It is time to expound upon the duties of the wheel-turning monarch.
So once upon a time a family of traveling entertainers presented their act before a King.
“Oh, no!” says the family father. “My sacred wheel treasure has slipped from its position.”
His eyes are closed. He fumbles with his hands, looking for his sacred wheel treasure.
“If you wish to take up the wheel,” says the mother, illustrating, “you must depend on the Dharma. Honor it. Revere it. Cherish it. Do homage to it. Venerate it.”
She honors and cherishes and does homage to the dharma.
“Then you should establish guard, ward, and protection,” adds their son. “For your household, your troops, your nobles, and your vassals.”
He establishes guard, ward, and protection on his sister and their dog.
“Woof!” says the dog.
The Brahmins of the King’s court recoil, shocked.
“Also,” asides the son, “for Brahmins and householders, town and country folk, ascetics, beasts, and birds.”
“Woof!” says the dog, again, thumping its foot on the floor.
“And to those in need,” says the daughter, in her high clear voice, “give property. And let no crime prevail in your kingdom. But most of all, give wise consel on the matter of what is good and what is bad, what will lead to harm and what will lead to sorrow, and in all things.”
One of the nearby ascetics examines her philosophy. She gives him wise counsel on the matter of what is good and what is bad.
“But what do you call this act?” says the King, somewhat disoriented.
“The Cakkavattisihananda Sutta!” declares the family together.
Exhausted by all this enlightenment, the son falls over dead.
This is a history of Round Man.
It is, like all the histories of Round Man, set in the very beginning. It’s a time when each pig is worth a hundred oxen. Thunder is almost as scared of people as people are of thunder. And the sun keeps shining well into the night.
Now Round Man is called Round Man because of his invention of the wheel. He’s doing that inventing right now, in fact—not because he needs to roll something, because he doesn’t, but because he wants something to serve as the symbol of dharma. So he makes a wheel out of stone. That’ll do the trick!
The wheel has spokes and a rim and he hangs it around his neck on a cord.
“It has a jolly good felloe,” he says to the toad.
That’s why toads don’t like people. Sometimes they’ll pretend they do, but they don’t, and that joke is pretty much why.
“It symbolizes appropriateness,” he says to the moss.
“Don’t like it none,” says the moss.
Moss doesn’t like wheels. It never will.
Then Round Man and his wheel go home.
“Chaos Woman,” he says to his wife. “I’ve decided that things should happen in an appropriate fashion.”
He takes off the cord and hands her the wheel.
“That’s why I made this.”
“It’s round,” says Chaos Woman. She’s just kind of rolling with it.
“It has a jolly good felloe.”
That’s why people don’t always like people that much.
“And it fixed that problem with the cows,” adds Round Man.
Then he sighs.
“But it’s also why my dead dog’s left. He’s gone away to the other side.”
“Just because he’s dead?”
Round Man nods.
“That’s the problem with dogs,” concludes Chaos Woman. “They aren’t loyal enough. Not like karma beetles.”
In the distance, the dog howls mournfully.
“That’s right,” says Round Man, trying to ignore the distant sound. “Dangle a sprawling land of the dead with squirrels to chase and lots of fresh air and water and the dogs’ll take any excuse to leave.”
Chaos Woman turns the wheel in her hands for a while.
After a while, the howling quiets.
Then Chaos Woman frowns.
“It’s nice, and all,” says Chaos Woman, “but lots of inappropriate things are still happening.”
In the north there’s a man with an eel for a head. That’s not appropriate!
What a bad man!
Also in the south there’s somebody getting rich by selling bad quartz veins to mountains. That’s even worse.
And in the west the moon’s bobbing up and down. It’s trying to set but it’s too drunk on moonshine. It can’t find the horizon!
That’s the kind of inappropriateness a polite society just can’t stand.
“Huh,” says Round Man. “Maybe they didn’t hear my decision.”
And Chaos Woman sees the path she has to take. So she says, “Well, no. They won’t until you make them.”
Now Round Man’s a little nervous. “What, everybody?”
“Everybody,” Chaos Woman confirms.
“But I’ll be embarrassed,” says Round Man.
And Round Man doesn’t want to admit why he’d be embarrassed. So he shakes his head. He mumbles, “‘S nothing.”
And he clears his throat. And he says, in the really loud voice, “Everybody look here.”
And everybody does.
And Round Man blushes a brighter and brighter scarlet, because now that everyone’s looking at him he’s pretty sure he’s naked.
He grabs the first thing he can find to hide his shame and he says, in a blushing broken little voice, “Things should happen in the most appropriate fashion.”
Now there are a lot of things you can say about this and most of them are true.
Like, Round Man saved the world. Or Round Man broke the world. Or Round Man was a hero-figure. Or maybe he was a devil.
It’s all true. One way or another, everything that’s happened since then happened at least in part because of what Round Man said while everyone and everything in all the world was looking at him.
But that wasn’t what he cared about.
What he cared about was a little bit of a wardrobe accident, because a fig leaf would have been much smarter than a wheel when it came to hiding his shame.
And while everyone was staring at him, Round Man grew smaller and smaller and his blush grew hotter and hotter until he burst into very small flames.
Only the wheel was left!
Then, rising from his seat, covering one shoulder with his robe, the King took a gold vessel in his left hand, sprinkled the Wheel with his right hand, and said: “May the noble Wheel Treasure turn, may the noble Wheel Treasure conquer!” The Wheel Turned to the east, and the King followed it with his fourfold army. And in whatever country the Wheel stopped, the King took up residence with his fourfold army. And those who opposed him in the eastern region came and said: “Come, Your Majesty, Welcome! We are yours, Your Majesty. Rule us, your Majesty.” And the King said: “Do not take life. Do not take what is not given. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not tell lies.”
— The Cakkavattisihananda Sutta