- A Story From the Buddhist Scriptures
This is what I (i.e., Ananda) had heard from the teaching of the Lord Buddha during a sermon at Sravasti:
Once upon a time, there was a King who did not like his old citizens. He thought that people who became old had no more use for his kingdom and therefore one day he decreed that anyone over 60 years old were to be deported. Anyone who disobeyed him would face severe punishments and no one dared to keep their old parents at home.
One of his senior officers, however, secretly kept his father in an underground chamber. Every day, he brought him food to eat, water to drink and Buddhist Scriptures to study so that he could spend his last days of his life peacefully.
When Emperor Sakra (the King of Heaven in Buddhism) learned of this policy, he became very unhappy with it and sent one of his gods to see the King. The god brought with him a message from Heaven to the King saying, "I am giving you a list of problems to solve. You have to give me the correct answers within one month. By the end of this period, if you cannot solve these problems, Emperor Sakra will destroy and level out your Kingdom!" (NOTE: Sounds like the Christian bible in which God would destroy two evil cities if He could not found any good man inside!!).
These problems were:
a) First, the messenger from Heaven put a pair of snakes in front of the Palace and asked the King to distinguish the male snake from the female snake.
b) Next, he gave the King an elephant and asked the King to weigh it.
c) He than put a bowl of clean water in front of the Palace and asked the King to find another bowl of water more valuable than it.
d) He also put a piece of sandalwood in front of the Imperial Court and asked the King, "where is the head and where is the end of the piece of wood?"
e) Finally, the messenger from Heaven brought with him a pair of white horses which looked exactly the same in all respects. The King was asked to find the mother horse.
None of his officers were able to solve these problems. The King started to get concerned and put notices all over his Kingdom saying that anybody who could come up with answers would be awarded 20,000 pieces of gold. Time was passing quickly and the end of the month was fast approaching. Still, nobody had a clue what to do.
Then on the last day of the month, Emperor Sakra appeared before the King and asked, "have you solved the problems yet?" The King, now terrified, failed to give Emperor Sakra any answers.
By this time, one of the Imperial Court's Officers stepped forward with his old father and said, "My father had the solutions."
"All right," replied Emperor Sakra. "Show me how to solve these problems."
To distinguish the male snake from the female snake, the old father put both of them on a piece of soft cloth. One of the snakes started to get uneasy and tried to escape. "That snake must be a male snake. The quiet snake must be a female snake." said the old father. Problem number one solved.
Next, the father took the elephant onto a boat which was floating in a nearby river. Immediately, the boat sank a little bit and than stabilized afterward. Then he made a mark at the level of water at the side of the boat and let the elephant out. Next, he put pieces of stone back onto the boat until the watermark was at the same level. After the stones were weighed on a scale, the elephant's weight could be determined. The problem was also solved.
"To solve the problem of the bowl of water is easy", the old father told Emperor Sakra. "All I have to do is to take any other bowl of water and give it to someone else, such as a traveler in a desert, to drink. A bowl of water used to save life is more valuable than the bowl of water just sitting there in front of the Palace doing nothing." The problem was again solved.
To solve the problem of the piece of sandalwood, the old father put it in water. The head, which is denser, submerged underneath in water. The end, which is lighter, floated upward. Problem solved once more.
To solve the last problem, the old father found some good fine hay and put it between the pair of white horses. They noticed that one of the horses kicked the hay to the other one and let her eat first. She must be the mother horse!
Emperor Sakra was very pleased with the answers. He announced that he would excuse the Kingdom from being destroyed. The human King suddenly became enlightened and kneeled before the King of Gods, "I now see what you mean. It is my mistake to mistreat my old aged citizens. I am asking you to forgive my sin and I will return my old aged citizens to their homes."
Emperor Sakra was very pleased and returned to Heaven.