
Then Khandahala thought to himself, “This tender-hearted king now seizes his sons and now releases them: he will now again release them through the words of his children; I will take him into the sacrificial pit.” So he repeated a verse to urge him to go thither:
“The sacrifice has been prepared, the costliest treasures have been given:
Go forth, O king, to offer it, and claim the choicest joys of heaven.”
When they took the Bodhisatta into the sacrificial pit the royal ladies went out in a body.
The Teacher has described it:
“Prince Chanda’s seven hundred queens, radiant in all their youthful bloom,
With hair dishevelled, weeping eyes, followed the hero to his doom;
And other ladies joined the train like beings from heaven’s firmament,
With hair dishevelled, weeping eyes, following the hero as he went.”
Then they all raised their lamentations:
“With earrings, aloes, sandal-wood, in Kasi silk of costly price,
See Canda, Suriya yonder led as victims to the sacrifice.
Piercing their mother’s heart with woe, filling the citizens with gloom,
See Canda, Suriya yonder led as victims to their cruel doom.
Bathed and perfumed with richest scents and with white robes of Kasi drest,
See Canda, Suriya yonder led as victims at the king’s behest.
While the queens were thus lamenting, the officers carried the Bodhisatta out of the city. The whole city went out with him in great agitation. But as the vast multitude went out, the gates were not wide enough to give them room; and the brahmin apprehensive of what might happen, ordered the gates to be stopped up. The multitude were thus unable to find an outlet; but there was a garden near the inner gate, and they gathered there and lamented the prince’s fate with a loud cry; and at the sound a great concourse of birds gathered in the sky. The citizens raised a general wailing and thus addressed the birds:
“Birds, would ye feast on flesh? then fly to Pupphavati’s eastern gate,
There the mad king is offering up his four brave sons in blinded hate.
Birds, would ye feast on flesh? then fly to Pupphavati’s eastern gate,
There the mad king is offering up four daughters in his blinded hate.”
Thus did the multitude lament in the garden. Then they went to the Bodhisatta’s house, going round it in solemn procession and uttering their lamentations as they gazed on the queens’ apartments, the towers and gardens, the groves and lakes, and the elephants’ stables :
“Villages uninhabited turn to a forest solitude;
So will our capital lie waste, if once our princes shed their blood.”
In the meantime the Bodhisatta was led to the sacrificial pit. Then his mother, Queen Gotami, threw herself prostrate at the king’s feet, begging with tears and cries that he would spare her son’s life:
“I shall go crazy in my grief, covered with dust, undone, forlorn,
If my son Canda has to die, my breath will choke me as I mourn.”
When she got no answer from the king, she embraced the prince’s four wives and said to them, “My son must have gone away from you in displeasure, why do you not persuade him to turn back?”
“Why do you not talk lovingly each to the other as ye stand,
And dance around him cheerfully, clasping each other hand in hand,
Until his melancholy flies and leaves him cured at your command,
For who can dance, indeed, like you, although they search through all the land?”
Then seeing nothing else that could be done she ceased to lament with the royal ladies and began to curse Khandahala:
May she see sons and husband slain, for thou, O cruel priest, to-day
The pride and glory of the world, those guiltless lion-hearts wouldst slay.”
Then the Bodhisatta entreated his father in the sacrificial pit :
O slay us not thus recklessly, though given in answer unto prayer,
Nor offer us a sacrifice in spite of all our mother’s care.”
When he received no reply from his father, he fell lamenting at his mother’s feet:
“Tenderly hast thou nursed thy son, hard is the lot which falls to thee;
I bow before thy sacred feet: all blessings on my father be.
Give me thy feet to kiss once more, embrace me, mother, ere we part,
’Tis a long journey which I go, a bitter sorrow to thy heart.”
“Bind on your head, my darling son, a diadem of lotus leaves,
With Campak flowers,—such coronal thy manly beauty well receives.
For the last time anoint thyself with all those unguents rich and rare
Which in old days before the king in court festivities thou didst wear.
For the last time put on, my boy, bright Kasi silk in fine array,
And wear the jewels and the pearls which thou shouldst wear on gala day.”
Then his chief queen, named Canda, fell at his feet and bitterly lamented:
“This lord of lands, this sovereign king, whose will in all his realm is done,
Sole heir of all his country’s wealth, has no affection for his son.”
When the king heard her he replied:
“My sons are dear, myself is dear, and ye, my queens, are dear as well;
I sacrifice my son, because I wish to go to heaven, not hell.”
“O king, in mercy slay me first, nor let the anguish rend my heart,
Thy boy is garlanded for both, he is complete in every part.
Slay us together on the pile, and let me go where Canda goes:
Infinite merit will be thine, two souls will rise to heaven’s repose.”
The king answered:
“Wish not for death before its time; gallant brothers-in-law hast thou;
They will console thee, large-eyed one, for the dear prince thou losest now.”
Then she beat her breast with her hands, and threatened to drink poison, and at length she burst into loud lamentations:
He has no faithful ministers, not one,
Who dares persuade him not to slay his son.
Cut me in pieces, offer me,—but spare my eldest son, my knight,
Him whom the world doth reverence, the lion-hearted in the fight.”
Having thus mourned out her soul and found no comfort, she went up to the Bodhisatta and stood weeping by his side, until he said to her, “O Canda, during my lifetime many various pearls and gems have been given by me to thee in times of social unbending; now to-day I give thee this last ornament from my body; pray accept it.”
Canda burst into tears, uttering the following stanzas:
“His shoulders once were bright with flowers, which hung down as his diadem,—
To-day the cruel sharp bright sword spreads its dark shadow over them.
Soon will the sword come sweeping down upon that guiltless royal neck,—
Ah! iron bands must bind my heart,—or else what could it do but break?
With aloes and with sandal-wood, with silken robes and gems of price,
Go, Canda-Suriya, to the pile, the great king’s worthy sacrifice.
Bathed for the offering, waiting there in silk and gems the impending blow,
Go, Canda-Suriya, to the pile, filling the people’s hearts with woe.”
While she thus lamented, all the preparations were completed in the sacrificial pit. They brought the prince and placed him in his proper position with his neck bent forward. Khandahala held the golden bowl close and took the sword and stood up, saying, “I will cut his neck.” When the queen Cana, saw this, she said to herself; “I have no other refuge, I will bless my lord with all my power of truth,” and she clasped her hands, and, walking amidst the assembly, performed a solemn asseveration of truth.
The Teacher thus described it:
“When all is ready for the rite and Canda sits and waits the blow,
The daughter of the Pancal king went through the assembly, high and low:
“As truly as the brahmin here works a vile purpose by his guile,
So may I gain my dear-loved lord restored me in a little while.
May all the spirits in this place—ghosts, goblins, fairies—hear my word,
Do my commission loyally and reunite me to my lord.
Sakka, the king of the gods, having heard her cry and seen what had happened, took a blazing mass of iron and frightened the king, and dispersed the assembly.
The Teacher has described the scene:
“A heavenly being heard the cry and came to earth to help the right,
Whirling a blazing iron mass, filling the tyrant’s heart with fright,
“Know me, O tyrant, who I am; mark well the weapon which I wield,
Harm not thy guiltless eldest son, the lion of the battlefield.
Where has earth seen a crime like this,—thy sons, their wives, to slaughter given,
With all thy noblest citizens, worthy to fill my highest heaven?”
The tyrant and his minister then set the guiltless victims free,
And all the crowd seized sticks and stones, and in a fit of frenzied glee
Made Khandahala there and then pay forfeit for his cruelty.”
When they had killed the minister, the great crowd sought to put the king himself to death; but Sakka embraced him and would not allow them to kill him. The multitude decided that they would spare his life, “but we will not give him rule or dwelling in this city,—we will make him an outcast and appoint his dwelling outside this city.” So they stripped him of his royal garments and made him wear a yellow dress, and put a yellow cloth on his head, and having made him an outcast sent him away to an outcast-settlement. And all who had helped in any way in the sacrifice or approved of it went to hell as their portion.
The Teacher uttered this stanza:
“All who had done so vile a deed passed straight to hell,—none could attain
An afterbirth in any heaven, who bore the trace of such a stain.”
The great multitude, having caused the two monsters of wickedness to be removed out of sight, brought the materials for the coronation and anointed Prince Canda as king.
“When all the captives were released, a vast assembly gathering
With solemn pomp and festival anointed Canda to be king;
A vast assembly, gods and men, waved cloths and flags and sang his praise,
Starting a new and happy reign of plenty, peace and halcyon days.
Men, women, gods and goddesses joined in one great festivity,
Comfort and peace filled every home and every captive was set free.”
The Bodhisatta caused all his father’s wants to be attended to, but he was not allowed to enter within the city; and when all his allowance was spent, he used to go up to the Bodhisatta, when the latter went to join in the amusements of the public gardens or other public spectacles. At these times he did not use to join his hands to salute his son, for he said to himself, “I am the true king,” but he addressed him, “Live long, O Master”; and when he was asked what he wanted, he mentioned it, and the Bodhisatta ordered the sum to be given to him.
When the Master had ended his discourse, he added, “Brethren, this is not the first time that Devadatta has sought to kill many persons on my sole account; he did the same before.” Then he identified the Birth: “At that time Devadatta was Khandahala, Mahamaya was Queen Gotama, Rahula’s mother was Canda, Rahula was Vasula, Uppalavanna was Sela, Kassapa of the Vama family was Sura, Moggallana was Candasena, Sariputta was Prince Suriya and I myself was Candaraja.”