The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book X [Śreṇya's Visit]

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1. The prince, he of the broad and lusty chest, having thus dismissed the minister and the priest, crossed the Ganges with its speeding waves and went to Rājagṛha with its beautiful palaces.

2. He reached the city distinguished by the five hills, well guarded and adorned with mountains, and supported and hallowed by auspicious sacred places, — like Brahman in a holy calm going to the uppermost heaven.

3. Having heard of his majesty and strength, and his splendid beauty, surpassing all other men, the people of that region were all astonished as at him who has a bull for his sign and is immovable in his vow.

4. On seeing him, he who was going elsewhere stood still, and he who was standing there followed him in the way; he who was walking gently and gravely ran quickly, and he who was sitting at once sprang up.

5. Some people reverenced him with their hands, others in worship saluted him with their heads, some addressed him with affectionate words, — not one went on without paying him homage.

6. Those who were wearing gay-coloured dresses were ashamed when they saw him, those who were talking on random subjects fell to silence on the road; no one indulged in an improper thought, as at the presence of Religion herself embodied.

7. In the men and the women on the highway, even though they were intent on other business, that conduct alone with the profoundest reverence seemed proper which is enjoined by the rules of royal homage; but his eyes never looked upon them.

8. His brows, his forehead, his mouth, or his eyes, — his body, his hands, his feet, or his gait, — whatever part of him any one beheld, that at once riveted his eyes.

9. Having beheld him with the beautiful circle of hair between his brows and with long eyes, with his radiant body and his hands showing a graceful membrane between the fingers, — so worthy of ruling the earth and yet wearing a mendicant's dress, — the Goddess of Rājagṛha was herself perturbed.

10. Then Śreṇya, the lord of the court of the Magadhas, beheld from the outside of his palace the immense concourse of people, and asked the reason of it; and thus did a man recount it to him:

11. ‘He who was thus foretold by the Brāhmans, "he will either attain supreme wisdom or the empire of the earth," — it is he, the son of the king of the Śākyas, who is the ascetic whom the people are gazing at.’

12. The king, having heard this and perceived its meaning with his mind, thus at once spoke to that man: ‘Let it be known whither he is going;’ and the man, receiving the command, followed the prince.

13. With unrestless eyes, seeing only a yoke's length before him, with his voice hushed, and his walk slow and measured, he, the noblest of mendicants, went begging alms, keeping his limbs and his wandering thoughts under control.

14. Having received such alms as were offered, he retired to a lonely cascade of the mountain; and having eaten it there in the fitting manner, he ascended the mountain Pāṇḍava.

15. In that wood, thickly filled with lodhra trees, having its thickets resonant with the notes of the peacocks, he the sun of mankind shone, wearing his red dress, like the morning sun above the eastern mountain.

16. That royal attendant, having thus watched him there, related it all to the king Śreṇya; and the king, when he heard it, in his deep veneration, started himself to go thither with a modest retinue.

17. He who was like the Pāṇḍavas in heroism, and like a mountain in stature, ascended Pāṇḍava, that noblest of mountains, — a crown-wearer, of lion-like gait, a lion among men, as a maned lion ascends a mountain.

18. There he beheld the Bodhisattva, resplendent as he sat on his hams, with subdued senses, as if the mountain were moving, and he himself were a peak thereof, — like the moon rising from the top of a cloud.

19. Him, distinguished by his beauty of form and perfect tranquillity as the very creation of Religion herself, — filled with astonishment and affectionate regard the king of men approached, as Indra the self-existent (Brahman).

20. He, the chief of the courteous, having courteously drawn nigh to him, inquired as to the equilibrium of his bodily humours; and the other with equal gentleness assured the king of his health of mind and freedom from all ailments.

21. Then the king sat down on the clean surface of the rock, dark blue like an elephant's ear; and being seated, with the other's assent, he thus spoke, desiring to know his state of mind:

22. ‘I have a strong friendship with thy family, come down by inheritance and well proved; since from this a desire to speak to thee, my son, has arisen in me, therefore listen to my words of affection.

23. ‘When I consider thy widespread race, beginning with the sun, thy fresh youth, and thy conspicuous beauty, — whence comes this resolve of thine so out of all harmony with the rest, set wholly on a mendicant's life, not on a kingdom?

24. ‘Thy limbs are worthy of red sandal-wood perfumes, — they do not deserve the rough contact of red cloth; this hand is fit to protect subjects, it deserves not to hold food given by another.

25. ‘If therefore, gentle youth, through thy love for thy father thou desirest not thy paternal kingdom in thy generosity, — then at any rate thy choice must not be excused, — accepting forthwith one half of my kingdom.

26. ‘If thou actest thus there will be no violence shown to thine own people, and by the mere lapse of time imperial power at last flies for refuge to the tranquil mind; therefore be pleased to do me a kindness, — the prosperity of the good becomes very powerful, when aided by the good.

27. ‘But if from thy pride of race thou dost not now feel confidence in me, then plunge with thy arrows into countless armies, and with me as thy ally seek to conquer thy foes.

28. ‘Choose thou therefore one of these ends, pursue according to rule religious merit, wealth, and pleasure; for these, love and the rest, in reverse order, are the three objects in life; when men die they pass into dissolution as far as regards this world.

29. ‘That which is pleasure when it has overpowered wealth and merit, is wealth when it has conquered merit and pleasure; so too it is merit, when pleasure and wealth fall into abeyance; but all would have to be alike abandoned, if thy desired end were obtained.

30. ‘Do thou therefore by pursuing the three objects of life, cause this beauty of thine to bear its fruit; they say that when the attainment of religion, wealth, and pleasure is complete in all its parts, then the end of man is complete.

31. ‘Do not thou let these two brawny arms lie useless which are worthy to draw the bow; they are well fitted like Māndhātṛ's to conquer the three worlds, much more the earth.

32. ‘I speak this to you out of affection, — not through love of dominion or through astonishment; beholding this mendicant-dress of thine, I am filled with compassion and I shed tears.

33. ‘O thou who desirest the mendicant's stage of life enjoy pleasures now; in due time, O thou lover of religion, thou shalt practise religion; — ere old age comes on and overcomes this thy beauty, well worthy of thy illustrious race.

34. ‘The old man can obtain merit by religion; old age is helpless for the enjoyment of pleasures; therefore they say that pleasures belong to the young man, wealth to the middle-aged, and religion to the old.

35. ‘Youth in this present world is the enemy of religion and wealth, — since pleasures, however we guard them, are hard to hold, therefore, wherever pleasures are to be found, there they seize them.

36. ‘Old age is prone to reflection’, it is grave and intent on remaining quiet; it attains unimpassionedness with but little effort, unavoidably, and for very shame.

37. ‘Therefore having passed through the deceptive period of youth, fickle, intent on external objects, heedless, impatient, not looking at the distance, — they take breath like men who have escaped safe through a forest.

38. ‘Let therefore this fickle time of youth first pass by, reckless and giddy, — our early years are the mark for pleasure, they cannot be kept from the power of the senses.

39. Or if religion is really thy one aim, then offer sacrifices, — this is thy family's immemorial custom, — climbing to highest heaven by sacrifices, even Indra, the lord of the winds, went thus to highest heaven.

40. ‘With their arms pressed by golden bracelets, and their variegated diadems resplendent with the light of gems, royal sages have reached the same goal by sacrifices which great sages reached by self-mortification.’

41. Thus spoke the monarch of the Magadhas, who spoke well and strongly like Indra; but having heard it, the prince did not falter, (firm) like the mountain Kailāsa, having its many summits variegated (with lines of metals).

[Such is the tenth chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
written by Aśvaghosa, called Śreṇya's Visit]