Seventh Perfection: Truth.
Many years ago in the country that we now call India, the Bodhisatta was born into the royal family of the Kauravas. Because of His unusually handsome face the prince was named Sutasoma, which meant “as beautiful as the moon-god Soma”. Prince Sutasoma was extremely fond of learning and was renowned for His practice of religion. Before long He outshone His father in wisdom and virtue, whereupon the king transferred half of the kingdom to his son and made Him heir-apparent. The kingdom was well-governed by the father and son and the people lived in happiness and contentment.
It was a beautiful day in the month of May. The flowers were in bloom, adorning the trees in brilliant hues. Their fragrance and the merrymaking of the Princesses attracted the Prince who stepped out of the palace into the royal-garden. There, resting beneath a shade-giving tree, He enjoyed the tranquillity and serenity of the garden. A Brahmin, having heard of the Prince’s love of religious learning, approached Him and asked His permission to recite some stanzas which he felt the Prince would enjoy. With pleasure, the Prince invited the Brahmin to take a seat beside Him.
Before the Brahmin could speak the peace of the afternoon was shattered. Frightened guards rushed in to announce that Kamashapada the man-eater was storming through the city in search of one hundred princes. Kamashapada, who was the king of a small kingdom, had once had the misfortune of tasting human flesh. He so enjoyed the taste that he continued to indulge his craving by killing and eating his subjects. The enraged subjects banded together and vowed to destroy the king. The king ran into the forest and asked for the protection of the Rakshas, a man-eating tribe, in exchange for one hundred princes. Kamashapaga was now on a rampage, seeking the princes in order to keep his part of the pact.
The Bodhsatta realized that weapons could not subdue a man who had degraded himself so low as to kill his own subjects to satisfy his craving for human flesh. Instead, He decided to give Himself up and try to subdue Kamashapada through virtue. Prince Sutasoma walked calmly towards the man-eater and said, “Here I am. Take me and leave my poor subjects unharmed.” Seeing the Prince unarmed and on His own, Kamashapada grabbed Him, and throwing him over his shoulder, carried Him away into the forest.
Kamashapada set down the Bodhisatta in his stronghold amidst the carnage of dead bodies and broken skulls. The place reeked of death. Kamashapada sat back wondering at the beauty and gentleness of Prince Sutasoma.
The Prince at this time was reflecting in sorrow at the missed opportunity of learning as the disaster had struck just a the Brahmin was about to share his wisdom with Him. On hearing the Prince sigh, Kamashapada laughed and asked if He was grieving the loss of His kingdom, wealth, or family. The Bodhisatta then informed him that He grieved not for wealth or family but for the lost opportunity of learning. He then asked permission to go back and hear the words of the Brahmin, promising that He would come back unarmed to Kamashapada’s stronghold.
Kamashapada laughed and said, “And what motive would you have for coming back? If I release you, I will lose you.” The Bodhisatta, however, insisted that He would come back by saying, “The motive is my word, my promise that I hold sacred. I will not break my promise to you.” The man-eater’s curiousity was now aroused. He had already captured one hundred princes and could keep the pact even if he lost this Prince. He agreed and set the Bodhisatta free.
The people of the kingdom broke into joyous celebration when they saw the Prince walking back safe and unharmed. He sent for the Brahmin, and after listening to his wisdom prepared to go back to the stronghold of Kamashapada. The king was horrified and refused to let Him leave, but the Prince was adamant. The king then gathered the army and requested that they accompany the Prince into the forest. But the Prince refused the escort, saying, “I gave him my word, I must go alone and unarmed.” Amidst the tears and pleading of His family and subjects, the Prince returned to the stronghold of the man-eater.
When Kamashapada saw the Prince walking towards him unarmed and alone he was surprised and amazed. His curiousity aroused, he said, “I am in no rush to kill you. The funeral pyre still burns. Human flesh tastes best when roasted on glowing embers. So tell me, what was it that was so important that you learned from the Brahmin?”
The Prince then asked him what use the wisdom of virtue would be to one who believed only in evil. The enraged man-eater then ridiculed the Prince for His lack of political wisdom in coming back by saying that only a fool would come back after having been given His freedom. The Prince, however, countered the comments by saying that even more important than political wisdom is righteousness. “I gave you my word. It is more important that I keep my word than that I keep my kingdom.”
The subdued and humbled Kamashapada then sat down beside the Bodhisatta and begged Him to teach him the wisdom He had gained. The Bodhisatta agreed to teach him, saying, “It was through your release that I had the happiness of hearing this wisdom. Now share in my happiness.” He then repeated the words of the Brahmin:
“Meet but once a virtuous man
It will suffice to form a lasting friendship,
Depending not on further meetings.
From the virtuous keep not thyself remote,
But to follow and honour them, thyself devote.
He who approaches them cannot fail to become like them.
Such persons are like flower dust
Giving forth unknowningly the sweet perfume of noble words and deeds.
The ears of kings with jewels and gold
Lose with the jewels their beauty, growing old!
So strong a love of virtue pious men possess
That never does it fade but lives on to bless…”
Upon hearing these words the heart of the man-eater was suffused with happiness and he offered the Prince four boons. The Bodhisatta then asked for the following boons:
Take the vow of Truth.
Cease from injuring living beings.
Free all your prisoners.
Never again partake in human flesh.
Whereupon Kamashapada said, “You can have the first three, but the fourth I cannot give. I cannot give up the taste of human flesh. How can I give up the taste for which I gave up my kingdom?” The Bodhisatta then explained that in not keeping the fourth he had not kept the others either. For after promising a boon he now refused to keep his promise, which in itself was not truth.
With the help of the Bodhisatta, Kamashapada became a changed man. He freed the hundred princes and lived under the good influence of Prince Sutasoma for a while, after which he went back and reigned in his own kingdom. In keeping His promise to come back, the Bodhisatta completed the virtue of Truth. This is what He said with joy, on completing the virtue of Truth:
“I kept the promise I had made,
and gave my life in sacrifice.
A hundred warriors set I free.
In Truth have I, perfection reached.”
It must be said that the virtue of Truth is the highest of the ten virtues for it is the one virtue that a Bodhisatta keeps throughout the Kaya-panidhana kala. During this period it is possible for a Bodhisatta to err, as He is still a worldling and subject to wrongdoing; He does not, however, break the precept of Truth. The Seeker of Truth, a Buddha Aspirant, keeps the precept of Truth throughout the entire period, making Truth the most important of the ten virtues.
Continue to Eight Perfection: Determination.