In ancient India, there lived a young prince Shaktiman who desired to be King and was waiting for the day when he would take the throne when his father, the King, died. However for many many many years, the King showed no signs of ill health and looked as if he will live forever.
Shaktiman was extremely frustrated at his long wait and went to his mother to lament his unhappiness. It seemed as if he will never ever be King before he died. The Queen found it unbearable to see her son suffer and decided to tell him a secret.
“My son, Your father is a man with great merit and he is blessed with longevity because his life is linked to that of the great Pandit Nagarjuna who has attained the siddhi of immortality. For as long as Nagarjuna lives, so will your father. Resign to your fate that you will never be King”
Shaktiman was heartbroken at the news and collapsed onto the ground in grief. The Queen felt strongly for her son’s plight and made a suggestion.
“Nagarjuna is a great bodhisattva. He has great compassion and has made vows to fulfill the wishes of anyone who asks of him. If If you ask him for his head, he will give it to you.”
Desperate to be king, Shaktiman decided to try his luck. He went to see Nagarjuna and made his request.
Nagarjuna meditated over the request and in his meditation, saw that he had already benefit all the beings that he possibly could – there was no need for him to remain in the world any longer. Seeing that Shakiman was the last person who has karmic conditions with him to be tamed, Nagarjuna consented to give away his head. He closed his eyes and told Shaktiman that he can severe his head anytime.
The prince was overjoyed at Nagarjuna’s acceptance of his request. He immediately unsheathed his sword and took a swing at Nagarjuna’s head. However his sword could not severe Nagarjuna’s head.
He tried a few times but each time, the sword did not even manage to make a single cut on Nagarjuna’s neck. In anger, he raised his sword high and struck at Nagarjuna’s head with all his strength. The sword broke.
At this time. Nagarjuna opened his eyes and spoke
“Dear Prince, I had exhausted all karma of being harmed by weapons. Your sword cannot sever my head.”
Shaktiman was engraged and cried that Nagarjuna was a liar for agreeing to give up his head when he already knew that he could not be killed.
“Dear Prince, even though I have exhausted my karma to be harmed. There is still a karmic cause for me to give you my head.
In a previous life, I accidentally cut off the head of an insect when I was cutting kushu grass. This is the only karma that I had yet to purify.
Due to this casue, the only way for me to die is if you take a stake of kushu grass and sever my head.”
Shaktiman took up a stalk of kushu that Nagarjuna was sitting on and struck again. This time, Nagajurna’s head fell off effortlessly and milk flow poured forth.
This is the story of how Nagarjuna used his death as a lesson in the certainty of karma.