King Pasenadi Kosala
King Pasenadi Kosala was the son of King Maha Kosala who reigned in the kingdom of Kosala, the capital of which was Savatthi. He had two consorts. His chief consort, Queen Mallika, was the daughter of a garland maker. His second consort, Vasabha Khattiya, was the daughter of Mahanama (one of prince Siddhatta’s cousins and Anuruddha’s brother) and a slave girl. He and Vasabha Khattiya had a son named Vidudhabha who, when he came of age, attempted to destroy the Sakyan race and capital.
King Kosala’s conversion from Brahmanism to the teachings of the Buddha seems to have occurred very early in the Buddha’s ministry. King Kosala had questioned the Buddha, and the Buddha had dispensed a very interesting sutta on four objects that should not be disregarded or overlooked: a warrior prince, a snake, a fire, and a Bhikkhu. The Buddha had then gone on to explain that a warrior prince, though young, may ruthlessly cause harm to others if enraged, just as would a small, poisonous snake. A little fire may produce a conflagration and even a young monk could be an Arahanth. The king had been inspired by this sermon and had taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. However, his Chief Queen, Mallika, a very devout follower of the Buddha, was largely responsible for his religious enthusiasm.
In the Samyutta Nikaya there are many discourses that the Buddha had dispensed for King Kosala. They have been compiled and preserved as the Kosala Samyutta. Once when the king was in the company of the Buddha, a group of ascetics with long hair, beards, and long nails had passed. The king had got up, respectfully saluted them, and introduced himself by saying that he was King Pasenadi Kosala. When they had passed he had approached the Buddha and inquired as to whether they were Arahanths or those who were striving for Arahanthship. The Buddha explained that it was difficult for ordinary persons to ascertain if a person is an Arahanth. He had then explained that it is by association that one can judge a person’s conduct, and only after a long time of association. He had then gone on to add that it is only a heedful and intelligent person who would be able to make such a distinction. His instruction is just as applicable today as there are among us many who hide impure thoughts behind a mantle of outward purity.
The Buddha said:
"Not by his outward guise is man well-known,
In fleeting glance let none place confidence.
In garb of refined, well-conducted folk
The unrestrained live in the world at large.
As a clay earing made to counterfeit,
Or a bronze halfpenny coated with gold,
Some fare at large, hidden beneath disguise,
On the surface comely and fair; within impure."
-- (Kindred Sayings 104-106)
By necessity the king was often at war to defend his kingdom. With wisdom, the Buddha consoled the defeated king and reminded him of the futility of conquest. His wisdom applies just as much today as it did over 2,500 years ago. The Buddha said:
"Victory breeds hatred,
The defeated lives in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat."
-- (Dhammapada 121)
On another occasion the king was victorious in battle and confiscated King Ajatasattu’s entire army, only sparing his life. When the Buddha heard of the king’s victory He explained to him that anger breeds anger and explained the law of cause and effect (kamma) by saying:
"A man may spoil another,
Just so far as it may serve his ends,
But when he’s spoiled by others,
He, despoiled, spoils yet again.
So long as evil’s fruit is not matured,
The fool does fancy, now’s the hour, the chance!
But when the deed eventually bears fruit,
He fareth ill.
The slayer gets a slayer in his turn,
The conquered gets one who conquers him.
The abuser wins abuse,
The annoy-er frets.
Thus by the evolution of the deed,
A man who spoils is spoiled again."
The Buddha’s advice to King Kosala on his disappointment when Queen Mallika gave birth to a baby girl is history making! The Buddha advised the king that a well brought-up girl could be even better than a son and counseled him to take care of her and bring her up with love and devotion. When she grew up, Queen Mallika’s daughter, Princess Vajira, became the Queen of Magadha. No religious teacher had made such a bold statement, especially in India at a time when women were considered to be inferior to men and often treated with disrespect.
The Buddha also helped the king overcome his grief at the death of his beloved grandmother by reminding him of the impermanence of all things. King Kosala approached the Buddha and informed Him that he would give anything within his means to save his grandmother, who was like a mother to him. The Buddha consoled him by saying,
"All beings are mortal, they end with death;
They have death in prospect.
All vessels wrought by the potter,
Whether they are baked or unbaked,
Are breakable - they end broken;
They have breakage in prospect."
Reminded of the impermanence of all phenomena King Kosala strengthened his mind and left.
Observing the generosity of the Buddha’s chief benefactor, Anathapindika, King Kosala decided to follow his example. He invited five hundred monks daily to the palace for their noonday meal. At the start he was very enthusiastic and arranged for everything with great fervor, but later, busy with state affairs, he left it to his servants to entertain the monks. After some time he was surprised to find that the monks were taking the food and giving it to other lay devotees, who in turn offered it back to the same monks. The king approached the Buddha and asked Him the reason for this strange behaviour by the monks.
The Buddha then informed King Kosala that his servants were offering the rich food in a careless manner. Often they insulted the monks and called them parasites and asked them to work and earn their own food. "The monks", He said, "were not comfortable in accepting the food under these conditions." The lay devotees, however, unable to afford such food to give to the monks themselves, were eager to use this opportunity and offered the food back with fervor. The Buddha then explained to the king that when persons like Anathapindika and Visakha gave to the monks they gave with great devotion and fervor, and the monks, who could sense their happiness in giving, were comfortable in accepting. They welcomed the monks and treated them as spiritual friends who lived for the welfare and benefit of all beings. He then said:
"A dish may be insipid or savory,
The food may be meager or abundant,
Yet if it is given by a friendly hand,
Then it becomes a delicious meal."
King Kosala was a strong supporter of the Buddha and used every opportunity to listen to the Dhamma. However, despite his benign and compassionate influence, his son, Vidudhabha, was a rebel. King Kosala had an unfortunate death at the hands of his cruel and greedy son.
The king often visited the Buddha to hear the Dhamma. When he did, he was in the habit of removing his crown at the monastery gate. The king then left some of his guards at the entrance to ensure the security of his crown. Vidudhabha, who was familiar with his father’s behaviour, used this opportunity to steal the crown. Seizing the crown, he had his men kill the king’s guards. He then left a servant at the entrance to inform King Kosala that he was now the ruler and that the king was no longer welcome in the kingdom.
The king was dismayed to hear from the servant about his son’s behaviour. Since it was late in the night and starting to get cold, he walked to a neighboring kingdom, but the city gates were closed for the night. He then walked back to Savathi hoping that his son would let him into the city, only to find the gates closed. The old king lay down in a hut outside the city gates in the extreme cold and wrapped his robe around him to keep warm. But his heart was weak. He could not tolerate the cold or the sorrow of his son’s conduct. King Kosala died in loneliness outside the city walls, in a hut, alone with one servant
Vidudhabha ruled the kingdom ruthlessly. On finding out that his mother was the daughter of a Sakyan prince and a slave girl and that his father had been tricked into marrying her, Vidudhabha was furious. Vowing to wash his hands in the blood of the Sakyans just as the chair which he had sat had been washed in milk to cleanse it of his non-Sakyan bloodline by the blue-blooded, arrogant Sakyans, Vidudhabha waged war. On his third attempt he killed the majority of the Sakyan royalty in Kapilavatthu. The remainder fled to form a new city. Vididhabha and his men in turn met their death on the banks of the river during a flash flood.