The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book II [Life in the Palace]

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1. From the time of the birth of that son of his, who, the true master of himself, was to end all birth and old age, the king increased day by day in wealth, elephants, horses, and friends as a river increases with its influx of waters.

2. Of different kinds of wealth and jewels, and of gold, wrought or unwrought, he found treasures of manifold variety, surpassing even the capacity of his desires.

3. Elephants from Himavat, raging with rut, whom not even princes of elephants like Padma could teach to go round in circles, came without any effort and waited on him.

4. His city was all astir with the crowds of horses, some adorned with various marks and decked with new golden trappings, others unadorned and with long flowing manes, — suitable alike in strength, gentleness, and costly ornaments.

5. And many fertile cows, with tall calves, gathered in his kingdom, well nourished and happy, gentle and without fierceness, and producing excellent milk.

6. His enemies became indifferent; indifference grew into friendship; his friends became specially united; were there two sides, — one passed into oblivion.

7. Heaven rained in his kingdom in due time and place, with the sound of gentle winds and clouds, and adorned with wreaths of lightning, and without any drawback of showers of stones or thunderbolts.

8. A fruitful crop sprang up according to season, even without the labour of ploughing; and the old plants grew more vigorous in juice and substance.

9. Even at that crisis which threatens danger to the body like the collision of battle, pregnant women brought forth in good health, in safety, and without sickness.

10. And whereas men do not willingly ask from others, even where a surety's property is available, — at that time even one possessed of slender means turned not his face away when solicited.

11. There was no ruin nor murder, — nay, there was not even one ungenerous to his kinsmen, no breaker of obligations, none untruthful nor injurious, — as in the days of Yayāti the son of Nahuṣa.

12. Those who sought religious merit performed sacred works and made gardens, temples, and hermitages, wells, cisterns, lakes, and groves, having beheld heaven as it were visible before their eyes.

13. The people, delivered from famine, fear, and sickness, dwelt happily as in heaven; and in mutual contentment husband transgressed not against wife, nor wife against husband.

14. None pursued love for mere sensual pleasure; none hoarded wealth for the sake of desires; none practised religious duties for the sake of gaining wealth; none injured living beings for the sake of religious duty.

15. On every side theft and its kindred vices disappeared; his own dominion was in peace and at rest from foreign interference; prosperity and plenty belonged to him, and the cities in his realm were (healthy) like the forests.

16. When that son was born it was in that monarch's kingdom as in the reign of Manu the son of the Sun, — gladness went everywhere and evil perished; right blazed abroad and sin was still.

17. Since at the birth of this son of the king such a universal accomplishment of all objects took place, the king in consequence caused the prince's name to be Sarvārthasiddha.

18. But the queen Māyā, having seen the great glory of her new-born son, like some Ṛṣi of the gods, could not sustain the joy which it brought; and that she might not die she went to heaven.

19. Then the queen's sister, with an influence like a mother's, undistinguished from the real mother in her affection or tenderness, brought up as her own son the young prince who was like the offspring of the gods.

20. Then like the young sun on the eastern mountain or the fire when fanned by the wind, the prince gradually grew in all due perfection, like the moon in the fortnight of brightness.

21. Then they brought him as presents from the houses of his friends costly unguents of sandalwood, and strings of gems exactly like wreaths of plants, and little golden carriages yoked with deer;

22. Ornaments also suitable to his age, and elephants, deer, and horses made of gold, carriages and oxen decked with rich garments, and carts gay with silver and gold.

23. Thus indulged with all sorts of such objects to please the senses as were suitable to his years, child as he was, he behaved not like a child in gravity, purity, wisdom, and dignity.

24. When he had passed the period of childhood and reached that of middle youth, the young prince learned in a few days the various sciences suitable to his race, which generally took many years to master.

25. But having heard before from the great seer Asita his destined future which was to embrace transcendental happiness, the anxious care of the king of the present Śākya race turned the prince to sensual pleasures.

26. Then he sought for him from a family of unblemished moral excellence a bride possessed of beauty, modesty, and gentle bearing, of wide-spread glory, Yaśodharā by name, having a name well worthy of her, a very goddess of good fortune.

27. Then after that the prince, beloved of the king his father, he who was like Sanatkumāra, rejoiced in the society of that Śākya princess as the thousand-eyed (Indra) rejoiced with his bride Śacī.

28. ‘He might perchance see some inauspicious sight which could disturb his mind,’ — thus reflecting the king had a dwelling prepared for him apart from the busy press in the recesses of the palace.

29. Then he spent his time in those royal apartments, furnished with the delights proper for every season, gaily decorated like heavenly chariots upon the earth, and bright like the clouds of autumn, amidst the splendid musical concerts of singing-women.

30. With the softly-sounding tambourines beaten by the tips of the women's hands, and ornamented with golden rims, and with the dances which were like the dances of the heavenly nymphs, that palace shone like Mount Kailāsa.

31. There the women delighted him with their soft voices, their beautiful pearl-garlands, their playful intoxication, their sweet laughter, and their stolen glances concealed by their brows.

32. Borne in the arms of these women well-skilled in the ways of love, and reckless in the pursuit of pleasure, he fell from the roof of a pavilion and yet reached not the ground, like a holy sage stepping from a heavenly chariot.

33. Meanwhile the king for the sake of ensuring his son's prosperity and stirred in heart by the destiny which had been predicted for him, delighted himself in perfect calm, ceased from all evil, practised all self-restraint, and rewarded the good.

34. He turned to no sensual pleasures like one wanting in self-control; he felt no violent delight in any state of birth; he subdued by firmness the restless horses of the senses; and he surpassed his kindred and citizens by his virtues.

35. He sought not learning to vex another; such knowledge as was beneficent, that only he studied; he wished well to all mankind as much as to his own subjects.

36. He worshipped also duly the brilliant (Agni) that tutelary god of the Aṅgirasas, for his son's long life; and he offered oblations in a large fire, and gave gold and cows to the Brāhmans.

37. He bathed to purify his body and mind with the waters of holy places and of holy feelings; and at the same time he drank the soma-juice as enjoined by the Veda, and the heartfelt self-produced happiness of perfect calm.

38. He only spoke what was pleasant and not unprofitable; he discoursed about what was true and not ill-natured, he could not speak even to himself for very shame a false pleasant thing or a harsh truth.

39. In things which required to be done, whether they were pleasant or disagreeable, he found no reason either for desire or dislike; he pursued the advantageous which could be attained without litigation; he did not so highly value sacrifice.

40. When a suppliant came to him with a petition, he at once hastened to quench his thirst with the water sprinkled on his gift; and without fighting, by the battle-axe of his demeanour he smote down the arrogant armed with double pride.

41. Thus he took away the one, and protected the seven; he abandoned the seven and kept the five; he obtained the set of three and learned the set of three; he understood the two and abandoned the two.

42. Guilty persons, even though he had sentenced them to death, he did not cause to be killed nor even looked on them with anger; he bound them with gentle words and with the reform produced in their character, — even their release was accompanied by no inflicted injury.

43. He performed great religious vows prescribed by ancient seers; he threw aside hostile feelings long cherished; he acquired glory redolent with the fragrance of virtue; he relinquished all passions involving defilement.

44. He desired not to take his tribute of one-sixth without acting as the guardian of his people; he had no wish to covet another's property; he desired not to mention the wrong-doing of his enemies; nor did he wish to fan wrath in his heart.

45. When the monarch himself was thus employed his servants and citizens followed his example, like the senses of one absorbed in contemplation whose mind is abstracted in profound repose.

46. In course of time to the fair-bosomed Yaśodharā, — who was truly glorious in accordance with her name, — there was born from the son of Śuddhodana a son named Rāhula, with a face like the enemy of Rāhu.

47. Then the king who from regard to the welfare of his race had longed for a son and been exceedingly delighted [at his coming], — as he had rejoiced at the birth of his son, so did he now rejoice at the birth of his grandson.

48. ‘O how can I feel that love which my son feels for my grandson?’ Thus thinking in his joy he at the due time attended to every enjoined rite like one who fondly loves his son and is about to rise to heaven.

49. Standing in the paths of the pre-eminent kings who flourished in primaeval ages, he practised austerities without laying aside his white garments, and he offered in sacrifice only those things which involved no injury to living creatures.

50. He of holy deeds shone forth gloriously, in the splendour of royalty and the splendour of penances, conspicuous by his family and his own conduct and wisdom, and desirous to diffuse brightness like the sun.

51. Having offered worship, he whose own glory was secure muttered repetitions of Vedic texts to Svayambhū for the safety of his son, and performed various ceremonies hard to be accomplished, like the god Ka in the first aeon wishing to create living beings.

52. He laid aside weapons and pondered the Śāstra, he practised perfect calm and underwent various observances, like a hermit he refused all objects of sense, he viewed all his kingdoms like a father.

53. He endured the kingdom for the sake of his son, his son for his family, his family for fame, fame for heaven, heaven for the soul, — he only desired the soul's continuance for the sake of duty.

54. Thus did he practise the various observances as followed by the pious and established from revelation, he asking himself, ‘now that he has seen the face of his son, how may my son be stopped from going to the forest?’

55. The prudent kings of the earth, who wish to guard their prosperity, watch over their sons in the world; but this king, though loving religion, kept his son from religion and set him free towards all objects of pleasure.

56. But all Bodhisattvas, those beings of pre-eminent nature, after knowing the flavour of worldly enjoyments, have departed to the forest as soon as a son is born to them; therefore he too, though he had accomplished all his previous destiny, even when the (final) motive had begun to germinate, still went on pursuing worldly pleasure up to the time of attaining the supreme wisdom.

[Such is the second chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
called Life in the Palace]