Buddha-carita Home PageBook VIII
The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa
Translated by E. B. Cowell
Book VII [Entry into the Penance Grove]
1. Then having left the weeping tear-faced Chaṁda, — indifferent to all things in his longing for the forest, he by whom all objects are accomplished, overpowering the place by his beauty, entered that hermitage as if it were fully blessed.
2. He the prince with a gait like the lion's, having entered that arena of deer, himself like a deer, — by the beauty of his person, even though bereft of his magnificence, attracted the eyes of all the dwellers in the hermitage.
3. The drivers of wheeled carriages also, with their wives, stood still in curiosity, holding the yokes in their hands, — they gazed on him who was like Indra, and moved not, standing like their beasts of burden with their heads half bent down.
4. And the Brāhmans who had gone outside for the sake of fuel, having come with their hands full of fuel, flowers, and kusa grass, — pre-eminent as they were in penances, and proficients in wisdom, went to see him, and went not to their cells.
5. Delighted the peacocks uttered their cries, as if they had seen a dark-blue cloud rising up; and leaving the young grass and coming forward, the deer with restless eyes and the ascetics who grazed like deer stood still.
6. Beholding him, the lamp of the race of Ikṣvāku, shining like the rising sun, — even though their milking was over, being filled with joy, the oblation-giving cows poured forth their milk.
7. ‘It is one of the eight Vasus or one of the two Aśvins, descended here,’ — these words arose, uttered aloud by the sages in their astonishment at seeing him.
8. Like a second form of the lord of the gods, like the personified glory of the universe, he lighted up the entire wood like the sun come down of his own accord.
9. Then he, being duly honoured and invited to enter by those dwellers in the hermitage, paid his homage to the saints, with a voice like a cloud in the rainy season.
10. He, the wise one, longing for liberation, traversed that hermitage filled with the holy company desirous of heaven, — gazing at their strange penances.
11. He, the gentle one, having seen the different kinds of penance practised by the ascetics in that sacred grove, — desiring to know the truth, thus addressed one of the ascetics who was following him:
12. ‘Since this to-day is my first sight of a hermitage I do not understand this rule of penance; therefore will your honour kindly explain to me what resolve possesses each one of you.’
13. Then the Brāhman well-versed in penance told in order to that bull of the Śākyas, a very bull in prowess, all the various kinds of penance and the fruit thereof.
14. ‘Uncultivated food, growing out of the water, leaves, water, and roots and fruits, — this is the fare of the saints according to the sacred texts; but the different alternatives of penance vary.
15. ‘Some live like the birds on gleaned corn, others graze on grass like the deer, others live on air with the snakes, as if turned into ant-hills.
16. ‘Others win their nourishment with great effort from stones, others eat corn ground with their own teeth; some, having boiled for others, dress for themselves what may chance to be left.
17. ‘Others, with their tufts of matted hair continually wet with water, twice offer oblations to Agni with hymns; others plunging like fishes into the water dwell there with their bodies scratched by tortoises.
18. ‘By such penances endured for a time, — by the higher they attain heaven, by the lower the world of men; by the path of pain they eventually dwell in happiness, — pain, they say, is the root of merit.’
19. The king's son, having heard this speech of the ascetic, even though he saw no lofty truth in it, was not content, but gently uttered these thoughts to himself:
20. ‘The penance is full of pain and of many kinds, and the fruit of the penance is mainly heaven at its best, and all the worlds are subject to change; verily the labour of the hermitages is spent for but little gain.
21. ‘Those who abandoning wealth, kindred, and worldly objects, undertake vows for the sake of heaven, — they, when parted, only wish to go to a still greater wood of their own again.
22. ‘He who by all these bodily toils which are called penances, seeks a sphere of action for the sake of desire, — not examining the inherent evils of mundane existence, he only seeks pain by pain.
23. ‘There is ever to living creatures fear from death, and they with all their efforts seek to be born again; where there is action, there must inevitably be death, — he is always drowned therein, just because he is afraid.
24. ‘Some undergo misery for the sake of this world, others meet toil for the sake of heaven; all living beings, wretched through hope and always missing their aim, fall certainly for the sake of happiness into misery.
25. ‘It is not the effort itself which I blame, — which flinging aside the base pursues a high path of its own; but the wise, by all this common toil, ought to attain that state in which nothing needs ever to be done again.
26. ‘If the mortification of the body here is religion, then the body's happiness is only irreligion; but by religion a man obtains happiness in the next world, therefore religion here bears irreligion as its fruit.
27. ‘Since it is only by the mind's authority that the body either acts or ceases to act, therefore to control the thought is alone befitting, — without the thought the body is like a log.
28. ‘If merit is gained by purity of food, then there is merit also in the deer; and in those men also who live as outcasts from all enjoyments, through being estranged from them by the fault of their destiny.
29. ‘If the deliberate choice of pain is a cause of merit, why should not that same choice be directed to pleasure? If you say that the choice of pleasure carries no authority, is not the choice of pain equally without authority?
30. ‘So too those who for the sake of purifying their actions, earnestly sprinkle water on themselves, saying, "this is a sacred spot," — even there this satisfaction resides only in the heart, — for waters will not cleanse away sin.
31. ‘The water which has been touched by the virtuous, — that is the spot, if you wish for a sacred spot on the earth; therefore I count as a place of pilgrimage only the virtues of a virtuous man’, — water without doubt is only water.’
32. Thus he uttered his discourse full of various arguments, and the sun went down into the west; then he entered the grove where penances had now ceased and whose trees were gray with the smoke of the (evening) oblations;
33. Where the sacred fires had been duly transferred when kindled to other spots, — all crowded with the holy hermits who had performed their ablutions, and with the shrines of the gods murmuring with the muttered prayers, — it seemed all alive like the full service of religion in exercise.
34. He spent several nights there, himself like the moon, examining their penances; and he departed from that penance-field, feeling that he had comprehended the whole nature of penance.
35. The dwellers of the hermitage followed him with their minds fixed on the greatness of soul visible in his person, as if they were great seers beholding Religion herself, withdrawn from a land invaded by the base.
36. Then he looked on all those ascetics with their matted hair, bark garments, and rag-strips waving, and he stood considering their penances under an auspicious and noble tree by the way-side.
37. Then the hermits having approached stood surrounding the best of men; and an old man from among them thus addressed him respectfully in a gentle voice:
38. ‘At thy coming the hermitage seems to have become full, it becomes as it were empty when thou art gone, — therefore, my son, thou wilt not surely desert it, as the loved life the body of one who wishes to live.
39. ‘In front stands the holy mountain Himavat, inhabited by Brahmarṣis, rājarṣis, and surarṣis; by whose mere presence the merit of these penances becomes multiplied to the ascetics.
40. ‘Near us also are holy spots of pilgrimage, which become ladders to heaven; loved by divine sages and saints whose souls are intent on devotion and who keep their souls in perfect control.
41. ‘From hence, again, the Northern quarter is especially to be fitly followed for the sake of preeminent merit; even one who was wise starting towards the south could not advance one single step.
42. ‘Hast thou seen in this sacred grove one who neglects all ceremonies or who follows confused ceremonies or an outcast or one impure, that thou dost not desire to dwell here? Speak it out, and let the abode be welcomed.
43. ‘These hermits here desire thee as their companion in penance, thee who art like a storehouse of penance, — to dwell with thee who art like Indra would bring prosperity even to Vṛhaspati.’
44. He, the chief of the wise, when thus addressed in the midst of the ascetics by their chief—having resolved in his mind to put an end to all existence — thus uttered his inward thought:
45. ‘The upright-souled saints, the upholders of religion, become the very ideal of our own kindred through their delight in showing hospitality; by all these kind feelings of thine towards me affection is produced in me and the path which regards the self as supreme is revealed.
46. ‘I seem to be all at once bathed by these gentle heart-touching words of thine, and the joy now throbs in me once more which I felt when I first grasped the idea of dharma.
47. ‘There is sorrow to me when I reflect that I shall have to depart, leaving you who are thus engaged, you who are such a refuge and who have shown such excessive kindness to me, — just as there was when I had to leave my kindred behind.
48. ‘But this devotion of yours is for the sake of heaven, — while my desire is that there may be no fresh birth; therefore I wish not to dwell in this wood; the nature of cessation is different from that of activity.
49. ‘It is not therefore any dislike on my part or the wrong conduct of another, which makes me go away from this wood; for ye are all like great sages, standing fast in the religious duties which are in accordance with former ages.’
50. Then having heard the prince's discourse, gracious and of deep meaning, gentle, strong, and full of dignity, the ascetics paid him especial honour.
51. But a certain Brāhman who was lying there in the ashes, tall and wearing his hair in a tuft, and clothed in the bark of trees, with reddish eyes and a thin long nose, and carrying a pot with water in his hand, thus lifted his voice:
52. ‘O sage, brave indeed is thy purpose, who, young as thou art, hast seen the evils of birth; he who, having pondered thoroughly heaven and liberation, makes up his mind for liberation, — he is indeed brave!
53. ‘By all those various sacrifices, penances and vows the slaves of passion desire to go to heaven; but the strong, having battled with passion as with an enemy, desire to obtain liberation.
54. ‘If this is thy settled purpose, go quickly to Viṁdhyakoṣṭha; the Muni Arāḍa lives there who has gained an insight into absolute bliss.
55. ‘From him thou wilt hear the path to truth, and if thou hast a desire for it, thou wilt embrace it; but as I foresee, this purpose of thine will go on further, after having rejected his theory.
56. ‘With the nose of a well-fed horse, large long eyes, a red lower lip, white sharp teeth, and a thin red tongue, — this face of thine will drink up the entire ocean of what is to be known.
57. ‘That unfathomed depth which characterises thee, that majesty and all those signs of thine, — they shall win a teacher's chair in the earth which was never won by sages even in a former age.’
58. The prince replied, ‘Very well,’ and having saluted the company of sages he departed; the hermits also having duly performed to him all the rites of courtesy entered again into the ascetic grove.
[Such is the seventh chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
called Entry into the Penance Grove]
Buddha-carita Home PageBook VIII
last updated: October 2010