BHOJĀJĀNĪYA JĀTAKA (NO. 23)
FEAR OF MORTALITY, WHEN LOST, IMMORTALITY IS WON
While residing in Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha told this story to a monk who gave up persevering.
Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the future Buddha was born as a thoroughbred Sindh horse and made the king’s warhorse. Once, seven kings surrounded Benares and sent a message to the king, saying, “Either you surrender your kingdom to us or we go to battle.” The king sent for his knight and said to him, “Can you fight the seven kings?” The knight said, “Give me your noble warhorse and then I can fight not seven kings only, but all the kings in India.” The king replied, “My dear knight, take my horse or any other horse that you please and do battle.”
Mounted on the royal steed, the knight made his way out of the city gate and with a lightning charge broke down the first camp, took one king alive and brought him back as a prisoner. Returning to the field, he broke down the second and the third camps and so on until he captured all five kings alive. He had just defeated the sixth camp and captured the sixth king, when the warhorse was badly wounded. Perceiving that the horse was hurt, the knight loosened its mail and set about arming another horse.
“My rider,” thought future Buddha to himself as he laid on his side, “is arming another horse. That other horse will never be able to break down the seventh camp and capture the seventh king. He will lose all that I have accomplished. This peerless knight will be slain and the king, too, will fall into the hands of the foe. I alone and no other horse, can break down that seventh camp and capture the seventh king.”
So, as he lay there, he called to the knight and said, “Sir Knight, there is no horse but I who can break down the seventh camp and capture the seventh king. I will not throw away what I have already accomplished. Set me upon my feet and clad me again in my armour.” The knight had the future Buddha set upon his feet, bandaged his wound and armed him again. Mounted on the royal warhorse, he broke down the seventh camp and brought back alive the seventh king whom he handed over to the custody of the soldiers. They also led the future Buddha up to the king’s gate. The Great Being said to the king, “Great king, slay not these seven kings; bind them by an oath and let them go. Let the knight enjoy all the honour due to us both, for it is not right that a warrior who has presented you with seven captive kings should be brought low. And as for yourself exercise charity, keep the precepts and rule your kingdom in righteousness and justice.” When the future Buddha had thus exhorted the king, they took off his mail. When they were taking it off piece by piece, he passed away.
In that life, future Buddha was the horse, Sāriputta was the knight, Ānanda was the king. At the end of the discourse, the monk who gave up persevering, attained Arahantship.
What is the method of learning of a Mahapurisa? It is an ancient teaching which integrates Listening, Contemplating, Meditating on the Buddha’s words into one great system that elevates the aspiring Mahapurisa to a life-long learning and cultivation which enables him to confront the ever impending, overwhelming and complex conditionalities. Finally, a person becomes a Mahapurisa, a Great Being, who has triumphed over all forms of personal trials and “accomplished all that has to be accomplished”. This method of learning actuates a Mahapurisa, through a comprehensive system, to accumulate the necessary merits which are essential to expedite the full blossoming of a great personality to serve the world.
The future Buddha, even as an injured war horse, could unconditionally sacrifice his life to defeat the seven rival kings. The war horse’s noble sacrifice may have won the war for his country but the acme of this war was the victory over his personal fear of mortality and later, the people’s fear of life and death. Every dramatic personal trial as depicted in the Jātaka tales, transforms a Mahapurisa’s circumstantial experiences into the vast realisation of unconditioned Nibbāna, thus, truly benefitting him and the people closely connected to him.
In Bhojājānīya Jātaka, as the king’s war horse,
the future Buddha valiantly and tirelessly fought
in order to fulfil his master’s task
of capturing six of the seven attacking kings.
Then, though fatally wounded, he saw that conditionally
only he could capture the seventh king.
He could foresee that if another war horse was used,
the whole war would be lost by his king.
With such knowledge of conditionality,
he willingly finished his task of capturing the last king.
Later, he made his king release all of them
to convey the simple truth
that there is no true enemy
as one is only circumstantially so.
The future Buddha, the courageous war horse,
while sacrificing his life,
also meaningfully paved the way for the warrior knight,
ensuring him victory and great fame,
and due rewards and honour from the king.
The future Buddha, the loyal war horse,
was not independent of the knight,
they were co-dependent on each other in the war.
Hence, without the knight, the warhorse could not be victorious.
Therefore the knight and horse were equal in status to be given due respect, honour and consideration.
The seven kings symbolize the various aspects of ‘self’,
which have to be conquered,
not to be killed but to be ‘released’,
to be conditioned and unconditioned,
in order to be totally at ease.
The purpose of this training
is to ‘bind’ the various aspects of ‘self’,
by strong oath to work towards true awakening.
It is as though one is knighted with
the seven factors of enlightenment,
to become a warrior charging out of Samsāra.
This triumphant story awakened the monk who had given up persevering, to Arahanthood.