This article is a direct translation of the Chinese text from the Dunhuang Academy website with permission from the Dunhuang Academy. To read the article in Chinese, please click here. Images Courtesy of Digital Dunhuang of the Dunhuang Academy. 此文章为敦煌研究院授权其网站原文翻译。阅读原文中文版请点击这里。图像均由敦煌研究院授权发表。
Shibi was the king of a great kingdom in ancient India. The kingdom had fertile lands, well established households, and adequately fed and clothed people. King Shibi was the ruler of eighty-four thousand smaller countries. He had twenty thousand concubines and maids, five hundred princes, and more than ten thousand ministers. King Shibi was a compassionate, benevolent, and rich king.
One day, Indra, the ruler of the Trayastrimsa (33 devas) heaven started to worry about his successor as he felt he was going to die. When his minister, Agni, asked about his worries, he said, “I am going to die, but Buddhism in the world has died already and there are no new Bodhisattvas appearing. I feel really frustrated and don’t know what to do.” Agni said, “There is a king in the world called Shibi, who took the vow to obtain enlightenment. Only he could resolve this situation.” Indra was doubtful. To test whether Shibi was a Bodhisattva, Indra decided to try him. He had Agni assume the form of a pigeon, himself a falcon. Indra wanted to test Shibi by having the pigeon seek help from Shibi.
Agni, in the form of a pigeon, chased by Indra, the falcon, fell into Shibi’s arms seeking his protection. The falcon couldn’t get to the pigeon thus said to the King, “This pigeon is my food. I’m really hungry. Please give it back to me.” The King said, “I had taken the vow to protect all living beings. Now the pigeon is asking for my help, I couldn’t give it to you.” The falcon said, “King, you love all living beings, but if I was out of food, I couldn’t live either. I don’t deserve to be saved?” Shibi thought for a moment, “If I give you meat, would you eat it?” The falcon said, “I only eat fresh bloody flesh.” King thought silently, “I can’t save a life by destroying another. The only way is to use my body in exchange for the pigeon, so that all lives could be protected.” Then he ordered to fetch the knife, and cut off flesh from his thigh. The falcon then said, “The King is the donor, but if you want to exchange with the pigeon, please get a scale and measure an equal amount of flesh.” The King ordered for a scale to weigh the meat. Then something unexplainable happened. No matter how much flesh the king cut off, almost his whole body, it was always lighter than the pigeon. Bearing the sharp pains, Shibi decided to sacrifice his whole body to save the pigeon. When he was trying to move his whole body to the scale, he passed out. When he woke up again, he tried all his might and stood onto the scale. The scale was leveled this time.
At that moment when he stepped onto the scale, the earth started shaking and heavenly palaces moved. All heavenly gods stopped in the air, deeply touched by King Shibi’s sacrifice. They sprinkled heavenly flowers as offerings for King Shibi. Indra and Agni returned to their original forms, “All the austerities you practiced are boundless merits. You could become a heaven ruler with all those merits. What do you want?” The King replied, “I don’t covet worldly riches, but would like to look for the truth of Buddhism with this merit.” Indra asked, “You don’t regret all the pains throughout your body?” King Shibi replied with determination, “No!” Indra said again, “Who would believe that you said you didn’t regret?” Shibi vowed, “I never had any regrets from the very beginning. If my determination to become the Buddha was sincere and could be accomplished, please let my body recover to its original form.” Right after he took the vow, his body recovered. Beings from heavenly palaces and the world admired, laughed and danced to celebrate King Shibi’s accomplishing his merits.