On his way down the road from Rajagaha, Siddhartha saw a cloud of dust rising in the distance. Soon a flock of sheep and goats came toward him out of the dust. At the back of the flock was one little lamb, struggling along with an injured leg.
In compassion, he picked it up and carried it along with the flock. He caught up with the shepherd and asked why he was moving his flock at midday, instead of in the cool of the evening. The shepherd explained that there was going to be a great sacrifice at the king's palace. These animals were all to be offered to the gods.
Siddhartha had been planning to go into the hills to join a group of ascetics. Instead, he followed the flock back toward the city. As he reached a central courtyard of the palace, a large crowd had gathered. To the side were many animals, waiting to be sacrificed. At the front was a high platform, on which were gathered many priests and courtiers. In the center was a high priest. And next to him was King Bimbasara! Just as Siddhartha arrived, the priest raised his knife to cut the throat of the first victim.
"No, Your Majesty!" shouted Siddhartha, as he sprang to the platform. "Do not let this continue!"
He removed the rope from the goat and set it free, and no one, not the king nor the priests, tried to stop him. Then the prince spoke:
"Your Majesty, reverend priests, life is a wonderful thing. Anyone can destroy it; but who can restore it? Every living thing loves its life, and fears death, as much as we do. Why should we use our power to rob them of that which we ourselves love so much? This is the law of karma: If we want mercy, we must show mercy.
"What gods, I wonder, would be delighted by blood? Can they be good gods? We would not consider him a good man who takes pleasure in suffering and death. Then how about the gods?
"No, if men wish to be happy, they cannot cause unhappiness in others, even in animals, even if they believe the gods expect it. The man who sows pain and suffering gathers it in the future."
Siddhartha spoke so gently, and yet so powerfully, that King Bimbasara declared there would be no more animal sacrifices in Maghada. The people should offer only flowers, fruit, cakes, and other bloodless things.
Again the king invited Siddhartha to stay; again Siddhartha said no, he must be on his way.
- Why do you think the priests allowed this "beggar" to get away with such outrageous behavior?
- Does Siddhartha's argument in this story remind you of Devadatta and the Swan?
- Discuss the "law of karma" described here. What other meanings does it have?