Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Past Life Prophecies (Sixteen Dreams)

Wisdom Quarterly (translation)
The Buddha flanked by protective nagas (

[Sixteen Dreams...] When the Buddha had reassured King Pasenadi and given prophecies to explain his 16 dreams, he added: “It was neither truth nor love that motivated your brahmin advisers to make the prophecies they did. It was greed and selfishness that led them to prescribe animal sacrifices.”

“You are not the first to have had these dreams,” the Buddha added. “They were dreamed by rulers in the past as well. Then, as now, brahmin advisers found in them a pretext for sacrifices.” At King Pasenadi’s request, the Buddha then recounted this story of the past:

Past Life Prophecies (Jataka 77 cont'd)
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisattva was born into a brahmin family in the North Country.

When he grew up, he renounced the world and became a hermit. Having attained a high level of meditation [jhana, "absorption"], he acquired supernatural powers.

One day, King Brahmadatta dreamed 16 mysterious dreams and asked his advisers about them. The brahmins, his court chaplains, explained that the dreams foretold catastrophe and began preparing great animal sacrifices.

Seeing this, one of the pupils of the chief brahmin, a youngster of considerable learning and wisdom, approached his teacher and said: “Master, you have taught me the Three Vedas. Don’t our sacred texts say that it is never a good thing to take life?”

“My dear boy,” answered his teacher, “this means money to us -- a great deal of money. Why are you so anxious to spare the king’s treasury?”

“Do as you will, Master,” he replied. “I will no longer stay here with you.” With those words he left the palace and went to the royal gardens.

That same morning the Bodhisattva had thought to himself, “If I visit the king’s garden today, I will save a great number of creatures from death.”


The young brahmin found the ascetic as radiant as a golden image sitting on the king’s ceremonial stone seat in the garden. He sat down at an appropriate distance, paid respects to the hermit, and entered into friendly conversation with him. The hermit asked the youngster if he thought the king ruled righteously.

“Sir,” he answered, “the king himself is righteous, but his brahmin advisers are leading him astray. The king consulted with them about the 16 dreams he had, and the brahmins jumped at the opportunity to offer blood sacrifices a the solution. Venerable sir, how good it would be for you to explain to the king the real meaning of his dreams! Your explanation will save many animals from cruel death!”

“I do not know the king, nor does he know me. If he comes here and asks me, however, I will tell him.”

“Please wait here, sir, and I will bring the king,” pleaded the young brahmin. He hurried to the king and told him there was a wondrous ascetic who would interpret his mysterious dreams. He pleaded with the king to pay the hermit a visit.

The king immediately agreed and went to the garden with his retinue. Paying respects to the ascetic, he sat down and asked if the ascetic could tell him what would come of his dreams.

“Certainly, sire,” he answered. “Let me hear the dreams as you dreamed them.”

The king proceeded to tell the dreams exactly as King Pasenadi told them to the Buddha.

“Enough,” said the Bodhisattva. “You have nothing to fear from any of these dreams.” Having reassured the king and having saved a great number of creatures from death, the hermit levitated in midair, taught the king to observe the Five Precepts, and concluded by saying: “From this time on, sire, do not join the brahmins in slaughtering animals for sacrifice!”

Remaining firm in the teaching he had heard and spending the rest of his days in alms-giving and other good works [merit, profitable karma benefiting oneself and others], the king passed away to fare according to his good deeds.

Bringing this story of the past to a conclusion, the Buddha said, “Sire, you too have nothing to fear from these dreams. Stop the animal sacrifice!” Then the Buddha identified the rebirths in the story by explaining, “Ananda was the king in those days, Sariputra was the young brahmin, and I was the hermit.”

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