On Offering Food to the Dead

On Offering Food to the Dead

Once upon a time, when Brahma-datta was reigning in Benares, a Brāhman, 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 Brāhman, by killing me, will take upon himself like misery to that which I had earned,” he felt compassion for the Brāhman, and wept with a loud voice.

Then the young Brāhman 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 Brāhman, “Formerly, O Brāhman, I had become just such another Brāhman,—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 Brāhman, 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.

“Brāhman! 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.”

“Brāhman! of little worth is your protection; while the evil I have done is great and powerful!”

The Brāhman 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 Bodisat 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
That this would cause a birth in woe,
The living would not slay the living;
For he who taketh life shall surely grieve!”


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 Bodisat, 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 Bodisat, gave gifts, and did other good deeds, and so filled the city of the gods.


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