[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Jataka Tales unit. Story source: Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie L. Shedlock (1920).
The King Who Saw the Truth
LONG, long ago the Wisdom Child that should in time become the Buddha was born a King. He was kind and generous, distributing all sorts of alms to the poor; nor did he leave the work to those under him: he took a personal part in the giving of the gifts—and nearly every day came himself to the Alms Hall to see that none went away empty-handed.
But one morning, as he lay meditating on what he still might do for his people, he began to feel that, after all, he had done no very great thing, and he said: "I have given to my people only outside things—the mere gold and silver and raiment and food that I can well spare, and lo! this giving brings me no joy. If I could only give my people part of myself—some precious thing which would show my love for them—whatever it might cost me! And if to-day, when I go down to the Alms Hall, one should say, 'Give me thy heart,' then, in truth, I will cut open my breast with a spear, and, as though I were drawing up a water-lily from a calm lake, I will pull forth my heart. If he asks my flesh and blood, behold I will give it to him. If he complain that there is no other to do his work, then I will leave my royal throne, and, proclaiming myself a slave, I will do the work of a slave—and, indeed, should any man ask for my eyes, the most precious gift of the gods, then will I tear them out as one might tear the pith from the palm-tree."
Then he bathed himself, and, mounted upon a richly caparisoned elephant, he rode down to the Alms Hall, his heart filled with love for his people.
Now Sakka, the King of the Gods, heard the resolve of the King, and he thought to test him, whether his words were vain; whether it were a sudden mood which would pass away when the moment came to carry out his stern resolution.
So, when the King came down to the Alms Hall, Sakka stood before him, in the guise of an old blind Brahmin, who, stretching out his bands, cried out: "Long live the King!"
And the King made sign for him to say what was in his heart.
"O great King," said the blind Brahmin—"in all the inhabited world there is no spot where the fame of thy great heart has not spread. I am blind, but thou, O King, hast two eyes—I therefore beseech thee, give me one, that I too may behold the glories of the Earth!"
Then did the King rejoice greatly that this opportunity should have come to him so quickly, but not wishing to show at once the joy he felt in his heart, he said: "O Brahmin, I pray thee tell me, who bade thee wend thy way to this alms-house? Thou askest of me the most precious thing that a man possesses, and lo! it is very hard to give!"
And the Brahmin made answer: "Behold, a god has sent me hither, and has told me to ask this boon."
And the King said: "Thy prayer is granted: thou didst ask for one eye, behold I will give thee both eyes."
And then the news spread quickly through the town that the King was about to give his eyes to a blind Brahmin, and the Commander-in-Chief and all the officials gathered together that they might turn the King from his purpose.
And they said: "O great King, are there not other gifts which thou canst bestow upon this sightless Brahmin—money, jewels, elephants with cloth of gold? Why shouldst thou give to him that most precious of gifts, thy royal eyes?"
And the King said: "Behold, I have taken this vow, and I should be sinful if I were to break it."
And the courtiers said: "O King, why doest thou this thing? Is it for Life, or Beauty or Strength?"
The King answered: "It is for none of these things: it is for the joy of giving."
Then the King bid the Surgeon do his work. And when one of his eyes was taken out, he gave it to the Brahmin, and it remained fixed in his socket like a blue lotus flower in bloom. And the King said: "The eye that sees all things is greater than this eye," and, being filled with ecstasy of joy, he gave the second eye.
And after many days and much suffering, the King's sight was restored to him—not the natural eyes which see the things around—but the eyes which see perfect and absolute Truth.
And he reigned in righteousness and justice, and the people learnt of him pure wisdom.