The Dog and the Heartless King

From Long Ago
A curriculum for middle elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2014 Dan Harper


Read the story below, or read another version of the story, with the same title, in From Long Ago and Many Lands, available online through Google Books — click here.

One day, the followers of Buddha were sitting in the Hall of Truth talking with one another.

“Isn’t it amazing,” one of them said, “that the Buddha gave up a beautiful home, and now lives only for the good of the world?”

“Yes,” said another, “isn’t it amazing that he has attained supreme wisdom, yet rather than making himself rich, he goes about teaching goodness?”

Buddha came into the Hall and heard them talking. “Yes, it is true,” said the Buddha. “Even in my previous lives, even then when I had not attained supreme wisdom, I still always tried to live for the good of the world. Let me tell you the story of one of my previous lives.”

And this is the story the Buddha told:


Once upon a time, there reigned a king named Usinara. Now Usinara was heartless and cruel, and in his land all the people had given up doing good, given up all religion, and instead they followed the paths of evil-doing.

Sakka, the ruler of all the gods, looked upon this, and saw that people were suffering because they did evil.

“What shall I do, now?” he said to himself. “Ah, I have it! I will scare and terrify these people. And when I see they are terrified, I will tell them how to do good!”

So Sakka made the god Matali into the shape of a huge black hound, with four tusks each as big as a plantain, with a hideous shape and a fat belly. Sakka fastened this horrible dog with a chain, and turned himself into a hunter.

Together the hunter and the huge dog walked to King Usinara’s city.

“The world is doomed to destruction!” the hunter cried out, so loudly that he terrified everyone within earshot. He repeated this cry as he walked up to the very gates of the city.

The people of the city saw the huge dog and heard the hunter’s cries, and hurried into the city to tell the king what had happened. The king ordered the city gates to be closed. But the hunter and the huge dog leaped over the wall.

When they saw that the hunter and the dog had gotten inside the city, everyone ran away to find a place to hide. Those who could not get to their houses in time ran to the king’s palace to find safety.

The hunter and the dog came to the palace. The dog raised itself up, put its paws on the window of the room where the king was hiding, and barked. Its bark was a huge roaring noise that seemed to go from the depths of the earth to the highest heaven. Upon hearing this bark, the people were terrified and horrified, and no one could say a word.

At last the king plucked up his courage, and went to the window. He called out to the hunter: “Ho, huntsman! why did your hound roar?”

“The dog is hungry,” said the hunter.

“Well,” said the king, “I will order some food to be given to it.”

The king told his servants to give all the food in the palace to the dog. The huge dog gulped all the food down in one mouthful, then roared again.

Again the king called out the window: “Huntsman! Why does your hound still roar?”

“My dog is still hungry,” said the hunter.

Then the king had all the food for all his elephants and all his horses and all his other animals brought and given to the huge dog. Once again, the dog swallowed it in one gulp. So the king had all the food in the entire city brought. The huge dog swallowed all that in one gulp, and then roared again.

The king then said to himself, “This is no ordinary hound.” Terrified with fear, he called out to the hunter: “Why does this huge hound, with sharp white fangs as big as plantains, come here with you?”

“The dog comes to eat my enemies,” said the hunter.

“And who are your enemies?” said the king.

“All those people who are smart and educated, but who use their skill only to acquire money — these are my enemies,” said the hunter. “All those who do not take care of their parents, once their parents get old. All those who betray their friends or spouses or siblings. All those who pretend to follow religious principles, but who actually do whatever they want. All those who are criminals, and kill and rob. All those who have hearts filled with evil, and who are evil and deceitful. These, all these are my enemies, O king!”

And the hunter made as though he would let the hound leap forth and devour all those who did the evil deeds of his enemies. But even as all the people of the city drew back in fear, the hunter held firmly on to the huge dog’s leash.

The Sakka shed his disguise of a hunter. By his power he rose and poised himself in the air, and said: “O great king, I am Sakka ruler of the gods! Seeing that the world was about to be destroyed by evil, I came hither. From henceforth I will know how to deal with the wicked, but do you be vigilant.”

So King Usinara and all the people saw how they were doing evil, and they knew they must stop. They must stop doing evil, or the huge dog would remain hungry, and would keep roaring!

And when he saw that humankind had turned away from evil, and once again was following the paths of good — then Sakka and Matali returned to their own place.


When the Master had finished telling this story, he went on to say: “So you see, in my former lives I lived for the good of the world.”

Buddha and his followers all believed that they had had many previous lives, and had been reincarnated many times. And his followers knew that one of the characters in the story had been Buddha. But which one?

At last Buddha told them: “At that time, my follower and friend, Ananda, was Matali,” said the Buddha. “And I was Sakka.”


Jataka tale no. 469, Maha-Kanha Jataka. The Jataka Vol. IV, trans. by W. H. D. Rouse [1901], pp. 111-115. See below for more about the source for the Fahs version of this story.


SESSION SEVEN: The Dog and the Heartless King

I/ Opening

Take attendance.

Light chalice with these words and the associated hand motions: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism: the church of the open mind, the helping hands, and the loving heart.”

Check-in: Go around circle. Each child and adult says his or her name, and then may say one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week (anyone may pass).

II/ Read the story “The Dog and the Heartless King.”

Read the story above, or read another version of the story, with the same title, in From Long Ago and Many Lands, available online through Google Books — click here.

III/ Act out the story.

This dramatic story is can be great fun to act out.

As usual, begin by asking: “Who are the characters in this story?” The characters include: the heartless king; the hunter; the enormous dog; etc. (Note that the two different versions of the story have somewhat different supporting characters.)

Determine where the stage area will be, and the lead teacher sits facing the stage. As usual, the lead teacher reads the story, prompting actors as needed to act out their parts. Depending on the size of the class, some children make take on more than one role.

IV/ Conversation about the story

Sit back down in a group. Go over the story to make sure the children understand it.

Now ask some general questions: “What was the best part of the story? Who was your favorite character? Who was your least favorite character?” — or questions you come up with on your own.

Ask some questions specific to the story: “Why the dog bark?” “What were the bad things that the dog was barking about?”

Since you’ve been discussing stories week after week, by now the children should be pretty good at it. The children I have told this story to like to think about whether the story is really true or not, and that question has led to some very interesting discussions. Ask them: do you think this story could have been really true? (If you read the version on this Web page, above, you will see that this is clearly not a story of historical origin!) Yet even though it is not a historically accurate story, there is something about this story that has influenced many people — Upton Sinclair used this story in a Progressive anthology devoted to promoting social justice (see below, under Notes). So while it may not be factually true, is there still some kind of truth in it? What kind of truth is in this story?

V/ Free play and snack

The usual: “Duck, Duck, Goose”; Lego play; go outdoors; etc.

VII/ Closing circle

Before leaving, have the children hold hands in a circle. Show them how to hold hands: Hold your hands out in front of you with your palms down; now turn your left hand so that your left palm is up; now both your thumbs are pointing right; now hold hands with the person on each side, with your right hand on top of another person’s left hand, and your left hand under another person’s right hand.

When the children are in a circle, ask them what they did today, and prompt them with questions and answers, e.g.: “What did we do today? We heard a story, right? Anyone remember what the story was about? Etc.” You’re not trying to put any one child on the spot, but rather drawing on the wisdom of the group as a whole. If any parents have come to pick up their children, invite them to join the circle (so they can know what it is their children learned about this week).

Say the closing words together — either these words, or others you choose:

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

Then tell the children how you enjoyed seeing them (if that’s true), and that you look forward to seeing them again next week.



The Fahs version of the story is very similar to to a story which was published in an anthology of the Progressive era, The Cry for Justice: An anthology of the literature of social protest, ed. Upton Sinclair (2nd ed., New York: Upton Sinclair, 1915), p. 461. Sinclair took his version from The Gospel of Buddha “told by” Paul Carus (Chicago: Open Court, 1895), pp. 176-177. Obviously, the point of “The Parable of the Hungry Dog” is that we should engage in social justice work.

The version by Paul Carus is interesting enough that it’s worth reprinting here:


There was a great king who oppressed his people and was hated by his subjects; yet when the Tathāgata came into his kingdom, the king desired much to see him. So he went to the place where the Blessed One stayed and asked: “O Sakyamuni, canst thou teach a lesson to the king that will divert his mind and benefit him at the same time?”

And the Blessed One said: “I shall tell thee the parable of the hungry dog:

“There was a wicked tyrant; and the god Indra, assuming the shape of a hunter, came down upon earth with the demon Mātali, the latter appearing as a dog of enormous size. Hunter and dog entered the palace, and the dog howled so woefully that the royal buildings shook by the sound to their very foundations. The tyrant had the awe-inspiring hunter brought before his throne and inquired after the cause of the terrible bark. The hunter said, “The dog is hungry,” whereupon the frightened king ordered food for him. All the food prepared at the royal banquet disappeared rapidly in the dog’s jaws, and still he howled with portentous significance. More food was sent for, and all the royal store-houses were emptied, but in vain. Then the tyrant grew desperate and asked: ‘Will nothing satisfy the cravings of that woeful beast?’ ‘Nothing,’ replied the hunter, ‘nothing except perhaps the flesh of all his enemies.’ ‘And who are his enemies?’ anxiously asked the tyrant. The hunter replied: ‘The dog will howl as long as there are people hungry in the kingdom, and his enemies are those who practice injustice and oppress the poor.’ The oppressor of the people, remembering his evil deeds, was seized with remorse, and for the first time in his life he began to listen to the teachings of righteousness.”

Having ended his story, the Blessed One addressed the king, who had turned pale, and said to him:

“The Tathāgata can quicken the spiritual ears of the powerful, and when thou, great king, hearest the dog bark, think of the teachings of the Buddha, and thou mayst still learn to pacify the monster.”