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The Buddha's birth as Rama - Dasaratha Jataka
once upon a time at Benares, the good King Dasaratha had two sons and a daughter with his Queen-Consort: Rama, Lakkhana, and Sita (daughter by marriage to Rama). In time, the Queen-Consort died, and the King was crushed by sorrow. But, urged by his court, the King set another wife in her place as Queen-Consort. This wife was also dear to the King, and in time as Queen-Consort she gave birth to a son named Bharata. The King was so happy with the birth of Bharata, that he offered to the Queen-Consort anything she would want. She strategically told the King she would ask the gift at a later time. And, when Bharata was seven years old, and Rama was to be given the Kingdom, the Queen-Consort asked her gift: "give Bharata the Kingdom."
The King was greatly enraged at this, and snapping his fingers at her, called her terrible names, and ordered her out. "My other sons shine like blazing fires, will you kill them and ask this Kingdom for the son of yours?" She fled in terror, but encouraged by some supporters, continued to remind the King of his promise to give her what she asked for, and insisted on this gift. This caused the King alarm: that she had support, and determination, she might find a way to murder her son's rivals. So he called his sons together, and his court, and explained the situation to everyone gathered. He told Rama, "I cannot keep you safe if you remain here. Go to a neighboring Kingdom, or to the forest, and in 12 years when I am dead and cremated, return and claim the throne." Everyone wept when Rama promised to do as the King commanded. But then Lakkhana said he would go with his brother, and Sita said too, "I too will go with my brothers," and the three left the palace before the King could object.
When the three siblings left, they were accompanied by a vast company of people, who would have followed them into exile. But these were sent back to wait for Rama to reclaim the throne. The three siblings wandered a while, until they came to the Himalaya. There, in a spot near running water, convenient to wild fruit, they built an ashram and lived in hermitage.
Lakkhana and Sita told Rama, you are like our father to us, and will be King: remain here in the ashram. We will serve you, bring you fruit, and feed you. There they lived for nine years, while King Dasartha slowly died from grief and misfortune. When the King was dead, the Queen-Consort commanded that the umbrella be raised over her son, Bharata. But the Lords would not permit it, saying that the rightful heir was away in the forest. To his mother's surprise, Bharata himself also agreed with the Lords: "I will fetch back Rama, and raise the umbrella over him!" Taking the royal umbrella with him, Bharata led the Lords and army to Rama's ashram at a time when Lakkhana and Sita were away in the forest gathering fruit. At the door of the ashram sat Rama, undismayed and at ease. Prince Bharata approached Rama, and greeting him, standing at one side, told him of all that had happened, and falling at his feet with all the Lords and army, wept. Rama neither sorrowed nor wept, for he had no more emotion at all. Rama therefore comforted his half-brother, and they waited together for Lakkhana and Sita to return.
Rama considered in the quiet that if Lakkhana and Sita were to return now, they would be greatly pained at hearing that their father is dead: they had not yet accomplished the sacrifice of emotion, as Rama had. "Their hearts will break. I will persuade them to go down into the water, and there find a gentle way of telling them what has happened, the cool water will comfort them." So, he had Bharata, the Lords and all the army hide, and when Lakkhana and Sita returned, he gently remonstrated them. "You have taken too long harvesting fruit. Let this be your penance: go into the pond, and stand there.
When they were in the water, he joined them, and said "Bharata says, King Dasaratha's life is at an end." Lakkhana and Sita fainted. But the water revived them. Again and again, they fainted and rose, and at last Bharata, the Lords and army could not stand idly by: they rescued them out of the water, and setting them on dry ground, wept all together. Yet all noticed that Rama did not weep, understanding this as a sign of his emotional control, his yogic accomplishment.
Bharata asked Rama for help, to teach all those gathered there how to overcome their grief. Rama said,
"When young, a child cries when they cannot keep a thing. But not only children do this: even those who are full grown will weep at loss."
"Is this wise? The child, the old, the fool and the wise
The rich and the poor may be sure
Each one of us dies!
As sure as you are ripened fruit will fall
As sure as you know by the evening the morning will be gone
The fear of loss, and death, is known to all."
Rama said, "What good does weeping and tormenting one's self as a consequence of loss accomplish? Grief weakens you, makes you thin, and pale. This does not bring the dead to life, or return what is lost - but results in further loss, and more reasons to grieve. When a house burns, much is lost, sometimes death results. But a housefire is put out with water, not with tears."
Rama addressed everyone present, "I will protect and care for all my people, but cannot protect them from death. As I could not protect my father, the King from death. And he could not protect me. Yet to who remain alive I will be their King. This is how I may best explain the impermanence of things."
When Rama said this, all present understood impermanence, and gave up their grief. Promptly, Prince Bharata saluted Rama, and begged him to receive the Kingdom of Benares. Rama replied, "No, brother. My father commanded me to return after 12 years, and this I will do. Take Lakkhana and Sita with you, and administer the Kingdom yourselves until then." Bharata, Lakkhana and Sita objected, saying they could not: they lacked Rama's wisdom and ability. Rama assured them, though this might be true, they were nevertheless sufficiently competent. A Kingdom, well administered, did not even require a King. Taking off his sandals, Rama gave them to Bharata saying that even these sandals could administer the Kingdom - certainly Bharata, Lakkhana and Sita could do as well? With this, he said goodbye to his siblings, his Lords and army, and promised to see them again in three years.
For three years the sandals administered the Kingdom: when there was a case which required the King's judgement, the sandals were consulted. If the lower judge had decided a case incorrectly, the sandals were beat upon each other (by Bharata, Lakkhana and Sita), and the lower judge would re-examine it. If the decision of the lower judge was right, the sandals would remain quiet.
When the three years were over, Rama returned, came to Benares, and entered the park. When this was discovered, everyone came to the park to celebrate the return of their King! Sita was made Queen-Consort, and Rama and Sita were paraded clockwise around the city. Then, ascending to the palace Sucandaka, Rama reigned a long time, before death took him too.
The Buddha Gotama then concluded the story, saying in time, legends expanded the length of Rama's reign - so much did the people wish he had reigned longer. It became said that he reigned not for 60 years, but for 60 times 100, and then ten-thousand more (10,600 years). And if a pair of sandals could reign for three years, why not believe this? At that time, Suddhodana was King Dasaratha, Mahamaya was the mother of Rama, Rahula's mother (the Buddha Gotama's wife, Yasodhara) was Sita, Ananda was Bharata and I, myself, was Rama."