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Digha Nikaya

Dīgha Nikāya 26 Cakkavatti Sutta
The Universal King

Universal Kings and the rise and fall of society.

Table of Contents

1. Taking Refuge in Oneself

This is how I heard. In those days, the Buddha was living in the province of the Magadhans at the city of Mātulā. There, the Buddha addressed the monks, “Monks!”

“Bhante,” they replied. The Buddha said this:

“Monks, be your own island (safe place), be your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the Dhamma be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge. And how does a monk do this? He meditates observing the true nature of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and grief for the world. He meditates observing the true nature of feelings … mind … Dhamma factors—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and grief for the world. That’s how a monk is his own island, his own refuge, with no other refuge. That’s how he let the Dhamma be his island and his refuge, with no other refuge.

“You should roam inside your own territory, the domain of your father, the Buddha. If you roam inside your own territory, the domain of your fathers, Māra won’t catch you or get a hold of you. Monks, merit is collected due to practising wholesome qualities.

2. King Daḷhanemi

“Once upon a time, monks, there was a king named Daḷhanemi who was a universal king, a righteous and disciplined king. His dominion extended to the entire earth, he achieved stability in the world, and he possessed the seven treasures. He had the following seven treasures: the wheel treasure, the elephant treasure, the horse treasure, the jewel treasure, the woman treasure, counselor treasure and the son treasure as the seventh treasure. He had over a thousand sons who were brave and heroic, defeating the armies of his enemies. After conquering this land surrounded by sea, he rules righteously, without violence.

“Monks, after many thousand years had passed, King Daḷhanemi called one of his men, ‘Dear servant, when you see that the heavenly wheel-treasure has moved from its place, please tell me.’

“‘Yes, Sir,’ replied that man.

“After many thousand years had passed, that man saw that the heavenly wheel-treasure had moved from its place. So he went to King Daḷhanemi and said, ‘Please sir, you should know that your heavenly wheel-treasure has moved from its place.’

“So the king summoned the crown prince and said, ‘Dear prince, my heavenly wheel-treasure has moved from its place. I’ve heard that when this happens to a universal king, he does not have long to live. I have enjoyed human pleasures. Now it is time for me to seek heavenly pleasures. Come, dear prince, rule this land surrounded by oceans! I shall shave off my hair and beard, dress in robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness becoming a recluse.’

“Monks, after carefully instructing the crown prince in kingship, King Daḷhanemi shaved his head and beard, dressed in robes, and became a recluse. Seven days later the heavenly wheel-treasure vanished.

“Then a certain man approached the new king and said, ‘Please sir, you should know that the heavenly wheel-treasure has vanished.’ At that, the king was unhappy and sad. He went to the royal sage and said, ‘Please sir, you should know that the heavenly wheel-treasure has vanished.’

“When he said this, the royal sage said to him, ‘Don’t be sad at the vanishing of the wheel-treasure. My dear son, the wheel-treasure is not inherited from your father. Now, my dear son, start implementing the noble duties of a universal king. If you do so, it’s possible that—on a full moon day, having bathed, taken eight precepts and gone upstairs in the balcony of the mansion—the heavenly wheel-treasure will appear to you, with a thousand spokes, with a rim and hub, complete in every detail.’

2.1 The Noble Duties of a Universal king

“‘But sir, what are the noble duties of a universal king?’

“‘Well then, my dear son, relying only on good qualities—honouring, respecting, and venerating good qualities, having good qualities as your flag, banner, and authority—provide righteous protection and security for your people in the mansion, provide righteous protection and security for your armies, provide righteous protection and security for your officers all over the earth, provide righteous protection and security for priests, provide righteous protection and security for all the people, provide righteous protection and security for recluses and provide righteous protection and security for animals and birds. Do not let injustice spread in the kingdom. Give money to the poor in the kingdom.

“’My dear son, there are recluses in the kingdom who avoid intoxication and negligence, are settled in patience and gentleness, and who tame and calm themselves. From time to time you should go to them and ask: “Sirs, what is wholesome? What is unwholesome? What is wrong? What is right? What should be practised? What should not be practised? Doing what, leads to my lasting harm and suffering? Doing what, leads to my lasting welfare and happiness?” Having heard them, you should avoid doing what is unwholesome and practise and follow what is wholesome.

“’My dear son, these are the noble duties of a universal king.’

2.2 The Wheel-Treasure Appears

“‘Yes, sir,’ replied the new king to the royal sage. He implemented the noble duties of a universal king.

“While he was implementing them, on a certain full moon day, he bathed, took eight precepts and went upstairs to the balcony of the mansion. At that time the heavenly wheel-treasure appeared to him, with a thousand spokes, with a rim and hub, complete in every detail. Seeing this, the king thought, ‘I have heard that when the heavenly wheel-treasure appears to a king in this way, he becomes a universal king. Am I then a universal king?’

“Then the king, rising from his seat and arranging his cloth over one shoulder, took a ceremonial vase in his left hand and sprinkled the wheel-treasure with his right hand, saying, ‘Roll forth, O wheel-treasure! Triumph, O wheel-treasure!’

“Then the wheel-treasure rolled towards the east. And the king followed it together with his army of four divisions. In whatever place the wheel-treasure stood still, there the king came to stay together with his army. And any opposing rulers of the eastern quarter came to the universal king and said, ‘Come, great king! Welcome, great king! This is your kingdom, great king, instruct us.’ The universal king said, ‘Do not kill beings. Do not steal. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not lie. Do not drink alcohol. Do not take intoxicating drugs. You may continue to rule your provinces righteously.’ And so the opposing rulers of the eastern quarter became his obedient followers.

“Then the wheel-treasure, having plunged into the eastern ocean and emerged again, rolled towards the south. … Having plunged into the southern ocean and emerged again, it rolled towards the west. …

“Having plunged into the western ocean and emerged again, it rolled towards the north, followed by the king together with his army of four divisions. In whatever place the wheel-treasure stood still, there the king came to stay together with his army. And any opposing rulers of the northern quarter came to the universal king and said, ‘Come, great king! Welcome, great king! This is your kingdom, great king, instruct us.’ The universal king said, ‘Do not kill living creatures. Do not steal. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not lie. Do not drink alcohol. Do not take intoxicating drugs. You may continue to rule your provinces righteously.’ And so the rulers of the northern quarter became his obedient followers.

“And then the wheel-treasure, having triumphed over this land surrounded by ocean, returned to the royal capital. There it stood still by the gate to the royal compound at the High Court as if fixed to an axle, illuminating the royal compound.

3. On Subsequent Universal kings

“And for a second time, and a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and a seventh time, a universal king was established in exactly the same way. And after many years the seventh universal king became a recluse, handing the kingdom over to the crown prince.

“Seven days later, the heavenly wheel-treasure vanished.

“Then a certain man approached the new king and said, ‘Please sir, you should know that the heavenly wheel-treasure has vanished.’ At that the king was unhappy and sad. But he didn’t go to the royal sage and ask about the noble duties of a universal king. He just governed the country according to his own ideas. Governing this way, the kingdom did not prosper like before, as it had when former kings implemented the noble duties of a universal king.

“Then the ministers and counsellors, the treasury officials, military officers, guardsmen, and advisers gathered and said to the king, ‘Sir, when governed according to your own ideas, the kingdom does not prosper like before, as it did when former kings implemented the noble duties of a universal king. In your kingdom are found ministers and counsellors, treasury officials, military officers, guardsmen, and advisers—both ourselves and others—who remember the noble duties of a universal king. Please, great king, ask us about the noble duties of a universal king. We will explain them to you.’

4. On the Period of Decline

“So the king asked the assembled ministers and counsellors, treasury officials, military officers, guardsmen, and advisers about the noble duties of a universal king. And they explained the noble duties to him. But after listening to them, he provided righteous protection and security. However, he didn’t give money to the poor in the kingdom. As a result, poverty grew widespread.

“When poverty was widespread, for the first time, a certain person stole from another. People arrested him and presented him to the king, saying, ‘Sir, this person stole from another.’

“The king asked that person, ‘Is it really true, that you stole from another?’

“‘It’s true, sir.’

“‘What was the reason?’

“‘Sir, I can’t survive.’

“So the king gave some money to that person, saying, ‘With this money, keep yourself alive, and provide for your mother and father, wife and children. Work for a living, and give in charity that’s conducive to heaven, ripens in happiness, and leads to heaven.’

“‘Yes, Sir,’ replied that man.

“But then another man stole something from another. They arrested him and presented him to the king, saying, ‘Sir, this person stole from another.’

“The king asked that person, ‘Is it really true, that you stole from another?’

“‘It’s true, sir.’

“‘What was the reason?’

“‘Sir, I can’t survive.’

“So the king gave some money to that person, saying, ‘With this money, keep yourself alive, and provide for your mother and father, wife and children. Work for a living, and give in charity that’s conducive to heaven, ripens in happiness, and leads to heaven.’

“‘Yes, Sir,’ replied that man.

“People heard about this: ‘It seems the king is giving money to anyone who steals from others!’ It occurred to them, ‘Why don’t we steal from others?’ So then another man stole something from another.

“People arrested him and presented him to the king, saying, ‘Sir, this person stole from others.’

“The king asked that person, ‘Is it really true, that you stole from others?’

“‘It’s true, sir.’

“‘What was the reason?’

“‘Sir, I can’t survive.’

“Then the king thought, ‘If I give money to anyone who steals from others, it will only increase the stealing. I’d better make an end of this person, finish him off, and chop off his head.’

“Then he ordered his soldiers, ‘Well then, tie this man’s arms tightly behind his back with a strong rope. Shave his head and march him from street to street and intersection to intersection while beating a drum producing weeping sound. Then take him out the south gate and make an end of him, finish him off, and chop off his head.’

“‘Yes, Sir,’ soldiers replied, and did as he commanded.

“People heard about this: ‘It seems the king is chopping off the heads of anyone who steals from others!’ It occurred to them, ‘We’d better have sharp swords made. Then when we steal from others, we’ll make an end of them, finish them off, and chop off their heads so that there won’t be any witnesses left.’ They had sharp swords made. Then they started to raid the villages, towns, and cities, and started to rob the travellers. They then chopped the heads off anyone they stole from so that there wouldn’t be any witnesses.

“So, monks, from not giving money to the poor, poverty became widespread. When poverty was widespread, theft became widespread. When theft was widespread, using swords became widespread. When using swords was widespread, killing became widespread. Because killing was widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people lived for 80,000 years, but their children lived for 40,000 years.

“Among the people who lived for 40,000 years, a certain person stole something from another. People arrested him and presented him to the king, saying, ‘Sir, this person stole from another.’

“The king asked that person, ‘Is it really true, that you stole from another?’

“‘No, sir,’ he said, deliberately lying.

“So, monks, from not giving money to the poor, poverty became widespread. When poverty was widespread, theft became widespread. When theft was widespread, using swords became widespread. When using swords was widespread, killing became widespread, killing became widespread, lying became widespread. Because lying was widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for 40,000 years had children who lived for 20,000 years.

“Among the people who lived for 20,000 years, a certain person stole something from another. Someone else reported this to the king, ‘Sir, such-and-such person stole from others,’ he said, going behind his back.

“So, monks, from not giving money to the poor, poverty became widespread. When poverty was widespread, theft became widespread. When theft was widespread, using swords became widespread. When using swords was widespread, killing became widespread, killing became widespread, lying became widespread, when lying became widespread, backbiting became widespread. Because backbiting was widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for 20,000 years had children who lived for 10,000 years.

“Among the people who lived for 10,000 years, some were more beautiful than others. And the unattractive people, desiring the beautiful ones, committed adultery with others’ wives.

“So, monks, from not giving money to the poor, poverty became widespread. When poverty was widespread, theft became widespread. When theft was widespread, using swords became widespread. When using swords was widespread, killing became widespread, killing became widespread, lying became widespread, when lying became widespread, backbiting became widespread, when backbiting became widespread, sexual misconduct became widespread. Because sexual misconduct was widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for 10,000 years had children who lived for 5,000 years.

“Among the people who lived for 5,000 years, two things became widespread: harsh speech and idle chatter. Because these two things were widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for 5,000 years had some children who lived for 2,500 years, while others lived for 2,000 years.

“Among the people who lived for 2,500 years, craving for others’ belongings and anger became widespread. Because craving for others’ belongings and anger were widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for 2,500 years had children who lived for 1,000 years.

“Among the people who lived for 1,000 years, wrong view became widespread. Because wrong view was widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for 1,000 years had children who lived for five hundred years.

“Among the people who lived for five hundred years, three things became widespread: excessive lust, immoral greed, and wrong beliefs. Because these three things were widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for five hundred years had some children who lived for two hundred and fifty years, while others lived for two hundred years.

“Among the people who lived for two hundred and fifty years, these things became widespread: not taking care of mother and father, lack of respect for recluses, teachers and the elders in the family.

“And so, monks, from not giving money to the poor, poverty became widespread. When poverty was widespread, theft became widespread. When theft was widespread, using swords became widespread. When using swords was widespread, killing became widespread, killing became widespread, lying became widespread, when lying became widespread, backbiting became widespread, when backbiting became widespread, sexual misconduct became widespread. When sexual misconduct was widespread, harsh speech and idle chatter became widespread, when harsh speech and idle chatter became widespread, craving for others’ belongings and anger was widespread, when craving for others’ belongings and anger became widespread, wrong view was widespread, when wrong view was widespread, excessive lust, immoral greed, and wrong beliefs became widespread, when excessive lust, immoral greed, and wrong beliefs became widespread, not taking care of mother and father, lack of respect for recluses, teachers and the elders in the family was widespread. Because these things were widespread, their lifespan and beauty declined. Those people who lived for two hundred and fifty years had children who lived for a hundred years.

5. When People Live for Ten Years

“There will come a time, monks, when these people will have children who will reach the level of adulthood at 10 years. Among the people who live for 10 years, girls will be matured and marriageable at five. The following flavors will disappear: ghee, butter, oil, honey, molasses, and salt. The best kind of food will be the items made of finger millet, just as fine rice with meat is the best kind of food today.

“The ten types of wholesome deeds will totally disappear, and the ten types of unwholesome deeds will be popular. Those people will not even have the word ‘wholesome’, let alone anyone who does what is wholesome’. Monks, anyone who doesn’t take care of mother and father, doesn’t respect recluses and the elders in the family will be honored and praised, just as the opposite is honored and praised today.

“There will be no recognition of the status of mother, aunts, or wives of teachers and wives of respected people. The world will lose the basic boundaries of morality, people will go against the nature’s principles and follow immoral lifestyles of goats and sheep, chickens and pigs, and dogs and jackals.

“They’ll be full of hate towards each other, with strong anger, violent emotions, and thoughts of murder. Even a mother will feel like this for her child, and the child for their mother, father for child, child for father, brother for sister, and sister for brother. They’ll be just like a deer hunter when he sees a deer— hate towards each other, with strong anger, violent emotions, and thoughts of killing.

“Among the people who live for ten years, there will be a dreadful war of weapons lasting seven days. During that time, they will see each other as furious animals. Various weapons will appear in their hands, with which they’ll take each other’s life, shouting, ‘Here’s an animal! Here’s an animal!’

“Monks, then some of those beings will think, ‘Let us not kill anyone! May no one kill us! Why don’t we hide in thick bushes, thick forest, thick trees, inaccessible lands, or rugged mountains and survive on tree roots and fruits?’ So that’s what they will do.

“When those seven days have passed, they will emerge from their hiding places and embrace each other happily. They will console each other saying, ‘How fantastic, friend, you are alive! How fantastic, friend, you are alive!’

6. The Period of Growth

“Then, monks, those people will think, ‘It’s because we did evil things that we suffered such an extensive loss of our own people. We’d better do what’s wholesome. What wholesome thing should we do? Why don’t we refrain from killing? Let’s practise not killing and we’ll live by it.’ So that’s what they will do. Because of refraining from killing, their lifespan and beauty will grow. Those people who mature and live for ten years will have children who live for twenty years.

“Then those people will think, ‘Because of practising wholesome qualities, our lifespan and beauty are growing. Why don’t we do even more wholesome things? What wholesome thing should we do? Why don’t we refrain from stealing … sexual misconduct … lying … backbiting … harsh speech … and idle chatter. Why don’t we give up craving for others’ belongings … anger … wrong view … three things: excessive lust, immoral greed, and wrong believes. Why don’t we take care of mother and father, respect recluses and the elders in our families? Let’s practise these wholesome qualities and we’ll live by it.’ So that’s what they will do.

“Because of practising these wholesome things, their lifespan and beauty will grow. Those people who live for twenty years will have children who live for forty years. Those people who live for forty years will have children who live for eighty years, then a hundred and sixty years, three hundred and twenty years, six hundred and forty years, 2,000 years, 4,000 years, 8,000 years, 20,000 years, 40,000 years, and finally 80,000 years. Among the people who live for 80,000 years, girls will be marriageable at five hundred.

7. The Time of King Saṅkha

“Among the people who live for 80,000 years, there will be just three illnesses: greediness for food, dizziness due hunger, and old age. India will be successful and prosperous. The villages, towns, and capital cities will be no more than a chicken’s flight apart [There will be enormous amount of houses standing very close to each other]. India will be as crowded as Avīci hell, just full of people, like a thicket of bamboo trees. The royal capital will be our Benares, but renamed Ketumati. And it will be successful, prosperous, populous, full of people, with plenty of food. There will be 84,000 cities in India, with the royal capital of Ketumati foremost.

“And in the royal capital of Ketumati, a king named Saṅkha will arise, a universal king, a righteous and disciplined king. His dominion will extend to entire earth, he will achieve stability in the kingdom, and possess the seven treasures. He will have the following seven treasures: the wheel treasure, the elephant treasure, the horse treasure, the jewel treasure, the woman treasure, the counselor treasure and son treasure as the seventh treasure. He will have over a thousand sons who are brave and heroic, defeating the armies of his enemies. After conquering this earth surrounded by sea, he will rule righteously, without violence.

8. The Arising of the Buddha Metteyya

“Monks, among these people, the Blessed One named Metteyya will appear in the world—liberated, a fully enlightened Buddha, accomplished in true knowledge and pure conduct, attainer of Nibbāna, knower of the world, supreme trainer of beings, teacher of gods and humans, the most generous, the most fortunate—just as I have appeared at present. He will realize with his own insight this world—with its gods, Māras and Brahmās, this population with its recluses, gods and humans—and make it known to others, just as I do at present. He will teach the Dhamma that’s excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, and excellent in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And he will reveal a spiritual practice that’s entirely perfect and pure, just as I do at present. He will instruct thousands of monks, just as I instruct many hundreds of monks at present.

“Monks, there is a mansion built by King Mahāpanāda, now sunk in the river Ganges. King Saṅkha will have raised it up from the river and live in it. After living there for some time, he will donate all the wealth to recluses, the homeless and the poor. Then, having shaved his head and beard and dressed in robes, he will become a monk near the Buddha Metteyya. Soon after becoming a monk, living alone, diligent, keen, and resolute, he will attain the supreme goal of the spiritual path in this very life. He will live having achieved with his own insight the goal, Nibbāna for which sons rightly become monks.

“Monks, be your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the Dhamma be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge. And how does a monk do this? He meditates observing the true nature of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and grief for the world. He meditates observing the true nature of feelings … mind … Dhamma factors—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and grief for the world. That’s how a monk is his own island, his own refuge, with no other refuge. That’s how he let the Dhamma be his island and his refuge, with no other refuge.

9. On Long Life and Beauty for Monks

“Monks, you should roam inside your own territory, the domain of your father, the Buddha. Doing so, you will grow in life span, beauty, happiness, wealth, and power.

“And what is long life for a monk? It’s when a monk develops the basis of psychic power that is born of concentration due to desire towards liberation, and due to effort. He develops the basis of psychic power that is born of concentration due to energy towards liberation, and due to effort. He develops the basis of psychic power that is born of concentration due to courage towards liberation, and due to effort. He develops the basis of psychic power that is born of concentration due to investigation towards liberation, and due to effort. Having developed and cultivated these four bases of psychic power he may, if he wishes, live on for the eon or what’s left of the eon. Monks, this is long life for a monk.

“And what is beauty for a monk? It’s when a monk is virtuous, restrained in the monastic code, conducting himself well and practising pleasant demeanour. Seeing danger in the slightest fault, he keeps the precepts he’s observed. This is beauty for a monk.

“And what is happiness for a monk? It’s when a monk, secluded from worldly pleasures, secluded from unwholesome qualities, enters and remains in the first jhāna, which has the rapture and happiness born of seclusion, while placing the mind on the meditation-object and keeping the object connected. As the placing of the mind on the meditation-object and keeping the object connected are stilled, he enters and remains in the second jhāna … third jhāna … fourth jhāna. This is happiness for a monk.

“And what is wealth for a monk? It’s when a monk meditates spreading a heart full of loving kindness to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, he spreads a heart full of loving kindness to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will. He meditates spreading a heart full of compassion … appreciative joy … equanimity to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, he spreads a heart full of equanimity to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will. This is wealth for a monk.

“And what is power for a monk? It’s when a monk realizes the undefiled liberation of the mind and liberation by wisdom in this very life. And he lives having realized it with his own insight due to the abandonment of defilements. This is power for a monk.

“Monks, I do not see a single power so hard to defeat as the power of Māra. Monks, merit is collected due to practising wholesome qualities.”

That is what the Buddha taught. Satisfied, the monks were happy with what the Buddha taught.

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Dīgha Nikāya 26 Cakkavatti Sutta: The Universal King

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