In the remote past there lived a devout and powerful king named Maharattha. He had three sons by name, Maha Prashada, Maha Deva, and Mahasattva, all good and obedient.
One bright day the king, accompanied by the princes and attendants, went on an excursion to a forest park. The young princes, admiring the enchanting beauty of the flowers and trees, gradually penetrated far into the thick forest.
The attendants noticed their absence and reported the matter to the king. He ordered his ministers to go in search of them and returned to his palace.
The tree princes, wandering through the forest, reached a mountain top. From there the eldest saw a starving tigress with five cubs almost on the verge of death. For seven days since her delivery she had been without food. The cubs approached the mother to suck milk, but she had nothing to satisfy their hunger, and the tigress, driven by starvation, was clearly at the point of unnaturally devouring her own cubs.
The eldest brother was the first to see this pathetic spectacle. He showed the tigress to his brothers and said, “Behold that pitiful sight, O brothers! That starving tigress is about to devour her own cubs. How wretched is their condition!”
“What is their staple food, brother?” inquired Mahasattva.
“Flesh and blood is the staple food of tigers and lions.” replied Maha Prashada.
“The tigress seems to be very weak. Evidently she is without food for some days. How noble if one could sacrifice one’s own body for their sake!”
“But who is willing to make such great sacrifice!” remarked Maha Deva.
“Surely, no one would be able to do so,” stated Maha Prashada.
“I lack intelligence. Ignorant people like us would not be able to sacrifice their bodies for the sake of another. But there may be selfless men of boundless compassion who would be willingly do so,” said Mahasattva in a merciful tone.
Thus they discussed amongst themselves and casting a last glance at the helpless tigress, they departed.
Mahasattva thought to himself, “Sacrifice I must this fleeting body for the sake of this starving tigress. Foul is this body, and is subject to decay and death. One may adorn and perfume it, but soon it will stink and perish.”
Reflecting thus, he requested his brothers to proceed as he would retiring to the forest for some reason or other.
He retraced his steps to the place where the tigress was resting. Hanging his garments and ornaments on a tree, again he thought, “Work I must for the weal of others. Compassionate we must be towards all beings. To serve those who need our succour is our paramount duty. This foul body of mine will I sacrifice and thus save the tigress and her five cubs. By this meritorious act may I gain Samma Sambuddhahood and save all beings from the ocean of Samsara! May all beings be well and happy!”
Moved by compassion and inspired by the spirit of selfless service, dauntlessly he jumped off the precipice towards the tigress.
The fall did not result in an instantaneous death. The tigress, though ruthless by nature, pitied the Bodhisattva and would not even touch his body.
The Bodhisattva thought otherwise, “Obviously the poor animal is too weak to devour me!”
So he went in search of a weapon. He came across a bamboo splinter, and drawing near the tigress, he cut off his neck and fell dead on the ground in a pool of blood.
The hungry tigress greedily drank the blood and devoured the flesh leaving mere bones.
At the moment the Bodhisattva sacrificed his body, the earth quaked, the water of the ocean were disturbed, the sun’s ray dimmed, eye-sight was temporarily blurred, Devas gave cries of Sadhu, and Parijata flowers came down as rain from heaven.
Affected by the earthquake, the two elder brothers rightly guessed that their younger brother must have become a prey to the tigress.
“Surely, Mahasattva must have sacrificed his life, for he spoke in a very merciful tone,” said Maha Deva.
Both of them turned back and went to the spot. They were horrified and awe-struck at the unexpected spectacle. What they saw was not their belovedbrother but a mass of bone besmeared with blood. On a tree close by they saw the hanging garments.
They wept and fainted and on regaining consciousness, they returned home with a heavy heart.
On the very day the Bodhisattva sacrificed his life the mother-queen dreamt that she was dead, that her teeth had fallen out, and that she experienced a pain as if her body were cut by a sharp weapon. Furthermore, she dreamt that a hawk came drooping down and carried one of the three beautiful pigeons that were perched on the roof.
The queen was frightened, and on waking she remembered that her princes had gone for an airing in the forest. She hastened to the king and related the inauspicious dreams.
On being informed that the princes were missing, she entreated the king to send messengers in search of them.
Some ministers who had gone earlier to search for them returned to the palace with the sad news of the lamentable deadth of the youngest prince. Hearing it nobody was able to refrain from weeping. The king, however, comforted the queen and, mounting an elephant, speedily proceeded to the forest with his attendants and brought back the other two grieving sons.
So great was their grief that at first the were speechless. Later summoning up courage, they explained to their bereaved mother the heroic deed of their noble brother.
Soon order was given by the king to make necessary arrangements for them all to visit the memorable scene of the incident.
All reached the spot in due course. At the mere sight of the blood-smeared bones of the dearest son scattered here and there, both the king and queen fainted. The Purohita Bhahmin instantly poured sandal wood water over them, and they regained consciousness.
Thereupon, the king ordered his ministers to gather all the hair, bones, and garments and, heaping them together, worshipped them. Advising them to erect a golden Cetiya enshrining the relics, with a grieving heart, he departed to his palace.
The Cetiya was afterwards named “Om Namo Buddha.”