DUMMEDHA JĀTAKA (NO.50)
WISE TRICKERY TRANSFORMS FOOLS
The Buddha told this story while at Jetavana Monastery.
A long time ago, in Benares the future Buddha was reborn as a prince called Brahmadatta. Prince Brahmadatta was learned in the three Vedas and had excelled in the eighteen branches of knowledges. Due to his outstanding performance, his father, the king, appointed him as the Governor of Benares.
Whilst in Benares, the prince noticed that the people there were inclined towards festivals of worshipping gods. During those festivals, besides flowers and perfumes, large numbers of gory carcasses of sacrificed animals were offered to the gods. The prince witnessed how lives were wantonly sacrificed out of superstition and almost to the point of irreligion.
Motivated by compassion for the people who indulged in killing and the animals that were being sacrificed, the prince made a wish that should he succeed as the king, he would find a harmless way to stop such practices. With that in mind, he mounted his chariot and drove out of the city of Benares. On his way out, he saw a crowd gathered at a holy banyan tree. They were praying to the fairy residing in that tree to be blessed with sons and daughters, honour and wealth and so forth. The prince alighted from his chariot, approached the tree, and behaved as a worshipper only to the extent of making offerings of perfumes and flowers, sprinkling the tree with water and circumambulating the tree. Then, he got onto his chariot and went back to the city. From time to time, the prince made such repeated journeys and worshipped it like a true believer in ‘gods’.
When his father died, Prince Brahmadatta ascended the throne. As the ruler, he avoided the four evil courses, observed the ten royal virtues and ruled his people in righteousness. He then remembered his former resolve and felt that it was time to fulfil it. Summoning all his ministers, the religious leaders, the nobles and the other people of all ranks, he then asked them, “Do you know how I made myself the king?” His question went unanswered. He also asked if anyone had seen him reverently worshipping the banyan tree with perfumes and the like and bowing before it. To this, they said “Sire, we have”.
Next, he told them that he had made a vow before the tree. His vow was that should he become king, he would offer a sacrifice to that tree and now it was time to offer his promised sacrifice. He ordered that the sacrifice be prepared immediately. His subjects asked “Of what are we to make the offering, Sire?” “My vow”, said the king, “was this: All such as are addicted to the five sins such as those who slaughter living creatures and the like, and all those who walk in the ten paths of unrighteousness, their flesh and blood together with their entrails and vitals will be made as offering.” He then said, “Proclaim my vow through beat of drum that I, the king, had since my days as the governor vowed that should I become king, I would kill and offer up in a sacrifice, all such of my people who break the precepts.”
He further made a proclamation, “Let this be known throughout the city. The king will slay one thousand persons who are addicted to the five sins or walk in the ten paths of unrighteousness and offering shall be made with the hearts and flesh of the thousand in honour of the god. Declare in my name that anyone who transgresses after this date, a thousand will be slayed and offered as a sacrifice to the god in discharge of my vow.”
And to make his meaning clear, the king uttered this stanza:
“A thousand evil-doers once I vowed in pious gratitude to kill;
And evil- doers form so huge a crowd,
That I will fulfil my vow now.”
Obedient to the king’s commands, the ministers had the proclamation made accordingly throughout the length and breadth of Benares. Such was the effect of the proclamation on the townsfolk that not a soul persisted in the old inhumane practices. And throughout the king’s reign not a man was convicted of transgressing.
Thus, without harming any of his subjects, the king had made them observe the precepts. At the close of a life of alms-giving and other good works, he passed away with his followers to be reborn in the heavenly realms.
The Buddha’s disciples were the ministers of those days while the Buddha was the Prince Brahmadatta who became the king.
In this Jātaka tale, the future Buddha with full understanding of the necessity quality of Dependent Origination, used necessary evil to subjugate the evil inclinations of his subjects and to save lives.
The future Buddha manipulated the misguided ignorance of his subjects to skilfully stop them from blindly indulging in sacrificial rites of senseless killings by his empty threats of death. This was necessary to stop them from succumbing to the wrong ancient tradition that preyed on the fears of the people.
“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skilful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness’ — then you should enter and remain in them.”
Kalama Sutta illustrates that we should not succumb to our insecurities through the convenient deceptive solution of an all preconceived higher power: by reports, legends, traditions, scripture, logical conjecture, inference, analogies, agreement through pondering views, probability, or the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher’.
“God did not make man, man make gods”
The future Buddha, who saw the conditionality of the fear of his subjects, had skilfully used empty threats to save lives. Finally, misguided fear has to be successfully cornered to be transformed into empathetic compassion towards all living beings.
With great compassion,
the future Buddha navigated in all ways
to awaken different kinds of sentient beings.
Solely driven by the seed of
Mahā Karunā (Great Compassion),
he turned the fear of people into
great potential chariots of awakening,
even at the risk of tainting his pure virtue.
He acted like a politician who manipulated
the psychological fear and ignorance of the common folks.
He laid a policy that eventually saved them from
their cruel animal sacrificial rites to appease the gods.
With guarded awareness and mindfulness,
the future Buddha manipulated
the ignorant public mentality to awaken them.
He did not ignorantly consider himself more powerful
than gods or had transferred their supposed power
to himself as a leader.
Instead, the future Buddha eventually transformed
his own equipoise towards all conditionalities
into a higher aspiration of serving all sentient beings,
with the perfect respect for all conditionalities,
by honest and deceptive expedient means.
Hence, he was not trapped in indifference
towards all conditionalities.
If one does not use skilful ways and means
to accomplish the task of saving all sentient beings,
then, where is the great compassion amongst all virtue?
If one forgets that the crucial intention behind all these tasks
is to become the master of all conditionalities, only to awake,
where is the great omniscience amongst all wisdom?
 Anguttara Nikāya 3.65 Kesaputtiya (Kalama) Sutta Translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu