Today’s Daily Buddha Vaccana from the Digital Pali Reader contains a poignant tale, taken from the commentary to the Dhammapada, in particular the chapter on happiness. There, the Buddha literally thinks, “it is my duty to go” deal with disputing parties.*
Add to that some good humorous attacks, one group calling the other “lepers” and “those who have slept with their sisters” and the other calling their opponents “brats” and saying they live up in trees. Fairly tame by current political standards, sadly.
It is said that the Sakyans and the Koliyans dammed the waters of the Rohini River between Kapilavatthu and Koliya and cultivated the fields on both sides of the river. During the month of Jetthamula, the crops began to wilt, and the workers employed by both cities assembled. Those of Koliya said: “If the water is diverted to both sides of the river there will not be enough for both of us. As our crops will ripen with a single watering, let us have the water.” But the Sakyans replied: “After your granaries are full, we will not be able to face taking our valuables and with basket and bags in hand, go begging from your doors. Our crops will ripen with a single watering, so let us have the water.”
“We will not give it to you.”
“And we will not let you have it.”
Talk grew bitter, one person struck another, the blow was returned, fighting broke out, and as they fought they cast aspersions upon the origin of the each other’s royal families. The Koliyans workers said: “Take your brats and go where you belong. How can we be harmed by the elephants, horses, shields and weapons of those have slept with their own sisters like dogs and jackals?” The Sakyan workers replied: “You lepers, take your brats and go where you belong. How can we be harmed by the elephants, horses, shields and weapons of miserable outcasts who live up jujube trees like animals.” Both groups went and reported the quarrel to the ministers who were in charge of the work, who in turn reported it to the royal households. The Sakyans prepared for battle, saying: “We will show them the strength and power of those who have slept with their sisters.” The Koliyans prepared for battle, saying: “We will show them the strength and power of those who live up jujube trees.”
As the Lord surveyed the world at dawn he saw his kinsmen and thought: “If I do not go, these people will destroy each other. It is my duty to go to them.” He passed through the air to where his kinsmen were gathered, and seated himself cross-legged in the air in the middle of the Rohini River. When the Lord’s kinsmen saw him they put down their weapons and worshipped him. Then the Lord said: “What is this quarrel about, great king?”“We know not, reverend sir.”
“Then who would know?”
“The commander-in-chief of the army will know.”
When asked, the commander-in-chief suggested the viceroy might know. Thus the Lord asked one after the other with none of them knowing the cause of the quarrel, until the workers were asked. They replied: “The quarrel is about the water.”
Then the Lord said to the king: “What is the value of water, great king?”
“Very little, reverend sir.”
“What is the value of a warrior?”
“A warrior, reverend sir, is beyond price.” Then the Lord said: “Then is it right that for a little water you should kill warriors who are beyond price?”
They were all silent. Then the Lord said: “Great kings, why do you act thus? Were I not here today, you would cause a river of blood to flow. Your actions are unworthy. You live in hatred, given to the five kinds of hatred. I live full of love. You live sick with passions. I live free from sickness. You live chasing after the five kinds of sense pleasures. I live in contentment.”
Thus, following on from yesterday’s post, there may be not only good wisdom, but a sort of duty toward, wise people in engaging in political affairs – even when those political affairs involve people who are a bit unreasonable and unruly.
* In fact the Buddha thinks “it would be proper/right for me to go.” (mayā gantuṃ vaṭṭatī)
** As a commentary to the Dhammapada, it’s quite certain that the material derives from hundreds of years after the Buddha lived. So we might be a bit skeptical about whether this historically ever happened. Comparing it, however, with other texts it does seem consistent with what the Buddha would have done and said. See, for instance, the Fruits of the Reclusive Life.