11. Ajatasatru’s Treachery
DEVADATTA was musing: “Siddhartha thought to humiliate me by making light of my intelligence. I shall show him he is mistaken. My glory will overshadow his: the night-lamp will become the sun. But King Vimbasara is his faithful friend; he protects him. As long as the king is living, I can do nothing. Prince Ajatasatru, on the other hand, honors me and holds me in high esteem; he reposes implicit confidence in me. If he were to reign, I would get everything I desire.”
He went to Ajatasatru’s palace.
“Oh, prince,” said he, “we are living in an unfortunate age! They that are best fitted to govern are likely to die without ever having reigned. Human life is so brief a thing! Your father’s longevity causes me no little concern for you.”
He kept on talking, and he was presently giving the prince most evil advice. The prince was weak; he listened. Before long, he had decided to kill his father.”
Night and day, now, Ajatasatru wandered through the palace, watching for an opportunity to slip into his father’s apartments and make away with him. But he could not escape the vigilance of the guards. His restlessness puzzled them, and they said to King Vimbasara:
“O king, your son Ajatasatru has been behaving strangely of late. Could he be planning an evil deed?”
“Be silent,” replied the king. “My son is a man of noble character. It would not occur to him to do anything base.”
“You ought to send for him, O king, and question him.”
“Be silent, guards. Do not accuse my son lightly.”
The guards continued to keep a close watch, and at the end of a few days, they again spoke to the king. To convince them that they were mistaken, the king summoned Ajatasatru. The prince appeared before his father. He was trembling.
“My lord,” said he, “why did you send for me?”
“Son,” said Vimbasara, “my guards say that you have been behaving strangely of late. They tell me you wander through the palace, acting mysteriously, and that you shun the gaze of those you meet. Son, are they not lying?”
“They are not lying, father,” said Ajatasatru
Remorse suddenly overwhelmed him. He fell at the king’s feet, and out of the depths of his shame, he cried:
“Father, I wanted to kill you.”
Vimbasara shuddered. In a voice full of anguish, he asked:
“Why did you want to kill me?”
“In order to reign.”
“Then reign,” cried the king. “Royalty is not worth a son’s enmity.”
Ajatasatru was proclaimed king the next day.
The first thing he did was to have great honors paid to his father. But Devadatta still feared the old king’s authority; he decided to use his influence against him.
“As long as your father is allowed his freedom,” he said to Ajatasatru, “you are in danger of losing your power. He still retains many followers; you must take measures to intimidate them.”
Devadatta again was able to impose his will on Ajatasatru, and poor Vimbasara was thrown into prison. Ajatasatru presently decided to starve him to death, and he allowed no one to take him any food.
But Queen Vaidehi was sometimes permitted to visit Vimbasara in his prison, and she would take rice to him which he ate ravenously. Ajatasatru, however, soon put a stop to this; he ordered the guards to search her each time she went to see the prisoner. She then tried to hide the food in her hair, and when this, too, was discovered, she had to use great ingenuity to save the king from dying of hunger. But she was repeatedly found out, and Ajatasatru, finally, denied her access to the prison.
In the meanwhile, he was persecuting the Buddha’s faithful followers. They were forbidden to look after the temple where Vimbasara, formerly, had placed a lock of the Master’s hair and the parings of his finger-nails. No longer were flowers or perfume left there as pious offerings, and the temple was not even cleaned or swept.
In Ajatasatru’s palace there dwelt a woman named Srimati. She was very devout. It grieved her to be unable to perform works of holiness, and she wondered how, in these sad times, she could prove to the Master that she had kept her faith. Passing in front of the temple, she complained bitterly to see it so deserted, and when she noticed how unclean it was, she wept.
“The Master shall know that there is still one woman in this house who would honor him,” thought Srimati, and at the risk of her life, she swept out the temple and decorated it with a bright garland.
Ajatasatru saw the garland. He was greatly incensed and wanted to know who had dared to disobey him. Srimati did not try to hide; of her own accord, she appeared before the king.
“Why did you defy my orders?” asked Ajatasatru.
“If I defied your orders,” she replied, “I respected those of your father, King Vimbasara.”
Ajatasatru did not wait to hear further. Pale with fury, he rushed at Srimati and stabbed her with his dagger. She fell, mortally wounded; but her eyes were shining with joy, and in a happy voice, she sang:
“My eyes have seen the protector of the worlds; my eyes have seen the light of the worlds, and for him, in the night, I have lighted the lamps. For him who dissipates the darkness, I have dissipated the darkness. His brilliance is greater than the brilliance of the sun; his rays are purer than the rays of the sun, and my rapt gaze is dazzled by the splendor. For him who dissipates the darkness, I have dissipated the darkness.”
And, dead, she seemed to glow with the light of sanctity.