The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book VIII [Lamentations in the Palace]

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1. Meanwhile the attendant of the horse, in deep distress, when his unselfish master thus went into the forest, made every effort in the road to dissolve his load of sorrow, and yet in spite of it all not a tear dropped from him.

2. But the road which by his lord's command he had traversed in one night with that horse, — that same road he now travelled in eight days, pondering his lord's absence.

3. And the horse Kaṁthaka, though he still went on bravely, flagged and had lost all spirit in his heart; and decked though he was with ornaments, he had lost all his beauty when bereft of his master.

4. And turning round towards that ascetic-grove, he neighed repeatedly with a mournful sound; and though pressed with hunger, he welcomed not nor tasted any grass or water on the road, as before.

5. Slowly they two at last came back to the city called after Kapila, which seemed empty when deserted by that hero who was bent on the salvation of the world, — like the sky bereft of the sun.

6. Bright as it was with lotus-covered waters, adorned also with trees full of flowers, that garden of his, which was now like a forest, was no longer gay with citizens who had lost all their gladness.

7. Then those two, — who were as it were silently forbidden by the sad inhabitants who were wandering in that direction, their brightness gone and their eyes dim with tears, — slowly entered the city which seemed all bathed in gloom.

8. Having heard that they had returned with their limbs all relaxed, coming back without the pride of the Śākya race, the men of the city shed tears in the road, as when in old days the chariot of the son of Daśaratha came back.

9. Full of wrath, the people followed Chaṁdaka in the road, crying behind him with tears, ‘Where is the king's son, the glory of his race and kingdom? he has been stolen away by thee.’

10. Then he said to those faithful ones, I have not left the king's son; but by him in the uninhabited forest I weeping and the dress of a householder were abandoned together.’

11. Having heard these words of his those crowds adopted a most difficult resolve; they did not wipe away the tears which fell from their eyes, and they blamed their own (evil) hearts on account of the consequences of their actions;

12. Then they said, ‘Let us go this very day into that forest, whither he is gone, whose gait is like the king of elephants; without him we have no wish to live, like the senses when the souls depart.

13. ‘This city bereft of him is a forest, and that forest which possesses him is a city; the city without him has no charms for us, like heaven without the lord of the Maruts, when Vṛtra was slain.’

14. Next the women crowded to the rows of windows, crying to one another, ‘The prince has returned;’ but having heard that his horse had an empty back, they closed the windows again and wailed aloud.

15. But the king, having undertaken religious observances for the recovery of his son, with his mind distressed by the vow and the sorrow, was muttering prayers in the temple, and performing such rites as suited the occasion.

16. Then with his eyes filled with tears, — taking the horse, his whole soul fixed on the horse, — overcome with grief he entered the palace as if his master had been killed by an enemy.

17. And entering the royal stable, looking about with his eyes full of tears, Kaṁthaka uttered a loud sound, as if he were uttering his woe to the people.

18. Then the birds that fed in the middle of the house, and the carefully cherished horses that were tied near by, re-echoed the sound of that horse, thinking that it might be the return of the prince.

19. And the people, deceived by an excessive joy, who were in the neighbourhood of the king's inner apartments, thought in their hearts, ‘Since the horse Kaṁthaka neighs, it must be that the prince is coming.’

20. Then the women, who were fainting with sorrow, now in wild joy, with their eyes rolling to see the prince, rushed out of the palace full of hope, like flickering lightnings from an autumn cloud.

21. With their dress hanging down, and their linen garments soiled, their faces untouched by collyrium and with eyes dimmed by tears; dark and discoloured and destitute of all painting, like the stars in the sky, pale-red with the ending of night;

22. With their feet unstained by red, and undecked by anklets, — their faces without earrings, and their ears in their native simplicity, — their loins with only nature's fulness, and uncircled by any girdle, — and their bosoms bare of strings of pearls as if they had been robbed.

23. But when they saw Chaṁdaka standing helpless, his eyes filled with tears, and the horse, the noble women wept with pale faces, like cows abandoned by the bull in the midst of the forest.

24. Then the king's principal queen Gautamī, like a fond cow that has lost her calf, fell bursting into tears on the ground with outstretched arms, like a golden plantain-tree with trembling leaves.

25. Some of the other women, bereft of their brightness and with arms and souls lifeless, and seeming to have lost their senses in their despondency, raised no cry, shed no tear, and breathed not, standing senseless as if painted.

26. Others as having lost all self-control, fainting in their sorrow for their lord, their faces pouring tears from their eyes, watered their bosoms from which all sandal-wood was banished, like a mountain the rocks with its streams.

27. Then that royal palace was illumined with their faces pelted by the tears from their eyes, as a lake in the time of the first rains with its dripping lotuses pelted by the rain from the clouds.

28. The noble women beat their breasts with their lotus-like hands, falling incessantly, whose fingers were round and plump, which had their arteries hidden and bore no ornaments, — as creepers tossed by the wind strike themselves with their shoots.

29. And again how those women shine forth, as their bosoms rose up together after the blow from the hand, and trembled with the shock, like the streams, when their pairs of ruddy geese shake, as the lotuses on which they sit wave about with the wind from the wood.

30. As they pressed their breasts with their hands, so too they pressed their hands with their breasts, — dull to all feelings of pity, they made their hands and bosoms inflict mutual pains on each other.

31. Then thus spoke Yaśodharā, shedding tears with deep sorrow, her bosom heaving with her sighs, her eyes discoloured with aneer, and her voice choking with emotion through the influence of despondency:

32. ‘Leaving me helplessly asleep in the night, whither, O Chaṁdaka, is he, the desire of my heart, gone? and when thou and Kaṁthaka are alone come back, while three went away together, my mind trembles.

33. ‘Why dost thou weep to-day, O cruel one, having done a dishonourable, pitiless, and unfriendly deed to me? Cease thy tears and be content in thy heart, — tears and that deed of thine ill agree.

34. ‘Through thee, his dear obedient faithful loyal companion, always doing what was right, the son of my lord is gone never to return, — rejoice, — all hail! thy pains have gained their end.

35. ‘Better for a man a wise enemy rather than a foolish friend unskilled in emergencies; by thee, the unwise self-styled friend, a great calamity has been brought upon this family.

36. ‘These women are sorely to be pitied who have put away their ornaments, having their eyes red and dimmed with continuous tears, who are as it were desolate widows, though their lord still stands as unshaken as the earth or Mount Himavat.

37. ‘And these lines of palaces seem to weep aloud, flinging up their dovecots for arms, with the long unbroken moan of their doves, — separated verily, with him, from all who could restrain them.

38. ‘Even that horse Kaṁthaka without doubt desired my utter ruin; for he bore away from hence my treasure when all were sound asleep in the night, — like one who steals jewels.

39. ‘When he was able to bear even the onsets of arrows, and still more the strokes of whips, — how then for fear of the fall of a whip, could he go carrying with him my prosperity and my heart together?

40. ‘The base creature now neighs loudly, filling the king's palace with the sound; but when he carried away my beloved, then this vilest of horses was dumb.

41. ‘If he had neighed and so woke up the people, or had even made a noise with his hoofs on the ground, or had made the loudest sound he could with his jaws, my grief would not have been so great.’

42. Having thus heard the queen's words, their syllables choked with tears and full of lament, slowly Chaṁdaka uttered this answer, with his face bent down, his voice low with tears, and his hands clasped in supplication:

43. ‘Surely, O queen, thou wilt not blame Kaṁthaka nor wilt thou show thy anger against me, know that we two are entirely guiltless, — that god amongst men, O queen, is gone away like a god.

44. ‘I indeed, though I well knew the king's command, as though dragged by force by some divine powers, brought quickly to him this swift steed, and followed him on the road unwearied.

45. ‘And this best of horses as he went along touched not the ground with the tips of his hoofs as if they were kept aloft from it; and so too, having his mouth restrained as by fate, he made no sound with his jaws and neighed not.

46. ‘When the prince went out, then the gate was thrown open of its own accord; and the darkness of the night was, as it were, pierced by the sun, — we may learn from hence too that this was the ordering of fate.

47. ‘When also by the king's command, in palace and city, diligent guards had been placed by thousands, and at that time they were all overcome by sleep and woke not, — we may learn from hence too that this was the ordering of fate.

48. ‘When also the garment, approved for a hermit's dwelling in the forest, was offered to him at the moment by some denizen of heaven, and the tiara which he threw into the sky was carried off, — we may learn from hence too that this was the ordering of fate.

49. ‘Do not therefore assume that his departure arises from the fault of either of us, O queen; neither I nor this horse acted by our own choice; he went on his way with the gods as his retinue.’

50. Having thus heard the history of the prince's departure, so marvellous in many ways, those women, as though losing their grief, were filled with wonder, but they again took up their distress at the thought of his becoming an ascetic.

51. With her eyes filled with the tears of despondency, wretched like an osprey who has lost her young, — Gautamī abandoning all self-control wailed aloud, — she fainted, and with a weeping face exclaimed:

52. ‘Beautiful, soft, black, and all in great waves, growing each from its own special root, — those hairs of his are tossed on the ground, worthy to be encircled by a royal diadem.

53. ‘With his long arms and lion-gait, his bull-like eye, and his beauty bright like gold, his broad chest, and his voice deep as a drum or a cloud, should such a hero as this dwell in a hermitage?

54. ‘This earth is indeed unworthy as regards that peerless doer of noble actions, for such a virtuous hero has gone away from her, — it is the merits and virtues of the subjects which produce their king.

55. ‘Those two feet of his, tender, with their beautiful web spread between the toes, with their ankles concealed, and soft like a blue lotus, — how can they, bearing a wheel marked in the middle, walk on the hard ground of the skirts of the forest?

56. ‘That body, which deserves to sit or lie on the roof of a palace, — honoured with costly garments, aloes, and sandal-wood, — how will that manly body live in the woods, exposed to the attacks of the cold, the heat, and the rain?

57. ‘He who was proud of his family, goodness, strength, energy, sacred learning, beauty, and youth, — who was ever ready to give, not to ask, — how will he go about begging alms from others?

58. ‘He who, lying on a spotless golden bed, was awakened during the night by the concert of musical instruments, — how alas! will he, my ascetic, sleep to-day on the bare ground with only one rag of cloth interposed?’

59. Having heard this piteous lamentation, the women, embracing one another with their arms, rained the tears from their eyes, as the shaken creepers drop honey from their flowers.

60. Then Yaśodharā fell upon the ground, like the ruddy goose parted from her mate, and in utter bewilderment she slowly lamented, with her voice repeatedly stopped by sobs:

61. ‘If he wishes to practise a religious life after abandoning me his lawful wife widowed, — where is his religion, who wishes to follow penance without his lawful wife to share it with him?

62. ‘He surely has never heard of the monarchs of olden times, his own ancestors, Mahāsudarśa and the rest, — how they went with their wives into the forest, — that he thus wishes to follow a religious life without me.

63. ‘He does not see that husband and wife are both consecrated in sacrifices, and both purified by the performance of the rites of the Veda, and both destined to enjoy the same results afterwards, — he therefore grudges me a share in his merit.

64. ‘Surely it must be that this fond lover of religion, knowing that my mind was secretly quarrelling even with my beloved, lightly and without fear has deserted me thus angry, in the hope to obtain heavenly nymphs in lndra's world!

65. ‘But what kind of a thought is this of mine? those women even there have the attributes which belong to bodies, — for whose sake he thus practises austerities in the forest, deserting his royal magnificence and my fond devotion.

66. ‘I have no such longing for the joy of heaven, nor is that hard for even common people to win if they are resolute; but my one desire is how he my beloved may never leave me either in this world or the next.

67. ‘Even if I am unworthy to look on my husbands face with its long eyes and bright smile, still is this poor Rāhula never to roll about in his father's lap?

68. ‘Alas! the mind of that wise hero is terribly stern, — gentle as his beauty seems, it is pitilessly cruel, — who can desert of his own accord such an infant son with his inarticulate talk, one who would charm even an enemy.

69. ‘My heart too is certainly most stern, yea, made of rock or fashioned even of iron, which does not break when its lord is gone to the forest, deserted by his royal glory like an orphan, — he so well worthy of happiness.’

70. So the queen, fainting in her woe, wept and pondered and wailed aloud repeatedly, — self-possessed as she was by nature, yet in her distress she remembered not her fortitude and felt no shame.

71. Seeing Yaśodharā thus bewildered with her wild utterances of grief and fallen on the ground, all the women cried out with their faces streaming with tears like large lotuses beaten by the rain.

72. But the king, having ended his prayers, and performed the auspicious rites of the sacrifice, now came out of the temple; and being smitten by the wailing sound of the people, he tottered like an elephant at the crash of a thunderbolt.

73. Having heard (of the arrival) of both Chaṁdaka and Kaṁthaka, and having learned the fixed resolve of his son, the lord of the earth fell struck down by sorrow like the banner of Indra when the festival is over.

74. Then the king, distracted by his grief for his son, being held up for a moment by his attendants all of the same race, gazed on the horse with his eyes filled with tears, and then falling on the ground wailed aloud:

75. ‘After having done many dear exploits for me in battle, one great deed of cruelty, O Kaṁthaka, hast thou done, — for by thee that dear son of mine, dear for his every virtue, has been tossed down in the wood, dear as he was, like a worthless thing.

76. ‘Therefore either lead me to-day where he is, or go quickly and bring him back again; without him there is no life left to me, as to one plunged in sickness without the true medicine.

77. ‘When Suvarṇaniṣṭhīvin was carried away by death, it seemed impossible that Sṛṁjaya should not die; and shall I, when my duty-loving son is gone, fear to set my soul free, like any coward?

78. ‘How should not the mind of Manu himself be distracted, when parted from his dear virtuous son, — (Manu) the son of Vivasvat, who knew the higher and the lower, the mighty lord of creatures, the institutor of the ten chieftains.

79. ‘I envy the monarch, that friend of Indra, the wise son of king Aja, who, when his son went into the forest, went himself to heaven, and dragged out no miserable life here with vain tears.

80. ‘Describe to me, O beloved one, the court of that hermitage, whither thou hast carried him who is as my funeral oblation of water; these my vital airs are all ready to depart, and are eager for it, longing to drink it.’

81. Thus the king, in his grief for his separation from his son, — losing all his innate firmness which was stedfast like the earth, — loudly lamented as one distraught, like Daśaratha, a prey to his sorrow for Rāma.

82. Then the wise counsellor, endued with religious learning, courtesy, and virtue, and the old family priest, spoke to him as was befitting in these well-weighed words, neither with their faces overwhelmed by grief nor yet wholly unmoved:

83. ‘Cease, O noblest of men, thy grief, regain thy firmness, — surely thou wilt not, O firm hero, shed tears like one of no self-control; many kings on this earth have gone into the forests, throwing away their royal pomp like a crushed wreath.

84. ‘Moreover, this his state of mind was all predetermined; remember those words long ago of the holy sage Asita; "He will never be made to dwell even for a moment contentedly in heaven or in an emperor's domain."

85. ‘But if, O best of men, the effort must be made, quickly speak the word, we two will at once go together; let the battle be waged in every way with thy son and his fate whatever it be.’

86. Then the king commanded them both, ‘Do you both go quickly hence, — my heart will not return to quiet, any more than a bird's in the woods longing for its young.’

87. With a prompt acquiescence at the king's order the counsellor and the family priest went to that forest; and then with his wives and his queen the king also, saying, ‘It is done,’ performed the remainder of the rites.

[Such is the eighth chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
called Lamentations in the Palace]