Hungry Tigress - Selection from Golden Light Sutra

There was a king called Maharatha who possessed chariots, wielded great power and defeated opponents through unobstructed might and strength. He had three sons who were like sons of the gods: Mahapranada, Mahadeva and Mahasattva.

One day the king went to a park for sport. Drawn by the enchanting qualities of the park and wishing to find flowers, the princes ran about and entered the great Dvadashavanagulma forest. As the princes ran about, their attendants were dismissed and went their own way. The princes entered the thick twelve forests of that fully protected forest reserve. Then Mahapranada spoke to his brothers: “My heart is overwhelmed by fear. We might be killed by wild beasts. Stay close.” Mahadeva said: “As for me, I have no fear, but I am anxious I might be separated from my loved ones.” Mahasattva said:

Here in the forest solitude acclaimed by seers,
I am not anxious nor have I fear
This heart of mine is greatly overjoyed
In hope of finding opportunity for vast and great benefit.

Then, as the princes strolled through the Dvadashavanagulma forest, they came upon a tigress who had given birth the previous week, surrounded by her offspring, hungry and thirsty, famished, her body extremely feeble. Seeing her, Mahapranada said: “Alas! It would be six or seven days since this wretch gave birth. She has not found food. Either she will die of starvation or devour her own cubs.”

To this, Mahasattva said, “What is the food of this wretch?”

Mahapranada said, “Here, they say fresh meat and warm blood is food suitable for tigers, bears, hyenas and lions.”

Mahadeva said: “This wretch, her body tortured by hunger and thirst, has little life left. She is extremely feeble and cannot look for food. Who would sacrifice their life to save hers?”

Mahapranada said: “O good fellows, giving one’s body is a daunting task.”

Mahasattva said: “For people like us, feeble minded and greatly attached to the body, such an act is difficult indeed. However, great beings embark on giving their bodies completely and dauntlessly strive for others’ welfare.

Moreover, born of affectionate love and compassion, arya beings
Who consider their bodies as just obtained in heaven or on this earth,
Their joyous minds most agreeable to saving others’ lives,
Remaining steadfast, would have hundred-fold compassion in this case.

Feeling very sad, the young prince looked at the tigress for a length of time without blinking, then went on his way. Then Mahasattva had this thought: “Now the time has come for me to give this body away. Why?

Although I have long guarded this putrid body, subject to death and decay,
Providing it with food and drink, clothing, vehicles and luxurious beds,
Ultimately it is doomed to crumble and end in woe.
This body has no purpose save to abandon its unknown nature.

Furthermore, since it is wholly impure, it will not endure. Now I should use it for a noble end. Thus it shall be for me like a boat crossing the ocean of death and rebirth.

Moreover, giving this body possessed of hundreds of abscess-like existences,
Filled with feces and urine, without core, like foam, bearing hundreds of worms, laying
waste to what has been done,
I shall attain the dharmakaya’s timeless state, free of the afflicted aggregates,
Sorrowless and endowed with samadhi, replete with hundreds of stainless virtues.

His heart brimming with supreme compassion and resolve, he asked his brothers to leave him: “You two can go off. I am returning to the Dvadashavanagulma for a personal thing.” Then Prince Mahasattva left that part of the forest and returned to where the tigress was. He hung his clothes on a forest creeper and prayed:

To benefit transmigrating beings, may I attain the peace of peerless enlightenment;
My mind compassionate and steadfast, I give this body which others find hard to
give up;
May I achieve the flawless, priceless enlightenment that bodhisattvas so keenly seek.
I shall free beings in the triple worlds from the intense fear of the ocean of existence.

Then Mahasattva lay in front of the tigress, but the tigress did nothing to the compassionate Bodhisattva. The Bodhisattva thought: “Alas! She is too weak and incapable!” He rose up in search of a sharp weapon and did not find one. Taking hold of a strong branch of bamboo stick, one hundred years old, he cut his throat and fell down before the tigress. When the Bodhisattva fell down, the earth shook in six ways, like a boat pounded by winds amidst the sea. The sun, as if caught by Rahu, did not shine with its rays. Flowers mingled with divine perfumes and powders fell. Then a certain goddess, her mind overwhelmed with astonishment, praised the Bodhisattva:

O noble-minded one, holding all beings in your compassion,
Here, as you joyfully give your body, hero among men,
Before long and without trouble you will find pristine peace,
That tranquil supreme state devoid of birth and death’s pain.

Then, licking the bloodstained body of the Bodhisattva, the tigress reduced his body to bones without flesh and blood.

Feeling the earthquake, Mahapranada said to Mahadeva:

The way the earth with its seas greatly shook
As far as the oceans in all ten directions,

The way the sun lost its rays and a rain of flowers has fallen,
My mind is troubled; my brother has now given his body.

Mahadeva said:

Considering the words of compassion he spoke
And the way he keenly observed the tigress –
Tortured by suffering and weak, nearly eating her cubs –
I too am troubled.

Then, overcome by extreme grief, their eyes filling with tears, the two young princes went back along the path to where the tigress was. They saw his clothes hanging on bamboo shoots, his bloody bones scattered about, his hair spread in every direction. Upon seeing this, they fainted and fell down upon the remains. Reviving after some time, they raised their arms and issued a wretched cry:

Alas, our beloved brother!
The king and our mother too were most devoted to their son.
Our mother will surely ask, ‘Where did you leave the third one of you,
He whose eyes are long as lotus petals?’
Alas! For the two of us in this part of the forest land,
Living is not as good as meeting death.
Having lost Mahasattva, how will our parents care for us?

Then, lamenting in many ways, the two young princes went on their way. Their servants, running in all directions in search of the princes, saw them and asked: “Princes, what happened? What happened?”

At that moment, the queen was lying on her bed. She dreamed a dream showing separation from a loved one: Her two breasts were cut off and her teeth were wrenched out. Finding three young frightened doves, one was snatched by a hawk. Terrified by the earthquake, the queen awoke suddenly and thought:

Why did this sustainer of beings, clothed in oceans, so violently shake?
The sun was robbed of its rays, pointing to the sorrow in my heart.
In my dream, my body was weak, my eyes quivered, my breasts were cut off.
I wonder if my sons gone to the forest to play sport are well.

As the queen sustained these thoughts, a maidservant entered. Distressed, she spoke to the queen: “Mother, the princes’ attendants search for the prince. It is heard that your beloved son has perished!” When she heard these words, with trembling heart and eyes filled with tears, the queen approached the king: “Lord, I have heard that my darling son has perished.” The king too was distraught. With trembling heart, he said, “I have lost my beloved son.”

To give solace to the queen, the king said: “Good queen, do not grieve. I will immediately search for our prince.” As he set off, he saw a gathering of people crowding about. Then the king saw the two princes approaching from afar. Upon seeing them, the king cried: “The princes are coming, but not all three. Alas! It is agony to see oneself bereaved of a son. ”

The joy of gaining a son for a man
Does not equal the pain of losing a son for another;
Are those men not happy who have no sons in the world,
Or those who have met death with their children still living?

Overcome with grief, the queen, like a she-camel struck in the vital part, issued a most wretched cry:

If my three sons with their assembly of servants
Entered the forest clearing overgrown with blossoms,
My youngest darling son has not returned.
Where is the last son, who is like my heart?

When the two princes came near, the king asked, “Where is the youngest of you?”

Grief stricken, their eyes filled with tears. Their mouths dry, they said nothing. The queen asked: “Where is my youngest son? My heart is about to burst. My body is in unbearable pain. My mind is failing. Speak at once.”

Then the two sons told what had occurred. Upon hearing it, the king and queen became senseless. When they regained their sanity, they wept pitifully and went to that place. Seeing the bones without flesh, blood or muscle, and the hair scattered about, the king and queen fell to the ground like trees blown down by the wind. The priest and ministers witnessed these events, then refreshed and revived the bodies of the king and queen with salve of Malaya-sandal. Upon reviving, the king arose and cried this lamentation:

Alas! Beloved son, affectionate and jovial,
Why have you gone so quickly to death’s domain?
Why has death not come to me instead?
Never have I felt suffering greater than this.

With bedraggled hair, beating her chest, the queen too wailed pitifully. She writhed on the ground as does a fish thrown onto dry land, a female buffalo deprived of her young, a she-camel whose offspring has perished:

Alas! Who has crushed and scattered on the ground
My darling son, this lotus, most loving?
Which enemy of mine on this earth today
Has slain my son of charming eyes and moon-like face
Alas! When seeing the best of sons slain upon the ground
Why does this body not collapse?
This heart of mine is clearly made of iron;
It does not crack in the face of tragic pain.
Today in my dream, my breasts were cut with a sword,
My teeth were wrenched from my mouth;
And today my darling son is suddenly no more.
Just as one of three doves I held was snatched by a hawk,
Today, surrounded by three sons, death has seized one.
Alas! The fruit of my evil dream has come to pass!

Then the king and the queen lamented in many ways. Surrounded by a large crowd, they bared themselves of ornaments, paid homage to the remains of their son and laid his remains in this place.

Then the great king Maharatha and the great queen wretchedly cried many lamentations. They bared themselves of all ornaments, and together with a great crowd, made homage to the remains of the prince. Placing the remains of Mahasattva at this very place, they built this stupa of seven jewels. When Mahasattva gave the tigress his body, he made this altruistic wish: “By the merit of completely giving my body, may I, in future times for eons utterly beyond thought, perform the deeds of buddhas for sentient beings.”