Being an Original Translation from the Sanskrit of Ashvaghosha’s Buddha-Charita.
Theosophy, August-September 1897
& Universal Brotherhood, November, 1897
It is not quite certain when the poem, from which is taken this story of The Great Renunciation, was written; but we shall go near the truth if we say it dates from about two thousand years ago. So famous was this life of the Redeemer of Asia, and so great was the honor in which its author was held, that, when the Good Law passed beyond the barrier of the Snowy Mountains that hem in India like a wall, this book, carried with them by the Buddha’s followers, was translated into the tongues of northern lands, and versions of it, in both Chinese and Tibetan, are well known at the present day. These versions were made when Buddha’s doctrine first penetrated to the north, and from them, more than from any other book, the ideal of Buddha, as it lives among the disciples beyond the Himalayas, was formed and confirmed.
The manuscripts of this life of Buddha, which have been brought to the west, are copies of a single original, preserved in the library at Khatmandu, the capital of Nepal; and from the same place came our earliest knowledge of Buddha’s teaching, and our earliest copies of Buddhist books. Looking back to our first acquaintance with Buddhism, and calling to mind the numberless books that have been written of recent years concerning Buddha’s doctrine, we cannot refrain from marvelling at the persistence with which a teaching so simple and so full of light has been so grievously misunderstood. The truth seems to be that our linguists are no philosophers, and that our philosophers are no linguists; and so, between them, they have done the doctrine of the Buddha much wrong, painting it either as a pessimism so dreary and full of gloom that we are forced to wonder whether it was worth the prince’s while to leave the pleasures of his palace, even though they had begun to taste bitter-sweet in his mouth, in order to discover so lugubrious an evangel; or giving us instead, as his authentic doctrine, a nihilism so complete that it could never have brought hope or light to the most miserable wretch that breathed, and from which even its expounders turn away repelled. In short, to hear his western prophets, the Buddha’s mission was a ghastly failure, his glad tidings were something darker than our darkest fears, his gospel of hope, a confession of utter hopelessness, his renunciation made in vain.
But it is very certain that to no such doctrine as this would half the world have gladly turned, nor, in all the long years of his ministry, could one, bringing only such a message, have raised hope in a single sorrowing human heart, much less drawn after him those countless followers, the story of whose glad conversion is told in the annals of his faith.
To rid ourselves of these nightmare views of Buddhism, there is nothing like the teachings of Buddha himself, and the study of the books that have inspired his followers for twenty centuries. And in doing this, we shall be well-advised to turn first to this old Life of Buddha, written, as we have said, some two thousand years ago. Of all our western books on Buddhism, none has even rivalled the success of The Light of Asia, and this because the teaching put forth in it does really speak of hope and healing; does really appeal to the heart of man, as, the old traditions tell us, the spoken words of Buddha had appealed, when he first delivered his great Message, two and a half milleniums ago. The life of Buddha, one chapter of which we here translate, offers numberless most interesting points of comparison with The Light of Asia, and it is no disparagement of the modern poet, if we award the palm to the more ancient, as having a deeper grasp of the great Teacher’s thought, a more philosophic insight, and, withal, a richer and more abundant wealth of poetry, finer beauty of imagery, and a purer and robuster style. How easy, for instance, it would have been, for a lesser poet, to have fallen into faults of corruption in that last, splendidly colored scene of Buddha’s revulsion from the pleasures of life, and the supreme temptation of sensuous things. But the best comment on the poem is the poem itself.
THE GREAT RENUNCIATION.
So he, the Shaky a sovereign’s son, unenslaved by things of sense, even those that are full of allurement, did not delight in them nor find contentment in his heart, like a lion pierced by a poisoned arrow. And, once on a time, with a following of the sons of the courtiers, most skillful, and of his companions eloquent, led by the desire to see the forest, and seeking pleasure there, he set forthwith the permission of the King. He was mounted on his steed, Kanthaka, decked with a bridle of new gold, with tinkling bells, and adorned with waving yaktails, set in fair gold, as the moon might mount a comet. And led by the charm of the forest, he wandered on to the border of the wood, desiring to behold the beauty of the earth. And he beheld the fruitful earth being ploughed, as the path of the share divided the soil like the waves of the sea; and he saw also how, when the grassy sods were cut and thrown aside by the plough, the numberless lives of minute creatures were scattered and slain. Viewing the earth thus, he greatly grieved, as for the death of his own kin. Watching the men who were ploughing also, and how they were stained and parched by the sun and the wind and the dust, and seeing the draught oxen galled by the burden of the yoke, he, noblest of all, was full of pity. Thereupon, dismounting from his horse’s back, he wandered slowly away, penetrated by grief; thinking on the birth and the passing away of the world. “Pitiful, indeed, is this!” he said, oppressed by sadness. Desiring, therefore, loneliness in his spirit, he sent back his friends that would have followed him, and sat down in a solitary place at the root of a rose-apple tree, heavily laden with luscious leaves; and he rested there on the earth, carpeted with grass and flowers, enameled as with precious stones.
And meditating there on the coming into being, and the passing away again of the world, he sought for a firm pathway for his mind; and when he had reached a firm resting-place for his mind, the desire for things of sense, and all longing towards them, suddenly left him. He reached the first meditation, discernment with clear reason, full of peace, and of nature altogether free from fault. And reaching this, he passed on to the soul-vision born of discernment, which is happy with supreme delight; and he went forward in thought from this to the path of the world, understanding it perfectly.
“Pitiful is it, in truth, that man born thus, to sickness, to waste away, to perish, the life-sap sinking out of him, should despise another, oppressed by old age, full of sickness or stricken with death, blinded by desire; but if I also, being such as they, should despise another, then that were against the nature of my being. Nor may such a thing as this be possible for me, who know the higher law.”
As he thus spoke, beholding the world’s dark shadows, sickness and age and misfortune, in the full activity of his life and youth and force, the joy in them that had filled his heart, faded suddenly away. Nor was he thereby overcome with astonishment, nor did remorse overtake him, nor did he fall into doubt, nor into faintness and oblivion. Nor was his mind inflamed by the allurements of desire, nor did he hate or despise anyone. So this wisdom grew in him, free from every stain and pure, in him mighty-souled.
Then, unbeheld of other men, one drew near to him, in the garment of a wanderer; and that son of the king of the people questioned him, speaking thus:
“Say what man thou art!” thus he commanded him. And he made answer:
“Thou leader of the herd of men, I am a wanderer, oppressed by the fear of birth and death, a pilgrim seeking after liberation; I wander forth seeking to be free, in this world whose very nature it is to fade; and so I seek a blessed resting-place, unfading. No more akin to other men, I am equal-minded, turned back from sin and rage after things of sense. I rest wherever it may chance, at the root of a tree, or in some desert dwelling; or among the mountains, or in the forest. So I move through the world, without lust of possession, without hope or fear, a pilgrim to the highest goal.”
And as the king’s son thus beheld him, speaking these things he ascended again into heaven, for he was indeed a dweller of the celestials, who had taken that form to rouse the prince to memory, seeing that his thought was deeper than his mien. And when he had passed away through the air, like a bird of the air, he, the best of men was astonished, and marveled greatly. Then understanding what should be, he prepared his soul for the battle, knowing well the law. So king over his senses, like the king of the gods, he mounted his steed most excellent.
Turning back his steed, that looked towards his followers, and thinking on the pleasant forest, he found no delight in the city, free from desire for it, as the king of the elephants enters the circle of the yard from the forest-land.
“Happy and blessed is that woman whose husband is even such as thou art, large-eyed one!” thus spoke the king’s daughter, seeing him enter the long pathway to the palace; and he, whose voice was like the sound of the wind, heard this; he found therein great joy. Hearing that word of hers, of “happiness,” he set his mind on the way to supreme liberation. So the prince, whose body was like the pinnacle of a mount of gold, whose arm was in strength like an elephant, whose voice was as the deep voice of the wind, whose eye was keen as a bull, entered the dwelling, the desire of the imperishable law born within him, his face radiant as the moon, and lion-like in valor. Advancing, stately like the king of the forest, he approached the king of the people, who was sitting there, in the midst of the host of his counsellors, as the mind-born son of the Creator might draw near to the king of heaven, naming in the midst of the powers of the breath. And making obeisance to him, with palms joined, he thus addressed him:
“O sovereign of the people, grant me this request! I would set forth a pilgrim, seeking for liberation, for certain is the dissolution of mankind here below.” The king, hearing this speech of his, shivered, as shivers a tree when an elephant strikes it. And clasping those two hands of his, lotus-like, he spoke to him this word, his voice choked with tears:
“Put away from thee, beloved, this mind of thine, for the time is not yet come for thee to enter on the pilgrimage of the law. In the first age of life, when the mind is still unstable, they say it is a grievous fault to enter thus on the path of the law. For the heart of a young man, whose appetites are yet eager for the things of sense, infirm in the keeping of vows, and who cannot remain steadily determined, the mind of him, still without wisdom, wanders from the forest to the things of unwisdom. But mine, O lover of the law, is it now to seek the law instead of thee, giving up all my wealth to thy desire. O thou of certain valor, this law of thine would become great lawlessness, if thou turnest back from thy master. Therefore putting away this determination of thine, be thou devoted yet for a while to the duties of a householder. And after thou hast enjoyed the pleasures of manhood, thou wilt find truer delight in the forest and forgetfulness of the world.”
Hearing this word of the king’s he made answer in a voice modulated and low:
“If thou wilt become my surety in four things, king, then will I not seek the forest and renunciation: that this life of mine shall not turn toward death; that sickness shall never steal upon my health; that old-age shall not cast down the glory of my youth; and that calamity shall not rob me of my prosperity.”
The king of the Shakyas made answer to his son, thus putting upon him such a heavy quest:
“Abandon thou this mind of thine, set upon going forth, and this plan of thine, worthy of ridicule, and full of wilfulness.”
And so he, who was the lord of the world, spoke thus to his lord:
“If thou doest not as I have said, then is my course not to be hindered. For he who would escape from a dwelling that is being consumed by fierce flames, cannot be kept back. And as in the world separation is certain, but not in the Law; then better separation lest death carry me away, powerless to resist, with my mission unfulfilled, my peace unwon.”
The king of the land, hearing this speech of his son, eager to set out on the search for freedom, thinking: “he shall not go!” set a strong guard upon him, and most excellent allurements. And he, escorted by the ministers, as was fitting, with much honor and obeisance as the scripture teaches, thus forbidden by his father to depart, returned to his dwelling, greatly grieved. There he was waited on by fair women, their faces kissed by trembling earrings, their breasts rising and falling in gentle breathing, their eyes furtive, like the eyes of a fawn in the forest. And he, shining like a golden mountain, stirring the hearts of those fair-formed ones with passion, held captive their ears by the sweetness of his voice, their bodies by the gentleness of his touch, their eyes by his beauty, and their very hearts by his many graces. Then when the day was gone, lighting up the palace by his beauty like the sun, he slew the darkness by the shining of his presence, as when the day-star rises on the peak of the holy mountain. When the lamp was lit that sparkled with gold, and was filled with the excellent scent of the black aloe, he rested on his golden couch, very beautiful, whose divisions were splendid with diamonds. And then, in the gloom of evening, those fair women drew round him most fair, with sweet-sounding instruments, as they might draw near to Indra, king of the gods. Or as, on the crest of the Himalaya, on the snowy summit, the singers of the celestials might gather round the wealth -god’s son; yet he found no joy in them, nor any delight at all.
For of him, the blessed one, the desire of renunciation, for the joy of the supreme goal, was the cause that he found no delight in them. Then, through the power of the gods that watch over holiness, suddenly a deep sleep fell upon them, woven of enchantments, and, as it came upon them, they were entranced, and the power of motion left their limbs. And one of them lay there, sleeping, her cheek resting on her tender hand; letting fall her lute, well-loved, and decked with foil of gold, as though in anger; and so it lay, beside her body. And another of them gleamed there, the flute clasped in her hands, the white robe fallen from her breast, as she lay; and her hands were like two lotuses, joined by a straight line of dark-bodied bees, and her breast was like a river, fringed with the white water’s foam. And another of them slept there, her two arms tender, like the new buds of the lotus, with bracelets interlinked of gleaming gold, her arms wound round her tabor, as though it were her wellbeloved. Others decked with adornments of new gold, and robed in robes of the topaz color, lay helpless there, in that enchanted sleep, like the branches of the forest tree, that the elephants have broken. And another lay there, leaning on the lattice, her body resting on her bended arm, and gleamed there, bright with pendant pearls, stooping like the curve of an arch in the palace. So the lotus-face of another, adorned with a necklet of gems, and scented with sandal, was bent forward, and shone like the curve of a lotus-stem in the river, where the birds sport in the water. And others lay, as the enchanted sleep had come upon them, with bosoms pendant, in attitudes of little grace; and they gleamed there, linking each other in the meshes of their arms, the golden circlets heavy upon them. One of them had sunk to sleep, her arms woven round her lute of seven strings; as though it were her well-beloved companion; and she stirred the lute, tremulous in her hands, and her face with its golden earrings gleamed. Another damsel lay there, caressing her drum, that had slipped from the curve of her arm, holding it on her knees, like the head of a lover, wearied with the subtle sweetness of her allurements. Another fair one shone not, even though her eyes were large, and her brows were beautiful: for her eyes were closed like the lotus-blooms, their petals all crushed together, when the sun has set. So another, her hair all falling in loosened tresses, her robe and adornments fallen in disorder, lay there, the jewels of her necklet all dishevelled, prone like a tree uprooted by an elephant. And others, powerless in that trance, no longer kept the bounds of grace, even though they were of well-ordered minds, and endowed with every bodily beauty; for they reclined there, breathing deep and yawning openly, their arms tossed about, as they lay. Others, their gems and garments fallen from them, the folds of their robes all tumbled, without consciousness, with wide eyes staring and unmoved, shone not in beauty, lying there, bereft of will. The veils had fallen from their faces, their bodies were crowded together, their wide-open lips were wet, their garments fallen in disarray. And another, as though wine had overcome her, lay there, her form all changed, and powerless.
And he, the prince, of fascinating beauty, rested there, quite otherwise, full of seemliness and becoming grace, and bore his form like a lake, when the wind not even stirs the lotuses on its waters. And seeing them lying there, their forms all changed, powerless in their young beauty, even though they had every charm of body, and shone in their endowments, the heart of the prince was repelled within him;
“Unholy and unseemly, in this world of men, are the charms of these enchanting women; and a man becomes impassioned of a woman’s beauty, deceived by her fair robes and adornments. If a man should consider the nature of women, thus overcome, and changed by sleep, it is certain that his passion would grow no longer, but he falls into passion, his will overcome by their allurements.”
So to him, thus beholding them, the desire of renunciation came suddenly there, in the night. And he straightway perceived that the door was set wide open by the gods. So he went forth, descending from the roof of the palace, his mind turned in repulsion from those fair women, lying there in sleep; and so, all fear laid aside, he crossed the first courtyard of the house, and went forth; and awaking the keeper of his steed, the swift Chhandaka, he thus addressed him:
“Bring hither quickly my steed, Kanthaka, for the desire has come upon me to go forth to seek immortality. And as this happiness is born in my heart today, and as this mission of mine is fixed irrevocably, so I have now a lord, even in the wilderness, and the goal that I have longed for, is surely before my face. For, as these youthful beauties, putting away all shame and sense of reverence, fell into this trance, before my eyes, and as the doors were opened of their own accord, so it is certain that the hour is come for me to go forth after that which no sickness overtakes.”
Obedient then to his master’s command, even though he saw that this was the matter of the king’s decree, as though moved in mind by the will of another, he set his thoughts to the bringing of the swift-going steed. So he led up that most excellent horse to his master with the golden bridle fitted in its mouth, and its back scarce touched by the light-lying bed — the horse endowed with force and excellence and swift speed, and beautiful with long tail, short ears curved back and breast and sides. And he, strong breasted, mounting it, and soothing it with his lotus-hand, quieted it with his voice as sweet as honey, as though he were getting ready to enter the midst of the army:
“Many are the foes that are turned back in the battle, by the king mounted on thee, and, as I am to seek supreme immortality, so acquit thyself, my steed most excellent! For very easy to find, in truth, are companions, when happiness is sought in things of sense, and when wealth is abundant. But hard to find are companions, for a man who has fallen into misfortune, or who has taken his refuge in the higher law. And they who were my companions in the darkness, in the law, when I take refuge in the law, the truth comes to my heart within me, that they also certainly have their part therein. So understanding this, my search after the law, and knowing that my purpose is set for the weal of the world, do thou, my excellent steed, strive well with thy speed and valor, for thine own welfare, and the world’s welfare too.”
Thus addressing that best of steeds, as though he were instructing a well-loved companion, he, best of men, longing to go forth to the forest, mounted his white horse, as the sun mounts an autumn cloud lighting up the darkness of the way, and full of beauty.
Then the excellent steed neighed not lest the rest might hear him. And the sound of his neighing restrained and all in silence he set forth, with hurrying and uncertain footsteps. And as he went the gnomes, that are the courtiers of the treasure-god, bending their bodies before him, strewed lotuses in the way, their arms decked with golden bracelets, lotus-like; and with their hands held up the hoofs of him, going timidly. And as the king’s son went, the gateways of the city, whose doors were held by heavy bars, such as could not be lightly lifted away, even by elephants, opened before him, noiselessly, of their own accord. So the prince left behind him his father, well-disposed towards him, his child, his beloved people, and his unequalled fortune, firm in mind, and looking not behind him; thus he departed from his father’s city. Then viewing the city, with eyes like full-blown lotus-flowers, he sounded the lion note:
“Until I shall have beheld the further shore of birth and death. I shall return no more to Kapilavastu.”
Hearing this word of his, the gnomes that wait on the wealth -god rejoiced, and the hosts of the gods, glad at heart, wished him well, in the task he had undertaken. And in their bodies of flame others of the dwellers of the celestials, seeing that what he had undertaken was very hard to accomplish, made a brightness on the midnight path, as when the footsteps of the moon break through the openings of the clouds. And the good steed, swift as the swift steeds of the gods, went forward, as though moved of an inward power, covering many a long league, until the red dawn barred the sky with gold.
IN THE FOREST
Thereupon, when the sun had risen, the shining eye of the world, that lord of men, came to the place of the hermitage of Bhrigu’s son. And he beheld the deer there resting in quiet trust, and the birds of the air, that had come there to dwell.
And seeing it, his heart grew light, as one who had gained what he sought. He descended from his horse’s back, to put an end to their wandering, and to show respect for their devotion, and his own kinship of spirit with them. And dismounting, he stroked his steed, as who should say that all is well; then he spoke to Chandaka, his attendant, full of kindness and with gentle tenderness in his eyes:
“Good friend, as thou hast followed this sun-swift steed of mine, thou hast shown thy love toward me, and thine own strength and speed. For though my thoughts are wholly full of other things, yet thou hast held me in thy heart. For thy love for thy master is not less than thy power to serve him. For there are those that love not, though they have the power to serve; and there are those, full of love, who yet avail nothing. But one who is full of love, with power to serve as well — such a one as thee, — is hard to find, through all the world. Therefore my heart is gladdened by this most excellent deed of thine; for thy love for me is manifest, even though thou seest that I have turned my face back from all rewards. For many a man will set his face towards one who may reward him, but even one’s own kin will become as strangers to him who has fallen in fortune. A son is held dear, that the family may not fail from the land; a father is served because he is the giver of food; the world is kind to us, through hope of favors; there is no unselfishness without its cause. But why need I speak all this to thee? For a word suffices to say that thou hast done what was dear to my heart. Return, therefore, taking my horse with thee.”
Speaking thus, the strong armed hero, wishing to show him gentle courtesy, taking off his princely ornaments, gave them to sorrow-stricken Chandaka. And holding the shining jewel that was set as a lamp in his diadem he stood there speaking words like these, like Mount Mandara, when the sun rests on its peak.
“Taking this jewel, my Chanda, bear it to the King, saluting him with lowly reverence. Speak to him, that his sorrow may cease, while yet he loses not his trust in me. Say that I have come to this forest of holy hermits, to make an end of old age and death; yet not through any lust of paradise, nor through lack of heart’s love, nor through resentment. Let him not, therefore, deign to grieve over me, who have set forth on such a quest as this. For even had I remained beside him, our union could never have lasted throughout all time. For separation is as fixed as fate, therefore I have set my heart wholly. For a man must be divided again and again, even from his own kinsmen and friends. Therefore let him not deign to grieve for me, set forth to make an end of grief. One may rightly grieve for those whose hearts are set on desires that must bring grief; but this determination of mine is fixed and sure, as of those who went before me in the path. Nor let him that shall inherit from me grieve, that I have entered on the path; for there are those that, at a man’s surcease, shall inherit his riches, but throughout the whole earth those who shall inherit his part in the law are few, or none. And even should my father say that this going-forth of mine is untimely, let him know that no hour is untimely for the law, since life is unstable as water. Therefore even today I must seek the better part, and thus is my firm determination. For who can hold his faith in life, while death stands there, as our enemy. Speak thus, and other words like these, good friend, to my lord the King; and do thy endeavor that even his memory of me may fade. Thou shalt even tell him all of me that is evil, for love ceases from the sense of evil, and when love ceases, there is no more grief.”
And hearing him speak thus, good Chanda, altogether broken down with grief, made answer to him with palms humbly joined, and his speech was heavy with tears:
“My heart sinks within me, lord, at this mind of thine, that brings such sorrow to thy friends, — sinks like an elephant in the morass of some great river. And who would not succumb to sorrow, knowing this fixed purpose of thine, — even if his heart were iron; how, then, if it be full of love?
“And how shall it be with my lord’s tender body, worthy to rest delicately in a palace, — how shall it be with the hard earth of this penitential forest, and the coarse fibres of kusha grass that cover it? And truly when I first heard of thy resolve, and brought thy horse, I did it through some power above my own, and fate indeed compelled me to it. And how could I, knowing thy resolve, of my own free will bring back thy horse, Kapilavastu’s grief?” Deign not, mighty armed one, to leave thy lord the King, devoted to his son, well-loved, and old, — as an unbeliever might desert the holy law. Deign not to leave thy second mother, — she who is worn out with caring for thee; my lord, forget her not, as one who, ingrate, forgets a benefit. And thy fair princess with her infant son, with all her virtues, bringing glory to her house, and heartily vowed to her lord, abandon her not, as some craven heart abandons fortune won.
“And even if thy mind is fixed to leave thy kin, to leave thy kingdom, oh, my lord, desert not me, for my goings are before thy feet. I cannot go back again to the city, for my heart is all on fire; I cannot leave thee in the forest, as Sumitra left the son of Raghu’s race. For what will the King say, if I return to the city without thee? And what shall I say to the dwellers in thy palace, — I who should be a bringer of good tidings? And again thou sayest I should speak ill of thee, in the presence of my lord the King; but what evil can I speak of one who is a very saint for sinlessness? And even if, with heart full of shame, with tongue cleaving to my mouth’s roof, I should bring myself to speak that evil — who would credit it? Only he who would speak of the moon’s beams as fierce, and who would believe that, spoken, — only such a one would speak evil of thee; only such would believe it, spoken. And thou who art ever compassionate, whose heart is ever full of gentle pity, — is it well for thee to desert thy friends? Turn back, then, and have pity on me.”
And when he heard these words of Chandaka’s and saw his utter sorrow, the best of those who speak made answer, self-possessed, and very firm.
“Give up this grieving, Chanda, for thy separation from me; for change is inevitable for those who are possessed of bodies, in their various births. And even if, through natural love, I should not leave my kin to seek for freedom, Death will certainly tear us asunder from each other, helpless to resist. And she who bore me, full of bitter thirst and pain, where am I, in regard to her, my mother, who suffered for me fruitlessly? For as birds come together to a tree to roost, and separate again in the morn, not less certain is it that the coining together of all beings must end in separation. And as clouds, meeting together, drift away again, so I deem the meetings and partings of living men to be also. And as all this world is subject to separation, how then may we say that we possess a union that is but a dream. For as even trees lose the inborn greenness of their leaves, how should there not be separation of those who are already divided from each other. Since this is so, give over grieving, my good friend, and go; or if love altogether overcomes thee, then go, and again return. Say to the people of Kapilavastu, who are full of loyalty to me, that they shall cease from their love of me, and that they shall hearken to my firm determination. ‘Either he will come again quickly, having made an end of age and death, or, failing of his aim, and all hope, he shall go to his destruction.'”
Hearing him speak thus, the best of steeds, Kanthaka, licked the prince’s feet with his tongue, and let hot tears fall. And the prince stroked him with his gentle hand, bearing the swastika mark in the palm, with the circle in its midst; and stroking him, spoke to him as to a friend.
“Shed no more tears, my Kanthaka, for thou art already known for a noble steed; for what thou hast now done will quickly bear its fruit.”
Then firmly taking the keen sword, set with gems, from the hand of Chandaka, and drawing from its scabbard the blade decked with inlaid gold, as who should draw a serpent from his lair, raising it, he cut off his diadem and his long hair, dark as the petal of the blue lotus; he cast it, with its muslin folds undone, to the empty air, as a swan going forth on a lake; and, behold, the celestial dwellers plucked it up, longing to pay it reverence, with great honor. And the hosts of heaven-dwellers worshipped it, ascending thus to the sky, with signal worship.
And putting off that robe of his, bright with all adornments, and the kingly splendor from his head, and seeing his muslin headdress floating away, like a golden swan, that sage desired a forest garment. Thereupon, a hunter of wild beasts in form, one of the heaven-dwellers of perfect purity appeared there, close at hand, wearing a garment of dull red, and the Shakya prince addressed him thus:
“Auspicious is this dull red robe of thine, like the robe of a devotee: but thy injurious bow becomes thee not. Therefore, good friend, if thou settest no special treasure by it, give this garment to me, and take thou mine.”
And the hunter spoke:
“O thou fulfiller of desires, this garment has fulfilled my desires, since giving them confidence through it, I have slain the deer; but if it has any worth for thee, who art like a king of the gods, accept it from me, and give me that white robe of thine.”
With much delight, then, he took the forest garment, and put off his own white linen robe, and the hunter, taking to him his divine form again, ascended to the celestials, bearing the white robe with him.
Thereupon the prince, and the groom also, fell into a great wonder, as he departed thus; and they quickly showed reverence to him who had worn the forest garment. Then dismissing the tear-stained Chanda, he of the mighty heart, whose glory was hid in the dull red robe of the hunter, went forth thither, where the hermitage was, like a mighty mountain, wrapped in the red clouds of evening.
And as his master, spurning his splendid kingdom, went forth to the forest of penances, in a faded robe, Chaudaka tossed his arms in the air, and, weeping bitterly, threw himself on the ground. And looking after him, he again cried out aloud, wrapping his arms about the good steed Kanthaka. And hopelessly lamenting again and again, his body went to the city, but his heart remained behind.
And awhile he was lost in thought, and awhile he cried aloud; and again he stumbled in the pathway, and again he fell. And so going and tormented by the might of his love, he did many strange things as he went his way.
Thus dismissing wet-eyed, weeping Chanda, and entering the forest according to his desire, with his purpose gained, his splendor set aside, he entered the hermitage like the home of perfection. The prince, walking, like the lion, king over the beasts of the forest, entered the dwelling of the deer, himself gentle as a deer. And though he had cast away his splendor, he yet held the eyes of all by the splendor of his beauty.
And those who had come in chariots, with their wives, stopped their steeds in delight and watched him, in form like the king of the gods, their heads bent lowly towards him in reverence. And the men of priestly birth who had gone forth for fuel, coming with the kindling wood, or flowers, or the sacred kusha grass in their hands, even though they had gone through many disciplines, and had learned to rule their thoughts, were overcome with the desire to look at him, and did not go on to their dwellings.
And the peacocks cried out shrilly in their joy, as if they had seen a dark-blue rain cloud coming. And leaving the luscious grass, the deer stood there large-eyed, their heads turned towards him, and those who kept the deer. And seeing the kingly descendant of the children of the sun, flaming there like the sun uprisen, the cows, though they had been milked already, so great was their delight, gave milk again as a holy oblation.
“This is one of the eight Gods of the breath, or haply of the twin physicians of the celestials”; thus resounded the voices of the saints, full of wonderment. For he shone like the form of the king of the gods, like a second refuge of the moving and unmoving world, and lit up the whole forest, as though the sun had come there for his good pleasure.
Thereupon saluted and greeted with all courtesy by those dwellers in the hermitage, he saluted them in return, according to the gentle law, his voice like the voice of a water-bearing cloud in the season of the rains. And accompanied by those pious folk who were full of longing for paradise, he, who longed for freedom only, went onward into the hermitage, to behold their various penances. And he, noble-hearted, beheld there the varied forms of penances of those who were fulfilling penances in that forest of penances. And to one of those men of penances, who was walking beside him, desiring to know how the matter stood, he spoke these words:
“This is the first time that I come to this hermitage, and therefore I know not the rule of the law. Therefore let thy worthiness deign to declare to me what your fixed purpose is, and to what end?”
Thereupon the practiser of penances made answer to that bull of the Shakyas, a very bull in valor; telling him the whole matter step by step, and the way of penances, and the fruit of the way. How some lived on wild food, coming from the river, and leaves and water, and fruit and roots; how this was the life of the saints, and how some of them lived apart, and others ceased from penances. How others live like the birds of the air, on the grain they pick up; and others like the deer, on the green herbs of the earth. And how others, as if turned into ant hills, live on air, with the snakes. How others live on what they wring forth effortfully from the rocks, and others on grain that their own teeth have ground. And some, after cooking for others, eat of the remnants themselves, if any be left. Others, with hair knotted and wet with water, twice offer the sacred fire, with chanted hymns. Some dwell plunged in the water, like fish, till the tortoises scratch their bodies.
And, by such penances as these that fill their time, they seek the heavenly world; and by yet others, the world of mortal men. By a painful way they seek happiness; for pain, they say, is the root of the law.
Hearing this story told, and the word of the man of penances, that son of the King of men was not greatly delighted with them, even though he knew not yet the perfect truth; he spoke, therefore, this thought that had come into his heart:
“Many a penance here is hard enough and painful enough, yet heaven is set as the reward of penance. Yet heaven and all the worlds are doomed to change; of little worth, in sooth, is the toil of all these hermitages. And they who, abandoning fortune and friends and wealth, perform this penitential law for the sake of heaven, they indeed, after all their sacrifices, desire to go to a second penitential forest, and a greater. And he who, led on by desire, seeks for another existence, through penances and torturing of his body, he, indeed, altogether failing to understand the turning circle of birth, grievously follows after grief. All men fear death for ever, yet they effortfully strive for a new life; when that new life is come, death follows certain with it; and sunk there verily, they are slaves to fear. Some enter upon pains for this world’s sake, and some for the sake of heaven undergo much toil. In the search for happiness, this world of men is pitiful, indeed, in its hopes, fails of its end, and falls into helplessness. Not indeed is that effort to be despised, which, giving up the less, follows after the better; wise men should strive strongly for that which, done once, is not to do again.
“But if pain of the body is virtue in the world, then bodily happiness is vice. Yet by virtue they hope to gain this happiness in another world; therefore vice is the fruit of virtue.
“Since the body moves, or ceases to move, through the power of the mind, the right way is to control the mind, for without thought, the body is like a log of wood.
“If holiness is to be gained by purity of food, then the deer also attain to holiness. And the wealthy are therefore wealthy through fortune’s fault, since such are the fruits of wealth.
“And if, in sorrow, attachment to it is a cause of holiness, why should there not be the same attachment to joy? If the rule is that there should be no attachment in happiness, should there not also be unattachment in pain?
“And there are those who go to holy shrines to bathe in the waters and wash away their sins; yet their satisfaction of heart is indeed empty, for water cannot wash away sin.
“That water is holy where the righteous dwell; therefore righteousness is the true place of pilgrimage, and water without doubt is only water.”
Thus he spoke, with wisdom and eloquence, until the Sun went down; and then he entered the wood, whose trees were stained with the smoke of sacrifices, though the penances were now ceased. And the evening oblation was offered on the kindled fire, by the men of piety, after they had anointed themselves.
And certain nights he remained there, bright as the lord of night, observing well their penances. Then considering the penances as vain, and leaving them, he set forth from the region of that place of penances. Then the folk of the hermitage set forth after him, their thoughts gone out to the splendor of his beauty; they went forth as the great masters do, following the departing law, when the land is overrun by baser men.
And he beheld them, astir with their hair bound up in top-knots, as is the wont of devotees, and clothed in the bark of trees; and meditating on their penances, he stood there, hard by a great, wide-spreading forest tree. And all the men of the hermitage, coming up, gathered around that most excellent of men, and stood there, near him. And their elder, paying all courtesy and honor, spake thus to him with voice modulated as in the holy chant:
“When thou earnest, this hermitage became as though filled and completed; but if thou goest, it will be empty indeed. Therefore graciously refuse to leave it, lingering like the well-loved life in the body of one who longs to live. For close by is Mount Shailas, of the Himalay, where dwell masters of priestly birth, masters of royal birth, and masters of birth divine; and from their nearness, the penances of our devotees are multiplied. And there are holy refuges around us, that are very stairways to the doors of heaven. And there dwell masters divine and mighty masters, whose spirits are at one with the law, who are full of the spirit. And moreover this northern country is most fit for worship, since the law dwells here in its excellence. For it is not fitting for one who is awakened, to take even one step hence, toward the south.
“But if, in this wood of penance, thou hast beheld any remiss in holy rites, or falling short of the law, or failed from purity, and if therefore thou hast set thy mind to depart, then tell it, that thy dwelling-place may be made according to thy desire. For those who dwell here earnestly desire such a one as thee, for companion in their penances, since thou hast such a wealth of holiness. For to dwell with thee, who art like the king of the gods, will surely bring us a sunrise of godlike wisdom.”
Then he, who was the chiefest in wisdom, thus addressed by the chief of the men of the hermitage, and standing in the midst of the devotees, — he who had promised to make an end of birth and death, spoke thus his hidden thought: Through these kindly affectionate thoughts of righteous men, fulfillers of the Law, and saints, desiring to shew me hospitality, as to one of themselves, a great love and friendship is born in me; I am, as it were, washed clean altogether by these loving words, that find their way to my heart. My passion has faded altogether away, though I have but newly sought the law; and it grieves me that I must leave you, after ye have thus dealt with me, giving me shelter, and shewing me such strong affection; it grieves me, as though I had to leave my kinsmen, and men of my own blood.
“But this law of yours makes for heaven, while my longing desire is for the ceasing of birth and death. And I do not desire to dwell in this wood, for that the law of ceasing is apart from the activities of these penances. Yet it is from no lack of love, nor from any haughtiness towards others, that I go forth hence, from the forest; for ye all are like the mighty masters, standing firm in the law that has come down from the days of old.”
Hearing the prince’s word, very kindly, of firm purpose, very gentle, and luminous, and full of dignity, the men of the hermitage honored him with signal honor. And a certain man among them, who had passed through the rites of second birth, who was smeared with ashes, of great fervor, his locks bound in a topknot, his dress made of the bark of trees, fiery-eyed, keen-nosed, and holding a water-pot in his hand, spoke to him this word:
“Sage, this resolve of thine is noble, in that, being still young, thou hast seen the evil of life. For, judging between heaven and liberation, he whose mind is set on liberation is truly wise. For it is through passion that they seek the way to heaven, through penances, and sacrifices, and religious rites; but fighting passion as the chiefest foe, they who follow peace seek the way to freedom.
“Then if thy mind be set as thou hast said, let my lord go without delay to the refuge among the Vindhya mountains; for there dwells the Saint Aradas, who has gained the intuition of the better way of freedom from desire. From him shalt thou hear the way of truth, and shalt even enter on it, if so be thy will. But as I see, this thought of thine will enter his mind also, stirring it with a great commotion. For beholding thy face, with nose well-formed, as of a well-born steed; with large, long eyes; full red lower lip; teeth keen and white, — this mouth of thine, and thy red tongue will drink up the ocean of the knowable, altogether. And that matchless profundity of thine, and thy brightness, and all thy well-marked gifts, will gain for thee a place as teacher of the world, such as was held by the masters, in the ages that are gone.”
So the King’s son made answer once more to the sages assembled there, and took leave of them, in gentle courtesy. And the men of the hermitage returned again to the forest of penances.
Meanwhile Chhanda, the guardian of the prince’s steed, very despondent that his master had renounced all to dwell in the forest, strove greatly, along the way, to contain his grief, yet his tears fell, and ceased not. And the way that he had gone at the command of the prince, in a single night, with the self-same steed, he now retraced slowly, thinking all the while of his master’s loss, — the self-same way, in eight full days. And yet the horse went swiftly, but there was no fire in him, and his heart was heavy; and for all that he was decked with bright adornments, he was as though shorn of his glory, when his prince was gone.
And turning his face back towards the wood of penances, he neighed pitifully, again and again; and though hunger was heavy on him, he tasted neither grass nor water as of old, along the way, nor found any pleasure in them. So they two made their way towards the city of Kapilavastu, robbed now of that mighty-souled well-wisher of the world; slowly they came towards the city, as though it were empty, like the sky robbed of the lord of day.
And the self-same garden of the palace, even though it shone with lotuses, and was adorned with fair waters and trees laden with flowers, was yet no fairer than the wilderness, for the glory was gone from the grass. And hindered, as it were, by the people of the city wandering in their way, with miserable minds, the fire gone out of them, their eyes all worn with tears, they two slowly entered the town, downcast and covered with dust. And seeing them, worn, and going onward in bodily weariness, because they had left the bull of the Shaky a clan behind, the townspeople shed tears in the path, as when of old the chariot of Rama came back empty. And they spoke thus to Chhanda, full of grief, and shedding many tears:
“Where is the King’s son, who should make great the glory of his race, stolen away by thee?” — thus asking, they followed him.
Thereupon he answered them in their love:
“I abandoned not the son of the lord of men; for weeping I was thrust aside by him, in the unpeopled wood, and his householder’s robe as well.”
Hearing this word of his, the people went away, saying: “Hard, in truth, is this decision; “nor kept they the grief-born drops within their eyes, and blaming within themselves their own greed of wealth. “So,” said they, “let us too enter the forest whither has gone the prince’s might; for we love not life without him, as the soul loves not the body, whose vigor is departed. This fair city without him, is a wilderness; and the wilderness, where he dwells, is a city. The city shines no more for us, now he is gone, as the sky shines not, when the rain-clouds bind it up in storms.”
And the women, gathering round the latticed windows, cried out that the prince had come back again; but when they saw the riderless horse, they clung to the windows, weeping.
And at the time of the sacrifice, the lord of the people prayed beside the altar of the gods, making vows for the recovery of his son, his heart heavy with great grief. And there he performed whatever rites were deemed of efficacy. And there Chhanda, his eyes overflowing with bitter tears, taking the horse, entered the palace, downcast and full of grief, — the palace that was stricken as though its lord had been captured by the foe. And he went towards the King’s apartments, searching for him with eyes full of tears. And the good steed Kanthaka neighed with a heavy neigh, as though telling the news of evil to the people.
Thereupon the birds, that dwelt among the houses, and the swift, strong steeds, that were near, sent forth a cry, echoing to the horse’s cry, woe begone at the departure of the prince. And the people, deceived into too great exultation, hurrying towards the inner dwelling of the lord of the people, thought, from the neighing of the horse, that the prince had come again. And from that exultation, they fainted into grief, their eyes longing to behold the King’s son once more. And the women came forth from the houses that sheltered them, as the lightning flashes forth from an autumn cloud. Their garments drooping, their robes and vestures stained with dust, their faces pale, their eyes heavy with weeping. They were faint and colorless, and without lustre, like the stars, at dawning, when the red day comes.
Their feet were stripped of the anklets of red gold; they wore no bracelets; their earrings were laid aside. Their well-rounded waists were decked with no bright girdles; their breasts were as though robbed of the pearl-chains that had adorned them. Thus they look forth at Chhanda and the steed, at Chhanda, desolate, his eyes all worn with tears; and their faces were pale, and they cried aloud, like kine lowing in the forest, when the leader of the herd is gone. Then full of lamentation, the monarch’s chiefest spouse, majestic Gautami, who had lost her child, as a buffalo loses its calf, clasping her hands together, fell, like a gold-stemmed silk-cotton tree, with shivering leaves.
Yet others, their beauty dimmed, their arms and bodies chilled, robbed of all feeling by their grief, neither cried, nor wept, nor sighed, unconscious, standing like statues. Yet others, heavy-laden at the loss of their lord, sprinkled their breasts, no longer adorned with sandal, with the bright drops that fell from their eyes, as the mountain is sprinkled with opals. Their faces gleamed so with bright tears, that the palace shone with the gleaming of them, like a lake, at a time of the beginning of the rains, when every red lotus flower is bright with water drops. And with their fair-fingered hands, no longer hidden under their adornments, their heads covered in grief, they beat their breasts, with those lotus hands of theirs, as the climbing plants of the forest beat their stems, with branches moving in the wind. And striking thus their breasts with their fair hands, they were like streams when the lotuses that deck them are driven hither and thither by the storm-wind of the forest. And the blows that their hands inflicted on their breasts, their breasts inflicted equally on their soft hands. So their gentle hands and breasts pitilessly wounded each other in their pain.
Then indeed Yashodhara, her eyes red with anger, with bitter sobbing and desolation, her bosom torn with sighs, her tears springing up from unfathomable grief, spoke thus:
“Where is my beloved gone, O Chhanda, leaving me thus in the night time, asleep and powerless to hold him? My heart is as vexed by thy coming back thus with the prince’s steed, as it was when all three went away. This act of thine was ignoble, unloving, unfriendly, O base one; how then canst thou return today with lamentations? Cease from these tears, for thine heart must be glad, nor do thy tears consort well with such an act as thine. For through thy means, — who art his friend, his follower, his good companion and helper, his well wisher — is the prince gone forth to return no more. Rejoice, for thou hast done thy work well! Truly a man’s keen enemy is better than a friend, dull, ignorant and awkward. At thy hands, who hast called thyself a friend, and through thy folly, has our house suffered dire eclipse. And these women here, how greatly are they to be pitied, that their bright adornments are set aside, the sockets of their eyes all red with weeping, as though widowed, and all their glory lost, though their lord stands firm as the earth or the Himalayan mountain. And the palaces in their rows seem to utter lamentation, their dovecotes like arms thrown up, while the doves moan incessantly; losing him, they have lost all that could console them.
“And Kanthaka, did not even he desire my destruction, since he has carried off my jewel, while the people slept, like some thief of gold? Kanthaka, brave steed that could withstand the fierce onslaught of arrows, much more a whip lash, — how could fear of the whip, then, compel him to rob me of my heart and happiness? Now base and ignoble, he fills the palace with his mournful neighings; but while he bore away my beloved, this evil steed was dumb. If he had neighed so that the people were awakened, or the noise of his hoofs, or the sound of his jaws had alarmed them, then this heavy grief had not fallen upon me.”
Hearing the lamentations of the princess, her words choked by tears and sorrow, Chhanda made answer thus, his voice broken with tears, his head bent, his hands clasped in supplication:
“Nay, princess, lay not the blame on Kanthaka, nor put forth thy anger against me! — for we are indeed free from blame, — for that god amongst men departed like a god. For though I knew well the word of the King, I was as though compelled by a higher power, and so brought the swift steed to him quickly, and followed him unwearied on the way. And the good steed too, as he went, struck not the ground even with the edges of his hoofs, as though some bore him up, and fate kept close his jaws, so that he made no sound. And when the prince would leave the city, the gate flew open, of its own accord, and the dark night was lit up, as by the sun; so we can know of a surety that this was fate. And even after the king had set thousands of watchful guards in palace and city, deep sleep fell on them at that very hour, so we may know of a surety that this was fate. And when such a robe as they should wear, who dwell in hermitages, came down for him out of heaven, and the muslin head dress, that he cast away, was carried up instead, so we may know of a surety, that this was fate. Think not then, princess, that we two are guilty, in his departure, for we acted not freely, but as though compelled to follow a god.”
And when the women heard this wondrous tale of how their prince went forth, their grief changed to marveling; but when they thought of him as dwelling in the forest, they broke out into lamentation again. And the queen mother Gautami, her eyes sorrow-filled, grief-torn like an eagle whose young are lost, was stricken with weakness, and cried out, weeping, thus:
“Those locks of his, beautiful, soft, dark, and firm-rooted, that a royal diadem should encircle, are not cast on the ground. Can a hero of mighty arms, of lion stride, his eye like a bull’s, his voice like a drum or a storm-cloud, — can such a one become a forest-dweller? This land, indeed, is unworthy of this high doer of noble deeds, for he has left it; for the people’s worthiness brings forth the King. And how can those soft feet of his, the toes well joined, the ankles hidden, soft as a blue lotus, a circle marked on either sole, how can they tread the stony forest ground? And his body, befitting well a palace, with its costly robes, sandal, and perfumes, how can that fair form withstand, in the forest, the force of frost and heat and rain? He who was gifted in birth, in virtue, and power, and force, and learning, in youth and beauty, — he who gave ever, nor asked again, — how can he now beg alms from others? He who, resting on a bright couch of gold, heard through the night the symphony of sweet music, how will he now rest on the bare earth, with but a cloth to guard him?”
And the women, hearing this sorrowful lamentation, linking their arms together, let their tears flow afresh, as the climbing plants, shaken by the wind, distil honey from their blossoms. Then Yashodhara fell to the earth, like a swan robbed of her mate, and, given over altogether to sorrow, spoke thus, her voice choked with sobs: .
“If he desires now to follow a life of holiness, leaving me his consort, as a widow, what holiness is that, in which his spouse is left behind? Has he not heard of the great kings of old, his own forefathers, Mahasudarsha and others, how they went to the forest, taking their wives, too, that he thus seeks holiness, abandoning me? Can he not see that husband and wife are together consecrated in the sacrifice, that the Vedic rites purify both, that both are to reap the same holy fruit, — that he robs me of my part in his holy work? Surely it must be that this devotee of holiness, thinking that I was set against him in my heart, has fearlessly left me sorrowing, hoping thus to win the heavenly beauties of the gods. Yet what foolish thought is this of mine? For these women here have every beauty’s charm, — yet through them he has gone to the forest, leaving behind his kingdom and my love. I long not so greatly for the joy of heaven, nor is that a hard task even for common men, who are resolved; but this one thing I desire, — that my beloved may not leave me here, or in the other world. But if I am not worthy to look on the face of my lord, shall our child Rahula never rest on his father’s knee? Cruel, indeed, is that hero’s heart for all his gentle beauty; for who with a heart could leave a prattling child, who would win the love even of an enemy? But my heart, too, must be hard as his, hard as stone or iron, that it breaks not now, when my lord has gone to the forest, shorn and orphaned of his royal glory, instead of the happiness that should be his lot.”
So the princess, weak and wailing, wept and thought and wept again; and though of nature queenlike, yet now she forgot her pride and felt no shame. And seeing Yashodhara thus distraught with sorrow, and hearing her wild grief, as she cast herself on the earth, all her attendants wept too, their faces gleaming like rain-beaten lotuses.