Two) 13. The Tragedy of King Bimbisara
Bimbisara had a son, Prince Ajatasattu, who was a good friend
of the Buddha's enemy, Devadatta. The two spent much time together
and soon Devadatta had convinced the young prince to kill his
silent and dark night, Prince Ajatasattu crept into the king's
room with a knife tied to his thigh. He was creeping toward
his sleeping father when the palace guards caught him and the
king discovered the plan. Kind King Bimbisara thought to himself,
"Ah, I have remained king for too long. It is time for me
to step down and make Ajatasattu king so that he can rule in
peace, and I can retire into a religious life." Instead
of punishing Ajatasattu for his evil intentions, King Bimbisara
made him king.
Ajatasattu was made the new king he surprised everyone, including
his father. Swift like a viper caught by its tail, he sprang
round against his father and had him thrown into the darkest,
coldest dungeon in the palace.
"Let him have no visitors other than my mother," ordered
Ajatasattu. "And give him no food so that he will starve
King Bimbisara did not die. His loyal wife secretly brought
him food hidden in her clothes. When Ajatasattu found out and
stopped this, she carried food in her hair knot. Again Ajatasattu
found out. Finally, the queen had to bathe her body and cover
it with a mixture of honey, butter, ghee and sugar. By licking
this food off her body, the good king survived. At last Ajatasattu
found out his mother's plan and banned her from visiting his
father at all. Now the king had no food at all to sustain him
and would surely die.
passed and still the king did not die. Ajatasattu lost his patience
and shouted out in rage, all through the palace, "Call
the barber came, the king spoke to him in a fury, "I command
you to go to Bimbisara's cell, cut open the soles of his feet
with your razor, tear the skin away and put salt and oil on
the raw flesh. Then I command you to force him to walk on burning
charcoal until he dies."
King Bimbisara saw the palace barber approaching, tears of joy
watered his cheeks as he thought, "At last my son has realised
his folly. Now he sends a barber to trim my beard and cut my
hair before releasing me from prison." Instead, with the
help of two soldiers, the barber carried out the orders of the
new king Ajatasattu and the good king died in great pain.
that very day, Ajatasattu received news that his wife had given
birth to a son. Great was his joy at being a father and a thought
came to his mind. He hurried to his mother and asked, "Tell
me mother, did my father love me as much as I love my son?"
mother turned around, stared at him in silence with her sorrowful
eyes and then murmured in disbelief, "What did you say,
Ajatasattu? You asked if your father loved you?"
when you were in my womb, I wanted to drink blood from your
father's hand. When he found this out, happily he cut his wrist
for me to drink his blood for you. When the fortune-tellers
predicted that you would be your father's enemy, I tried to
have a miscarriage but he prevented me. Again I tried to kill
you when you were born; he stopped me even though he knew that
one day you would kill him. Is that not love?
you see that scar on your thumb? That was a boil you had when
you were small. You were crying from so much pain that nobody
could put you to sleep. When your father heard this, he stopped
from his royal duty and came running to see you. Gently he took
you in his lap and sucked the boil until it burst open in his
mouth. Oh my son, your father swallowed it out of love for you
that pus and blood. In what way did he not love you,
Ajatasattu? Tell me, Ajatasattu, would you do for your son what
your father did for you? This man who loved you, this man who
you have killed."
he heard this, Ajatasattu was choked with tears. He ordered
his guards, "Run, run and release my father before he dies."
But none of them moved. "Go, I command you. Release my
father before he dies," Ajatasattu shouted.
his adviser stepped forward and said slowly, "Great king,
your father died this morning." Ajatasattu fell to his
knees and cried until his body jerked violently, uttering over
and over, "Forgive me, father. Please forgive me."
realised the love of a father only when he became a father himself.
As for King Bimbisara, he was reborn as a deva in the Catummaharajika