Jataka tales relate the previous lives of the Buddha, sometimes as a human, sometimes as an animal form, but in each story a virtue is demonstrated as if to suggest that the Buddha as bodhisattva spent many, many incarnations acquiring the grace that would be required of a Buddha. I always think of this long, long journey of the Buddha, though the stories are creative and not factual, when I think of the Messenger and what it took for him to get here for his work on Earth at this time.
The story of Kshantivadin given below struck me in particular with the high achievement required of a Buddha. This is real patience! On a scale beyond my comprehension. There are many retellings of these stories, and the way I remember this one was that the way Kshantivadin was able to exhibit such poise under duress, as each limb and more was being hacked away, is that he kept in mind the terrible karma his attacker was incurring on himself and could only feel pity for such a terrible consequence, to be burdened with having to answer for such violence.
In that way, this story is true for me, a way to learn to practice forbearance against evildoers.
Kshantivadin – The Sage Who Perfected Kshanti (Tolerance)
There was once an ascetic dwelling deep in the mountains, living solely on wild fruits and spring water. Through relentless diligence, he was able to purify his body and mind and eliminate afflictions. His saintly virtues earned him praises and reverence from all the deities and spirits, and brought his country peace and prosperity.
One day, the king found the ascetic while following his prey on a hunting trip. He asked the ascetic where the deer had gone. The ascetic thought to himself, “Life is dear to all beings. If I tell the king where the deer have gone, I would be just as cruel as the killer himself, but if I don’t, I would be lying to the king.” The king mistook his pondering as a refusal to answer out of contempt. He was furious and demanded, “Who are you?” The ascetic answered, “I am Kshantivadin.”
“Since you are a practitioner of kshanti (tolerance),” the king snarled, “let us see if you can tolerate this!” Outraged, the king chopped off Kshantivadin’s right hand! Blood gushed out from Kshantivadin’s arm. Kshantivadin thought, “I seek to attain the Buddha Way and end conflicts in this world. If the king has the heart to do this to an innocent ascetic like myself, how might he be treating his people?” He then vowed to himself, “One day when I achieve enlightenment, the king will be the first one I come to liberate so that he will no longer abuse his people.” Puzzled and irritated by Kshantivadin’s unflappable tranquility, the king asked him his name again, and once more, received his firm reply, “I am Kshantivadin.” The king then chopped off Kshantivadin’s hands, feet, ears and nose one by one with each round of the same question and answer. Blood was pouring out of Kshantivadin’s body and he endured excruciating agony.
Heaven and earth suddenly began to quake. All deities and spirits were furious and vowed to avenge the king’s crime by destroying his country. Kshantivadin stopped them and said, “I am in fact experiencing the fruit of my karma from countless kalpas ago when I was not following the Dharma and harmed the king. Vengeance would only drive us into a vicious cycle.” Word about the king’s brutal act spread throughout the kingdom and filled the people with outrage.
Kshantivadin responded, however, “I have no ill feelings towards the king, in spite of how he treated me. On the contrary, I am filled with compassion for him, like a loving mother would feel for her child. By the truth of my words, may my body be restored to its former state instantly!” At those words, Kshantivadin’s body became exactly as it had been without the slightest sign of any wounds. Everyone was in awe of his exemplary virtues of forbearance.
Kshantivadin was Shakyamuni Buddha in one of his previous lives when practicing the bodhisattva path. (as told on the Facebook page, Mahayana Buddhism in English )