Once upon a time, King Brahmadatta was ruling in Benares, in northern India. The Enlightenment Being was born as his son the prince. Being quite intelligent, he completed his entire education by the age of 16. So, at this early age, his father made him second in command.
In those days, most people in Benares worshipped gods. They were very superstitious. They thought gods caused things to happen to them, rather than being results of their own actions. So they would pray to these gods and ask special favours. They would ask for a lucky marriage, or the birth of a child or riches or fame.
They would promise the gods that, if their prayers were answered, they would pay them by making offerings to them. In addition to flowers and perfumes, they imagined the gods desired the sacrifice of animals. So, when they thought the gods had helped them, they killed many animals – goats, lambs, chickens, pigs and others.
The prince saw all this and thought, “These helpless animals are also subjects of the king, so I must protect them. The people commit these unwholesome acts due to ignorance and superstition. This cannot be true religion. For true religion offers life as it really is, not killing. True religion offers peace of mind, not cruelty.
“I fear these people believe in their superstitions too strongly to give them up. This is very sad. But perhaps their beliefs can at least be put to good use. Some day I will become king. So I must begin to make a plan to let their superstitions help them. If they must offer sacrifices, let them kill their own greed and hatred, instead of these helpless animals! Then the whole kingdom will benefit.”
So the prince devised a clever long term plan. Every so often, he rode in his grand chariot to a popular banyan tree just outside the city. This was a huge tree, where the people prayed and made offerings to a god they thought lived there. The prince came down from his chariot and made the same offerings as the others – incense, flowers, perfumes and water – but not animal sacrifices.
In this way he made a great show, and the news spread about his offerings. Pretty soon, all the people thought he was a true believer in the great god of the banyan tree.
In due time, King Brahmadatta died and his son became king. He ruled as a righteous king, and the people benefited. So all his subjects came to trust and respect him as a just and honourable king.
Then one day, he decided it was the right time to carry out the rest of his plan. So he called all the leading citizens of Benares to the royal assembly hall. He asked them, “Worthy ministers and loyal subjects, do you know how I was able to make sure that I would become king?” No one could answer.
He said, “Do you remember that I often gave wonderful sweet offerings to the great god of the banyan tree?” “Yes, our lord,” they said.
The king continued, “At each of those times, I made a promise to the powerful god of the tree. I prayed, ‘Oh mighty one, if you make me King of Benares, I will offer a special sacrifice to you, far greater than flowers and perfumes.’
“Since I am now the king, you all can see for yourselves that the god has answered my prayers. So now I must keep my promise and offer the special sacrifice.”
All those in the assembly hall agreed. They said, “We must prepare this sacrifice at once. What animals do you wish to kill?”
The king said, “My dear subjects, I am glad you are so willing to cooperate. I promised the great god of the banyan tree that I would sacrifice anyone who fails to practice the Five Training Steps. That is, anyone who destroys life, takes what is not given, does wrong in sexual ways, speaks falsely, or loses his mind from alcohol. I promised that, if any do these things, I will offer their guts, and their flesh and blood on the great god’s altar!”
Being so superstitious, all those in the hall agreed that this must be done, or the god would surely punish the king and the kingdom.
The king thought, “Ah, such is the power of superstition that these people have lost all common sense! They cannot see that, since the first training step is to give up killing, if I sacrificed one of my subjects, I would be next on the altar! And such is the power of superstition that I could make such a promise, and never have to carry it out!”
So, with full confidence in the power of superstition, the king said to the leading citizens, “Go into all the kingdom and announce the promise I made to the god. Then proclaim that the first one-thousand who break any of the training steps will have the honour of being sacrificed, to keep the king’s promise.”
Lo and behold, the people of Benares became famous for carefully practising the Five Training Steps. And the good king, who knew his subjects so well, sacrificed no one.