The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book I [The Birth of the Holy One]

download

1. That Arhat is here saluted, who has no counterpart, — who, as bestowing the supreme happiness, surpasses (Brahman) the Creator, — who, as driving away darkness, vanquishes the sun, — and, as dispelling all burning heat, surpasses the beautiful moon.

2. There was a city, the dwelling-place of the great saint Kapila, having its sides surrounded by the beauty of a lofty broad table-land as by a line of clouds, and itself, with its high-soaring palaces, immersed in the sky.

3. By its pure and lofty system of government it, as it were, stole the splendour of the clouds of Mount Kailāsa, and while it bore the clouds which came to it through a mistake, it fulfilled the imagination which had led them thither.

4. In that city, shining with the splendour of gems, darkness like poverty could find no place; prosperity shone resplendently, as with a smile, from the joy of dwelling with such surpassingly excellent citizens.

5. With its festive arbours, its arched gateways and pinnacles, it was radiant with jewels in every dwelling; and unable to find any other rival in the world, it could only feel emulation with its own houses.

6. There the sun, even although he had retired, was unable to scorn the moon-like faces of its women which put the lotuses to shame, and as if from the access of passion, hurried towards the western ocean to enter the (cooling) water.

7. ‘Yonder Indra has been utterly annihilated by the people when they saw the glories acquired by the Sakyas,’-uttering this scoff, the city strove by its banners with gay-fluttering streamers to wipe away every mark of his existence.

8. After mocking the water-lilies even at night by the moonbeams which rest on its silver pavilions, — by day it assumed the brightness of the lotuses through the sunbeams falling on its golden palaces.

9. A king, by name Śuddhodana, of the kindred of the sun, anointed to stand at the head of earths monarchs, — ruling over the city, adorned it, as a bee-inmate a full-blown lotus.

10. The very best of kings with his train ever near him, — intent on liberality yet devoid of pride; a sovereign, yet with an ever equal eye thrown on all, — of gentle nature and yet with wide-reaching majesty.

11. Falling smitten by his arm in the arena of battle, the lordly elephants of his enemies bowed prostrate with their heads pouring forth quantities of pearls as if they were offering handfuls of flowers in homage.

12. Having dispersed his enemies by his preeminent majesty as the sun disperses the gloom of an eclipse, he illuminated his people on every side, showing them the paths which they were to follow.

13. Duty, wealth, and pleasure under his guidance assumed mutually each other's object, but not the outward dress; yet as if they still vied together they shone all the brighter in the glorious career of their triumphant success.

14. He, the monarch of the Śākyas, of native pre-eminence, but whose actual pre-eminence was brought about by his numberless councillors of exalted wisdom, shone forth all the more gloriously, like the moon amidst the stars shining with a light like its own.

15. To him there was a queen, named Māyā, as if free from all deceit (māyā) — an effulgence proceeding from his effulgence, like the splendour of the sun when it is free from all the influence of darkness, a chief queen in the united assembly of all queens.

16. Like a mother to her subjects, intent on their welfare, — devoted to all worthy of reverence like devotion itself, — shining on her lord's family like the goddess of prosperity, — she was the most eminent of goddesses to the whole world.

17. Verily the life of women is always darkness, yet when it encountered her, it shone brilliantly; thus the night does not retain its gloom, when it meets with the radiant crescent of the moon.

18. ‘This people, being hard to be roused to wonder in their souls, cannot be influenced by me if I come to them as beyond their senses,’ - so saying, Duty abandoned her own subtile nature and made her form visible.

19. Then falling from the host of beings in the Tuṣita heaven, and illumining the three worlds, the most excellent of Bodhisattvas suddenly entered at a thought into her womb, like the Nāga-king entering the cave of Nandā.

20. Assuming the form of a huge elephant white like Himālaya, armed with six tusks, with his face perfumed with flowing ichor, he entered the womb of the queen of king Śuddhodana, to destroy the evils of the world.

21. The guardians of the world hastened from heaven to mount watch over the world's one true ruler; thus the moonbeams, though they shine everywhere, are especially bright on Mount Kailāsa.

22. Māyā also, holding him in her womb, like a line of clouds holding a lightning-flash, relieved the people around her from the sufferings of poverty by raining showers of gifts.

23. Then one day by the king's permission the queen, having a great longing in her mind, went with the inmates of the gynaeceum into the garden Lumbinī.

24. As the queen supported herself by a bough which hung laden with a weight of flowers, the Bodhisattva suddenly came forth, cleaving open her womb.

25. At that time the constellation Puṣya was auspicious, and from the side of the queen, who was purified by her vow, her son was born for the welfare of the world, without pain and without illness.

26. Like the sun bursting from a cloud in the morning, — so he too, when he was born from his mother's womb, made the world bright like gold, bursting forth with his rays which dispelled the darkness.

27. As soon as he was born the thousand-eyed (Indra) well-pleased took him gently, bright like a golden pillar; and two pure streams of water fell down from heaven upon his head with piles of Mandāra flowers.

28. Carried about by the chief suras, and delighting them with the rays that streamed from his body, he surpassed in beauty the new moon as it rests on a mass of evening clouds.

29. As was Aurva's birth from the thigh, and Pṛthu's from the hand, and Māndhātṛ's, who was like Indra himself, from the forehead, and Kakṣīvat's from the upper end of the arm, — thus too was his birth (miraculous).

30. Having thus in due time issued from the womb, he shone as if he had come down from heaven, he who had not been born in the natural way, — he who was born full of wisdom, not foolish, as if his mind had been purified by countless aeons of contemplation.

31. With glory, fortitude, and beauty he shone like the young sun descended upon the earth; when he was gazed at, though of such surpassing brightness, he attracted all eyes like the moon.

32. With the radiant splendour of his limbs he extinguished like the sun the splendour of the lamps; with his beautiful hue as of precious gold he illuminated all the quarters of space.

33. Unflurried, with the lotus-sign in high relief, far-striding, set down with a stamp, — seven such firm footsteps did he then take, — he who was like the constellation of the seven Ṛṣis.

34. ‘I am born for supreme knowledge, for the welfare of the world, — thus this is my last birth,’ thus did he of lion gait, gazing at the four quarters, utter a voice full of auspicious meaning.

35. Two streams of water bursting from heaven, bright as the moon's rays, having the power of heat and cold, fell down upon that peerless one's benign head to give refreshment to his body.

36. His body lay on a bed with a royal canopy and a frame shining with gold, and supported by feet of lapis lazuli, and in his honour the yakṣa-lords stood round guarding him with golden lotuses in their hands.

37. The gods in homage to the son of Māyā, with their heads bowed at his majesty, held up a white umbrella in the sky and muttered the highest blessings on his supreme wisdom.

38. The great dragons in their great thirst for the Law, — they who had had the privilege of waiting on the past Buddhas, — gazing with eyes of intent devotion, fanned him and strewed Mandāra flowers over him.

39. Gladdened through the influence of the birth of the Tathāgata, the gods of pure natures and inhabiting pure abodes were filled with joy, though all passion was extinguished, for the sake of the world drowned in sorrow.

40. When he was born, the earth, though fastened down by (Himālaya) the monarch of mountains, shook like a ship tossed by the wind; and from a cloudless sky there fell a shower full of lotuses and water-lilies, and perfumed with sandalwood.

41. Pleasant breezes blew soft to the touch, dropping down heavenly garments; the very sun, though still the same, shone with augmented light, and fire gleamed, unstirred, with a gentle lustre.

42. In the north-eastern part of the dwelling a well of pure water appeared of its own accord, wherein the inhabitants of the gynaeceum, filled with wonder, performed their rites as in a sacred bathing-place.

43. Through the troops of heavenly visitants, who came seeking religious merit, the pool itself received strength to behold Buddha, and by means of its trees bearing flowers and perfumes it eagerly offered him worship.

44. The flowering trees at once produced their blossoms, while their fragrance was borne aloft in all directions by the wind, accompanied by the songs of bewildered female bees, while the air was inhaled and absorbed by the many snakes (gathering near).

45. Sometimes there resounded on both sides songs mingled with musical instruments and tabours, and lutes also, drums, tambourines, and the rest, from women adorned with dancing bracelets.

46. ‘That royal law which neither Bhṛgu nor Aṅgiras ever made, those two great seers the founders of families, their two sons Śukra and Vṛhaspati left revealed at the end.

47. ‘Yea, the son of Sarasvatī I proclaimed that lost Veda which they had never seen in former ages, — Vyāsa rehearsed that in many forms, which Vaśiṣṭha helpless could not compile;

48. ‘The voice of Vālmīki uttered its poetry which the great seer Cyavana could not compose; and that medicine which Atri never invented the wise son of Atri proclaimed after him;

49. ‘That Brahmanhood which Kuśika never attained, — his son, O king, found out the means to gain it; (so) Sagara made a bound for the ocean, which even the Ikṣvākus had not fixed before him.

50. ‘Janaka attained a power of instructing the twice-born in the rules of Yoga which none other had ever reached; and the famed feats of the grandson of Śūra (Kriṣṇa) Śūra and his peers were powerless to accomplish.

51. ‘Therefore it is not age nor years which are the criterion; different persons win pre-eminence in the world at different places; those mighty exploits worthy of kings and sages, when left undone by the ancestors, have been done by the sons.’

52. The king, being thus consoled and congratulated by those well-trusted Brāhmans, dismissed from his mind all unwelcome suspicion and rose to a still higher degree of joy;

53. And well-pleased he gave to those most excellent of the twice-born rich treasures with all due honour, — ‘May he become the ruler of the earth according to your words, and may he retire to the woods when he attains old age.’

54. Then having learned by signs and through the power of his penances this birth of him who was to destroy all birth, the great seer Asita in his thirst for the excellent Law came to the palace of the Śākya king.

55. Him shining with the glory of sacred knowledge and ascetic observances, the king's own priest, — himself a special student among the students of sacred knowledge, — introduced into the royal palace with all due reverence and respect.

56. He entered into the precincts of the king's gynaeceum, which was all astir with the joy arisen from the birth of the young prince, — grave from his consciousness of power, his pre-eminence in asceticism, and the weight of old age.

57. Then the king, having duly honoured the sage, who was seated in his seat, with water for the feet and an arghya offering, invited him (to speak) with all ceremonies of respect, as did Antideva in olden time to Vaśiṣṭha:

58. ‘I am indeed fortunate, this my family is the object of high favour, that thou shouldst have come to visit me; be pleased to command what I should do, O benign one; I am thy disciple, be pleased to show thy confidence in me.’

59. The sage, being thus invited by the king, filled with intense feeling as was due, uttered his deep and solemn words, having his large eyes opened wide with wonder:

60. ‘This is indeed worthy of thee, great-souled as thou art, fond of guests, liberal and a lover of duty, — that thy mind should be thus kind towards me, in full accordance with thy nature, family, wisdom, and age.

61. ‘This is the true way in which those seer kings of old, rejecting through duty all trivial riches, have ever flung them away as was right, — being poor in outward substance but rich in ascetic endurance.

62. ‘But hear now the motive for my coming and rejoice thereat; a heavenly voice has been heard by me in the heavenly path, that thy son has been born for the sake of supreme knowledge.

63. ‘Having heard that voice and applied my mind thereto, and having known its truth by signs, I am now come hither, with a longing to see the banner of the Śākya race, as if it were Indra's banner being set up.’

64. Having heard this address of his, the king, with his steps bewildered with joy, took the prince, who lay on his nurse's side, and showed him to the holy ascetic.

65. Thus the great seer beheld the king's son with wonder, — his foot marked with a wheel, his fingers and toes webbed, with a circle of hair between his eyebrows, and signs of vigour like an elephant.

66. Having beheld him seated on his nurse's side, like the son of Agni (Skanda) seated on Devī's side, he stood with the tears hanging on the ends of his eyelashes, and sighing he looked up towards heaven.

67. But seeing Asita with his eyes thus filled with tears, the king was agitated through his love for his son, and with his hands clasped and his body bowed he thus asked him in a broken voice choked with weeping,

68. ‘One whose beauty has little to distinguish it from that of a divine sage, and whose brilliant birth has been so wonderful, and for whom thou hast prophesied a transcendent future, — wherefore, on seeing him, do tears come to thee, O reverend one?

69. ‘Is the prince, O holy man, destined to a long life? Surely he cannot be born for my sorrow. I have with difficulty obtained a handful of water, surely it is not death which comes to drink it.

70. ‘Tell me, is the hoard of my fame free from destruction? Is this chief prize of my family secure ? Shall I ever depart happily to another life, — I who keep one eye ever awake, even when my son is asleep?

71. ‘Surely this young shoot of my family is not born barren, destined only to wither! Speak quickly, my lord, I cannot wait; thou well knowest the love of near kindred for a son.’

72. Knowing the king to be thus agitated through his fear of some impending evil, the sage thus addressed him: ‘Let not thy mind, O monarch, be disturbed, — all that I have said is certainly true.

73. ‘I have no feeling of fear as to his being subject to change, but I am distressed for mine own disappointment. It is my time to depart, and this child is now born, — he who knows that mystery hard to attain, the means of destroying birth.

74. Having forsaken his kingdom, indifferent to all worldly objects, and having attained the highest truth by strenuous efforts, he will shine forth as a sun of knowledge to destroy the darkness of illusion in the world.

75. ‘He will deliver by the boat of knowledge the distressed world, borne helplessly along, from the ocean of misery which throws up sickness as its foam, tossing with the waves of old age, and rushing with the dreadful onflow of death.

76. ‘The thirsty world of living beings will drink the flowing stream of his Law, bursting forth with the water of wisdom, enclosed by the banks of strong moral rules, delightfully cool with contemplation, and filled with religious vows as with ruddy geese.

77. ‘He will proclaim the way of deliverance to those afflicted with sorrow, entangled in objects of sense, and lost in the forest-paths of worldly existence, as to travellers who have lost their way.

78. ‘By the rain of the Law he will give gladness to the multitude who are consumed in this world with that fire of desire whose fuel is worldly objects, as a great cloud does with its showers at the end of the hot season.

79. ‘He will break open for the escape of living beings that door whose bolt is desire and whose two leaves are ignorance and delusion, — with that excellent blow of the good Law which is so hard to find.

80. ‘He, the king of the Law, when he has attained to supreme knowledge, will achieve the deliverance from its bonds of the world now overcome by misery, destitute of every refuge, and enveloped in its own chains of delusion.

81. ‘Therefore make no sorrow for him, — that belongs rather, kind sire, to the pitiable world of human beings, who through illusion or the pleasures of desire or intoxication refuse to hear his perfect Law.

82. ‘Therefore since I have fallen short of that excellence, though I have accomplished all the stages of contemplation, my life is only a failure; since I have not heard his Law, I count even dwelling in the highest heaven a misfortune.’

83. Having heard these words, the king with his queen and his friends abandoned sorrow and rejoiced; thinking, ‘such is this son of mine,’ he considered that his excellence was his own.

84. But he let his heart be influenced by the thought, ‘he will travel by the noble path,’ — he was not in truth averse to religion, yet still he saw alarm at the prospect of losing his child.

85. Then the sage Asita, having made known the real fate which awaited the prince to the king who was thus disturbed about his son, departed by the way of the wind as he had come, his figure watched reverentially in his flight.

86. Having taken his resolution and having seen the son of his younger sister, the saint, filled with compassion, enjoined him earnestly in all kinds of ways, as if he were his son, to listen to the sage's words and ponder over them.

87. The monarch also, being well-pleased at the birth of a son, having thrown off all those bonds called worldly objects, caused his son to go through the usual birth-ceremonies in a manner worthy of the family.

88. When ten days were fulfilled after his son's birth, with his thoughts kept under restraint, and filled with excessive joy, he offered for his son most elaborate sacrifices to the gods with muttered prayers, oblations, and all kinds of auspicious ceremonies.

89. And he himself gave to the Brāhmans for his son's welfare cows full of milk, with no traces of infirmity, golden-horned and with strong healthy calves, to the full number of a hundred thousand.

90. Then he, with his soul under strict restraint, having performed all kinds of ceremonies which rejoiced his heart, on a fortunate day, in an auspicious moment, gladly determined to enter his city.

91. Then the queen with her babe having worshipped the gods for good fortune, occupied a costly palanquin made of elephants' tusks, filled with all kinds of white flowers, and blazing with gems.

92. Having made his wife with her child enter first into the city, accompanied by the aged attendants, the king himself also advanced, saluted by the hosts of the citizens, as Indra entering heaven, saluted by the immortals.

93. The Śākya king, having entered his palace, like Bhava well-pleased at the birth of Kārttikeya, with his face full of joy, gave orders for lavish expenditure, showing all kinds of honour and liberality.

94. Thus at the good fortune of the birth of the king's son, that city surnamed after Kapila, with all the surrounding inhabitants, was full of gladness like the city of the lord of wealth, crowded with heavenly nymphs, at the birth of his son Nalakūvara.

[Such is the first chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
called The Birth of the Holy One]