|Structure of the Tipitaka|
Source: Adapted from Archaic translation by Robert ChalmersEdit
JATAKA No. 9
"Oh! these grey hairs."
--This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana monastery about the Great Renunciation, which has already been told in the Nidana-Katha.
On this occasion the Brethren(Monks) sat praising the Renunciation of the Lord of Wisdom. Entering the Hall of Truth and seating himself on the Buddha-seat, the Master thus addressed the Brethren(Monks):-"What is your theme, Brethren, as you sit here in gathering?"
"It is nothing else, sir, than the praise of your own Renunciation." "Brethren," replied the Master, "not only in these latter days has the Tathagata(Buddha) (*1) made a Renunciation; in past days too he similarly renounced the world."
The Brethren asked the Lord Buddha for an explanation of this. The Lord Buddha made clear what had been concealed from them by re-birth.
Once upon a time in Mithila in the realm of Videha there was a king named Makhadeva, who was righteous and ruled righteously. For successive periods of eighty-four thousand years he had respectively amused himself as prince, ruled as viceroy, and reigned as king. All these long years had he lived, when one day he said to his barber, "Tell me, friend barber, when you see any grey hairs in my head." So one day, years and years after, the barber did find among the raven locks of the king a single grey hair, and he told the king so. "Pull it out, my friend," said the king; "and lay it in my palm." The barber accordingly picked the hair out with his golden tongs, and laid it in the king's hand. The king had at that time still eighty-four thousand years more to live; but in spite of that at the sight of that one grey hair he was filled with deep emotion. He seemed to see the King of Death standing over him, or to be cooped within a blazing but of leaves. "Foolish Makhadeva!" he cried; "grey hairs have come upon you before you have been able to rid yourself of depravities." And as he thought and thought about the appearance of his grey hair, he grew flaming within; the sweat rolled down from his body; while his dress oppressed him and seemed intolerable. "This very day," thought he, "will I renounce the world for the Ascetic's life."
To his barber he gave the grant of a village, which yielded a hundred thousand pieces of money. He sent for his eldest son and said to him, "My son, grey hairs are come upon me, and I am become old. I have had my fill of human joys, and gladly would taste the joys divine; the time for my renunciation has come. Take the power to govern upon yourself; as for me, I will take up my dwelling in the garden called Makhadeva's Mango-grove, and there walk the ascetic's path."
As he was thus bent on leading the Ascetic's life, his ministers came near and said, "What is the reason, sire, why you adopt the Ascetics's life?"
Taking the grey hair in his hand, the king repeated this stanza to his ministers:-
Oh, these grey hairs that on my head appear
Are Death's own messengers that come to rob
My life. It is time I turned from worldly things,
And in the hermit's path seek lasting peace.
And after these words, he renounced his power to govern that self-same day and became a hermit. Living in that very Mango-grove of Makhadeva, he there during eighty-four thousand years nurtured the Four Perfect States within himself, and, dying with insight full and unbroken, was reborn in the Realm of Brahma(upper heaven). Passing from there, he became a king again in Mithila, under the name of Nimi, and after uniting his scattered family, once more became a hermit in that same Mango-grove, winning the Four Perfect States and passing from there once more to the Realm of Brahma(upper heaven).
After repeating his statement that he had similarly renounced the world in past days, the Master at the end of his lesson preached the Four Truths. Some entered the First Path(Trance), some the Second(Trance), and some the Third(Trance). Having told the two stories, the Master explained the relation between them and identified the Birth, by saying:-"In those days Ananda was the barber, Rahul the son, and I myself King Makhadeva."
(1) Tathagata (Tatha=gone beyond , Agata=came back) means the one who crossed over the material universe , went into that glorious, transcendental, non-material , unchanging, timeless, eternal state of salvation beyond death and yet came back to material world to tell the good news about the discovery of the path. Buddha is also known as Tathagata as a qualifier.