"If people would but understand."--This the Teacher told when at Jetavana, about food offered to the dead.
For at that time people used to kill sheep and goats in large numbers in order to offer what is called "The Feast of the Dead" in honor of their deceased relatives. When the monks saw men doing so, they asked the Teacher, saying, "Lord! the people here bring destruction on many living creatures in order to provide the so-called 'Feast of the Dead.' Can there possibly. Sir, be any advantage in that?"
The Teacher said, "Let not us, O mendicants! provide the Feast of the Dead: for what advantage is there in destroying life? Formerly sages seated in the sky preached a discourse showing the evils of it, and made all the dwellers in Jambu-Dipa give up this practice. But now since change of birth has set in, it has arisen again." And he told a tale.
"Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, a Brahman, a world-famous teacher, accomplished in the Three Vedas, had a goat brought, with the intention of giving the Feast of the Dead, and said to his pupils:
"'My lads! take this goat to the river, and bathe it, and hang a garland round its neck, and give it a measure of corn, and deck it out, and then bring it back.'
"'Very well,' said they, and accordingly took it to the river; and when they had bathed it and decorated it, let it stand on the bank.
"The goat, seeing in this the effect of his former bad conduct, thought to himself, 'To-day I shall be free from that great misery;' and, glad at heart, he laughed a mighty laugh, in sound like the crashing of a jar. Then, thinking to himself, 'This Brahman, by killing me, will take upon himself like misery to that which I had earned,' he felt compassion for the Brahman, and wept with a loud voice.
"Then the young Brahman asked him, 'Friend goat! you have both laughed heartily and heartily cried. Pray, what is it makes you laugh, and what is it makes you cry?'
"'Ask me about it in your teacher's presence,' said he.
"They took him back, and told their teacher of this matter. And when he had heard their story, he asked the goat, 'Why did you laugh, goat, and why did you cry?'
"Then the goat, by his power of remembering former births, called to mind the deeds he had done, and said to the Brahman, 'Formerly, O Brahman, I had become just such another Brahman,--a student of the mystic verses of the Vedas; and determining to provide a Feast of the Dead, I killed a goat, and gave the Feast. By having killed that one goat, I have had my head cut off in five hundred births, less one. This is my five hundredth birth, the last of the series; and it was at the thought, 'To-day I shall be free from that great misery,' that I became glad at heart, and laughed in the manner you have heard. Then, again, I wept, thinking, 'I who just by having killed a goat incurred the misery of having five hundred times my head cut off, shall be released to-day from the misery; but this Brahman, by killing me, will, like me, incur the misery of having his head cut off five hundred times;' and so I wept.
"'Fear not, O goat! I will not kill you,' said he.
"'Brahman! what are you saying? Whether you kill me or not, I cannot to-day escape from death.'
"'But don't be afraid! I will take you under my protection, and walk about close to you.'
"'Brahman! of little worth is your protection; while the evil I have done is great and powerful!'
"The Brahman released the goat; and saying, 'Let us allow no one to kill this goat,' he took his disciples, and walked about with it. No sooner was the goat at liberty, than, stretching out its neck, it began to eat the leaves of a bush growing near the ridge of a rock. That very moment a thunderbolt fell on the top of the rock, and a piece of the rock split off, and hit the goat on his outstretched neck, and tore off his head. And people crowded round.
"At that time the Bodhisattva had been born as the Genius of a tree growing on that spot. By his supernatural power he now seated himself cross-legged in the sky in the sight of the multitude; and thinking, 'Would that these people, seeing thus the fruit of sin, would abstain from such destruction of life?' he in a sweet voice taught them, uttering this stanza:
"'If people would but understand
"Thus the Great Being preached to them the Truth, terrifying them with the fear of hell. And when the people had heard his discourse, they trembled with the fear of death, and left off taking life. And the Bodhisattva, preaching to the people, and establishing them in the Precepts, passed away according to his deeds. The people, too, attending upon the exhortations of the Bodhisattva, gave gifts, and did other good deeds, and so filled the city of the gods."
The Teacher having finished this discourse, made the connection, and summed up the Jataka: "I at that time was the Genius of the tree."