The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book IV [The Women Rejected]

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1. Then from that city-garden, with their eyes restless in excitement, the women went out to meet the prince as a newly-arrived bridegroom;

2. And when they came up to him, their eyes wide open in wonder, they performed their due homage with hands folded like a lotus-calyx.

3. Then they stood surrounding him, their minds overpowered by passion, as if they were drinking him in with their eyes motionless and blossoming wide with love.

4. Some of the women verily thought that he was Kāma incarnate, — decorated as he was with his brilliant signs as with connate ornaments.

5. Others thought from his gentleness and majesty that it was the moon with its ambrosial beams as it were visibly come down to the earth.

6. Others, smitten by his beauty, yawned as if to swallow him, and fixing their eyes on each other, softly sighed.

7. Thus the women only looked upon him, simply gazing with their eyes, — they spoke not, nor did they smile, controlled by his power.

8. But having seen them thus listless, bewildered in their love, the wise son of the family priest, Udāyin, thus addressed them:

9. ‘Ye are all skilled in all the graceful arts, proficients in understanding the language of amorous sentiments, possessed of beauty and gracefulness, thorough masters in your own styles.

10. ‘With these graces of yours ye may embellish even the Northern Kurus, yea, even the dances of Kuvera, much more this little earth.

11. ‘Ye are able to move even sages who have lost all their desires, and to ensnare even the gods who are charmed by heavenly nymphs.

12. ‘By your skill in expressing the heart's feelings, by your coquetry, your grace, and your perfect beauty, ye are able to enrapture even women, how much more easily men.

13. ‘You thus skilled as ye are, each set in her own proper sphere, — such as this is your power, I am not satisfied with your simplicity [when you profess to find him beyond your reach].

14. ‘This timid action of yours would be fit for new brides, their eyes closed through shame, — or it might be a blandishment worthy even of the wives of the cowherds.

15. ‘What though this hero be great by his exalted glory, yet "great is the might of women," let this be your firm resolve.

16. ‘In olden time a great seer, hard to be conquered even by the gods, was spurned by a harlot, the beauty of Kāśi, planting her feet upon him.

17. ‘The Bhikṣu Manthālagautama was also formerly spurned by Bālamukhyā with her leg, and wishing to please her he carried out dead bodies for her sake to be buried.

18. ‘And a woman low in standing and caste fascinated the great seer Gautama, though a master of long penances and old in years.

19. ‘So Śāntā by her various wiles captivated and subdued the sage's son Ṛṣyaśṛṅga, unskilled in women's ways.

20. ‘And the great seer Viśvāmitra, though plunged in a profound penance, was carried captive for ten years in the forests by the nymph Ghṛtācī.

21. ‘Many such seers as these have women brought to shame — how much more then a delicate prince in the first flower of his age?

22. ‘This being so, boldly put forth your efforts that the prosperity of the king's family may not be turned away from him.

23. ‘Ordinary women captivate similar lovers; but they are truly women who subdue the natures of high and low.’

24. Having heard these words of Udāyin these women as stung to the heart rose even above themselves for the conquest of the prince.

25. With their brows, their glances, their coquetries, their smiles, their delicate movements, they made all sorts of significant gestures like women utterly terrified.

26. But they soon regained their confidence through the command of the king and the gentle temperament of the prince, and through the power of intoxication and of love.

27. Then surrounded by troops of women the prince wandered in the wood like an elephant in the forests of Himavat accompanied by a herd of females.

28. Attended by the women he shone in that pleasant grove, as the sun surrounded by Apsarasas in his royal garden.

29. There some of them, urged by passion, pressed him with their full firm bosoms in gentle collisions.

30. Another violently embraced him after making a pretended stumble, — leaning on him with her shoulders drooping down, and with her gentle creeper-like arms dependent.

31. Another with her mouth smelling of spirituous liquor, her lower lip red like copper, whispered in his ear, ‘Let my secret be heard.’

32. Another, all wet with unguents, as if giving him her command, clasped his hand eagerly and said, ‘Perform thy rites of adoration here.’

33. Another, with her blue garments continually slipping down in pretended intoxication, stood conspicuous with her tongue visible like the night with its lightning flashing.

34. Others, with their golden zones tinkling, wandered about here and there, showing to him their hips veiled with thin cloth.

35. Others leaned, holding a mango-bough in full flower, displaying their bosoms like golden jars.

36. Another, coming from a lotus-bed, carrying lotuses and with eyes like lotuses, stood like the lotus-goddess Padmā, by the side of that lotus-faced prince.

37. Another sang a sweet song easily understood and with the proper gesticulations, rousing him, self-subdued though he was, by her glances, as saying, ‘O how thou art deluded!’

38. Another, having armed herself with her bright face, with its brow-bow drawn to its full, imitated his action, as playing the hero.

39. Another, with beautiful full bosoms, and having her earrings waving in the wind, laughed loudly at him, as if saying, ‘Catch me, sir, if you can!’

40. Some, as he was going away, bound him with strings of garlands, — others punished him with words like an elephant-driver's hook, gentle yet reproachful.

41. Another, wishing to argue with him, seizing a mango-spray, asked, all bewildered with passion, ‘This flower, whose is it?’

42. Another, assuming a gait and attitude like those of a man, said to him, ‘Thou who art conquered by women, go and conquer this earth!’

43. Then another with rolling eyes, smelling a blue lotus, thus addressed the prince with words slightly indistinct in her excitement,

44. ‘See, my lord, this mango covered with its honey-scented flowers, where the kokila sings, as if imprisoned in a golden cage.

45. ‘Come and see this aśoka tree, which augments lovers’ sorrows, — where the bees make a noise as if they were scorched by fire.

46. ‘Come and see this tilaka tree, embraced by a slender mango-branch, like a man in a white garment by a woman decked with yellow unguents.

47. ‘Behold this kuruvaka in flower, bright like fresh resin-juice, which bends down as if it felt reproached by the colour of women's nails.

48. ‘Come and see this young aśoka, covered all over with new shoots, which stands as it were ashamed at the beauty of our hands.

49. ‘See this lake surrounded by the sinduvāra shrubs growing on its banks, like a fair woman reclining, clad in fine white cloth.

50. ‘See the imperial power of females, — yonder ruddy-goose in the water goes behind his mate following her like a slave.

51. ‘Come and listen to the notes of this intoxicated cuckoo as he sings, while another cuckoo sings as if consenting, wholly without care.

52. ‘Would that thine was the intoxication of the birds which the spring produces, — and not the thought of a thinking man, ever pondering how wise he is!’

53. Thus these young women, their souls carried away by love, assailed the prince with all kinds of stratagems.

54. But although thus attacked, he, having his senses guarded by self-control, neither rejoiced nor smiled, thinking anxiously, ‘One must die.’

55. Having seen them in their real condition, that best of men pondered with an undisturbed, and stedfast mind.

56. ‘What is it that these women lack that they perceive not that youth is fickle? for this old age will destroy whatever has beauty.

57. ‘Verily they do not see any one's plunge into disease, and so dismissing fear, they are joyous in a world which is all pain.

58. ‘Evidently they know nothing of death which carries all away; and so at ease and without distress they can sport and laugh.

59. ‘What rational being, who knows of old age, death and sickness, could stand or sit down at his ease or sleep, far less laugh?

60. ‘But he verily is like one bereft of sense, who, beholding another aged or sick or dead, remains self-possessed and not afflicted.

61. ‘(So) even when a tree is deprived of its flowers and fruits, or if it is cut down and falls, no other tree sorrows.’

62. Seeing him thus absorbed in contemplation, with his desires estranged from all worldly objects, Udāyin, well skilled in the rules of policy, with kindly feelings addressed him:

63. ‘Since I was appointed by the king as a fitting friend for thee, therefore I have a wish to speak to thee in this friendliness of my heart.

64. ‘To hinder from what is disadvantageous, to urge to what is advantageous — and not to forsake in misfortune, — these are the three marks of a friend.

65. ‘If I, after having promised my friendship, were not to heed when thou turnest away from the great end of man, there would be no friendship in me.

66. ‘Therefore I speak as thy friend, — such rudeness as this to women is not befitting for one young in years and graceful in person.

67. ‘It is right to woo a woman even by guile, this is useful both for getting rid of shame and for one's own enjoyment.

68. ‘Reverential behaviour and compliance with her wishes are what binds a woman's heart; good qualities truly are a cause of love, and women love respect.

69. ‘Wilt thou not then, O large-eyed prince, even if thy heart is unwilling, seek to please them with a courtesy worthy of this beauty of thine?

70. ‘Courtesy is the balm of women, courtesy is the best ornament; beauty without courtesy is like a grove without flowers.

71. ‘But of what use is courtesy by itself? let it be assisted by the heart's feelings; surely, when worldly objects so hard to attain are in thy grasp, thou wilt not despise them.

72. ‘Knowing that pleasure was the best of objects, even the god Puraṁdara (Indra) wooed in olden time Ahalyā the wife of the saint Gautama.

73. ‘So too Agastya wooed Rohiṇī, the wife of Soma; and therefore, as Śruti saith, a like thing befell Lopāmudrā.

74. ‘The great ascetic Vṛhaspati begot Bharadvāja on Mamatā the daughter of the Maruts, the wife of Autathya.

75. ‘The Moon, the best of offerers, begat Budha of divine nature on the spouse of Vṛhaspati as she was offering a libation.

76. ‘So too in old time Parāśara, overpowered by passion on the bank of the Yamunā, lay with the maiden Kālī who was the daughter of the son of the Water (Agni).

77. ‘The sage Vaśiṣṭha through lust begot a son Kapiñjalāda on Akṣamālā a despised low-caste woman.

78. ‘And the seer-king Yayāti, even when the vigour of his prime was gone, sported in the Caitraratha forest with the Apsaras Viśvācī.

79. ‘And the Kaurava king Pāṇḍu, though he knew that intercourse with his wife would end in death, yet overcome by the beauty and good qualities of Mādrī yielded to the pleasures of love.

80. ‘And so Karālajanaka, when he carried off the Brāhman's daughter, incurred loss of caste thereby, but he would not give up his love.

81. ‘Great heroes such as these pursued even contemptible desires for the sake of pleasure, how much more so when they are praiseworthy of their kind?

82. ‘And yet thou, a young man, possessed of strength and beauty, despisest enjoyments which rightly belong to thee, and to which the whole world is devoted.’

83. Having heard these specious words of his, well-supported by sacred tradition, the prince made reply, in a voice like the thundering of a cloud:

84. ‘This speech manifesting affection is well-befitting in thee; but I will convince thee as to where thou wrongly judgest me.

85. ‘I do not despise worldly objects, I know that all mankind are bound up therein; but remembering that the world is transitory, my mind cannot find pleasure in them.

86. ‘Old age, disease, and death — if these three things did not exist, I too should find my enjoyment in the objects that please the mind.

87. ‘Yet even though this beauty of women were to remain perpetual, still delight in the pleasures of desire would not be worthy of the wise man.

88. ‘But since their beauty will be drunk up by old age, to delight therein through infatuation cannot be a thing approved even by thyself.

89. ‘He who himself subject to death, disease, and old age, can sport undisturbed with those whose very nature implies death, disease, and old age, such a man is on a level with birds and beasts.

90. ‘And as for what thou sayest as to even those great men having become victims to desire, do not be bewildered by them, for destruction was also their lot.

91. ‘Real greatness is not to be found there, where there is universally destruction, or where there is attachment to earthly objects, or a want of self-control.

92. ‘And when thou sayest, "Let one deal with women even by guile," I know nought about guile, even if it be accompanied with courtesy.

93. ‘That compliance too with a woman's wishes pleases me not, if truthfulness be not there; if there be not a union with one's whole soul and nature, then "out upon it" say I.

94. ‘A soul overpowered by passion, believing in falsehood, carried away by attachment and blind to the faults of its objects, — what is there in it worth being deceived?

95. ‘And if the victims of passion do deceive one another, — are not men unfit for women to look at and women for men?

96. Since then these things are so, thou surely wouldest not lead me astray into ignoble pleasures, — me afflicted by sorrow, and subject to old age and death?

97. ‘Ah! thy mind must be very firm and strong, if thou canst find substance in the transitory pleasures of sense; even in the midst of violent alarm thou canst cling to worldly objects, when thou seest all created beings in the road of death.

98. ‘But I am fearful and exceedingly bewildered, as I ponder the terrors of old age, death, and disease; I can find no peace, no self-command, much less can I find pleasure, while I see the world as it were ablaze with fire.

99. ‘If desire arises in the heart of the man, who knows that death is certain, — I think that his soul must be made of iron, who restrains it in this great terror and does not weep.’

100. Then the prince uttered a discourse full of resolve and abolishing the objects of desire; and the lord of day, whose orb is the worthy centre of human eyes, departed to the Western Mountain.

101. And the women, having worn their garlands and ornaments in vain, with their graceful arts and endearments all fruitless, concealing their love deep in their hearts, returned to the city with broken hopes.

102. Having thus seen the beauty of the troop of women who had gone out to the city-garden, now withdrawn in the evening, — the prince, pondering the transitoriness which envelopes all things, entered his dwelling.

103. Then the king, when he heard how his mind turned away from all objects of sense, could not lie down all that night, like an elephant with an arrow in its heart; but wearied in all sorts of consultation, he and his ministers could find no other means beside these (despised) pleasures to restrain his son's purpose.

[Such is the fourth chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
called The Women Rejected]