A very very long time ago, there were people who lived much longer than they do today. They lived many thousand years. At that time, the Enlightenment Being was born as a baby named Makhadeva. He lived 84,000 years as a child and crown prince. At the time of our story, he had been a young king for 80,000 years.
One day, Makhadeva told the royal barber, “If you see any grey hair on my head, you must tell me immediately!” Of course, the barber promised to do so.
Another 4,000 years passed, until Makhadeva had been a young king for 84,000 years. Then one day, while he was cutting the king’s hair, the royal barber saw just one little grey hair on all the king’s head. So he said, “Oh my lord, I see one grey hair on your head.” The king said, “If this be so, pull it out and put it in my hand.” The barber got his golden tweezers, plucked out the single little grey hair, and put it in the king’s hand.
At that time, the king still had at least another 84,000 years left to live as an old king! Looking at the one grey hair in his hand, he became very afraid of dying. He felt like death was closing in on him, as if he were trapped in a burning house. He was so afraid, that the sweat rolled down his back, and he shuddered.
King Makhadeva thought, “Oh foolish king, you have wasted all this long life and now you are near death. You have made no attempt to destroy your greed and envy, to live without hating, and to get rid of your ignorance by learning the truth and becoming wise.”
As he thought this, his body burned and the sweat kept rolling down. Then he decided once and for all, “It is time to give up the kingship, be ordained as a monk, and practice meditation!” Thinking so, he granted the income of a whole town to the barber. It amounted to one-hundred-thousand per year.
Then the king called his oldest son to him and said, “My son, I have seen a grey hair. I have become old. I have enjoyed the worldly pleasures of great wealth and power. When I die, I want to be reborn in a heaven world, to enjoy the pleasures of the gods. So I will be ordained as a monk. You must now take the responsibility of ruling the country. I will live the life of a monk in the forest.”
Hearing of this, the royal ministers and the rest of the court rushed to the king and said, “Our lord, why do you suddenly want to be ordained?”
The king held up the grey hair in his hand and said, “My ministers and subjects, I have realized that this grey hair shows that the three stages of life – youth, middle age and old age – are coming to an end. This first grey hair was the messenger of death sitting on my head. Grey hairs are like angels sent by the god of death. Therefore, this very day is the time for me to be ordained.”
The people wept at the news of his departure. King Makhadeva gave up his royal life, went into the forest, and was ordained as a monk. There he practiced what holy men call the ‘Four Heavenly States of Mind’. First is loving-kindness, tender affection for all. Second is feeling sympathy and pity for all those who suffer. Third is feeling happiness for all those who are joyful. And the fourth state is balance and calm, even in the face of difficulties or troubles.
After 84,000 years of great effort meditating and practicing these states as a humble forest monk, the Bodhisatta died. He was reborn in a high heaven world, to live a life a million years long!
The moral is: Even a long life is too short to waste.