The King with One Grey Hair: Ordination
People used to live a lot longer than they do now, very, very long ago. They were alive for many millennia. The Enlightenment Being was then a young child named Makhadeva. He was a child and crown prince for 84,000 years. He had been a young king for 80,000 years at the time of our tale.
One day, Makhadeva instructed the court barber to alert her right away if she noticed any grey hairs on her head. Of course, the barber made that commitment.
When Makhadeva had been a young king for 84,000 years, another 4,000 years had passed. Then, one day, as the king’s hair was being cut, the royal barber noticed only one single grey hair on the king’s head. Oh my Lord, I see one grey hair on your head, he exclaimed. If this is the case, pull it out and place it in my hand, the king ordered. The barber took out his golden tweezers, extracted the one tiny grey hair, and gave it to the king.
The king still had at least 84,000 more years to live as an old king at that point! He started to fear dying after noticing the single grey hair in his hand. He experienced a sense of impending death, as if he were entrapped in a burning building. He was so terrified that he began to perspire and tremble.
King Makhadeva pondered: “Oh foolish king, you have wasted your entire long life and are now on the verge of passing away. You haven’t tried to overcome your greed or envy, to live without hatred, to overcome your ignorance by gaining knowledge of the truth, or to grow in wisdom.”
His body was burning and sweat was pouring down as he was contemplating this. Then he made the final decision: “It is time to relinquish the throne, become a monk, and practise meditation!” As a result, he gave the barber the income of an entire town. One thousand of them were done every year.
When his oldest son arrived, the king called him over and said, “My son, I have seen a grey hair. I’m getting older. I have luxuriated in the pleasures of great wealth and authority. I desire a heaven world rebirth after death so that I may experience the pleasures of the gods. So I’ll be given the monk’s ordination. You must now assume the duty of leading the nation. In the forest, I’ll lead a monastic lifestyle.
When the royal ministers and the other members of the court learned of this, they hurried to the king and questioned him, “Our lord, why do you suddenly want to be ordained?”
The king said while holding up the grey hair in his hand, “My ministers and subjects, I have come to understand that this grey hair signifies the end of the three stages of life—youth, middle age, and old age. The first grey hair on my head was the death’s messenger. The angels of death that are sent to earth are like grey hairs. So the time has come for me to be ordained today.”
At the news of his departure, the people sobbed. King Makhadeva renounced his throne, entered the forest, and received monastic ordination. He exercised there what sages refer to as the “Four Heavenly States of Mind.” The first is tender affection and loving-kindness for everyone. The second is having compassion and pity for everyone who is suffering. The third is having joy for everyone who is joyful. The fourth state is equilibrium and composure, even in the presence of problems or difficulties.
The Bodhisatta passed away after 84,000 years of intense effort spent meditating and honing these states as a lowly forest monk. He was born again to live a million-year life in the world of high heaven.
The moral is: Even a long life is too short to waste.