How The Buddha Prevented A Bloody War

Not only did the Buddha
actively teach to promote peace,
he actively prevented war too.

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In the Buddha’s time, the Sakiyas (Sakyas) and Koliyas (Kolis) once directed the Rohini (Rohni) river to to be constricted by a dam between the city of Kapilavatthu (Kapilavastu) and Koliya for irrigation of their fields on its banks. In a certain month, when the crops started to wither and the river ran low, labourers and residents of both cities assembled for a meeting. The Koliyas remarked that if the water continued to be shared by both sides, it would be inadequate for both clans. And since their crops could ripen with one more watering, they should have it. To that, the Sakiyas rebutted that after the Koliyas have stocked their storehouses, they the Sakiyas would not be willing to take their precious minerals, gems and money to visit them door to door in exchange for food. They too insisted that as their crops could ripen with one more watering, they should have the water. Thus began their bickering, out of mutual reluctance to let the water be taken by the other. When things got more bitter, one man struck another, with the other man retaliating, sparking off a fight. To add fuel to the fire was the casting of aspersions on each other’s royal lineage.

The Koliyas’ labourers suggested that the Sakiyas should take their offsprings to where they belong – dogs and jackals, as their men ‘cohabit’ with their sisters. They expressed disbelief that they could be harmed by their warring animals and weapons. The Sakiyas’ labourers retorted that the ‘leper-like’ Koliyas should take their offsprings to where they belong – jujube trees, as they are animal-like destitute outcasts. They too expressed disbelief that they can be harmed by their warring animals and weapons. Both sides reported the quarrel to their ministers, who reported it to their royal households. Armed for battle, the Sakiyas yelled that they will show what strength and power those who cohabit with their sisters have. Mirroring this, the Koliyas armed for battle and declared that they will show what strength and power those who dwell in jujube trees have. Surveying the world at dawn, the Buddha realised that if he did not go to them, they would destroy one another. Using his supernormal power, he levitated through the air to where the conflict was and sat cross-legged in the air above the middle of the Rohini to catch everyone’s attention.

When his Sakiya clansmen saw him, they threw off their weapons to pay homage to him. Although already with knowledge of the matter, the Buddha enquired on the origin of the quarrel… to which some expressed their ignorance. He then asked who would be likely to know. When the army’s chief commander was directed to, he replied that the viceroy would be likely to know. This went on and on until the labourers were questioned, who replied that the quarrel is about water. The Buddha next asked the king on how much the water is worth. ‘Very little’, of course. How much are Khattiyas (Sakiyas) worth then? ‘Beyond price.’ This, the Buddha reasoned, is why it is not fitting to, for very little water, destroy Khattiyas who are beyond price. To that, all became silent. The Buddha asked both kings to reflect on their actions, exclaiming that if he was not here, they would have let flow a river of (much) blood (for a little water), that what done should not be done – to live in strife afflicted with disease of evil passions in eager pursuit of (fleeting) sense pleasures. In contrast, he lives free from strife, disease and pursuit. Thus said, he proclaimed the following famous verses…

We live indeed so happily,
Unhating [Unailing/ Ungreedy] amidst haters [ailers/ greedy];
Among those who are hateful [ailing/ greedy],
We dwell free from hate [illness/ greed].

– The Buddha (Dhammapada Verse 197-199)


  • Would imagine he suggested sharing the water and crops. It’s the simplest win-win solution.


    Beyond that, it is lose-lose – no water or crops; just lots of bloodshed.



  • “Sharing” the water was not an option for either clan as the water was not abundant enough to water both crops – ergo, both crops would fail and all would lose.

    A win could only come if the 1st tribe could trust the 2nd tribe to provide them with food if 1st tribe gave up their rights to the water to allow the 2nd to bring their crops to harvest.

    This story is much less about ‘rights’ than it is about ‘trust.’ With each tribe knowing that their suffering was the same as the other tribe, there would hopefully be understanding, followed by trust. We are often blind to the suffering of others, forgetting that we all suffer the same way. It’s ego driven and the ego likes to create the duality between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ When such duality exists, there can be little in the way of trust.

  • Water to be shared between two tribes in ratio. Let each tribe grow their crops as it sufficient. And share among themselves.
    No need to give up rights on water and wait to receive food from other tribe with trust.
    People follow material needs, irrespective of their likes and dislikes.

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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