10 – The Sacrifice

10 – The Sacrifice

Those whose minds are virtuous cannot be seduced by the enticements of the wicked. Knowing this, strive to be pure in heart.

Long ago, the Bodhisattva, due to merit accrued during previous lives, was born a king. All the lesser rulers bowed before him, and so he ruled in peace, having no need to subdue either his own or other peoples. His claim to the throne was universally acknowledged, and his relations with other countries were calm and balanced. His land was free from every kind of disturbance, disruption, or disaster and all his subjects obeyed his commands without question.

Having subdued his only enemies, the senses, and having become totally unattached to the fruits of his own labors, the king had as his sole object the happiness of his subjects. And this he pursued with all his heart. Like a true Muni, he made the Dharma the only purpose of his actions. He also knew that human nature was drawn to emulate the highest, and so was particularly intent on the performance of his religious duties. In order to bring about the salvation of his people, he practiced giving and moral conduct, cultivated forbearance, and worked for the benefit of all sentient beings. With a countenance as mild as his thoughts, he appeared to his people to be an embodiment of the Dharma. – …

Despite such powerful protection, there came a year when the king’s realm was afflicted with a drought, due to both the laxity of the inhabitants and an oversight of the gods charged with the dispersion of rain. Convinced that some failure of his own or of his subjects had caused this calamity ― and taking to heart the distress of his people, whose welfare was the constant object of his thoughts and cares ― the king gathered together those elders renowned for their knowledge of religious matters and asked them for advice.

Led by the brahman priest and ministers of state, the elders told the king that he must offer a great sacrifice. “You must offer up many hundreds of animals,” they told him. “Such an offering is sure to bring the rain we need.” But the innate compassion of the king kept him from approving such slaughter. Discretely, unwilling to offend the elders by harsh words of refusal, he turned the conversation to other matters. Yet the very next time religious matters were discussed, the elders, unaware of the depths of the king’s compassion, again strongly urged him to initiate the sacrifice.

“You have always been fastidious in performing your royal duties,” they said. “You are skillful and steadfast in your observance of both religious and secular law, everything you have ever done has been done to benefit the people. How can it be that one so careful in such observances can be so careless, even lazy, when it comes to making the necessary sacrifice which is the ladder to the higher realms?

“Even other kings respectfully heed your words. Like your vassals, they are confident that following you will guarantee their success. Now the time has come: The most exalted blessings of this sacrifice will bring you great glory! Your performances of the rituals, your boundless charity and mindful restraint have prepared you for this undertaking. The Vedas prescribe sacrifice, so discharge your debt to the gods! When the gods are satisfied by a sacrifice faultlessly and properly performed, they will honor you in return with abundant rain.

“Think of your subjects’ welfare and of your own. Think of your renown. Think of these, and you will make the necessary sacrifice.”

The king pondered: “I am indeed badly served by such counselors. I could not follow their advice and still faithfully follow the Dharma; I would be untrue to all those who have faith in me. Truly, those who are proclaimed the best refuge among men are often those who do the most harm, all in the name of religion. Alas for any who follow such a path, for they end in desperate straits, surrounded by the evils they think to avoid!

“What connection can there possibly be between virtuous behavior and the killing of animals? How could the gods or those in the world of the gods ever find pleasure in acts of “slaughter? These men say that animals killed in sacrifice go directly to heaven, speeded on their way by the prayers of their murderers. In this way, they say, the act is performed according to the Law. Yet this has to be a lie. How can anyone ever reap the fruits of an action performed by another? A beast put to death on an altar has not abstained from wickedness or devoted itself to the practice of good by dying as, a sacrifice.

“If it were true that a victim killed in sacrifice obtained immediate celestial bliss, would not brahmans everywhere sacrifice themselves? Yet this does not happen. Who then could take such words seriously?

“As for the gods, the ambrosia they consume, served to them by lovely goddesses, is incomparably wonderful in scent and flavor, in magnificence and power. Would they abandon such fare to taste the guts of some hapless beast?

“Now is the time to act.”

And so, having made up his mind as to what he would do, the king enthusiastically pretended to take up the idea of a sacrifice.

“I am well served and thankful to have such counselors,” he told them. “You are all so intent on my happiness and protection! I will begin the sacrifice at once, by sacrificing one thousand humans. Let you, my officials, arrange it. Find the most appropriate ground on which to raise the sacrificial buildings, study the constellations and the lunar movements, the different times of day, even the hours, determine the most auspicious time to kill our victims, so that what we desire shall come to pass.”

Attempting to stall, the head priest replied: “Great King, to be successful, you must perform the necessary ablutions each time a sacrifice is performed. Furthermore, if the thousand victims are seized all at once, your subjects might become angry.”

All the other brahmans vehemently agreed to these words. But the king replied: “Do not worry about the people’s anger. I will take care to prevent any trouble.”

The king convened an assembly of representatives from both town and country and announced: “It is my intention to perform a sacrifice of one thousand citizens. But the sacrificial victims must be like animals. Only those who have done grave wrong will be sacrificed. I do not want to use anyone else. With this in mind, I give you fair warning: From this day onward, whoever transgresses the boundaries of right conduct, becoming a stain to family and a danger to country, will be instantly brought before me and prepared for sacrifice. To carry out this resolution, I now dispatch sharp-eyed emissaries, faultless and careful, to report your behavior directly to me.”

The principal members of the assembly put their joined palms to their foreheads and bowing, replied: “Everything you have ever done has been done for the happiness of your subjects. How could we oppose your will, Oh Lord of men? Your deeds are esteemed even by Brahma. You, the authority of the virtuous, are our highest authority. Since you are satisfied with nothing but our enjoyment and our good, anything that pleases you pleases us as well.”

And so, throughout the towns and countryside, the king dispatched emissaries who were charged with apprehending all evildoers. Everywhere and every day proclamations were issued to the beat of drums, bidding all to listen well: “The king, as guardian of security, promises safety and freedom to all who cultivate honesty and good conduct.

“But a drought is ravaging our lands. In order to help the people, a sacrifice of a thousand men must be made. Therefore, whoever disregards the command of our monarch, whoever delights in wrongdoing, shall, by the force of their own actions, be transformed into sacrificial victims. When their bodies are fastened to the sacrificial post, all shall witness their miserable suffering, their searing pain.”

Hearing this proclamation and witnessing the king’s men day after day soon led the inhabitants of the realm to abandon any attachment to wrongdoing. All the citizens grew intent on observing the moral precepts and exercising self control, so that every occasion of hatred or enmity was strictly avoided, and every quarrel or difference was settled in mutual love and esteem.

Children obeyed their parents and teachers. Hospitality, good manners, modesty, and a general spirit of charity and good will prevailed, and the undiminished watchfulness of the king’s servants strengthened the people’s resolve not to stray from right action. Fear of death awakened thoughts of the next world; fear of tarnishing the honor of their families awakened a desire to guard their reputations. The purity of their hearts was strengthened by their sense of shame, and they were soon all ornamented by spotless virtue.

Learning of these improvements in the people’s way of living from his emissaries, the king rejoiced, and expressed his great happiness to those who brought him the good news. To his ministers he said:

“The protection of my subjects has always been my highest aim. Now, by the purity of their lives and the holiness of their conduct, my people have themselves become worthy to receive the gifts of sacrifice. Now my ultimate intention can be made known: Let anyone who seeks to fuel his happiness by wealth come and accept all he wishes from my hand. In this way true sacrifice will be performed, and the blight of distress and poverty will be banished from the land.

“With your assistance, I will protect the people. I cannot bear their poverty; it burns in my mind like a raging fire.”

The ministers, following the royal command, constructed alms-halls in all the villages, towns, and markets, and at all the stations on the roads. Day and night all the poor were provided with whatever they desired. Poverty disappeared, and the people, now prosperous, clothed themselves in fine garments and precious jeweled ornaments in the manner of festival days. The king’s fame, glorified by those who had been poor, spread in all directions, just as the pollen of lotuses spreads over ever-wider areas, riding on the small waves of a lake.

Due to the wise measures of the king, all his subjects now grounded their lives in virtue, and the powers of evil faded away. The seasons succeeded one another in due course, gladdening everyone with their regularity. The earth produced all kinds of food in abundance. Pure blue water and lotuses filled the water basins, and medicinal herbs blossomed with greater potency than ever before. Plagues and calamities passed away; the monsoons came in due time, and the planets moved in auspicious paths. Due to the balance of all elements, there was no danger to be encountered anywhere ― nothing to fear at home or abroad.

The people of that land indeed enjoyed the wonders of a Golden Age, for their practice of virtue, self-control, good conduct, and modesty continued unabated. The strength of the king’s sacrifice, performed in accordance with the spirit of the law, put an end to the sufferings of the poor. The country teemed with a thriving and happy populace, and the people never wearied of extolling the virtues of their king. And so his fame extended in all directions.

One day a high royal official whose heart had been more than delighted by these occurrences said to the king: “In always seeing to the needs of your people, both great and small and in between, Your Majesty’s wisdom grows greater and greater, surpassing that of any sage. As a result of your sacrifice performed in righteousness, free from the evil of animal slaughter, you have ensured the happiness of your subjects in both this world and the next.

“The days of drought and poverty are over; all suffering has been eased. Need I say more? Your subjects are happy, and fortune reigns supreme. Like the moon you are without blemish. You shine with a clear pure light; you shine with the moral force and beauty of the initiate. Your actions as head of state and head of spiritual matters have been without defect.

“You surpass in your majesty even Shakra, the Lord of One Hundred Sacrifices. Sacrifices performed for a specific goal are most often acts of vileness, entailing injury to living beings. Your sacrifices, on the other hand, are a monument to your glory, performed in complete accordance with your moral rectitude and your aversion to harm. Happy are the people who have you as protector! No father could be a better guardian to his children!”

And another royal official praised the king: “The powerful and wealthy usually only practice charity when there is hope of great recompense. Their good conduct results from the desire for renown or for a place in heaven. But the kind of charity and moral conduct that you have shown comes forth only for the sake of others. It exists only in the wise and virtuous.”

From this story one can see how those whose minds are pure cannot be enticed by the wicked. Knowing this, strive for purity. This is also a helpful teaching for princes, to whom it can be said: “Whoever wishes his subjects well and strives for their welfare, brings about salvation, glory, and happiness. This is the true business of kings.

Furthermore, the prince who strives for prosperity ought to act in accordance with the Dharma, as the virtuous conduct of his subjects is the true source of prosperity.”

It can also be said: “Killing animals will never lead to happiness. Rather, charity, self-restraint, continence, and the like have this power. For this reason he who longs for happiness must devote himself to these virtues.”

This story is also to be told when expressing the qualities of the Tathagata, to show how the Bhagavat, in all his previous existences, dedicated himself to acting for the benefit of all beings.