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Extract from MĀ 72: The Legend of King Dīrghāyu

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[Translator’s Note: Below is a translation of the avadāna story that the Buddha tells the Kauśāmbī monks in MĀ 72 in an attempt to convince them to drop their quarrels with each other. A version of this story is found in the Theravada Vinaya. It’s also found in the Ekôttarika Āgama and a couple other avadāna collections in Chinese.]


Once in the past, there was a king of Kośala named Dīrghāyu. There was also a king of Kāsi named Brahmadatta. Those two kings were constantly at war with each other.

“Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi, raised a fourfold army, which was an elephant army, a cavalry army, a chariot army, and an infantry army. Having raised a fourfold army, King Brahmadatta led his army, going to war with Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala.

“King Dīrghāyu heard, ‘Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi, has raised a fourfold army. Having raised that fourfold army, he is coming to make war on us.’ After hearing this, King Dīrghāyu also raised a fourfold army. Having raised that fourfold army, King Dīrghāyu led his army to the border, arrayed them for battle, and then destroyed [Brahmadatta’s army].

“Thereupon, King Dīrghāyu captured that King Brahmadatta’s entire fourfold army. Moreover, he captured King Brahmadatta himself. After being captured, he was released. [Dīrghāyu] told him, ‘You’re an unfortunate man, so now I’ll give you amnesty. Don’t do this again.’

[533a] “King Brahmadatta went on to raise a fourfold army three more times. After raising a fourfold army, he would lead his army to make war on King Dīrghāyu. King Dīrghāyu would hear, ‘Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi, has once again raised a fourfold army. Having raised that fourfold army, he is coming to make war on us.’

“After hearing this [for a third time], King Dīrghāyu then thought, ‘I’ve already beaten him. What need is there to beat him again? I’ve already defeated him. What satisfaction would there be in defeating him again? I’ve already hurt him. What need is there to hurt him again? Only an empty bow is enough to defeat him.’

“After thinking this, it was clear as day to King Dīrghāyu, and he didn’t raise another fourfold army, nor did he leave. Thereupon, King Brahmadatta came and defeated him, capturing King Dīrghāyu’s entire fourfold army.

“King Dīrghāyu then heard, ‘Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi, has captured our entire fourfold army.’

“Again, he thought, ‘How strange battle is! How evil battle is! Why is that? Those beaten go on to beat [others], those defeated go on to defeat [others], and those hurt go on to hurt [others]. Now, I’d rather just go alone with a single wife to the city of Bārāṇasī, riding with her in a single chariot.’

“King Dīrghāyu then went alone with a single wife, and they rode together in a single chariot to Bārāṇasī. King Dīrghāyu again thought, ‘Now, I’d rather go to the villages and towns where I could study and learn broadly.’ After thinking this, King Dīrghāyu then went to villages and towns, studying and learning broadly. He became known as ‘Dīrghāyu the Scholar’ because of his broad learning.

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar again thought, ‘I’ve learned what there was to learn. Now, I’d rather go to Bārāṇasī and stand on the streets and in the markets as an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. Thus, after they listen to me, the well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī will be happier and amuse themselves.’ After thinking this, King Dīrghāyu went into Bārāṇasī and stood on the streets and in the markets as an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. Thus, after they heard him, the well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī were happier and amused themselves.

“Thereupon, King Brahmadatta’s [533b] outer retinue heard of him, as did the middle retinue and inner retinue. The kingdom’s head priest in turn also heard of him. After hearing of him, the head priest then asked for a meeting.

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar visited the kingdom’s head priest and stood before him as an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. After listening to him, the head priest was happier and amused himself. The head priest then told Dīrghāyu the scholar, ‘Starting today, you may make use of my home. We should support each other.’

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar said, ‘Venerable, I have a wife. What about her?’

“The head priest responded, ‘Scholar, you can tell her to come and make use of my family’s home. We’ll support her, too.’

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar then sent for his wife to make use of the head priest’s home, and the head priest supported them.

“Later, Dīrghāyu’s wife felt sad and thought, ‘The fourfold army will be arrayed in formation with their armor and shields. They’ll draw their autumn swords and march serenely by. I want to watch it all, and I also want to drink the water from the sharpening of their blades.’ After thinking this, Dīrghāyu’s wife then said to Dīrghāyu the Scholar, ‘I am feeling sad, and I’ve had this thought, “The fourfold army will be arrayed in formation with their armor and shields. They’ll draw their autumn swords and march serenely by. I want to watch it all, and I also want to drink the water from the sharpening of their blades.”’

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar then told his wife, ‘You shouldn’t think that. Why is that? We’ve been ruined by King Brahmadatta. What purpose is there in your seeing his fourfold army arrayed in formation with their armor and shields, drawing their autumn swords, and marching serenely by, or for you to want to drink the water from the sharpening of their blades?’

“His wife said, ‘Sir, if I can get this, I’ll have a chance to live. If I don’t get this, I’ll die for sure, without a doubt.’

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar then went to the kingdom’s head priest and stood before him. His countenance was downcast, and his voice was poor and slight as he entertained him. After listening, the head priest wasn’t happy.

“The head priest then asked, ‘Scholar, when you stood in front of me before, you were an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. After listening to you, I was happier and amused myself. Why do you stand in front of me now with a countenance that’s downcast and entertain me with a poor and slight voice? After listening to this, I’m not happier. Dīrghāyu the Scholar, are you not feeling ill or mentally troubled?’

“Dīrghāyu the Scholar said, ‘Sir, it’s not that I’m feeling ill. It’s just that I’m [533c] mentally troubled. Sir, my wife is sad and has this thought, “The fourfold army will be arrayed in formation with their armor and shields. They’ll draw their autumn swords and march serenely by. I want to watch it all, and I also want to drink the water from the sharpening of their blades.”

“‘I then replied to my wife, “You shouldn’t think that. Why is that? We are here now. What purpose is there in your watching the fourfold army arrayed in formation with their armor and shields, drawing their autumn swords, and marching serenely by, or for you to want to drink the water from the sharpening of their blades?”

“‘My wife again said to me, “Sir, if I can get this, I’ll have a chance to live. If I don’t get this, I’ll die for sure, without a doubt.” Sir, if my wife doesn’t survive, I won’t have a reason [to live], either.’

“The head priest asked, ‘Scholar, your wife can watch them, can’t she?’

“He replied, ‘Sir, she can only watch.’

“The head priest then led Dīrghāyu the Scholar to his wife. At that point, Dīrghāyu the scholar’s wife was pregnant with a virtuous child. Because he saw that Dīrghāyu’s wife was pregnant with a virtuous child, the head priest knelt on his right knee and faced Dīrghāyu’s wife with his palms together. He proclaimed three times, ‘Born of the Kośala king, born of the Kośala king!’ He then instructed [everyone] to the left and right, ‘Now, don’t let anyone else know!’

“The head priest then told him, ‘Scholar, you mustn’t be sad. I can make it possible for your wife to see the fourfold army arrayed in formation with their armor and shields, draw their autumn swords, and march serenely by, and she’ll be able to drink the water from the sharpening of their blades.’

“The head priest then went to Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi. When he arrived, he said, ‘Heavenly king, you should know that a virtuous star has appeared. If it pleases the heavenly king, let the fourfold army be adorned and arrayed in formation with their armor and shields. Let them draw their autumn swords and direct the to march serenely. Let that shining army so dignified sharpen their blades with water. If it pleases the heavenly king, he could go out and watch them himself. Heavenly king, if this were done, it would surely bring good fortune.’

“King Brahmadatta then ordered his chief military minister, ‘Minister, you should know now that a virtuous star has appeared. It would be fitting for you to order the fourfold army to be adorned and arrayed in formation with their armor and shields. Have them draw their autumn swords, direct them to march serenely. Let that shining army so dignified sharpen their blades with water. I will come out to watch them myself. If this were done, it would surely bring good fortune.’

“The chief military minister then accepted the king’s instructions. The fourfold army was adorned and arrayed in formation with their armor and shields. They drew their autumn swords and were directed to march serenely. That shining army so dignified sharpened their blades with water, and Brahmadatta then went out to watch them himself.

“As a result of this, Dīrghāyu the scholar’s wife was able to see the fourfold army arrayed in formation [534a] with their armor and shields, draw their autumn swords, and be directed to march serenely. That shining army so dignified. She also was able to drink water from the sharpening of their blades. After drinking the blade-sharpening water, her sadness was dispelled. She gave birth to a virtuous son, and they named him Prince Dīrghajāti. They entrusted him to someone to be raised in secret.

“After he grew up, if he had been among the aristocratic kings born from the crown, Prince Dīrghajāti would have governed the world under heaven and obtained a great empire. His various skills included elephant riding, horseback riding, driving, galloping, archery, boxing, net throwing, hook throwing, chariot riding, and sitting in a palanquin. Such various and marvelous skills were all known to him. Whatever kind of subject it was, his wondrous understand of it was extraordinary. He was determined to surpass the world, and his intelligence was outstanding, subtle, and profound. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t comprehend.

“Brahmadatta then heard that Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala, had become a scholar, changed his name, and was living in Bārāṇasī. Brahmadatta ordered [everyone] left and right, ‘Quickly, all of you, go and collect King Dīrghāyu. Bind both his hands and make him run while beating a broken drum that sounds like a donkey braying. After you’ve gone everywhere [in the city], take him outside the city’s south gate and make him sit under a tall sign that questions his abdication.’

“[Everyone] left and right accepted his instructions. They then went and collected King Dīrghāyu, bound both his hands, and made him run while beating a broken drum that sounded like a donkey braying. After they’d been everywhere, they took him outside the city’s south gate and made him sit beneath a tall sign that questioned his abdication.

“Prince Dīrghajāti hurried to follow after his father. Sometimes while among [everyone] left and right, he said to his father, ‘Fear not, heavenly king! Fear not, heavenly king! I am here! Surely, I can save you! Surely, I can save you!’

“King Dīrghāyu told him, ‘Be tolerant, Prince! Be tolerant! Don’t bind yourself with hate! Only act with kindness!’

“Hearing this, the crowd asked King Dīrghāyu, ‘What sort of principle is that?’

“The king answered the crowd, ‘This prince is intelligent. He’s sure to understand my words.’

“It was then that Prince Dīrghajāti implored the well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī, ‘Gentlemen, practice generosity and cultivate merit in order to chant this invocation for Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala: ‘With this gift of merit, may King Dīrghāyu be granted well-being and gain his freedom!’

“The well-to-do families in Bārāṇasī who were implored by Prince Dīrghajāti then practiced generosity and cultivated merit in order to chant this invocation for Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala: ‘With this gift of merit, may King Dīrghāyu be granted well-being and gain his freedom!’

“King Brahmadatta heard, ‘The well-to-do families in Bārāṇasī are practicing generosity and cultivating merit in order to chant this invocation for Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala: [534b] ‘With this gift of merit, may King Dīrghāyu be granted well-being and gain his freedom!’

“Hearing this, he was so frightened that his hair stood on end. ‘I can’t allow these well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī turn against me! If that’s the case, it would be fitting that I act swiftly and put an end to this before [they do].’ King Brahmadatta thereupon ordered [everyone] left and right, ‘Quickly! Go kill Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala, and chop him into seven pieces.’ [Everyone] left and right accepted his instructions. They went quickly, killed King Dīrghāyu, and chopped him into seven pieces.

“Prince Dīrghajāti thereupon implored the well-to-do families in Bārāṇasī, ‘Gentlemen, look at this! Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi, is violent and unprincipled! He took my father Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala, who was an innocent man. He captured his kingdom, storehouses, and treasures and killed him with hateful cruelty. He was chopped into seven pieces!

“‘Gentlemen, please go and collect my father with a fresh cotton cloth and gather up the seven pieces of his corpse; make a pile of wood, all incense and fragrant wood, and cremate him. Then go stand in the king’s court and read this statement that I will write. Tell Brahmadatta, ‘The king of Kośala is Prince Dīrghajāti. He has made this statement: “Aren’t you afraid of the future troubles that the descendants [of Dīrghāyu] will cause you?”’

“The well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī then did as they were asked by Prince Dīrghajāti. They collected the seven pieces of [the king’s] body with a fresh cotton cloth, made a pile of fragrant wood, and cremated him. They went and stood in the court, reading the statement to Brahmadatta that said, ‘The king of Kośala is Prince Dīrghajāti. He has made this statement: “Aren’t you afraid of the future troubles that [the king’s] descendants will cause you?”’

“King Dīrghāyu’s wife then told Prince Dīrghajāti, ‘You should know that this Brahmadatta, the king of Kāsi, is violent and unprincipled. He took your father Dīrghāyu, the king of Kośala, who was an innocent man. He captured his kingdom, storehouses, and treasures and killed him with hateful cruelty. He was chopped into seven pieces! Prince, come! Together we’ll ride in a single chariot and flee from Bārāṇasī. If you don’t leave, disaster will befall you.’ King Dīrghāyu’s wife and Prince Dīrghajāti then fled from Bārāṇasī riding in a single cart.

“It was then that Prince Dīrghajāti had this thought, ‘I would rather go to villages and towns to study and learned broadly.’ After thinking this, Prince Dīrghajāti traveled to villages and towns, studying and learning broadly. Because he became widely learned, he changed his name to Dīrghajāti the Scholar.

“Dīrghajāti the Scholar again [534c] had this thought, ‘I’ve learned what there was to learn. I would rather go to Bārāṇasī and stand on the streets and in the markets as an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. After listening to me, the well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī will be happier and amuse themselves.’ After thinking this, Dīrghajāti the Scholar then went to Bārāṇasī and stood on the streets and in the markets as an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. After they thus heard him, the well-to-do families of Bārāṇasī were happier and amused themselves.

“Thereupon, King Brahmadatta’s outer retinue heard of him, as did his middle retinue and inner retinue. The kingdom’s head priest heard of him, as did King Brahmadatta in his turn. He then asked for a meeting.

“Dīrghajāti the Scholar then went to visit King Brahmadatta and stood before him as an entertainer with a cheerful countenance. After listening to him, King Brahmadatta was happier and amused himself. King Brahmadatta then told him, ‘Scholar, starting today, you can make use of my home. We will support each other.’

“Dīrghajāti the Scholar then made use of his home, and King Brahmadatta supported him. Later, he sought [the king’s] trust, and he was made a [royal] guard. A sword was given to the Dīrghajāti the Scholar.

“It was then that King Brahmadatta ordered his driver, ‘Can you prepare a horse carriage? I want to go out for a hunt.’ The driver accepted his instruction, immediately prepared a horse carriage, and returned when he was done. He said, ‘The horse carriage is ready. The heavenly king may do as he likes.’

“King Brahmadatta and Dīrghajāti the Scholar then rode out in the carriage together. Dīrghajāti the Scholar then had the thought, ‘This King Brahmadatta is violent and unprincipled. He took my father Dīrghāyu, the King of Kośala, who was an innocent man. He captured his kingdom, storehouses, and treasures and killed him with hateful cruelty. He was chopped into seven pieces! Now, I’d rather steer the carriage to leave the fourfold army behind in different places.’ After thinking this, Dīrghajāti the Scholar then steered the carriage, leaving the fourfold army behind so that each was in a different place.

“At that point, King Brahmadatta brashly walked along a muddy road. Oppressed by the wind and heat, he felt pained and thirsty. Exhausted, he wanted to lay down, so he did under the carriage. Using Dīrghajāti the Scholar’s knees as a pillow, he fell asleep.

“Dīrghajāti the Scholar then had this thought, ‘This King Brahmadatta is violent and unprincipled. He took my father who was an innocent man. He captured his kingdom, storehouses, and treasures and killed him with hateful cruelty. He was chopped into seven pieces! [535a] But on this day, it’s in my hands. It’s up to me to repay him for his hate.’ After thinking this, Dīrghajāti the Scholar drew his sharp sword and placed it on King Brahmadatta’s neck. He said, ‘Now I will kill you! Now I will kill you!’

“Dīrghajāti the Scholar again thought, ‘I will not do this. Why is that? I remember that day when my father was under the sign, and the end was near. He said to me, ‘Be tolerant, Prince! Be tolerant! Don’t bind yourself with hate! Only act with kindness!’ After remembering this, he lifted his sword and put it back in its sheath.

“King Brahmadatta was then dreaming, and he saw King Dīrghāyu’s son Prince Dīrghajāti holding a drawn sword to his neck, saying, ‘Now I will kill you! Now I will kill you!’ After seeing this, he was so terrified that his hair stood on end. He woke up suddenly and said to Dīrghajāti the scholar, ‘Now, you should know that in a dream I saw King Dīrghāyu’s son Prince Dīrghajāti holding a drawn sword to my neck, saying, “Now I will kill you! Now I will kill you!”’

“After hearing this, Dīrghajāti the Scholar said, ‘Don’t be afraid, heavenly king! Don’t be afraid! Why is that? I am that King Dīrghāyu’s son Prince Dīrghajāti. Heavenly king, I had the thought, “This King Brahmadatta is violent and unprincipled. He took my father who was an innocent man. He captured his kingdom, storehouses, and treasures and killed him with hateful cruelty. He was chopped into seven pieces! But on this day, it’s in my hands. It’s up to me to repay him for his hate.” Heavenly king, I drew my sword, put it on your neck, and said, “Now I will kill you! Now I will kill you!” But, heavenly king, I again thought, “I will not do this. Why is that? I remember that day when my father was under the sign, and the end was near. He said to me, ‘Be tolerant, Prince! Be tolerant! Don’t bind yourself with hate! Only act with kindness!” After remembering that, I lifted my sword and put it back in its sheath.’

“King Brahmadatta said, ‘Prince, you’ve said, “Be tolerant, Prince. Be tolerant.” I understand the meaning of that. but you also said, “Don’t bind yourself with hate. Act only with kindness.” What does that mean?’

“Dīrghajāti the prince answered, ‘Heavenly king, don’t bind yourself with hate and act only with kindness means precisely this.’

“After hearing that, King Brahmadatta said, ‘Prince, starting today, my rule of [your] kingdom will end with our conversation. Your father’s former kingdom will be restored and entrusted to you. Why is that? You’ve done what’s very difficult to do: You spared my life.’

[535b] “After hearing this, Prince Dīrghajāti said, ‘The heavenly king’s former kingdom is under the control of the king. I can return to my father’s former kingdom.’

“King Brahmadatta and Prince Dīrghajāti then rode back to Bārāṇasī together. Seated in the main palace, [Brahmadatta] addressed his ministers, ‘If any of you see the Kośala king’s son Prince Dīrghajāti, what will you do?’

“When they heard this, some ministers said, ‘Heavenly king, if we see him, we’ll lop off his hands.’ Others replied, ‘Heavenly king, if we see him, we’ll cut off his feet.’ Still others said, ‘We’ll end his life.’

“King Brahmadatta told the ministers, ‘You can look upon the Kośala king Dīrghāyu’s son Prince Dīrghajāti, for he is right here. Don’t harbor evil intent towards this prince. Why is that? This prince has done what’s very difficult to do: He spared my life.’

“Thereupon, King Brahmadatta used the royal bath to bathe Prince Dīrghajāti, anointed him with royal incense, and dressed him in royal clothes. He directed that he ride on a golden chariot seat and returned him to his former kingdom with his [father’s] wife.