Cutting off Flesh to Repay Kindness
Excerpt from the Sutra of the Buddha Repaying Kindness through Great Expediency
During the Dharma-Semblance period of Vipasyin Buddha, in the country Varanasi there lived a rebellious official, Rahu, who plotted to overthrow the king. Rahu led troops in mutiny and murdered King Raja. King Raja's three sons were rulers of the three provinces along the nation's border. Having captured the capital, Rahu's forces began the invasion of the three provinces. The two older princes were killed immediately, for their territories were near the capital. The youngest prince's region was farther away. Rahu wanted to get rid of all three of them to prevent future trouble. Soon a large group of military men and cavalry were travelling toward the third prince. When this news reached the third prince, he fell to the ground in great shock, losing his consciousness for a period of time. Finally, he revived. His royal retinue urged him to seek refuge in a neighboring country possessing great strength. There were two routes to that neighboring country - one a seven-day journey in a straight direction and the other a thirteen-day journey over a winding path.
Food supplies for seven days were hastily packed for the prince. He rushed into his palace and embraced his young son, the crown prince Sujata, in extreme sorrow. He was unable to speak for a moment. The princess stepped forward and said: "I see that Your Majesty looks distressed. I wonder whether any troublesome matter has occurred." The prince replied: " It's beyond your capacity to understand." The princess continued, " Your Majesty and I are like the two wings of a bird. When any important matter occurs, how can Your Majesty not tell me?" The prince bound the crown prince to his chest and walked away quickly without even looking back. Feeling that something was terribly wrong, the princess followed them immediately.
Wishing to leave their country quickly, they left the palace in a panic without realizing that they were heading in the wrong direction, on the winding path. With its roughness and lack of water, there were always very few travelers in this region. After a few days of traveling, they ran out of food and yet were still far from their destination. There was nowhere to beg for food and so they suffered from hunger and thirst. The prince and princess cried aloud to heaven and thus lost their voices after a time. Afterward, they discussed the situation. It was unlikely that all three of them could survive but neither did they all want to die. At that time, the princess declared, " I want to offer my body to you to end your hunger so you will survive." The prince weighed what she said and accordingly accepted it because there seemed to be no other alternative. No sooner had the prince taken out his sword to cut off her flesh than his hands yielded. His conscience could not accept such a heartless seeking for food.
Meanwhile, the crown prince, seeing what
was happening, came closer and held his father's hands tightly without letting
go. Restraining his tears, the crown prince asked, "Why did my royal father take
out his sword?" The prince could not control the multitudes of tears streaming
down his face. In a weak voice, he replied,"I was going to kill your mother so
her blood and flesh could sustain our lives."
Bursting out crying the crown prince exhorted against his father: how could a son eat his mother's flesh? He may wish to kill himself as food to save his parents' life. The prince was extremely heartbroken when he heard that. In a quivering voice he replied: " For a parent, his child is as precious as his own eyeball. How could anyone take out his own eyeball and eat it? I would rather die than kill my son." The crown prince answered: " The intention of leaving our country as refugees is to keep our lives as the hope for future instead of seeking a quick death to end the troubles. The destination is still far away but now the food has been used up with no rescue in sight. Sacrificing my life to keep my parents alive will accord with the Nature's law and human conscience. " The crown prince then continued: " If I lose breath now, my body can't remain fresh for long. The blood and flesh will soon decay and stink. There is a special alternative to take the flesh while keeping it from rotting all at once and sustaining my life as well. I hope my royal father will cut off three pieces of flesh from my body. Two shares are to offer to my parents. I'll eat another piece so that I can sustain my life for the time being."
The royal couple discussed it and said: " Our son's filial piety is firm and determined. We shall grant your wish." The prince, thereupon, shedding tears, severed his son's flesh. They proceeded with the journey. They were, bit by bit, getting closer and closer to the neighboring country until finally, only two more days of travel remained. At that time the crown prince was about to run out of flesh; the only pieces left were those that held the joints of his arms and legs intact. Yet he still held out. The couple embraced him and cried sorrowfully. They said: " We are so undutiful and shameless that we have eaten our son's flesh and made him suffered. Though the destination is within reach, we haven't got there yet. Your flesh is already used up and you are about to die. Now we will just fight with all we have got and die together."
The crown prince restrained his tears and earnestly pleaded with his father: "By eating my flesh we have made it this far. Please do not take pity on me now and lose your lives at this point. Now you can take the remaining flesh out of the space between bones and joints throughout my whole body. Please make do with the remaining flesh as food which will sustain you for a couple of days until you get to the neighboring country." His parents agreed and picked out the remaining flesh. Upon finishing the meal, the royal couple wailed aloud and parted from their son.
The crown prince straightened himself up. Gazing toward the direction of his parents' departure, he saw them crying while walking away and how they kept looking back at him. Only when they were completely out of each other's sight did they begin to advance forward without looking back anymore. The crown prince stood there for a long time until he was utterly exhausted then he fell. Stains of blood were all over his body; the last of his blood oozed out. Its odor dispersed in ten directions. Many flying insects in the wild mountain smelled the odor of flesh from faraway and flew over to where the crown prince was. They licked and nibbled his whole body and thereupon made him suffer from extreme pains of all kinds. With his last remaining breath, he made a vow: " I hope my evil retributions and bad karma accumulated from eons past will be eradicated. From now on I will not dare to do any evil. Now I have offered my body to my parents to repay their great kindness. I only hope that they will be bestowed with limitless blessings. Let my remains be offered to all those bugs. When I attain Buddhahood in the future life, I will eradicate their sufferings of thirst and hunger, illness, birth and death with the nourishment of Dharma."
Once this vow was made, the great earth shook in six ways. Dark clouds covered the sun; birds and beasts gathered around; ocean waves dashed and crashed. Those in the six desire heavens were astonished and frightened. They descended to the world and transformed into wild beasts such as lions, tigers, and wolves. Reaching out with fangs and claws, they roared with rage in various ways. Though wanting to devour the crown prince, they dared not come close to him. When seeing these wild beasts, the crown prince spoke to them in a low voice: "Come take me as you wish to. I won't harm you, so what is there to be afraid of?" Thereafter, the King of Heaven, Indra, restored his body and asked the crown prince: "You have accomplished what is hard to do and renounced what is hard to give away. With such a great merit and virtue, do you wish to be the great Brahma King? Or the King of Maras?"
The crown prince replied: " I wish to attain the supreme Bodhi."
Indra replied: "Who would believe in such an empty wish?"
The crown prince swore: "The cuts and sores on my body will never recover if I lie. They will get well if my vow is true." Right then all of his sores and cuts were recovered. The King of Heaven, Indra, bowed down to the crown prince and said in wonder: " Good indeed! Good indeed! I can't compare with you. You cultivate vigorously and fearlessly. I hope that you will cross me over when you attain Bodhi." Then he vanished and so did all the beasts.
The prince and princess now arrived in the neighboring country. The King went out to receive them. They told him what had happened. In memory of the crown prince's filial conduct, the King sent a good number of troops to accompany the royal couple to their country and attack Rahu as well. When they got close to the place where they had left crown prince, the royal couple felt extremely painful. They were searching for the crown prince's corpse in order to take it back to their own home country for burial. They saw that the crown prince had recovered already. In great sadness and joy, they embraced him and inquired about his recovery. Hearing of what had happened, the royal couple and all the soldiers were greatly joyous. They finally returned to their own country. Due to the profound blessings of the crown prince and help from the neighboring country, the rebels were defeated without much effort. They regained their county and Rahu was killed.
Note: the crown prince, Sujata, was the previous being of Shakyamuni Buddha.