While Brahmadutt was ruling Banaras, there was a vassal king called Chirayu. Nagarjun, an incarnation of Bodhisatva, was a minister for Chirayu.
Nagarjun was both kind and charitable. He was also an expert in chemical and herbal preparations. He discovered a chemical agent by which he freed himself and the King from old age and death. But as it was a matter of very rare. Chemicals and involved extraordinary cost, he could extend this immunity to none else.
Now, the best-loved son of Nagarjun, a brilliant boy named Somadev, happened to die, plunging his father into deep sorrow.
“There shall be no more deaths,” Nagarjun swore. “I shall find the means to conquer death at all cost.”
Chemicals were too costly and too limited to serve the entire humanity. So, Nagarjun conducted his research with herbs intensely and for a long time. At last, they bore fruit, and he was in the final stage of preparing the Nectar of Eternal Life.
Indra, the Ruler of Heaven, was annoyed when he heard of Nagarjun’s experiments. He called upon the Aswins, the divine physicians, and told them, “Go to earth and frustrate the experiments of Nagarjun by every means at your disposal.”
The Aswins changed themselves into human beings and called upon Nagarjun.
“O, wise Minister, being yourself a past master in administration, why have you embarked upon a scheme which would upset the entire administration of the Universe ?” they said. “You are transgressing the Divine Law which makes man mortal. You are also infringing upon the rights of the gods, who alone have the privilege of conferring immortality upon souls. It is not proper to take upon yourself the task of removing the distinction between mortals and immortals. You are, no doubt, aggrieved that your son was dead. But we assure you he is happy in heaven.”
This logic did not wholly convince Nagarjun. But, being a reasonable man, he debated whether his aim was correct.
Soon after this, Jayasen, the son of Chirayu, was crowned as the future King. Great preparations and festivities were organised for the crowning ceremony.
In the meantime, the Aswins returned to Indra and reported to him that they were not successful in persuading Nagarjun to give up his quest for universal immortality. So, Indra disguised himself as an old Brahman and went to the Crown Prince, Jayasen.
“I am sorry for you, young man,” he said. “Though you are crowned the future King, you have no future as a king. You must know that Nagarjun has already made your father immune from old age and death. You’ll die only as Crown Prince.”
The young man was crestfallen on hearing this. He never had a chance to sit on the throne; what this old Brahman said was true. The old King would still be on the throne after his great-grandchildren died. His crowning ceremony was a cruel farce.
“However,” said Indra, “There is a way of getting over this difficulty if you follow my advice. Nagarjun never denies anything to anyone before he sits for his meal. Go to him and ask him boldly for his head. You’ll see that your way to the throne will be clear.”
Crown Prince, Jayasen followed the older man’s advice and asked Nagarjun for his head. Nagarjun did not hesitate for a moment. He gave the young prince a sword and said, “Take my head.”
But Nagarjun was already immune from old age and death, and the sword bounced away from his neck without scratching it.
Meanwhile, the King heard of the whole affair and came running anxiously. He tried to dissuade his son from his foolishness. Attempt.
“Do not find fault with your son, O King,” Nagarjun said. “He is only an instrument in bigger hands. I am aware of the entire scheme behind his request. I have given up my head ninety-nine times in my past births. Let this be the hundredth time.”
Nagarjun applied the juice of a herb to the edge of the sword and asked the prince to sever his head. This time, with a single blade stroke, the prince separated Nagarjun’s head from his body.
King Chirayu, too, saw this atrocity and tried to kill himself, but Nagarjun’s head said to him, “Grieve not, my King. I am always with you.”
In utter disgust, the King renounced everything, sat his son on the throne and went into the forest to spend his time in penance and meditation.
Thus Jayasen got his throne, and Indra had the satisfaction of frustrating Nagarjun’s attempts to impart Eternal Life to all human beings of all ages. What Nagarjun almost succeeded in achieving, no one attempted again. That is why we are all still mortal.
Chandamama September 1955