Buddhism > Buddhist Stories > The Sixteen Dreams of King Pasenadi Kosol

In Buddhist literature, the 16 Dreams of King Pasenadi is famous. Some 2,500 years ago, the Enlightened One the Gautama Buddha, clearly explained the 16 Dreams seen by King Pasenadi of Kosala, the titular head of Kingdom in Eastern India.

King Pasenadi, was the son of King Maha Kosala.  He was  a just  ruler  respected  by  his  subjects  and  was  a supporter of Lord  Buddha. Being of the same age, they knew each other when both were quite young. The  King was  most  respectful  to the Buddha  and  used  to seek  His counsel  on various  issues both personal  as well as on affairs of state. One night, the King had a series of 16 dreams and woke up in great fright as to what these dreams might portend. Amazingly, the King could remember the details of the 16 dreams after awakening.

Fearing a great tragedy that the dream may have fore- told, the King summoned his advisors and asked for their advice. The  crafty  Brahmins  realizing  that  here  is an opportunity for them to make  a ‘killing’, predicted  – after listening to the King’s dreams – that one of three calamities is about to happen:  harm to the kingdom,  danger to his life or his wealth.

“Is there a remedy?”  Asked the King.

“It is a very difficult task my Lord, but we shall try,” they all said collectively, hoping to create further fear in the mind of the King.

“My life is in your hands, make haste” pleaded the King.

The crafty  and avaricious  Brahmins  informed  the King that a large sum of money is necessary  and a host of animals and  birds  would  have  to be sacrificed  to overcome  the imminent dangers.  The King readily agreed.

Fortunately, his chief queen, Queen Mallika, a beautiful and a noble lady, enquired from the King what these preparations were in aid of. When the King explained his quandary, the wise queen suggested that they should first consult the Buddha before taking any further steps.  Finally the King and his queen presented the problem to the Samma Sambuddha. Then the Buddha requested the King to relate his dreams.

The 16 Dreams


The King said: “In my dream, I saw four black bulls coming to the Royal courtyard from the four cardinal points with the avowed intention of fighting and a great multitude of people flocked to watch. But the bulls only made a show of fighting, they roared and bellowed but finally went off without fighting.”

The Buddha gave the King the following interpretation:

“Sire, that dream has no bearing to the present time. However, in future times when kings are unrighteous, in days when people are unrighteous, when the world is perverted, when good is waning and evil is waxing, there shall fall no rain from the heavens.  Crops shall wither and famine will affect the land. Clouds will gather as if for rains, thunder shall bellow, lightning will flash but even as the bulls in your dream that fought not, so shall the clouds flee without raining.  But no harm shall come to you. What  the Brahmins  told you was merely  to get themselves  a livelihood.”



“Sir”  said the King,  “ in my second  dream  I saw many tiny  trees  and  shrubs  bursting  through  the soil  and  when they  had grown  scarce  a span  or two high,  they  flowered and bore fruits!

“Sire”  the  Buddha replied, this dream too would have its fulfillment  in days when  the world  has fallen  into decay and  when  men  are  short-lived.  In time  to come,  passions shall be strong. Quite young girls will go and live with men and bear children. The flowers typify their issues, the fruits their offspring.

“But this will not happen until the distant future when the world is declining. What was your third dream, oh king?”



The King said:

“My  Lord, I saw cows suckling the milk of calves which they had borne that selfsame day.”

“What will come of it?”

The  Buddha replied: 

“Here  again  you  have nothing  to worry  because  it will  not happen  during  your  reign. This dream  would  have its fulfillment  when  respect  shall cease to be paid to elders. During that era, there will be no reverence shown to parents  or parents-in-law. The young will administer the family estate themselves  and deprive  the elders of their ownership  and only give them food and clothing. Then  the old folks  shall become  destitute  and dependent  and would have to exist on the favour of their children,  like big cows suckling calves a day old.”

“But clearly it is not like that today, oh king, so you have nothing to fear. Now tell me your fourth dream.”



The King said:

“I saw men unyoking a team of draught-oxen, sturdy and strong, and instead  setting young steers to draw the load: and the steers proving  unequal  to the task laid on them, refused  and stood stock still, so that the wagons did not move.

What shall come of it?”

The  Buddha replied:

“ Here again this will not have any bearing  on you.  During  the  days  of unrighteous rulers, wise men  and aged councillors  skilled in the precedent,   fertile in expedience  and able to get through business,  learned in the laws  of the country,  will  not be honoured  nor  appointed  to courts  of law. Those  appointed  officials,  ignorant alike of statecraft  and of practical  knowledge  shall not be able  to bear  the burden  of their  honours  or to govern, and  because  of their  incompetence would  not be able  to discharge  their duties. Whereupon the aged and wise lords shall  keep  in mind  having  been  passed  over  earlier  and shall decline to assist saying: “It is of no business  of ours, we are outsiders. You were appointed, now you carry on.” Hence  they  shall  stand  aside  and ruination  will result  just as the yoke that was laid on the young steers that were not strong  enough  to carry  the wagons.

“Again you have nothing to fear, oh king, from those far-off times when all the nations will be poorly run by the young and foolish.

What was your fifth dream?”



The King said

“Sir, I saw a horse with a mouth on either side, to which fodder was given on both sides and it ate with both mouths. It was eating voraciously.

This was my fifth dream. What shall come of it?”

The  Buddha replied: 

“This  dream  too  shall  have  its fulfilment  only  in the future,  in the days  of unrighteous and foolish rulers who shall appoint unrighteous and covetous  men to be judges. These  base ones, fools, despising the good,  would  take bribes  from both sides  as they sit in the seat of judgement  and shall be filled with this two-fold corruption  even  as the  horse  that  ate  fodder  with  both mouths  at once.”

“Now tell me your sixth dream.”



The King then related his sixth dream:

“Sir, I saw people holding out a golden bowl worth a hundred thousand pieces of kahavanu and begging an old jackal to urinate therein. And I saw the beast doing so. What shall come of it?”

The Buddha replied: 

“This dream too shall come true in the future, in times of unrighteous rulers.  Such  rulers though  being  descendants   of  a race  of  nobility  yet mistrusting  the scions  of their  ancestors  shall  not honour them,  instead  appoint  and  exalt  the lowborn  and  thus  the lowborn shall be raised to lordship.  As a result, the nobility by their need to live by dependence on such upstarts, shall offer them their daughters in marriage.  And the union of the noble maidens with the low-born shall be like unto the urinating of the old jackal into the golden bowl.”



The King related:

“Sir, a man was weaving rope and as he wove he threw it down at his feet. Under his bench lay a hungry she-jackal that kept eating the rope as he wove, but without the man knowing it. What shall come of it?”

The Buddha said:

“This dream has no bearing during your reign but will prevail when the rulers of a country are unrighteous.  In those days, women shall lust for men, strong drink, finery and gadding about.  In their wickedness and abandonment to vices these women would indulge in strong drink with their paramours, flaunt in garlands and perfumes, and be heedless of their household duties. They shall keep watching  for  their  paramours and  even  pound  the  very seed  corn  that  should  be sown  on the  morrow  so as to provide good cheer. In all these ways shall they plunder the store filled by the hard work of their husbands,  just as the hungry  jackal  under  the bench  ate  up  the  rope  made  by the rope-maker as he wove it.”

“But this will not happen in your time, oh king. What was yourseventh dream?”



“I saw at a palace gate” said The King, “a big pitcher full to the brim standing alongside a number of empty ones. From all directions  there kept coming  a constant  stream  of people  carrying  water  and  pouring  it into  the pitcher  that was full and ignoring  the empty  ones.  Naturally, the water from the full pitcher kept overflowing and ran away but still none bothered to even look at the empty ones.”

The Buddha said:

“Here again Sire, this dream would not affect you but will take effect when the rulers of a country are unrighteous. During  such  times,  rulers  would  be poor and have less money in their treasury,  they (the rulers) will get the people  to work  for them  to fill the coffers  in their treasury. The ordinary folk will toil for the ruler neglecting their own sustenance. And as they work for the welfare of the rulers, the king’s treasury would be filled to overflowing
– just as the pitcher  in your  dream  – but their  own  barns would  be empty,  just  as the pitchers  that were  neglected and  empty.

“But as you can see, oh king, these times are not upon us. Tell me about your eighth dream.”



The  King then  related  his  ninth  dream:  “Sir,  I saw a deep  pool  with  shelving  banks  all round  and overgrown with five kinds of lotuses.  From every side two-footed and four-footed creatures flocked to drink of its waters. The water  in the middle  was  muddy,  but  the  water  was clear and  sparkling  at the margin  where  the various  creatures went down  into the pool.”

The  Buddha explained  this dream  as follows:

“This dream too shall bear fruit in the future whenever  the rulers are  found  wanting  and  rule  their  countries  according  to their whims and fancies  without  any regard to fair play  and justice. These rulers shall hunger after riches and wax fat on bribes and shall not show any mercy, love or compassion to the people.  Due to insufferable taxes and the oppressive conditions in the country, people shall flee from the villages and towns and take refuge upon the borders of their realm. The  heart  of the land will then become  a wilderness  while the borders  will teem  with  people  even  as the water  was muddy  in the middle  of the pool and clear  on the edges.”

“But obviously there is nothing in this for you to fear, oh good and wholesome king. What was your tenth dream?”



The King then related his next dream.

“I saw rice boiling in a pot without getting done. I mean it looked as though it was sharply marked off and kept apart, so that the cooking seemed to go on in three distinct stages.  One part was sodden, another hard and raw but the last part cooked to a nicety. What shall come off it, sir?”

The  Buddha again said that this dream would  have its fulfilment  in the future when rulers are unrighteous.

“Around such rulers” the Buddha commented “the people surrounding the kings too would be of the same ilk, as also Brahmins, householders, townsmen and country-folk.  Next, their very guardian deities, the spirits to whom they offer sacrifices, the tree-spirits and spirits of the air shall become likewise. Rains will not fall in due season. When they fall, it falls not on the whole area that has been tilled but only on some.  On some  areas  there  will be heavy  rains  and spoil the crop and in other  areas  there will be no rain at all and the  crop  would  be ruined  due  to drought  and  wither.  In other words, crops sown within the same kingdom like the rice in the one pot shall have no uniform character.”



The King then related his next dream. 

“Sir, I saw sour buttermilk bartered for precious sandalwood worth 100,000 pieces of money. What shall come of it?”

The Buddha replied:

“Here too Sire, this dream will not affect your reign.  In the future the Dharma will wane. This is because shameless brethren (monks) shall arise who for their bellies’ sake shall preach the very words I preached against. Their preaching will not lead to Nubbin.  Nay, their only thought as they preach by fine words and sweet voices shall be to induce men to give them costly raiment and gifts.  Others,  seated  in the highways,  at street  corners,  at the doors of kings’ palaces, shall stoop to preach for money as they barter  away for food, raiment  or gifts, the doctrine the worth  whereof  is Nibbana.  They shall be as those who barter away precious sandalwood worth 100,000 pieces of money for sour buttermilk.”

“Now tell me your 11th dream, oh king.”



The King said:

“My Lord, I saw empty pumpkins sinking in the water. What will come of it”?

The Buddha replied: 

“Sire this dream too would not affect your reign.  In the days  when the world  is perverted with unrighteous  rulers,  the kings  will not show  favour  to the scions of nobility  but to the lowborn  and the latter will become  great lords whilst  the nobles  sink to obscurity  and poverty.  Everywhere, it is the word of the lowborn that shall be established just as the empty pumpkins had sunk till they rested on the bottom.  So too among the Sangha,  in the greater  and lesser conclaves  and in enquiries  regarding bowls, robes, lodgings and the like, the counsel of the wicked and the vile shall be considered,  not that of the noble monks. Thus everywhere it shall be the same as when the pumpkins sank.”

“Now let me hear your 12th dream.”



The King said:

“Sir, I saw huge blocks of solid rock, as big as houses, floating like ships upon the waters. What shall come of it?”

The Buddha explained: 

“Here too this dream will not affect your reign. In the days when unrighteous  kings rule, they  show  honour  only  to the lowborn,  and who  shall  be treated  as great  lords  whilst  the nobles  sink  into  poverty and oblivion.  Not to the nobles but to the upstarts shall respect be paid?  In the  royal  presence  or in the courts  of justice  the words  of the nobles  and the learned  in the law (it is them the solid rocks signify) shall drift idly by and not sink  deep  into  the  hearts  of men:  when  they  speak  the upstarts  merely  laugh. So too it is in the assemblies of the Sangha.  The words of such worthies shall not sink deep but drift idly by even as the rocks floated upon the waters.

‘What was your 13th dream?”



“My  Lord”  said the King,  “I saw tiny frogs, no bigger than  tiny flowerets,  swiftly  pursuing  huge  black  snakes, chopping  them  up like so many  lotus-stalks  and gobbling them  up.”

The Buddha interpreted this dream as follows:

“This dream too will not have any effect during your lifetime. When the world is decaying, men’s passions will be so strong and their lusts so hot that they will be in the very grip of the very youngest wife. At the beck  and call of these  young wives shall be slaves  and  hired  servants,  oxen,  buffaloes, gold,  silver  and all valuables  of the house.  Should the unsuspecting husband ask for anything, the wife will order him to be silent?  In short, the wife will dominate over the husband and the household staff. Thus like the tiny frogs who gobble up large snakes, wives will hold sway over their husbands when the world begins to decay and when men’s passion and lust predominates.

“Now tell me your 15th dream.”



“My  Lord”,  said the King, I saw a village crow, in which dwelt  the ten vices*  or immoral  conduct,  being  escorted by a retinue  of those birds,  because  of their golden  sheen, are called Royal Golden  Mallards.  What does it signify”?

1. Killing or injuring living beings.
2. Taking or destroying what is not yours.  
3. Indulging in sexual misconduct.
4. Telling lies. 
5. Backbiting and spreading rumour.  
6.  Using abusive language  
7. Taking part in frivolous language.
8. Covetousness 
9. Malevolence 
10. Wrong views.

The  Buddha replied: 

“Here  too  the  dream  would  not have  any effect  during  your  reign.  In   future time’s weak kings will arise who are not adept in the skills of any art or skill that is necessary for a ruler and as a result are cowards. Fearing  to be deposed  and cast from the royal estate, these weak  kings  shall  raise  to power  not their  peers  but their footmen,  bath attendants, barbers  and such-like. Thus  shut out  from  royal favour  and  unable  to support  themselves, the nobles  shall  be reduced  to dancing  attendance  on the upstarts as  when  the  lowly  crow  had  Royal  Golden Mallards  for a retinue.”

“At last we have reached your 16th dream, oh king. Describe it to me.?’



The King now related his final dream.

“So far it used to be panthers who killed goats but I saw goats chasing panthers and devouring them. The bare sight of goats afar made wolves flee in terror and hid themselves in the thickets. Such was my dream.”

The Buddha interpreted this dream as follows:

This dream too shall not have any effect now. In the days when the lowborn shall be made royal favourites and be raised to lordship the nobles would sink into obscurity and distress. Gaining influence in the courts of law because of their favour with the king, these upstarts shall claim the ancestral homes, the raiment and all the property of the old nobility. Pleading before courts of law by the nobles, will not help and the minions will threaten the old nobles with physical injury.  Hereupon the terrified nobles shall affirm that the property really belongs to the overbearing upstarts. Likewise in the Sangha when the noble monks would be forced to flee to the jungle. And this oppression of the nobles and of the good monks by the low-born and evil monks respectively shall be like the scaring of panthers by goats.”

Finally, The Buddha advised the King as follows: “It was not the truth, it was not love for you that prompted the Brahmins to prophesy as they did. No, it was the greed for Gain and cunning bred of covetousness that shaped all their self-seeking utterances. You, sire, are not the first  to have these  dreams,  they  were  dreamt  by kings  of bygone  days also  and  then  as now  the Brahmins  found  in them  a pre- text for sacrifices  whereupon  at the advice  of the wise and good,  the Buddha  was consulted  and the dreams  were explained  in just the same  manner  as they have been  now.”