Question: What is meant by the fulfillment of śilaparamita (The perfection of moral virtue)?
Response: It consists in not even sparing one's own life in guarding and upholding the precepts of purity. A case in point is that of King Sutasoma who, on account of the Great King Kalmāşapāda, went so far as to give up his life to avoid transgressing the prohibitions.
In the past there was a king named Sutasoma. This king was assiduous in his upholding of the precepts and so always resorted to truth in speech. One morning he got into his carriage and, taking along his courtesans, set out to the gardens to roam about and enjoy himself. As he was leaving the city gates he came upon a brahman who, having come to request alms, said to the King, "The King is a great man endowed with many blessings whereas I am but a pauper. May it be that I receive compassionate consideration and a measure of offering in response to this entreaty."
The King replied, "I'll consent to this. I respect the dictates of the Tathagata that one should engage in giving. But it must wait until I return from this excursion."
Having said this he went on into the gardens where he bathed and enjoyed himself. Then, a two-winged king named Kalmāşapāda1 flew down from the sky, plucked up the King from amidst his courtesans and flew off with him. It was just like when the golden-winged [garuda] bird scoops up dragons from the sea. All of the women wept and wailed. Everyone in the gardens was in shock and everywhere inside and outside the city walls the people were in a commotion of grief and agitation. Kalmāşapāda carried off the King, soared high up into the sky and then flew away to the mountain where he dwelt.2 There he kept the King together with ninety-nine other kings.
The tears of Sutasoma flowed down like raindrops. King Kalmāşapāda inquired of him, "Oh great King of Kşatriyan lineage, why is it that you cry like an infant? When a man is born, he is bound to die. Whosoever comes together must eventually separate."
King Sutasoma replied, "I do not fear dying. I only regret the breach of trust. Even from the time I was born I have never uttered a falsehood. But when I was going out the gates this morning there was a brahman who had come to request alms from me. At that time I consented and told him that on my return I would bestow some benefaction on him. I never considered the fact of impermanence. If I fail in my obligation to him, I shall naturally become guilty of deception. It is solely for this reason that I weep."
King Kalmāşapāda said, "If in your mind you are so fearful of having uttered this falsehood, I will allow you to return. Having then made offerings to the brahman, you must then return within seven days. If after seven days you have still not returned, then, as I still possess the power of these two wings, it won't be difficult to seize you."
King Sutasoma was able to return to his native state where he was able to freely make offerings. He established the Prince as the King. At a great assembly of the citizenry he apologetically took leave of them, saying, "As my wisdom does not extend to all things, there are ways in which my rule has not accorded with Dharma. May we [nonetheless] enjoy your loyalty and forgiveness. Now, in accordance with the fact that my person is no longer my own, it is only right that I return straightaway."
All of the citizens of the country and the relatives of the King bowed down and beseeched him to remain, pleading, "We pray that we may remain in the King's thoughts and that he will continue to offer this country the shade of his loving kindness. Don't make that Kalmāşapāda, a king among ghosts, the basis of your considerations. We will raise up an iron fortress and mount a surprise attack. Although Kalmāşapāda may have supernatural powers, we need not fear him." The King replied, "We cannot proceed in such a fashion." And then he uttered a verse, saying:
Truth in speech is the first among the precepts.
Truth in speech is the ladder to the heavens.
Truth in speech is minor yet major.3
False speech is the means for entering the hells.
Now I in maintaining truth in speech.
Would rather cast aside my body and life.
In my thoughts there are no regrets at all.
Having pondered the matter in this fashion the King immediately set out to the abode of King Kalmāşapāda. When Kalmāşapāda saw him in the distance he was delighted and said, "You are a man of true words. You do not fail in the essential of trustworthiness. Everyone cherishes his own life. Although you had been liberated from certain death you have come back again to attend to the matter of trustworthiness. You are a great man.
At that time King Sutasoma spoke in praise of truth in speech, saying, "Truth in speech. This is what makes a man. As for one who utters words which are untrue, he is not a man." In this fashion, he spoke all manner of praises of truth and criticisms of falsehood.
As Kalmāşapāda listened to this, thoughts of faithfulness became purified in him, whereupon he said to King Sutasoma, "You have spoken well about this. I am now releasing you and since you have gained your freedom, I am releasing the other ninety-nine kings as a gift to you. If you wish, they may each go back to their home country." After he had said this, all one hundred kings were able to return. All manner of characteristics such as these which are described in the Jataka describe what constitutes the paramita of śila (the perfection of moral virtue).
1、The Chinese frequently renders Kalmāşapāda as "Deer Foot", which, for consistency, I have reconstructed throughout.
2、An alternate reading shared by six other versions, "...flew away to his abode where they stopped" was set aside as a probable scribal error mistaking a very similar character.
3、An alternate reading of this line shared by four versions reads, "Truth in speech makes the great man."