A hundred years after the Buddha’s parinirvana, there was a king who still worshipped ancient gods and practiced sacrificial rites. He would command his imperial cooks to slaughter hundreds of cows, sheep, chickens, dogs and pigs. One of his cooks was a Buddhist, however, who upheld the precepts and refused to take the life of any sentient beings. His behavior made the kitchen officials exceedingly angry, and they reported him to the king for punishment.
The king summoned the cook and said, “Those who disobey orders must suffer the death penalty.” In reply, the cook said, “I am a Buddhist and have taken the five precepts. I follow the Buddhist teachings and would rather sacrifice my own life than harm others.” The cook went on to say that if he did as the king ordered and killed these animals, not only will his life be cut short, but he will enter the hell realm and endure endless suffering for his actions. Not until his misdeeds have been atoned will he be freed from the realm of suffering. On the other hand, by observing the precepts, even if the king chose to execute him, he will be reborn in heaven and be blessed with his heart’s every desire. These are two very different consequences, hence, he would much rather die than violate the precept of no killing.
After listening to the cook, the king said, “In seven days I will let loose a herd of five hundred elephants to trample you underfoot. If you do not die, this will prove that what you say is true.” Seven days later, the cook faced the herd of five hundred powerful elephants with the dignity and serenity of a buddha. As the elephants charged towards him at great speed, on the brink of certain death, the cook raised his five fingers. Like the Buddha himself when confronted by five hundred elephants, in a flash his five fingers became mountains, and in between each mountain were roaring lions. Upon seeing the lions, the elephants prostrated themselves on the ground, petrified and panic-stricken. He had subdued the elephants the same way the Buddha did.
Having seen this miracle with his own eyes, the king finally believed in the existence of the Buddha. Right away he decided the worship and sacrifices to the ancient gods must stop. Afterward, all the court, from the highest ministers to the lowest servants, accepted the teachings and precepts of Buddhism. What happened to the cook? He became a monk and served as spiritual advisor to the king, trusted and revered by all. His story shows that by upholding the precepts, it is possible to inspire others to do the same.
Before the Buddha’s parinirvana, he adjured his disciples to follow the Dharma and accept the precepts. If practitioners did not uphold the precepts, they would become like trees without roots, unable to grow properly. Therefore, the precepts are the stepping stones towards nirvana, helping to develop samadhi (deep meditation) and wisdom, promoting myriad merits. Buddhist practitioners should not deviate an inch from their precepts, in order that they may attain Buddhahood themselves and also strengthen the belief and understanding of Buddhism in others, benefitting themselves and others at the same time.