Part 19 Prasenajit and Ajatasatru

Although the Buddha had chastened Ajatasatru’s spirit, there were times when the king still gave way to anger. One day, because of a quarrel between a man from Rajagriha and one from Shravasti, he declared war on King Prasenajit. He collected a vast army. There were foot-soldiers and horsemen; there were some mounted on chariots, others enclosed in towers carried by elephants, and swords and lances flashed in the sun as they marched into battle. King Prasenajit also assembled his troops. He too had chariots and horses and elephants, and he advanced to meet Ajatasatru. It was a terrible battle. It lasted four days. The first day Prasenajit lost his elephants; the second day he lost his horses; on the third, his chariots were destroyed; and on the fourth, his foot-soldiers were killed or made prisoners; and Prasenajit himself, defeated and panic-stricken, fled in the only chariot that had been saved in the disaster and escaped to Shravasti. There, in a small, unlighted hall, he flung himself down on a low couch. He was silent, a prey to his melancholy thoughts. He never stirred; he appeared to be dead, except for the tears that coursed down his cheeks.

A man entered; it was the merchant Anathapindika. “My lord,” said he, “long may you live, and may the tide of victory turn!” “My soldiers are dead,” the king lamented, “all my soldiers are dead! My soldiers! My soldiers!” “Grieve not, O king. Raise another army.” “I lost my fortune when I lost my army.” “King,” said Anathapindika, “I shall give you the gold you need, and you will be victorious.” Prasenajit sprang to his feet. “You have saved me, Anathapindika!” he exclaimed. “I am grateful.” With Anathapindika’s gold, Prasenajit raised a formidable host. He marched against Ajatasatru. When the two armies met, the din terrified the Gods themselves. Prasenajit used a battle array he had been taught by men from a distant land. He attacked swiftly; Ajatasatru had no defense. He, in turn, was defeated, and he was captured. “Kill me,” he cried to Prasenajit. “I shall spare your life,” said Prasenajit. “I shall take you to the Blessed Master, and he will decide your fate.”

The Master had recently arrived at Jeta’s park. Prasenajit said to him: “Behold, O Blessed One! King Ajatasatru is my prisoner. He hates me, though I bear him no ill will. He attacked me, for some trivial reason, and defeated me at first, but now he is at my mercy. I do not wish to kill him, O Blessed One. For the sake of his father, Bimbisara, who was my friend, I would like to set him free.” “Then set him free,” said the Master. “Victory begets hatred; defeat begets suffering. They that are wise will forgo both victory and defeat. Insult is born of insult, anger of anger. They that are wise will forgo both victory and defeat. Every murderer is struck down by a murderer; every conqueror is struck down by a conqueror. They that are wise will forgo both victory and defeat.” In the presence of the Master, Ajatasatru promised to be a faithful friend to Prasenajit. “And,” he added, “let us be more than friends. I have a son, as you know, and you have a daughter, Kshema, who is still unmarried. Will you give your daughter to my son?” “So be it,” said Prasenajit. “And may this happy marriage be the earnest of our happy friendship.” The Master approved. The two kings ever after lived at peace with each other, and Ajatasatru became known for his gentleness.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a remorseful Ajatasatru (spelt Ajatashatru) making a midnight visit to the Buddha. The prince had conspired against his father, King Bimbisara, to capture the throne. Bimbisara was imprisoned, where he died an excruciating death. The episode caused the prince great anguish and he approached the Buddha to seek peace of mind. The image is taken from the book ‘Hutchinson’s Story of the Nations’ (published in London).