Life of the Buddha

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(Part Two) 14. King Pasenadi of Kosala Learns the Pain of Love (1)

King Pasenadi was the king of Kosala, which was north of Magadha ruled by King Bimbisara. The capital of the kingdom of Kosala was called Savatthi. One of King Pasenadi’s sisters was the chief queen of King Bimbisara, which made him the brother-in-law of King Bimbisara.

King Pasenadi of Kosala had become a follower of the Buddha very early in the Buddha’s ministry and had remained a loyal supporter ever since. His chief queen was Mallika, a wise and religious queen who was well versed in the Dharma and acted as his religious guide on several occasions.

The first time the king met the Buddha, he asked, “How is it that Master Gotama claims he has gained full enlightenment? Master Gotama is both young in years and young as a monk.”

The Buddha replied, “Great King, there are four things that should not be looked down upon and despised because they are young. They are a noble warrior, a serpent, a fire and a bhikkhu (monk). An enraged young warrior may ruthlessly cause harm to others. The bite of even a small snake may kill. A little fire may become a huge inferno that destroys building and forests. Even a young monk may be a saint.”

Hearing this, King Pasenadi of Kosala understood that the Buddha was indeed a wise teacher and decided to become his follower.

King Pasenadi liked going to the Buddha for advice. Even during his official duties, he found time to speak to the Buddha. When talking to the Buddha one day he received news that his wife, Queen Mallika, had given birth to a daughter. The king was not pleased with the news because he wanted a son.

The Buddha, unlike any other religious teacher, spoke well of women. He said, “Some women are better than men, O king. There are women who are wise and good, who regard their mothers-in-law as goddesses, and who are pure in word, thought and deed. They may one day give birth to brave sons who would rule a country.”

The king remembered then once hearing the Buddha say this: “It is the dear ones whom we love that bring sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair.” The king asked Queen Mallika whether she agreed with the Buddha. She said that if the Buddha had said so, it must be true. But the king was not satisfied. “How can a loved one bring sorrow?” wondered the king.

Queen Mallika approached a Brahmin to ask the Buddha to explain this. Having heard many stories to explain the problem, the Brahmin related them to the queen. She then asked the king, “Sire, what is your opinion, is Princess Vajira, your daughter, dear to you?”

“Yes, Mallika, she is very dear to me,” said the King.

“If some misfortune were to happen to Princess Vajira, would that bring sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair?”

“Yes,” said the King.

“Sire, it was because of this that the Blessed One said that dear ones whom we love bring sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair.”

“Mallika,” said the King, “it is wonderful, it is marvelous! How far the Blessed One sees with understanding.”

When King Kosala later lost in battle to his nephew and had to retreat to his capital at Savatthi, the Buddha commented to his disciples that neither the victor nor the defeated would experience peace:

“Victory breeds hatred.
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.”

In a later battle, the two kings fought again and King Kosala not only won, but captured his nephew King Ajatasattu alive with all his elephants, chariots, horses and soldiers. King Kosala thought that he would release the young king, but not his horses, elephants and others. He wanted the satisfaction of keeping these material possessions as the prizes of victory.

On hearing about this, the Buddha told his disciples that it would have been wiser for King Kosala not to have kept anything for himself. The truth of this statement still applies to this modern war-weary world:

“A man may plunder, as he will. When others plunder in return, he who is plundered will plunder in return. The Wheel of Deeds turns round and makes the ones who are plundered plunderers.”

King Pasenadi of Kosala passed away in his eightieth year when his son Vidudabha revolted against him.