After Buddha passed away, there was a king named Usika. He was very kind and his government was very compassionate. He had a son with eyes as beautiful as the kunala, an Indian bird famous for its beautiful eyes. Because the king liked this kind of bird, he named his son Kunala. When Prince Kunala grew up, he was very handsome. His conduct was proper and he was very kind.
King Usika was a devoted Buddhist. One day, the king brought his son to a temple, and he asked a monk named Yasa about the Buddhist teachings. Yasa looked at the young prince. “Human life is impermanent,” he said. “A body goes through the stages of birth, aging, illness and death, and human life is filled with impurity. Who can have the beauty of youth forever? All these are illusions. In the same way, although the prince’s eyes seem beautiful, they are actually full of filth and the source of trouble.”
The prince was quite puzzled. Everyone always praised him for his beautiful eyes, but why would the monk say that they were dirty and the source of trouble? These words kept whirling around in his head.
There were many concubines in the king’s palace. One young lady was deeply attracted by Kunala’s good looks. When she saw him sitting alone in the garden one day, she started to fondle him, trying to seduce him. But the prince was a righteous person and could not agree to such behavior. He pulled himself together and freed himself from her unwanted attentions.
Later, when the young prince was old enough to marry, King Usika found a wife for him. When the concubine saw the lover of her dreams married to someone else, she became intensely jealous and her love turned to hatred.
Not long after the marriage, the king became sick and the young concubine looked after him carefully until he recovered. He was grateful for her care and said to her, “Because you took care of me for such a long time, I will give you anything you desire.”
She said, “I just want to rule the country for seven days.”
The king thought to himself that since he had promised, he couldn’t go back on his word. Besides, it was only for seven days. So he agreed.
When she was on the throne, the young lady wrote a letter filled with both love and hate and sent it to Prince Kunala. She wrote that her fury would only be placated if she never saw his eyes again. Now the prince finally realized what that monk had meant, but it was too late. The lady’s word was like the king’s command, and it couldn’t be disobeyed.
Kunala reluctantly gouged out one eye and held it in his hand. “It’s so disgusting,” he suddenly realized. “Why would such a filthy little thing be praised by so many people and bring so much trouble? Since she wants both eyes, I’ll take out the other one too.” When both eyes were gone, everything before him was in total darkness, but his mind was suddenly filled with light. He felt the peace that comes from spiritual exaltation.
When his wife heard the news, she ran to the blind prince and started to wail with grief. But the prince was calm and consoled her with the Buddhist teachings. “Human life is impermanent, so don’t harbor hatred or worry, because hatred and worry are your greatest enemies.”
At that time, a bodyguard warned the prince, “Your Highness, if you stay in the palace, I’m afraid that your life will be in danger.” The prince, of course, was already aware of this, and since he didn’t want the court lady to continue making bad karma for herself by doing something even worse, he and his wife fled the palace. They learned to play the lute and to sing, and they wandered from town to town, making music in the streets. People would throw them a few coins, and in this way, the prince and his wife were able to feed themselves.
A few years later, they happened to come back to the capital. One day, they wandered into the streets alongside the palace and started to sing. When King Usika heard the beautiful but mournful songs, he thought of his son, who had suddenly disappeared years before. He told his attendant to invite the musicians to enter the palace.
When the king saw the lute player, he realized that it was indeed the son that he had been thinking of day and night. When he saw how Prince Kunala had fallen from his royal life and was now only a blind lute-player singing on the streets for a living, the king was very distressed. He asked the prince, “Who did this to you? Who made you lose your sight?” But Kunala refused to talk about it. He just told his father about the truths that he had learned, hoping his father would calm down.
At last, the ministers and the guards couldn’t endure it any more and reported the truth to the king. He was furious and wanted to execute that concubine, but the prince begged his father to forgive her.
The king was touched by Prince Kunala’s compassion and released the young concubine. However, in her own conscience, she was ashamed of herself and finally committed suicide. Because of her impure love, she had created trouble and hatred, hurt other people and destroyed herself. Was it all worth it?
~ Told by Master Cheng Yen. Translated by Lin Sen-shou