The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book IX [The Deputation to the Prince]

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1. Then the two, the counsellor and the family priest, beaten by the king with his scourge of tears, went with every effort to that forest in the hurry of affection, like two noble horses goaded.

2. Having come at last full of weariness to that hermitage, accompanied by a fitting train, — they dismissed their royal pomp and with sober gestures entered the abode of Bhārgava.

3. Having saluted that Brāhman with due respect, and having been honoured by him with due reverence in return, having seated themselves, plunging at once into the subject, they addressed Bhārgava, who was likewise seated, concerning their errand.

4. ‘Let your honour know us to be respectively imperfect proficients in preserving the sacred learning and in retaining the state-counsels, — in the service of the monarch of the Ikṣvāku race, pure in his valour and pure and wide in his glory.

5. ‘His son, who is like Jayanta, while he himself is like Indra, has come here, it is said, desirous to escape from the fear of old age and death, — know that we two are come here on account of him.’

6. He answered them, ‘That prince of the long arms did indeed come here, but not as one unawakened; "this dharma only brings us back again," — recognising this, he went off forthwith towards Arāḍa, seeking liberation.’

7. Then they two, having understood the true state of things, bade that Brāhman at once farewell, and wearied though they were, went on as if they were unwearied, thither whither the prince was gone.

8. As they were going, they saw him bereft of all ornaments, but still radiant with his beauty, sitting like a king in the road at the foot of a tree, like the sun under the canopy of a cloud.

9. Leaving his chariot, the family priest then went up to the prince with the counsellor, as the saint Aurvaśeya went with Vāmadeva, wishing to see Rāma when he dwelt in the forest.

10. They paid him honour as was fitting, as Śukra and Aṅgiras honoured Indra in heaven; and he in return paid due honour to them, as Indra in heaven to Śukra and Aṅgiras.

11. Then they, having obtained his permission, sat down near him who was the banner of the Śākya race; and they shone in his proximity like the two stars of the asterism Punarvasū in conjunction with the moon.

12. The family priest addressed the prince who shone brightly as he sat at the foot of the tree, as Vṛhaspati addressed Indra's son Jayanta, seated in heaven under the heavenly tree pārijāta:

13. ‘O prince, consider for a moment what the king with his eyes raining tears said to thee, as he lay fainting on the ground with the arrow of thy sorrow plunged into his heart.

14. “I know that thy resolve is fixed upon religion, and I am convinced that this purpose of thine is unchanging; but I am consumed with a flame of anguish like fire at thy flying to the woods at an inopportune time.

15. “Come, thou who lovest duty, for the sake of what is my heart's desire, — abandon this purpose for the sake of duty; this huge swollen stream of sorrow sweeps me away as a river's torrent its bank.

16. “That effect which is wrought in the clouds, water, the dry grass, and the mountains by the wind, the sun, the fire, and the thunderbolt, — that same effect this grief produces in us by its tearing in pieces, its drying up, its burning, and its cleaving.

17. “Enjoy therefore for a while the sovereignty of the earth, — thou shalt go to the forest at the time provided by the śāstras, — do not show disregard for thy unhappy kindred, — compassion for all creatures is the true religion.

18. “Religion is not wrought out only in the forests, the salvation of ascetics can be accomplished even in a city; thought and effort are the true means; the forest and the badge are only a coward's signs.

19. “Liberation has been attained even by householders, Indras among men, who wore diadems, and carried strings of pearls suspended on their shoulders, whose garlands were entangled with bracelets, and who lay cradled in the lap of Fortune.

20. “Bali and Vajrabāhu, the two younger brothers of Dhruva, Vaibhrāja, Āṣāḍha and Antideva, and Janaka also, the king of the Videhas, and king Senajit's son, his tree of ripe blessing;

21. “Know that all these great kings who were householders were well skilled in attaining the merit which leads to final bliss, — do thou also therefore obtain both simultaneously — royal magnificence and the control over the mind.

22. “I desire, — when I have once closely embraced thee after thy kingly consecration is once performed, and while thou art still wet with the sacred water, — when I behold thee with the pomp of the royal umbrella, — in the fulness of that joy to enter the forest."

23. ‘Thus did the king say to thee in a speech whose words were stopped by tears, — surely having heard it, for the sake of what is so dear to him, thou wilt with all affection follow his affection.

24. ‘The king of the Śākyas is drowned in a deep sea of sorrow, full of waves of trouble, springing from thee; do thou therefore deliver him helpless and protectorless like an ox drowning in the sea.

25. ‘Having heard that Bhīṣma who sprang from Gaṅgā's womb, Rāma, and Rāma the son of Bhṛgu, — all did what would please their fathers; surely thou too wilt do thy father's desire.

26. ‘Consider also the queen, who brought thee up, who has not yet gone to the region inhabited by Agastya — wilt thou not take some heed of her, who ceaselessly grieves like a fond cow that has lost her calf?

27. ‘Surely thou wilt succour thy wife by the sight of thee, who now mourns widowed yet with her lord still alive, — like a swan separated from her mate or a female elephant deserted in the forest by her companion.

28. ‘Thy only son, a child little deserving such woe, distressed with sorrow, and [.. .. .. .. ..] — O deliver Rāhula from the grief of his kindred like the full moon from the contact of Rāhu!

29. ‘Burned with the fire of anguish within him, to which thy absence adds fresh fuel, — a fire whose smoke is sighs and its flame despair, — he wanders for a sight of thee through the women's apartments and the whole city.’

30. The Bodhisattva, — whose perfection was absolute, — having heard the words of the family priest, reflected for a moment, knowing all the virtues of the virtuous, and then thus uttered his gentle reply:

31. ‘I well know the paternal tenderness of the king, especially that which he has displayed towards me; yet knowing this as I do, still alarmed at sickness, old age, and death, I am inevitably forced to leave my kindred.

32. ‘Who would not wish to see his dear kindred, if but this separation from beloved ones did not exist? but since even after it has been once, separation will still come again, it is for this that I abandon my father, however loving.

33. ‘I do not however approve that thou shouldst consider the king's grief as caused by me, when in the midst of his dream-like unions he is afflicted by thoughts of separations in the future.

34. ‘Thus let thy thoughts settle into certainty, having seen the multiform in its various developments; neither a son nor kindred is the cause of sorrow, — this sorrow is only caused by ignorance.

35. ‘Since parting is inevitably fixed in the course of time for all beings, just as for travellers who have joined company on a road, — what wise man would cherish sorrow, when he loses his kindred, even though he loves them?

36. ‘Leaving his kindred in another world, he departs hither; and having stolen away from them here, he goes forth once more; "having gone thither, go thou elsewhere also," — such is the lot of mankind, — what consideration can the yogin have for them?

37. ‘Since from the moment of leaving the womb death is a characteristic adjunct, why, in thy affection for thy son, hast thou called my departure to the forest ill-timed?

38. ‘There may be an "ill time" in one's attaining a worldly object, — time indeed is described as inseparably connected with all things; time drags the world into all its various times; but all time suits a bliss which is really worthy of praise.

39. ‘That the king should wish to surrender to me his kingdom, — this is a noble thought, well worthy of a father; but it would be as improper for me to accept it, as for a sick man through greed to accept unwholesome food.

40. ‘How can it be right for the wise man to enter royalty, the home of illusion, where are found anxiety, passion, and weariness, and the violation of all right through another's service?

41. ‘The golden palace seems to me to be on fire; the daintiest viands seem mixed with poison; infested with crocodiles [is the tranquil lotus-bed].’

(the following 10 verses which complete the Prince's speech
are missing from Cowell's edition and are drawn from Johnson's translation)

And thus kingship is neither pleasure nor dharma, so that the kings of old, when age came on with it's unavoidable suffering, felt disgust and, giving up their kingdoms, betook themselves to the forest.

For it is better to eat herbs in the forest, embracing the highest contentment as if one were concealing a jewel, than to live with the dangers to which sovereignty is exposed, as if with loathsome black snakes.

For it is praiseworthy for kings to leave their kingdoms and enter the forest in the desire for dharma, but it is not fitting to break one's vow and forsaking the forest to go to one's home.

For what man of resolution and good family, having once gone to the forest in the desire for dharma, would cast off the robe and, dead to shame, proceed to the city even of Puraṁdara?

For only the man, who from greed, delusion or fear, would take again the food he has vomited up, would from greed, delusion or fear, abandon the lusts of the flesh and then return to them.

And the man who, after escaping with difficulty from a burning house, would enter that very house again, only he, after giving up the state of a householder, because he sees its dangers, would desire out of delusion to assume it again.

As for the tradition that kings obtained final emancipation while remaining in their homes, this is not the case. How can the dharma of salvation in which quietude predominates be reconciled with the dharma of kings in which severity of action predominates?

If a king delights in quietude, his kingdom collapses; if his mind turns to his kingdom, his quietude is ruined. For quietude and severity are incompatible, like the union of water which is cold and fire which is hot.

Either therefore these lords of the earth resolutely cast aside their kingdoms and obtained quietude, or stained by kingship, they claimed to have attained liberation on the ground that their senses were under control, but in fact only reached a state that was not final.

Or let it be conceded they duly attained quietude while holding kingship, still I have not gone to the forest with an undecided mind; for having cut through the net known as home and kindred I am freed and have no intention of re-entering the net."

42. Having heard the king's son uttering this discourse, well suitable to his virtues and knowledge of the soul, freed from all desires, full of sound reasons, and weighty, — the counsellor thus made answer:

43. ‘This resolve of thine is an excellent counsel, not unfit in itself but only unfit at the present time; it could not be thy duty, loving duty as thou dost, to leave thy father in his old age to sorrow.

44. ‘Surely thy mind is not very penetrating, or it is ill-skilled in examining duty, wealth, and pleasure, — when for the sake of an unseen result thou departest disregarding a visible end.

45. ‘Again, some say that there is another birth, — others with confident assertion say that there is not; since then the matter is all in doubt, it is right to enjoy the good fortune which comes into thy hand.

46. ‘If there is any activity hereafter, we will enjoy ourselves in it as may offer; or if there is no activity beyond this life, then there is an assured liberation to all the world without any effort.

47. ‘Some say there is a future life, but they do not allow the possibility of liberation; as fire is hot by nature and water liquid, so they hold that there is a special nature in our power of action.

48. ‘Some maintain that all things arise from inherent properties, — both good and evil and existence and non-existence; and since all this world thus arises spontaneously, therefore also all effort of ours is vain.

49. ‘Since the action of the senses is fixed, and so too the agreeableness or the disagreeableness of outward objects, — then for that which is united to old age and pains, what effort can avail to alter it? Does it not all arise spontaneously?

50. ‘The fire becomes quenched by water, and fire causes water to evaporate; and different elements, united in a body, producing unity, bear up the world.

51. ‘That the nature of the embryo in the womb is produced as composed of hands, feet, belly, back, and head, and that it is also united with the soul, — the wise declare that all this comes of itself spontaneously.

52. ‘Who causes the sharpness of the thorn? or the various natures of beasts and birds? All this has arisen spontaneously; there is no acting from desire, how then can there be such a thing as will?

53. ‘Others say that creation comes from Īśvara, what need then is there of the effort of the conscious soul? That which is the cause of the action of the world, is also determined as the cause of its ceasing to act.

54. ‘Some say that the coming into being and the destruction of being are alike caused by the soul, but they say that coming into being arises without effort, while the attainment of liberation is by effort.

55. ‘A man discharges his debt to his ancestors by begetting offspring, to the saints by sacred lore, to the gods by sacrifices; he is born with these three debts upon him, — whoever has liberation (from these,) he indeed has liberation.

56. ‘Thus by this series of rules the wise promise liberation to him who uses effort; but however ready for effort with all their energy, those who seek liberation will find weariness.

57. ‘Therefore, gentle youth, if thou hast a love for liberation, follow rightly the prescribed rule; thus wilt thou thyself attain to it, and the king's grief will come to an end.

58. ‘And as for thy meditations on the evils of life ending in thy return from the forest to thy home, — let not the thought of this trouble thee, my son, — those in old time also have returned from the forests to their houses.

59. ‘The king Ambarīṣa, though he had dwelt in the forest, went back to the city, surrounded by his children; so too Rāma, seeing the earth oppressed by the base, came forth from his hermitage and ruled it again.

60. ‘So too Drumākṣa, the king of the Śālvas, came to his city from the forest with his son; and Sāṁkṛti Antideva, after he had become a Brahmarṣi, received his royal dignity from the saint Vaśiṣṭha.’

61. ‘Such men as these, illustrious in glory and virtue, left the forests and came back to their houses; therefore it is no sin to return from a hermitage to one's home, if it be only for the sake of duty.’

62. Then having heard the affectionate and loyal words of the minister, who was as the eye of the king, — firm in his resolve, the king's son made his answer, with nothing omitted or displaced, neither tedious nor hasty:

63. ‘This doubt whether anything exists or not, is not to be solved for me by another's words; having determined the truth by asceticism or quietism, I will myself grasp whatever is ascertained concerning it.

64. ‘It is not for me to accept a theory which depends on the unknown and is all controverted, and which involves a hundred prepossessions; what wise man would go by another's belief? Mankind are like the blind directed in the darkness by the blind.

65. ‘But even though I cannot discern the truth, yet still, if good and evil are doubted, let one's mind be set on the good; even a toil in vain is to be chosen by him whose soul is good, while the man of base soul has no joy even in the truth.

66. ‘But having seen that this "sacred tradition" is uncertain, know that that only is right which has been uttered by the trustworthy; and know that trustworthiness means the absence of faults; he who is without faults will not utter an untruth.

67. ‘And as for what thou saidst to me in regard to my returning to my home, by alleging Rāma and others as examples, they are no authority, — for in determining duty, how canst thou quote as authorities those who have broken their vows?

68. ‘Even the sun, therefore, may fall to the earth, even the mountain Himavat may lose its firmness; but never would I return to my home as a man of the world, with no knowledge of the truth and my senses only alert for external objects.

69. ‘I would enter the blazing fire, but not my house with my purpose unfulfilled.’ Thus he proudly made his resolve, and rising up in accordance with it, full of disinterestedness, went his way.

70. Then the minister and the Brāhman, both full of tears, having heard his firm determination, and having followed him awhile with despondent looks, and overcome with sorrow, slowly returned of necessity to the city.

71. Through their love for the prince and their devotion to the king, they returned, and often stopped looking back; they could neither behold him on the road nor yet lose the sight of him, — shining in his own splendour and beyond the reach of all others, like the sun.

72. Having placed faithful emissaries in disguise to find out the actions of him who was the supreme refuge of all, they went on with faltering steps, saying to each other, ‘How shall we approach the king and see him, who is longing for his dear son?’

[Such is the ninth chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
called The Deputation to the Prince]