"Life once conceived,"--This story the Master told about the Great Renunciation. Here again he said, "This is not the first time, Brethren, that the Tathagata has made the Great Renunciation, for he did the same before." And he told them a story of the past.
"Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta reigned in Benares, the queen consort conceived, and when her full time was come she brought forth a son just after dawn of day. Now in a former existence, another wife of the same husband had prayed that she might be able to devour the child of this woman; she, it is said, was barren, and being angry with mother and son uttered this prayer, for which cause she came into being as a goblin. The other became the king's consort, and brought forth this son. Well, the she-goblin found her chance, and putting on a horrific shape caught up the child from under the mother's eyes and made off. The queen screamed with a loud voice--'A goblin is carrying off my son!' The other champed and mumbled him like an onion, and swallowed him down; then after various transformations of her limbs, which annoyed and frightened the queen, departed. When the king heard, he was dumb: what could be done, thought he, against a goblin?
"Next time the queen was in childbed, he set a strong guard about her. She bore another son; the goblin again came, and devoured him too, and departed.
"The third time it was the Great Being conceived in her womb. The king gathered a number of people together, and said: 'Each son my queen has brought forth, a she-goblin comes and devours him. What is to be done?' Then some one said, 'Goblins are afraid of a palm-leaf; you should bind one such leaf on each of her hands and feet.' Another said, 'It is an iron house they fear; one should be made.' The king was willing. He summoned all the smiths in his realm and bade them build him an iron house, and set overseers over them. Right in the town in a pleasant place they built a house; pillars it had, and all the parts of a house, all made of nothing but iron: in nine months there it stood finished, a great hall foursquare: it shone, lighted continually with lamps.
"When the king knew that she drew near her time, he had the iron house fitted up, and took her into it. She brought forth a son with the marks of goodness and luck upon him, and they gave him the name of Ayoghara-Kumara, the Prince of the Iron House. The king gave him in charge to nurses, and placed a great guard about the place, while he with his queen made the circuit of the whole city rightwise, and then went up to his magnificent terrace. Meanwhile the she-goblin wanting water to drink had been destroyed in trying to fetch some of the water of Vessavana.
"In the iron house the Great Being grew up, and increased in wisdom, and there also he was educated in all the sciences.
"The king asked his courtiers, 'What is my son's age?' They replied, 'He is sixteen years old, my lord: a hero, mighty and strong, fit to master a thousand goblins!' The king determined to place the kingdom in his son's hands. He had the city decorated, and gave order that the lad be brought to him out of the iron house. The courtiers obeyed: all Benares was decorated, that great city of twelve leagues in extent; they decked out the state elephant in magnificent caparison, and dressed the boy in his best, and placed him upon the elephant's back, saying, 'My lord, make a circuit rightwise about the rejoicing city, your inheritance, and salute your father the King of Kasi; for this day you shall receive the White Umbrella.' The Great Being made his ceremonial circuit rightwise, and seeing the beautiful parks, the beautiful colors, lakes, plots of ground, all the beautiful houses and so forth, thought thus within himself: 'All this while my father has kept me close in prison, never let me see this city so richly adorned. What fault can there be in me?' He put this question to the courtiers. 'My lord,' they said, 'there is no fault in you; but a she-goblin devoured your two brothers, therefore your father made you live in an iron house, and the iron house has saved your life.' These words made him think again, 'For ten months I was in my mother's womb, as it might have been the Hell of the Iron Caldron or the Hell of Dung; and when I came forth from the womb, for sixteen years I dwelt in this prison, never a chance of looking outside. Though I have escaped the hands of the goblin I am neither free from old age nor death. What care I for royalty? Once established in the royal place it is hard for one to get away. This very day will I ask my father's leave to embrace the religious life, and I will go to Himalaya and do so.'
"Accordingly after his procession about the city was over, he went to the king's palace, and saluted the king, and stood waiting. The king seeing his bodily beauty, looked at his courtiers with strong love in his eyes. 'What do you wish us to do, Sire?' they asked. 'Take my son and put him on a pile of jewels, sprinkle him from the three conchs, uplift the White Umbrella with its festoons of gold.' But the Great Being saluted his father, and said, 'Father, I want nothing to do with royalty. I wish to embrace the religious life, and I crave your leave to do so.' 'Why would you leave your royalty, my son, and embrace the religious life?'--'My lord, for ten months I was in my mother's womb, as it were the Hell of Dung; once born, for fear of a goblin I dwelt sixteen years in a prison, with never a chance even of looking outside,--I seemed as it were cast into the Ussada hell. Now safe from the goblin I am neither safe from old age nor death, for death no man can conquer. I am weary of existence. Until disease, old age, death comes upon me I will follow the life of the religious, walking in righteousness. No kingdom for me! My lord, grant your permission!' Then he declared the Law to his father thus:
"'Life once conceived within the womb, no sooner has begun,
"'No warlike prowess nor no mighty strength
"'Great kings by force and violence subdue
"'Though horses, elephants, and cars, and men
"'With horses, elephants, and cars, and men,
"'Mad elephants in rut with oozing skin
"'Archers who most strong-armed and skillful are,
"'Great lakes, their woods and rocks, to ruin fall,
"'Like as a tree upon a river brink,
"'The body's elements dissolve--they fall
"'Man's prime is all unlike the queen whose reign
"'While ghost and sprite and horrid goblin can
"'While ghost and sprite and horrid goblin can
"'Those who do crime, and wrong, and hurtful things,
"'Those who do crime, and wrong, and hurtful things
"'Warriors or Brahmins, men of high estate,
"'Lions and tigers, panthers, seize their prey,
"'Upon the stage a juggler with his sleight
"'Serpents enraged will with envenomed bite
"'Serpents enraged with venomed fangs may bite,
"'Physicians' skill could cure the serpent's bite;
"Some who in spells and magic lore are wise
"'Safe is the man who walks in righteousness;
"'Is it not true, his proper fruit from right or wrong shall spring?
"When the Great Being had thus declared the Law in twenty-four stanzas, he said, 'O great king! keep your kingdom to yourself; I want none of it. Even as I am talking with you, disease, old age, and death draw nearer to me. Stay where you are.' Then, as a mad elephant might burst his steel chains, as a young lion might break out of a golden cage, he burst his carnal desires; and saluting his parents, he departed. Then his father said, 'I want not the Kingdom!' and leaving it went with him. When he was gone, the queen and courtiers, Brahmins, householders, and everyone else who dwelt in the city, left their houses and went away. There was a great concourse; the crowd covered twelve leagues. With this crowd he set out for Himalaya.
"When Sakka perceived that he had departed, he sent Vissakamma to make a hermitage twelve leagues long and seven wide, and bade him put within it all things requisite for the ascetic life. How the Great Being proceeded to admit these into the Brotherhood, and admonished them, and how they became destined for Brahma's world, or entered upon the Third Path, all must be repeated again as before."
This discourse ended, the Master said: "Thus, Brethren, the Tathagata has made the Great Renunciation before"; after which he identified the Birth: "At that time the king's parents were the mother and father, the Buddha's followers were their followers, and I was myself the Wise Ayoghara."