"These gray hairs"--This the Teacher told when at Jetavana, in reference to the Great Renunciation. The latter has been related above in the Nidanakatha.
Now at that time the priests as they sat were magnifying the Renunciation of the One Mighty by Wisdom. Then the Teacher entered the assembly, and sat down in his place, and addressed the brethren, saying, "What is the subject on which you are talking as you sit here?"
"On no other subject. Lord! but on your Renunciation," said they.
"Mendicants, not then only did the Successor of the Prophets renounce the world; formerly also he did the same."
The monks asked him to explain how that was. Then the Blessed One made manifest an occurrence hidden by change of birth.
"Long ago, in Mithila, in the land of Videha, there was a king named Makha Deva, a righteous man, and ruling in righteousness. Eighty-four thousand years he was a prince, as many he shared in the government, and as many he was sovereign. As such he had lived a long, long time, when one day he said to his barber, 'My good barber, whenever you find gray hairs on my head, let me know.'
"And after a long, long time had passed away, the barber one day found among the jet-black locks one gray hair; and he told the king of it, saying, 'There is a gray hair to be seen on your head, king!'
"'Pull it out, then, friend, and put it in my hand!' said he.
"So he tore it out with golden pincers, and placed it in the hand of the king. There were then eighty-four thousand years of the lifetime allotted to the king still to elapse. But, nevertheless, as he looked upon the gray hair he was deeply agitated, as if the King of Death had come nigh unto him, or as if he found himself inside a house on fire. And he thought, 'foolish Makha Deva! though gray hairs have come upon you, you yet have not been able to get rid of the frailties and passions which deprave men's hearts!'
"As he thus meditated and meditated on the appearance of the gray hair, his heart burned within him, drops of perspiration rolled down from his body, and his very robes oppressed him and became unbearable. And he thought, 'This very day I must leave the world and devote myself to a religious life!'
"Then he gave to the barber a grant of a Tillage whose revenue amounted to a hundred thousand. And he sent for his eldest son, and said to him, "My son! gray hairs have appeared on my head. I am become an old man. I haye done with all human hopes; now I will seek heavenly things. It is time for me to abandon the world. Do you assume the sovereignty. I will embrace the religious life, and, dwelling in the garden called Makha Deva's Mango-park, I will train myself in the characteristics of those who are subdued in heart.'
"His ministers, when he formed this intention, came to him and said, 'What is the reason, king! of your giving up the world?'
"Then the king, taking the gray hair in his hand, uttered this verse--
"'These gray hairs that have come upon my head
"Having thus spoken, he laid down his sovereignty that very day, and became a hermit; and living in the Mango-grove of Makha Deva, of which he had spoken, he spent eighty-four thousand years in practicing perfect goodwill towards all beings, and in constant devotion to meditation. And after he died he was born again in the Brahma heaven; and when his allotted time there was exhausted, he became in Mithila a king called Nimi, and reunited his scattered family. And after that he became a hermit in that same Mango-grove, and practiced perfect goodwill towards all beings, and again returned to the Brahma heaven."
The Teacher, having thus discoursed on the subject that not then only, but formerly too, the Successor of the Buddhas had abandoned the world, proclaimed the Four Truths. Some entered the First Stage of the Path to Nirvana, some the Second, some the Third. And when the Blessed One had thus told the double story, he established the connection, and summed up the Jataka as follows: "The barber of that time was Ananda, the prince was Rahula, but Makha Deva the king was I myself."