The Buddha – Chapter 18: A King Gives Away His Head

In Buddhism, no deed is more universally praised than the act of giving (dana). It is, of course, the charity of the laity towards monks and nuns that sustains the sangha. The giving of gifts in this life results in rebirth in the luxuriant heavens of the gods in the future. But giving is also important in the path to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas must perfect a set of virtues, called ‘perfections’ (paramita), over the course of many lifetimes. There are six such virtues enumerated in the Mahayana (giving, ethics, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom); there are ten in the Theravada (giving, ethics, renunciation, wisdom, effort, patience, truthfulness, resolution, love and equanimity). Giving is the first in each list, and it is extolled above all others. In the stories of the Buddha’s past lives, when he was a bodhisattva, he practised giving in many different ways, and there are more accounts of his gift-giving than of any other virtuous deed. The most famous of all the jataka stories is that of the bodhisattva ’s last human birth before his birth as Prince Siddhartha He was Prince Vessantara, who gave away all of his wealth, and then his children, and then his wife, before having them all restored to him.

There are many things that can be given away. The most precious is one’s own body and there is a special category of giving described in Buddhist literature as ‘the gift of the body’. As in both the preceding and the following chapters, the bodhisattva may give up his body (or a part thereof) to feed those who are starving. Or, as in the story below, the bodhisattva may give away a part of his body, in this case his head, losing his life in the process, for no real reason other than that someone asked for it.

This story is also an avadana and, like other examples of the genre, is occasioned by a question to the Buddha about what events in the past led to a particular state of affairs in the present. The question that prompts the Buddha’s account here is why the Buddha’s two chief disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, passed into nirvana prior to the time of their natural death. The Buddha explains that they did so because they had completely destroyed the afflictions of desire, hatred and ignorance (in their various forms). However, he notes, even prior to their attainment of liberation in this life, they had been able to die at will. And he tells this story as an example of that ability.

The premature deaths of Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, in their previous lives as ministers to the generous king Candraprabha, are rather incidental to the narrative. The story instead is about this most generous of kings, who distributes his wealth among his subjects to create a Utopian kingdom; its beauties and pleasures are described in ornate detail. It is only when an evil yogin wishes to test the limits of the king’s charity that the happiness of the populace is threatened. The yogin, apparently motivated simply by perversity, asks the king to give him the gift of his own head. And the king, over the protests of his ministers (who die on the spot), the local deities and his subjects, happily complies. He explains that the gift of the head is a particularly potent gift in terms of the merit it accrues for the giver; indeed, he says that he has given his head away many times on the path to enlightenment. He then dedicates the merit of the gift of his head (see Chapter 60) to the goal of his achievement of buddhahood for the welfare of all beings, and cuts off his own head. The scene then returns to the present, where the Buddha explains that he had been the king, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana had been his ministers, and Devadatta, his cousin and antagonist, had been the evil yogin.

The story, written in an elegant classical Sanskrit, is found in the Divyavadana, a collection of thirty-eight legends, probably composed in the fourth century ce and associated with the Sarvastivada, a school that flourished in northwest India.

Thus have I heard. At one time, the Blessed One was dwelling on Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagrha with a great assembly of 1,250 monks. The monks had given rise to doubt, so they asked the Blessed Buddha, who cuts through all doubt: ‘Why is it, Venerable One, that the venerable disciples Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were liberated in the sphere of nirvana-without-remainder before they could die the normal death that leads to the realm of the ancestors?’

The Blessed One replied: ‘Why, monks, should you be surprised by the fact that the monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were liberated in the sphere of nirvana-without-remainder before they could die the normal death that leads to the realm of the ancestors? For this is a time when the assembly of monks headed by the Buddha endures, and the monks Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were free of passion, hatred and delusion; liberated from birth, old age, illness, death, grief, lamentation, sorrow, despair and mental afflictions; free of craving and clinging; and had abandoned all egotism, possessiveness, self-conceit, evil propensities and evil dispositions.

‘However, even in the distant past, when Sariputra and Maudgalyayana were still endowed with passion, hatred and delusion, and were not yet liberated from birth, old age, illness, death, grief, lamentation, sorrow, despair and mental afflictions – even then, they gave rise to a thought of faith in my presence, died, crossed over the Realm of Desire, and were reborn as gods in Brahmaloka before they could die the normal death that leads to the realm of the ancestors.

‘Listen, and I’ll tell you all about it.’

Formerly, monks, in the distant past, there was a capital city called Bhadrasila in the Northern Country. It was prosperous, thriving and secure, well-populated and abundantly provided with food. It was twelve leagues long and twelve leagues wide, square in shape and divided into sections by four gates, decorated with high-arched doorways, portals, windows and railings. It was full of varied jewels and merchants’ stores stocked with all kinds of goods. It was the dwelling of princes, ministers, householders, guild-leaders, governors and officials, and it resounded with the sounds of lutes, flutes, drums, bells, tabors, kettledrums, war drums and conch shells.

Now, in that capital city, winds blew in the streets, intersections and crossroads – exceedingly delightful winds scented with aloe, sandalwood, aromatic powders and perennial flowers, tossing and blowing about. That capital city had armies of elephants, horses, vehicles and foot soldiers; it was adorned with chariots and wagons; its streets and avenues were broad and exceedingly charming; it was covered with beautiful raised flags and banners; it had arched doorways and portals inlaid with crescents of jewels; and it shone like the dwelling of the gods. It had lotus pools full of delicious, clear, cold water, adorned with water lilies and all types of fragrant lotuses. It was adorned with tanks, wells and springs, decorated with woods and gardens, covered with all kinds of trees, plants and flowers, and resounding with the cries of Indian cuckoos, parrots, myna birds, kokila birds, flocks of peacocks and pheasants.

And in the capital city of Bhadrasila, there was a certain royal pleasure-park called Manigarbha, adorned with various flowers, fruits, trees and bushes, full of wells, exceedingly delightful, resounding with the charming songs of geese, curlews, peacocks, parrots, myna birds, black cuckoos and pheasants. Indeed, the capital city of Bhadrasila was very beautiful.

In the capital city of Bhadrasila, there was a king named Candraprabha. He was pleasing, handsome and gracious, endowed with the divine eye, a universal emperor of the four continents, a righteous dharma-king, autonomous, exercising kingship, sovereignty and overlordship in Jambudvipa. Wherever King Candraprabha went, there was no darkness at all. Neither jewels nor lamps nor torches were led in front of him, but light went forth from King Candraprabha’s own body, like rays from the disk of the moon. It is for this reason that King Candraprabha’s name was Candraprabha [‘Moonlight’].

Now, at that time in Jambudvipa, there were 68,000 cities, the foremost of which was the capital city of Bhadrasila. All of the cities were prosperous, thriving and secure, well-populated and abundantly provided with food. The people of Jambudvipa were exempt from taxes, tolls and ferry-fees. They were pleasant and accomplished in farming. The villages, towns, kingdoms and cities were as close together as a cock’s flight. And at that time in Jambudvipa, people lived for 44,000 years.

Now, the bodhisattva King Candraprabha was a giver of everything, a renouncer of everything, one who gave without attachment and engaged in great generosity. Setting out from the capital city of Bhadrasila, he had four great sacrificial grounds built outside the city, at the four city gates. Parasols, flags, pillars and banners were raised, and when golden kettledrums had been beaten to summon the people, gifts were given and meritorious deeds were done. There was food for those who wanted food, drink for those who wanted drink, hard foods, soft foods, garlands, unguents, clothing, beds, furnishings, dwellings, lamps, parasols, chariots, ornaments, gold vessels full of silver and aromatic powders, silver vessels full of gold, bulls with golden horns, wish­giving cows and boys and girls adorned with all kinds of ornaments. There was also clothing in various colours, produced in various countries, charming in various ways – clothing made of silk, Chinese silk and white silk; beautiful clothing made of wool and Dukula bark; clothing made of Aparanta cloth, bark cloth, Haryani cloth, excellent woollen cloth, yellow cloak cloth, Banaras cloth, linen and so forth.

King Candraprabha gave away so many gifts that all of the people of Jambudvipa became rich, wealthy and great in property. King Candraprabha gave away so many elephants, horses, chariots and parasols as gifts that not even a single person in Jambudvipa went about on foot. All of the people of Jambudvipa went from park to park and village to village on the backs of elephants or in chariots yoked with four horses, made of silver or plated with gold, and furnished with umbrellas.

Then it occurred to King Candraprabha: ‘Of what use to me are the trivial gifts that I have given? What if I were to offer gifts of clothing, ornaments and jewels just like mine, so that all of the people of Jambudvipa could amuse themselves with the amusements of kings?’

So King Candraprabha offered crowns, turbans, clothing, ornaments and jewels to the people of Jambudvipa. He gave gifts of necklaces, bracelets, arm-bands, small and large garlands of pearls, and so forth. King Candraprabha gave away so many ornaments, crowns, turbans and garments fit for kings that all of the people of Jambudvipa were wearing crowns and turbans. All of the people of Jambudvipa looked exactly like King Candraprabha!

Then King Candraprabha had a bell-ringing proclamation made in all 68,000 cities: ‘May all you good people of Jambudvipa amuse yourselves with the amusements of kings for as long as I live!’

Hearing King Candraprabha’s bell-ringing proclamation, all of the people of Jambudvipa began to amuse themselves with the amusements of kings. With thousands of lutes, flutes, drums, bells, kettledrums, war drums, tabors, cymbals and conch shells, with the sounds of hundreds of musical instruments being played, wearing arm-bands, necklaces, jewels, pearls, ornaments and rings, surrounded by groups of young women adorned with all types of adornments, they experienced the prosperity of kings.

And as the people of Jambudvipa were amusing themselves with the sport of kings, the air was full of the sound of lutes, flutes, drums, bells, kettledrums, tabors and war drums; the sound of cymbals and reed-pipes throughout the 68,000 cities; and the lovely, delightful sound of golden kettledrums being beaten in

Candraprabha’s four great sacrificial grounds. All of Jambudvipa resounded with a delightful noise, just as the heavenly city of the Thirty-Three Gods resounds with the sound of dancing, singing and the playing of musical instruments. Thus, the whole assemblage of people who lived in Jambudvipa, filled wholly with happiness because of the sound of singing and music, rejoiced exceedingly.

Now, at that time, seventy-two billion people lived in the capital city of Bhadrasila. King Candraprabha was beloved, dear and charming to them, and they never tired of gazing upon his complexion, his form, his features and his solid presence. When King Candraprabha went to the great sacrificial grounds, millions of living beings looked at him and said: ‘Look at this child of the gods, King Candraprabha, who rules here in Jambudvipa! Indeed, there are no other men whose form and appearance are equal to those of Lord Candraprabha!’ Wherever King Candraprabha looked, there were thousands of women looking at him, thinking to themselves: ‘Fortunate are the women who are married to him!’ And they thought this with pure minds – and in no other way – so handsome was King Candraprabha.

King Candraprabha had 12,500 ministers. Among them, there were two chief ministers, Mahacandra and Mahidhara. They were handsome, wise, intelligent and virtuous, more distinguished than all the other ministers, wielding authority over them all, managing the king and guarding the king. The king did not have to worry about any of his affairs, for the chief minister Mahacandra constantly exhorted the people of Jambudvipa to the ten paths of virtuous action, saying: ‘O people of Jambudvipa, undertake and follow these ten paths of virtuous action!’ And whatever the universal emperor admonished and instructed, so, too, did the minister Mahacandra. King Candraprabha was beloved, dear and charming to the chief minister Mahacandra, who never tired of gazing upon his complexion, his form, his features and his solid presence.

One day, the chief minister Mahacandra had a dream in which King Candraprabha’s crown was taken away by some pisadcas [goblins] who were the colour of smoke. When he awoke, he was afraid and alarmed, and his hair stood on end. ‘I hope that someone does not come and ask for Lord Candraprabha’s head,’ he thought, ‘for the lord is all-giving, and when it comes to giving everything away, there is nothing of his that he would not renounce for the sake of the miserable, the helpless, the wretched, mendicants and beggars.’

Then he had an idea: ‘I will not tell King Candraprabha about my dream. Instead, I will order some heads to be made out of jewels and store them in the treasury. If someone comes and asks for the lord’s head, I will entice him with the jewelled heads instead!’ Thinking this, he had the jewelled heads made and stored them in the treasury.

Candraprabha’s family was broken into hundreds of pieces. Seeing this, he, too, was frightened, trembling and terrified. ‘I hope that King Candraprabha will not fall from the kingship,’ he thought, ‘and that his life will not be cut short.’

He summoned some learned brahmin soothsayers and said to them: ‘Good Sirs, I had such-and-such a dream. Please tell me what it means!’ Then the learned brahmin soothsayers told him: ‘This dream that you had means that before too long someone will descend upon this very capital city of Bhadrasila and ask for King Candraprabha’s head.’ Hearing this, the chief minister Mahidhara put his cheek into his hand and remained lost in thought. ‘King Candraprabha is benevolent in nature, compassionate and affectionate towards living beings,’ he thought, ‘yet now, he is suddenly threatened by the power of impermanence!’

Then, on yet another occasion, the 12,500 ministers had a dream in which yaksas and karotapanis struck down the parasols, flags and banners and broke the golden kettledrums in King Candraprabha’s four sacrificial grounds. And seeing this, they, too, were frightened, trembling and terrified. ‘King Candraprabha is the protector of the great earth, benevolent in nature, compassionate and affectionate towards living beings,’ they thought. ‘May the power of impermanence not threaten him! May there not be separation, deprivation and dissociation from our lord! May Jambudvipa not be deprived of guardianship and protection!’

When King Candraprabha heard about these dreams, he had a bell-ringing proclamation made throughout the 68,000 cities: ‘May all you good people of Jambudvipa amuse yourselves with the sport of kings for as long as I live! What’s the point of these worries? They are nothing more than dreams and illusions.’

Hearing King Candraprabha’s bell-ringing proclamation, all of the people of Jambudvipa once again began to amuse themselves with the sport of kings. With thousands of lutes, flutes, drums, bells, kettledrums, tabors, cymbals and conch shells, with the sounds of hundreds of musical instruments being played, wearing arm-bands, necklaces, jewels, pearls, ornaments and rings, surrounded by groups of young women adorned with all types of adornments, they experienced the prosperity of kings.

And as the people of Jambudvipa were amusing themselves with the amusements of kings, the air was full of the sound of lutes, flutes, drums, bells, kettledrums, tabors, and war drums; the sound of noise throughout the 68,000 cities; and the lovely, delightful sound of golden kettledrums being beaten in King Candraprabha’s four great sacrificial grounds. All of Jambudvipa resounded with a delightful noise, just as the heavenly city of the Thirty-Three Gods resounds with the sound of dancing, singing and the playing of musical instruments. Thus, the whole assemblage of people who lived in Jambudvipa, filled wholly with happiness because of the sound of singing, rejoiced exceedingly.

Now, at that time, on Gandhamadana Mountain, there lived a brahmin sorcerer named Raudraksa. The brahmin Raudraksa heard that in the capital city of Bhadrasila there was a king named Candraprabha who recognized himself to be all-giving.

‘What if I were to go and ask for his head?’ he thought. ‘If he were really so all-giving, then he would surely give me his head. But it is difficult, impossible and out of the question that anyone would renounce the most excellent part of one’s body – one’s beloved, cherished, dear and charming head. This is impossible!’

Thinking thus, he descended Gandhamadana Mountain. Then the deities living on Gandhamadana Mountain began to cry out: ‘Alas! King Candraprabha is benevolent in nature, greatly compassionate and affectionate towards living beings, yet the power of impermanence now threatens him!’ All of Jambudvipa became confused and agitated, as dark as smoke, with meteor showers burning in all directions, and divine kettledrums resounding in the sky.

Now, not far from the capital city of Bhadrasila, there lived a rsi [sage] named Visvamitra. He possessed the five higher knowledges, was benevolent and compassionate in nature and affectionate towards living beings, and had a retinue of five hundred. When he saw that all of Jambudvipa was confused, he spoke to the men of Jambudvipa:

‘Listen, people! All of Jambudvipa is now confused and agitated, as dark as smoke. The mighty sun and moon themselves are neither shining, nor burning, nor blazing. Some great man will certainly experience calamity!

‘Troops of kimnaras and forest deities are lamenting and troops of gods are continually emitting cries of alarm. The moon is neither shining nor glowing and its thousands of rays are dark. Even the sound of musical instruments being played has completely stopped. Clusters of trees covered with fruit and flowers are falling to the ground and being shaken by gusts of wind. Only the sound of thunder is heard. This means that the city will experience a great calamity!

‘All of these people, fond of living in Bhadrasila, are depressed, struck by the arrows of extreme grief, their throats and faces quivering. Women with moon-shaped faces are crying, and everyone in this excellent dwelling place laments with intense pity, as if they were in a cemetery.

But why do all of the people living in this city

speak of their collective sadness only in their minds?

An incomparable power seems to hold back their voices,

as they cry out continually with their hands in the air.

Clouds are bellowing, and dried-up ponds are grieving.

On the ground and in the water, winds are blowing,

throwing and casting people’s hair about, sharp and mixed with dust.

‘Indeed, there are a multitude of inauspicious signs! Therefore, it would now be in our best interests to leave this comfortable land. Listen, people! As the golden kettledrums are beaten in King Candraprabha’s four great sacrificial grounds, there is no longer a delightful sound issuing forth. Now, certainly, there will be a great calamity in Bhadrasila!’

Then the brahmin Raudraksa reached the capital city of Bhadrasila. As soon as the goddess of the city saw the brahmin Raudraksa from far away, she approached King Candraprabha and said: ‘Listen, Lord! Today, a supplicant will come to the lord – malicious, injurious, looking for a point of attack, seeking a point of attack. He will ask for the lord’s head. Therefore, the lord should protect himself for the sake of living beings.’

Now, when King Candraprabha heard about the supplicant who would ask for his head, he was delighted and his eyes opened wide with astonishment. He said to the goddess: ‘Go away, Goddess! If he comes, I will fulfil his long-held wish!’ So the goddess, depressed, dejected and saddened, understanding that such was King Candraprabha’s resolve, disappeared from that very spot. King Candraprabha thought to himself: ‘It is wonderful that I have given food to those who want food, drink to those who want drink, and clothing, gold, silver, jewels, pearls and so forth to those who want them. But what if I were to give away even my own body to supplicants?’

Then the brahmin Raudraksa was stopped by the goddess while entering through the southern city gate. ‘Go away, sinful brahmin,’ she cried, ‘do not enter! O foolish man, how can you cut off the head of King Candraprabha, who is benevolent in nature, compassionate, affectionate towards living beings, endowed with many good qualities, a protector of Jambudvipa, irreproachable and non-injurious? Do not enter, you evil and vicious brahmin!’

As soon as King Candraprabha heard that a supplicant had been restrained by the goddess at the gate of his city, he said to the chief minister Mahacandra: ‘Listen, Mahacandra, a supplicant has been restrained by the goddess at the gate of my city. Go there quickly and bring him to me!’

‘Yes, Lord,’ the chief minister Mahacandra replied to King Candraprabha. He went to the city gate and said to the goddess: ‘Listen, Goddess, you have to allow this brahmin to enter. King Candraprabha has summoned him.’

The goddess of the city said to the chief minister Mahacandra: ‘Please, Mahacandra, this cruel and vicious brahmin has come to Bhadrasila in order to destroy King Candraprabha. Why should one who is evil in nature be allowed to enter the city? If he’s allowed to see the king, he will ask him for his head!’

The chief minister Mahacandra told the goddess: ‘Don’t worry, Goddess, I have thought of a means by which this brahmin will not be able to take the lord’s head.’

So the chief minister Mahacandra brought the brahmin Raudraksa into the city. Then he ordered the treasurers: ‘You, bring the jewelled heads! I will give them to this brahmin.’ The treasurers made a pile of jewelled heads at the king’s door. The chief minister Mahacandra showed the jewelled heads to Raudraksa and said: ‘Great brahmin, take these many jewelled heads, and I will also give you such abundant gold and silver that it will be the livelihood of your sons and grandsons. What do you want with the lord’s head, full of marrow, mucus and fat?’

The brahmin Raudraksa replied to the chief minister Mahacandra: ‘Jewelled heads are of no use to me, nor are gold and silver. I have come into the presence of this all-giving protector of the great earth only for the sake of his head!’

Hearing this, the chief ministers Mahacandra and Mahidhara put their cheeks into their hands and remained lost in thought, wondering why this fateful moment had now arrived.

When he heard what had happened, King Candraprabha called the chief ministers Mahacandra and Mahidhara and said to them: ‘Bring the supplicant to me. I will fulfil this wish of his!’

The chief ministers Mahacandra and Mahidhara, with tearful and cloudy faces, full of pity and lamenting, cried out: ‘The Lord is benevolent in nature, compassionate, affectionate towards living beings, endowed with many virtues, wise and skilful and possesses the divine eye, yet the power of impermanence now threatens him!

Today there will be separation, deprivation, dissociation and disjunction from our lord!’ Knowing this, they fell at the feet of the king and sat down on one side.

Then King Candraprabha, desirous of making that sacrifice which is distinguished as the ultimate sacrifice, summoned the brahmin. ‘Come brahmin,’ he said. ‘Speak up! Take whatever you want!’

Then the brahmin Raudraksa approached King Candraprabha, wished him victory and long life, and said: ‘You are firm and pure in virtue, O wise man, earnestly working for the omniscience of pure-minded beings. Bestow your head on me, with great compassion foremost in your mind! Give it to me! Satisfy me today!’

When King Candraprabha heard the brahmin speak such words as these, he was delighted and his eyes opened wide with joy. He said to the brahmin Raudraksa: ‘Go ahead, brahmin, take my head, my chief limb. You’ll get no fight from me. Even though it is as dear to me as an only son, take this head of mine! May your intentions bear fruit! And by the gift of my head, may I quickly attain awakening!’

With these words, he himself removed the crown from his head. And when King Candraprabha removed the crown from his head, the crowns of all the people of Jambudvipa immediately fell from their heads. In the capital city of Bhadrasila, meteor showers and fiery omens appeared in all directions, and the deities of the city let out a cry: ‘This sinful brahmin is cutting off the head of King Candraprabha!’

Hearing this, the chief ministers Mahacandra and Mahidhara, understanding that King Candraprabha would make such a gift of his body, with tearful and cloudy faces, clasped King Candraprabha’s feet and said: ‘O Lord, how can the people of the capital city see such an exceedingly marvellous body come to this!’ Looking up towards him, they conceived faith in King Candraprabha and gave rise to a thought of benevolence towards the brahmin Raudraksa. They thought to themselves: ‘We cannot bear to see the impermanence of our lord, who is a receptacle of incomparable virtues!’ At that very moment, they died, went beyond the Realm of Desire, and were reborn as gods in Brahmaloka.

Understanding that King Candraprabha had made such a resolution as this, and hearing the pained voices of the deities living in the city, the yaksas on earth and in the atmosphere began to lament: ‘Alas! Now King Candraprabha will abandon his body!’ And many hundreds of thousands of living beings assembled at the door of the palace.

Then the brahmin Raudraksa, seeing that great mass of people, said to King Candraprabha: ‘Listen, Lord, I cannot take the lord’s head in front of this great mass of people. So if you want to give me your head, let’s go to a private place.’

King Candraprabha said to the brahmin Raudraksa: ‘Yes, great brahmin, let’s do so! Let your intentions meet with success! Let your wishes be fulfilled!’

Then King Candraprabha got up from the royal throne, took a sharp knife and went to the Maniratnagarbha pleasure-park.

Seeing that King Candraprabha had made such a resolution as this, many hundreds of thousands of living beings in the capital city of Bhadrasila, crying aloud, followed behind him. King Candraprabha looked and, seeing the great congregation of people crying aloud, he again comforted them, saying: ‘Show vigilance in regard to good works!’

Having preached the dharma to them in brief, he entered the Maniratnagarbha pleasure-park with the brahmin Raudraksa. As soon as King Candraprabha entered the Maniratnagarbha pleasure-park, the umbrellas, flags and banners in the capital city of Bhadrasila bowed down towards the Maniratnagarbha pleasure- park.

Then King Candraprabha closed the door of the Maniratnagarbha pleasure-park and spoke to the brahmin Raudraksa: ‘Brahmin, take my head!’

But the brahmin Raudraksa said to King Candraprabha: ‘I cannot cut off the lord’s head!’

Candraprabha took the sharp knife and approached the perennial campaka tree. Then the goddesses living in the pleasure-park, understanding that King Candraprabha would make such a gift of his own body, began to cry aloud and spoke thus: ‘O sinful brahmin, how can you cut off the head of King Candraprabha, who is irreproachable, non-injurious, affectionate towards many people and endowed with many virtues?’

Then King Candraprabha stopped the goddesses of the pleasure- park: ‘Please, goddesses, do not hinder the supplicant who wants my head. And why is that? In former times, goddesses, a goddess hindered a supplicant who wanted my head. That goddess begat a lot of demerit. Why? If that goddess had not caused a hindrance, then I would have attained the highest knowledge very quickly. This is why I say to you – do not hinder the supplicant who wants my head! In this very Maniratnagarbha pleasure-park of yours, I have given away my head thousands of times, and no one has ever hindered me. Therefore, goddesses, do not hinder the supplicant who wants my head. Moreover, goddesses, this is the very spot where I sacrificed myself to a tigress and thus outdistanced Maitreya, who had set out for buddhahood forty aeons before. Maitreya bodhisattva was outdistanced by a single gift of my head!’

Then the goddesses, perceiving the great majesty of King Candraprabha, indicated their supreme faith in the king by remaining silent.

Then King Candraprabha proceeded to make a vow in the proper manner: ‘Listen, you deities, demons, garudas, gandharvas and kimnaras who inhabit and dwell in the ten directions! Here, in this pleasure-park, I will make a gift. This gift will be a gift of my own head. And I will give up my own head not for the sake of kingship, not for the sake of heaven, not for the sake of wealth, not to become Sakra [the king of the gods], not to become Brahma, not for the victory of a universal emperor, and not for anything else. But having attained complete and perfect awakening, I will tame beings who are wild, pacify beings who are violent, rescue beings who are in danger, liberate beings who are not liberated, comfort beings who are troubled, and bring to nirvana beings who have not attained nirvana.

‘By these true words of truth, may this exertion bear fruit! And when I have attained nirvana, may there be relics the size of fruit from the mustard tree! And in the middle of this Maniratnagarbha pleasure-park, may there be a great stupa, more excellent than any other stupa! And may those beings who go with pure bodies to the great holy site, wishing to worship it, feel at ease when they see that stupa, full of relics and more excellent than any other stupal And when I have attained nirvana, may crowds of people come to my holy sites, perform acts of worship, and be destined for heaven or liberation!’

Having made his vow in the proper manner, he grabbed a branch of the campaka tree and said to the brahmin Raudraksa: ‘Come, great brahmin, take it! Do not hinder me!’

Then King Candraprabha brought forth the strength and power of his own body, gave rise to a thought of benevolence and compassion towards the brahmin, and cut off his own head, giving it to the brahmin Raudraksa. He died, went beyond the realm of Brahmaloka, and, because of his excellence, was reborn among the Subhakrtsna gods.

As soon as King Candraprabha had given away his head, innumerable thousands of world-spheres three times quivered, quavered and quaked; shivered, shuddered and shook; twittered, tremored and trembled. And the deities in the sky began to throw down heavenly flowers such as lotuses, water lilies, white lotuses and heavenly mandaraka flowers, as well as aloe powder, tagara powder, sandalwood powder and tamala leaves. They played heavenly musical instruments and shook their clothes about.

Then the brahmin Raudraksa came out of the pleasure-park, holding on to the head. And many hundreds of thousands of beings let out a roar: ‘Alas! The lord who fulfils the wishes of all people has been killed!’

Then some of them wandered and roamed around on the ground, some cried out with their arms flailing, some wept with their hair dishevelled, and many hundreds of thousands of beings gathered. Then some of them, sitting in that very spot, gave rise to the meditative trances, died right there, and were reborn among the Subhakrtsna gods, in the same category as King Candraprabha. Others gave rise to the meditative trances, died right there, and were reborn among the Abhasvara gods. Others gave rise to the first meditative trance, died, and were reborn as inhabitants of Brahmaloka. Others gathered together, made a pile out of all kinds of fragrant wood, and cremated King Candraprabha’s body. They put the burned bones in a golden urn, erected a relic stupa at a great crossroads, put up umbrellas, flags and banners, and worshipped it with incense, garlands, perfumes, lamps and flowers. They each conceived faith in King Candraprabha, died, and were reborn among the six classes of Kamavacara gods. And all those who worshipped there became intent upon heaven or liberation.

‘O monks,’ the Buddha concluded, ‘you may have doubt and uncertainty and think that some other place was the capital city called Bhadrasila in the Northern Country at that time. You should not think thus. Why? It is this very city of Taksasila that was the capital city called Bhadrasila at that time.

‘O monks, you may have doubt and uncertainty and think that someone else was the king named Candraprabha at that time. You should not think thus. Why? It was I myself who was King Candraprabha at that time.

‘O monks, you may have doubt and uncertainty and think that someone else was the brahmin named Raudraksa at that time. You should not think thus. Why? It was Devadatta himself who was the brahmin named Raudraksa at that time.

‘O monks, you may have doubt and uncertainty, and think that others were the chief ministers Mahacandra and Mahidhara at that time. You should not think thus. Why? It was Sariputra and Maudgalyayana themselves who were the chief ministers Mahacandra and Mahidhara at that time. At that time, too, they died without going to the realm of the ancestors.’

Thus spoke the Blessed One. Delighted, the monks, gods, nogas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, maho-ragas and so forth rejoiced at what the Blessed One had said.

Translated by Reiko Ohnuma from Candraprabhavadana, Divyavadana 22, in Edward B. Cowell and Robert A. Neil (eds.), The Divyavadana: A Collection of Early Buddhist Legends (Amsterdam: Oriental Press, 1970; orig. pub. Cambridge, 1886), pp. 314-28.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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