DN 17 Mahasudassana Sutta: The Great Splendor, A King's Renunciation
Thus have I heard.
Once Buddha was staying at Kusinara, the Sala grove of the Mallas, between the twin Sala trees, at the time of his death. Venerable Ananda went up to where the Blessed One was, bowed down before him, and took his seat respectfully on one side. After which he said to the Blessed One: “May the Blessed One not pass away in this miserable little town of watte and daub, in the midst of the jungle, a mere outpost of the province. There are other great cities, Lord, such as Campa, Rajagaha, Savatthi, Saketa, Kosambi, and Varanas. In those cities dwell many wealthy nobles and brahmins and householders who are devotees of the Tathagatawho will provide for the Tathagata's funeral in proper style. "
Buddha replied: "Do not say that, Ananda! Do not say that this is a miserable town, right in the middle of jungle in the back of beyond. In the past, Ananda, there was a king by the name of Maha Sudassana, who was a wheel turning monarch, a king of righteousness, a conqueror of the four quarters of the earth, whose realm was established in security, and who was endowed with the seven jewels. King Maha Sudassana, Ananda, had his royal residence here at Kusinara, which was then called Kusavati, and it extended twelve yojanas from east to west, and seven from north to south.
Kusavati, was the capital back then and was prosperous and well populated, much frequented by people, and abundantly provided with food. Just as the royal residence of the devas, Alakamanda, is mighty, prosperous, and well populated, much frequented by deities and abundantly provided with food, so was the royal capital of Kusavati.
Kusavati, Ananda, resounded unceasingly day and night with ten sounds — the trumpeting of elephants, the neighing of horses, the rattling of chariots, the beating of kettle drums, side-drums, lutes, singing, cymbals and gongs and cries of 'Eat, drink, and be merry!' as the tenth. "
Description of Royal city Kusavati
Buddha further illustrated how prosperous Kusavati during its glory days under King Maha Sudassana : 'The royal city Kusavati, Ananda, was surrounded by Seven encircling walls. Of these, one rampart was gold, one silver, one ruby, one crystal, and one emerald, one beryl and one of all kinds of gems. There were Four Gates: One gate was of gold, and one of silver, and one of beryl, and one of crystal. At each gate seven pillars were fixed whose height was three times or as four times the height of a man. As for the pillars; one pillar was of gold, one of silver, one of beryl, one crystal, one of ruby, one of emerald, and one of all kinds of gems.
Kusavati, Ananda, was surrounded by Seven Rows of Palm Trees: One row was of gold, one of silver, one of beryl, one of crystal, one of ruby, one of emerald, and one of all kinds of gems. Each row bore leaves and fruits of the same material. Those rows of palm trees when shaken by the wind, produced sounds that are lovely, delightful, sweet and intoxicating just like that of five kinds of musical instruments played in concert by well-trained and skillful musicians. And, Ananda, those who were gamblers and drunkards in Kusavati had their desires appeased by the sound of the leaves in the wind. "
The seven treasures and four properties of King Mahasudassana
Buddha later explained to Venerable Ananda that King Mahasudassan was endowed with Seven treasures and gifted with Four Marvelous properties. What are those seven treasures?
On a fast-day of the 15th, after King Maha Sudassana had purified himself, he went to the Verandah on top of his palace to keep the sacred day. there then appeared to him the divine Wheel-Treasure of the Wheel, with its nave, its tire, and all its thousand spokes complete.Then the king thought: "I have heard that when a king of the warrior race, sees such a wheel on the fast day of the 15th, he will become a wheel-turning monarch. May i become such a monarch!"
Buddha further elaborated: 'Then, Ananda, the Great King of Glory rose from his seat, covering one shoulder with his robe, he held in his left hand a pitcher and with his right hand he sprinkled water up over the Wheel and he said: "May the noble wheel-treasure turn, may the noble wheel-treasure conquer!" Then the Wheel turned towards the East and King Mahasudassana followed it with his army, horses and chariots, elephants and men. And in whatever country where the wheel stopped, the king took up residence with his fourfold army.
Buddha: 'Then, Ananda, all the rival kings in the region of the East came to King Mahasudassana and said: "Come, your majesty! Welcome, O mighty king! We are yous and you can rule us, Your Majesty!" Then the king instructed them precepts to follow : " Do not take life. Do not steal. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not tell lies. Do not drink intoxicants. Be moderate in eating. " Then those people in the east became the king's subjects.
After which, the wheel-treasure turned to the south followed by west and then north. In each directions, the king went with his fourfold army and the people from all directions became the king's subjects. Hence the wheel-treasure, having conquered the lands from sea to sea, returned to the royal city of Kusavati and remained fixed on the open terrace in front of the entrance to the inner apartments of the King's royal palace. And thus this is how the Wheel-treasure appeared to King Mahasudassana.
Buddha then told Ananda about the Elephant-Treasure : 'Now Ananda, there appeared to King Mahasudassana the Elephant Treasure which is in pure white, of sevenfold strength, with the wonderful power of travelling through the air, a royal tusker called Uposatha. Upon seeing the Elephant- Treasure, the king thought "What a wonderful riding-elephant, if only he could be brought under control!" At that moment the Elephant-Treasure submitted to be controlled by the king and the latter mounted upon it and rode him from sea to sea at dawn and returning back to Kusavati in time for breakfast. That's how the Elephant-Treasure appeared before King Mahasudassana.
Buddha further illustrated to Ananda : "Now Ananda, there appeared to the King the Horse Treasure, all white with a black head and a dark mane, with the wonderful power of travelling through the air, a royal stallion called Valahaka. Upon seeing the Horse- Treasure, the king thought "What a wonderful horse, if only he could be brought under control!" At that moment the Horse-Treasure submitted to be controlled by the king and the latter mounted upon it and rode him from sea to sea. That's how the Horse-Treasure appeared before King Mahasudassana.
Jewel-Treasure Buddha further illustrated to Ananda: 'Now Ananda, there appeared to the King the Jewel-Treasure. That Jewel was beryl, bright, of the finest species, with eight facets, excellently pure, clear and perfect in every way. The lustre of this Jewel-treasure radiated for an entire yojana round about. Then King Mahasudassana tested the Jewel-treasure and went on night-manoeuvres on a dark night with his fourfold army with the jewel-treasure fixed to the top of his standard. That's when all the dwellers in the villages, set about their daily work thinking that it was daylight due to the brightness of the Jewel-Treasure. That's how the Jewel-treasure appeared before the King.
Buddha further illustrated to Ananda: 'Now Ananda, there appeared to the King the Woman-Treasure. which is graceful in figure, beautiful in appearance, charming , with lotus-like complexion; neither very tall, nor very short; neither very fat, nor very slim; neither very dark, nor very fair; surpassing human beauty, she had attained deva-like beauty.Her skin was like cotton or silk, in the cold her limbs were warm, in the heat her limbs were cool and her body smelt of sandal wood and from her mouth the perfume of the lotus. The woman-treasure used to rise up before the King and retire after him; she spoke pleasantly and ever on the watch to hear what she might do in order so to act as to give him pleasure. She was never unfaithful to the King of Glory in thoughts and in deeds. That was how the Woman-Treasure appeared before King Mahasudassana.
The House-holder Treasure
Buddha further illustrated to Ananda: 'Now Ananda, there appeared to the King the Householder-Treasure which was possessed, through good deeds done in a former birth, of a divine eye by which he could discover treasure, whether it had an owner or whether it had not. The householder-treasure went up to the King and said: '"I will deal with look after your wealth properly." Then the king went on board a ship and wanted to test that householder-Treasurer and had it pushed out into the current in the midst of the river Ganges. Then the king told the Householder-treasurer that he wanted some gold coins. Then the householder-Treasurer reached down to the water and drew up a jar full of yellow gold asked the king if it's enough? The king replied that he has offered him enough. That's how the householder-treasure appeared before King Mahasudassana.
The Counselor- treasure
Buddha further illustrated to Ananda: 'Now Ananda, there appeared to the King the Counselorr-Treasure who was wise, experienced, clever and competent. He advised the King on how to proceed with what should be proceeded with and when to withdaw from what should be withdrawn from, and to overlook what should be overlooked. He told the king "Have no fear, your majesty. I shall advise you." That's how the counselor-treasure appeared before the king and he was equipped with all the seven treasures.
Buddha: "Ananda, King Mahasudassana was gifted with Four properties. What are they? Firstly, the king was handsome, good to look at, pleasing with a complexion like the finest lotus, surpassing other men. Secondly he was long-lived, outliving other men. Thirdly he was free from illness/sickness, with a healthy digestion, less subjected to cold and heat than any other men. Fourthly, he was was beloved and popular with Brahmins and with laymen alike. Just as a father is beloved by his children. The Brahmins and laymen were beloved dear to the King as children were beloved by their father. Once, the King set off to pleasure-park with his fourfold army. There the Brahmins and laymen went up to the king to pass by slowly so that they can see him as long as possible. Upon hearing this, the King addressed his charioteer to drive the chariot slowly, cso that the brahmins and householders can see him for as long as possible. These were the Fourth Marvelous properties that King Mahasudassana was endowed with."
Then the King beautified his city with lotus ponds between palm trees, a hundred bow-lengths apart. The lotus ponds were lined with four-colored tiles: gold, silver, beryl and crystal; approached by 4 staircases: one gold, one silver, one beryl and one crystal with respective banisters. The lotus ponds were provided with two kinds of parapet: gold and silver. Each lotus pond was decorated with suitable flowers: blue, yellow, red and white which last through the seasons without fading. The King also built public baths for those who came for a bath, food banks to supply food for the hungry people, plumbing for water, clothing dispensaries, public transportation, hostels, even places where one could find a wife or obtain money to serve the community.
The Brahmins and householders went to the king to offer him money. But the king rejected saying he had enough wealth from legitimate revenues and they can keep their money. The men went aside thinking it would not be appropriate to take back the wealth so they decided to offer the king a dwelling mansion and the king accepted by silence. Then Sakka, ruler of the gods who knows in his mind King Mahasudassana's thought told the attendant-deva Vissakamma to go build a dwelling palace called Dhamma for the king. The latter accepted in silence.
The palace of Dhamma was a yojana in length and in width. The floor height was up to 3 times a man's height with tiles of 4 colors namely gold, silver, beryl and crystal and it contained 84000 columns of the same four colors. It had 24 staircases, chambers, doors and palm trees of the same four colors. Surrounding the Dhamma palace were two parapets of two colors gold and silver with corresponding colored posts, railing and banisters. The Dhamma palace was surrounded by two networks of bells of which one was of gold and one was of silver. When shaken by wind, the bells produced a sound lovely, sweet, pleasant,charming and intoxicating just like a sound produced by the five kinds of instruments played by well-trained and skillful musicians.
When the Dhamma palace was finished, it was too dazzling and hard to look at. The King also built a lotus lake called Dhamma in front of the Dhamma palace which is about a yojana long from east to west and half a yojana wide from north to south. The lotus lake was lined with 4 kinds of tiles: gold, silver, beryl and crystal with corresponding colored staircases, railings and banisters. The dhamma lake was surrounded by 7 kinds of palm-trees whose leaves when stirred produced a sweet and charming sound. When the Dhamma Palace and Dhama lake were finished, King Mahasudassana, having satisfied every wish of those who at that time were ascetic or Brahmins, or revered as such, ascended into the Dhamma palace.
Buddha continued in his conversation with Ananda : "Now Ananda, a thought came to the King: "Of what kamma is the fruit that i reap which result in I am now so mighty and powerful?" Then the king thought it must be the result of 3 kinds of kamma: of giving, of abstinence, and of self-control."
Then the king went into the great gabled chamber, stood at the door and exclaimed:" May the thought of lust, ill-will and cruelty cease!" Then the king sat down cross legged on the golden couch and detached from all sensual-desires, detached from unwholesome mental states; he entered and remained in the first jhana (a state of joy and delight which is born of detachment). With the suppression of reflection and investigation, he entered into, and remained in, the Second Jhana (a state of joy and delight, born of concentration, without reflection, without investigation). Then with the fading away of delight, remaining imperturbable, mindful and clearly away, he experienced joy which the Noble ones will say : " Happy s he who dwells in equanimity and mindfulness." With that the king entered and remained in the Third Jhana. Then having given up pleasure and pain, with disappearance of former gladness and sadness, he entered and remained in the Fourth Jhana (a state which is beyond pleasure and pain, purified by mindfulness and equanimity). Then with a mind filled with loving kindness, abundant, magnified, unbounded, without hatred and ill-will, he radiates his loving kindness wide and far. And he did likewise with compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity (the four sublime abodes).
The King Mahasudassana had 84,000 cities, with the capital Kusavati. Of his 84,000 palaces, Dhamma palace was the chief. Of his 84000 chambers, the great gabled chamber was the chief. His 84000 couches were made of gold, silver, ivory and sandal wood, spread with long-haired rugs. Of his 84000 state elephants adorned with gold ornaments, gold banners and spread with gold nets, Uposatha the royal tusker was chief. Of his 84000 carriages covered with fine clothing, the chariot Vejayanta was the chief. Of his 84000 jewels, The Jewel Treasure was the chief. Of his 84000 wives, Queen Subhadda was the chief. Of his 84000 householders, the Household Treasure was the chief. Of his 84000 nobles, the Counselor treasure was the chief.
At that time,King Mahasaudassana's 84000 elephants waited on him evening and morning and he thought: "These elephants come everyday to be of service to me. How about let them take turns, alternate 42000 elephants wait on me each, every alternate hundred years!" He instructed the Counselor-treasure to do so.
After the lapse of many hundred years, many hundred thousand years, it occurred to Queen Subhadda: "I have not seen the King Mahasudassana for a long time, i should go and visit him." She told the counselor-treasure to draw up the fourfold army and headed to see the king who was at the Dhamma palace. The King was thinking what's the great noise coming from when the Queen arrive, when he saw Queen Subhadda leaning against the door-post, he told the Queen to stay there and not enter the palace.
Having seen the King's face, the queen thought: "King Mahasudassana's faculties are purified, his complexion is clear and bright, i hope he is not dead." Hence she started to remind the King of all his royal possessions mentioned earlier. Upon hearing this the King replied: " For a long time, Queen, you spoke pleasing, delightful and attractive words to me but now at this last time your words are unpleasing, un-delightful and unattractive to me. " (As the queen should not remind the king of the possessions which may result in clinging, craving and attachments).
The queen inquired how then should she speak and the king replied: " You should say all things that are pleasing and attractive are subjected to changes, to vanish, to become otherwise. Do not sire, die filled with longing. As to die with longing/clinging is painful and blameworthy. You should abandon desire, abandon the longing to live the possessions .."
Upon hearing this, the Queen Subbhada cried out loud but repeated the kings' words. Soon after that, King Mahasudassana passed away. For 84000 years, the King of Glory lived the happy life of a prince; for 84000 years he was viceroy and heir-apparent; for 84000 years he ruled the kingdom; for 84000 years he lived as a layman, the noble life in the Dhamma Palace. Having practiced the four divine abidings, at the breaking up of the body he was reborn in the Brahma-world.
Then the Buddha continued to tell Ananda : " You may think that King Mahasudassana may be someone else. But you should not think so for I was King Mahasudassana then. I had 84000 cities of which Kusavati was the chief, i had 84000 palaces of which the Dhamma palace was the chief .... But Ananda, see how all those conditioned states of the past have vanished and changed! Hence Ananda, conditioned states are impermanent, they are unstable, they can bring us no comfort. We should not rejoice in conditioned states, we should cease to take an interest in them and we should be liberated from them.
Six times, Ananda, i recall discarding the body in this place and at the 7th time i discard it as a wheel-turning monarch, a righteous king who had conquered the 4 quarters and established a firm rule and whom possessed the 7 treasures. But i do not see any place in this world with its devas, Maras, Brahmas, ascetics, brahmins, princes and people , where the Tathagatha will for an 8th time discard the body."
Buddha repeated again :" Impermanent are all compounded things, prone to the rising and falling, Having arisen, they will cease, their passing truest bliss. "
In summary, Buddha told Venerable Ananda that Kusavati was a great town, grand and magnificent in the past and how it is a suitable place for Buddha to go into the final passing away. Buddha then narrated to Ananda how in the past, King Mahasudassana (one of Buddha's past lives) ruled the kingdom and practiced the Dhamma. At the end of the sutta, he reminded Venerable Ananda of the impermanence nature of all conditioned things and why clinging to attachments are harmful.
References: 1. www.accesstoinsight.org 2. https://suttacentral.net/ 3. The long discourses of the Buddha (Bhikkhu Bodhi)