The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book XI [The Passions Spurned]

download

1. Being thus addressed by the monarch of the Magadhas, in a hostile speech with a friendly face, self-possessed, unchanged, pure by family and personal purity, the son of Śuddhodana thus made answer:

2. ‘This is not to be called a strange thing for thee, born as thou art in the great family whose ensign is the lion — that by thee of pure conduct, O lover of thy friends, this line of conduct should be adopted towards him who stands as one of thy friends.

3. ‘Amongst the bad a friendship, worthy of their family, ceases to continue (and fades) like prosperity among the faint-hearted; it is only the good who keep increasing the old friendship of their ancestors by a new succession of friendly acts.

4. ‘But those men who act unchangingly towards their friends in reverses of fortune, I esteem in my heart as true friends; who is not the friend of the prosperous man in his times of abundance?

5. ‘So those who, having obtained riches in the world, employ them for the sake of their friends and religion, — their wealth has real solidity, and when it perishes it produces no pain at the end.

6. ‘This thy determination concerning me, O king, is prompted by pure generosity and friendship; I will meet thee courteously with simple friendship; I would not utter aught else in my reply.

7. ‘I, having experienced the fear of old age and death, fly to this path of religion in my desire for liberation; leaving behind my dear kindred with tears in their faces, — still more then those pleasures which are the causes of evil.

8. ‘I am not so afraid even of serpents nor of thunderbolts falling from heaven, nor of flames blown together by the wind, as I am afraid of these worldly objects.

9. ‘These transient pleasures, — the robbers of our happiness and our wealth, and which float empty and like illusions through the world, — infatuate men's minds even when they are only hoped for, — still more when they take up their abode in the soul.

10. ‘The victims of pleasure attain not to happiness even in the heaven of the gods, still less in the world of mortals; he who is athirst is never satisfied with pleasures, as the fire, the friend of the wind, with fuel.

11. ‘There is no calamity in the world like pleasures, — people are devoted to them through delusion; when he once knows the truth and so fears evil, what wise man would of his own choice desire evil?

12. ‘When they have obtained all the earth girdled by the sea, kings wish to conquer the other side of the great ocean: mankind are never satiated with pleasures, as the ocean with the waters that fall into it.

13. ‘When it had rained a golden shower from heaven, and when he had conquered the continents and the four oceans, and had even obtained the half of Śakra's throne, Māndhātṛ was still unsatisfied with worldly objects.

14. ‘Though he had enjoyed the kingdom of the gods in heaven, when Indra had concealed himself through fear of Vṛtra, and though in his pride he had made the great Ṛṣis bear his litter, Nahuṣa fell, unsatisfied with pleasures.

15. ‘King (Purūravas) the son of Iḍā, having penetrated into the furthest heaven, and brought the goddess Urvaśī into his power, — when he wished in his greed to take away gold from the Ṛṣis — being unsatisfied with pleasures, fell into destruction.

16. ‘Who would put his trust in these worldly objects, whether in heaven or in earth, unsettled as to lot or family, — which passed from Bali to Indra, and from Indra to Nahuṣa, and then again from Nahuṣa back to Indra?

17. ‘Who would seek these enemies bearing the name of pleasures, by whom even those sages have been overcome, who were devoted to other pursuits, whose only clothes were rags, whose food was roots, fruits, and water, and who wore their twisted locks as long as snakes?

18. ‘Those pleasures for whose sake even Ugrāyudha, armed terribly as he was with his weapon, found death at Bhiṣma's hands, — is not the mere thought of them unlucky and fatal, — still more the thought of the irreligious whose lives are spent in their service?

19. ‘Who that considers the paltry flavour of worldly objects, — the very height of union being only insatiety, — the blame of the virtuous, and the certain sin, — has ever drawn near this poison which is called pleasure?

20. ‘When they hear of the miseries of those who are intent on pleasure and are devoted to worldly pursuits, such as agriculture and the rest, and the self-content of those who are careless of pleasure, — it well befits the self-controlled to fling it away.

21. ‘Success in pleasure is to be considered a misery in the man of pleasure, for he becomes intoxicated when his desired pleasures are attained; through intoxication he does what should not be done, not what should be done; and being wounded thereby he falls into a miserable end.

22. ‘These pleasures which are gained and kept by toil, — which after deceiving leave you and return whence they came, — these pleasures which are but borrowed for a time, what man of self-control, if he is wise, would delight in them?

23. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures which are like a torch of hay, — which excite thirst when you seek them and when you grasp them, and which they who abandon not keep only as misery?

24. ‘Those men of no self-control who are bitten by them in their hearts, fall into ruin and attain not bliss, — what man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures, which are like an angry, cruel serpent?

25. ‘Even if they enjoy them men are not satisfied, like dogs famishing with hunger over a bone, — what man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures, which are like a skeleton composed of dry bones?

26. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures which are like flesh that has been flung away, and which produce misery by their being held only in common with kings, thieves, water, and fire?

27. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in these pleasures, which, like the senses, are destructive, and which bring calamity on every hand to those who abide in them, from the side of friends even more than from open enemies?

28. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures, which are like the fruit that grows on the top of a tree, — which those who would leap up to reach fall down upon a mountain or into a forest, waters, or the ocean?

29. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures, which are like snatching up a hot coal, — men never attain happiness, however they pursue them, increase them, or guard them?

30. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures, which are like the enjoyments in a dream, — which are gained by their recipients after manifold pilgrimages and labours, and then perish in a moment?

31. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures which are like a spear, sword, or club, — for the sake of which the Kurus, the Vṛṣṇis and the Andhakas, the Maithilas and the Daṇḍakas suffered destruction?

32. ‘What man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures which dissolve friendships and for the sake of which the two Asuras Sunda and Upasunda perished, victims engaged in mutual enmity?

33. ‘None, however their intellect is blinded with pleasure, give themselves up, as in compassion, to ravenous beasts; so what man of self-control could find satisfaction in those pleasures which are disastrous and constant enemies?

34. ‘He whose intellect is blinded with pleasure does pitiable things; he incurs calamities, such as death, bonds, and the like; the wretch, who is the miserable slave of hope for the sake of pleasure, well deserves the pain of death even in the world of the living.

35. ‘Deer are lured to their destruction by songs, insects for the sake of the brightness fly into the fire, the fish greedy for the flesh swallows the iron hook, — therefore worldly objects produce misery as their end.

36. ‘As for the common opinion, "pleasures are enjoyments," none of them when examined are worthy of being enjoyed; fine garments and the rest are only the accessories of things, — they are to be regarded as merely the remedies for pain.

37. ‘Water is desired for allaying thirst; food in the same way for removing hunger; a house for keeping off the wind, the heat of the sun, and the rain; and dress for keeping off the cold and to cover one's nakedness.

38. ‘So too a bed is for removing drowsiness; a carriage for remedying the fatigue of a journey; a seat for alleviating the pain of standing; so bathing as a means for washing, health, and strength.

39. ‘External objects therefore are to human beings means for remedying pain, not in themselves sources of enjoyment; what wise man would allow that he enjoys those delights which are only used as remedial?

40. ‘He who, when burned with the heat of bilious fever, maintains that cold appliances are an enjoyment, when he is only engaged in alleviating pain, — he indeed might give the name of enjoyment to pleasures.

41. ‘Since variableness is found in all pleasures, I cannot apply to them the name of enjoyment; the very conditions which mark pleasure, bring also in its turn pain.

42. ‘Heavy garments and fragrant aloe-wood are pleasant in the cold, but an annoyance in the heat; and the moonbeams and sandal-wood are pleasant in the heat, but a pain in the cold.

43. ‘Since the well-known opposite pairs, such as gain and loss and the rest, are inseparably connected with everything in this world, — therefore no man is invariably happy on the earth nor invariably wretched.

44. ‘When I see how the nature of pleasure and pain are mixed, I consider royalty and slavery as the same; a king does not always smile, nor is a slave always in pain.

45. ‘Since to be a king involves a wider range of command, therefore the pains of a king are great; for a king is like a peg, — he endures trouble for the sake of the world.

46. ‘A king is unfortunate, if he places his trust in his royalty which is apt to desert and loves crooked turns; and on the other hand, if he does not trust in it, then what can be the happiness of a timid king?

47. ‘And since after even conquering the whole earth, one city only can serve as a dwelling-place, and even there only one house can be inhabited, is not royalty mere labour for others?

48. ‘And even in royal clothing one pair of garments is all he needs, and just enough food to keep off hunger; so only one bed, and only one seat; all a king's other distinctions are only for pride.

49. ‘And if all these fruits are desired for the sake of satisfaction, I can be satisfied without a kingdom; and if a man is once satisfied in this world, are not all distinctions indistinguishable?

50. ‘He then who has attained the auspicious road to happiness is not to be deceived in regard to pleasures; remembering thy professed friendship, tell me again and again, do they keep their promise?

51. ‘I have not repaired to the forest through anger, nor because my diadem has been dashed down by an enemy's arrows; nor have I set my desires on loftier objects, that I thus refuse thy proposal.

52. ‘Only he who, having once let go a malignant incensed serpent, or a blazing hay-torch all on fire, would strive again to seize it, would ever seek pleasures again after having once abandoned them.

53. ‘Only he who, though seeing, would envy the blind, though free the bound, though wealthy the destitute, though sound in his reason the maniac, — only he, I say, would envy one who is devoted to worldly objects.

54. ‘He who lives on alms, my good friend, is not to be pitied, having gained his end and being set on escaping the fear of old age and death; he has here the best happiness, perfect calm, and hereafter all pains are for him abolished.

55. ‘But he is to be pitied who is overpowered by thirst though set in the midst of great wealth, — who attains not the happiness of calm here, while pain has to be experienced hereafter.

56. ‘Thus to speak to me is well worthy of thy character, thy mode of life, and thy family; and to carry out my resolve is also befitting my character, my mode of life, and my family.

57. ‘I have been wounded by the enjoyment of the world, and I have come out longing to obtain peace; I would not accept an empire free from all ill even in the third heaven, how much less amongst men?

58. ‘But as for what thou saidst to me, O king, that the universal pursuit of the three objects is the supreme end of man, — and thou saidst that what I regard as the desirable is misery, — thy three objects are perishable and also unsatisfying.

59. ‘But that world in which there is no old age nor fear, no birth, nor death, nor anxieties, that alone I consider the highest end of man, where there is no ever-renewed action.

60. ‘And as for what thou saidst "wait till old age comes, for youth is ever subject to change;" — this want of decision is itself uncertain; for age too can be irresolute and youth can be firm.

61. ‘But since Fate is so well skilled in its art as to draw the world in all its various ages into its power, — how shall the wise man, who desires tranquillity, wait for old age, when he knows not when the time of death will be?

62. ‘When death stands ready like a hunter, with old age as his weapon, and diseases scattered about as his arrows, smiting down living creatures who fly like deer to the forest of destiny, what desire can there be in any one for length of life?

63. ‘It well befits the youthful son or the old man or the child so to act with all promptitude that they may choose the action of the religious man whose soul is all mercy, — nay, better still, his inactivity.

64. ‘And as for what thou saidst, "be diligent in sacrifices for religion, such as are worthy of thy race and bring a glorious fruit," — honour to such sacrifices! I desire not that fruit which is sought by causing pain to others!

65. ‘To kill a helpless victim through a wish for future reward, — it would be an unseemly action for a merciful-hearted good man, even if the reward of the sacrifice were eternal; but what if, after all, it is subject to decay?

66. ‘And even if true religion did not consist in quite another rule of conduct, by self-restraint, moral practice and a total absence of passion, — still it would not be seemly to follow the rule of sacrifice, where the highest reward is described as attained only by slaughter.

67. ‘Even that happiness which comes to a man, while he stays in this world, through the injury of another, is hateful to the wise compassionate heart; how much more if it be something beyond our sight in another life?

68. ‘I am not to be lured into a course of action for future reward, — my mind does not delight, O king, in future births; these actions are uncertain and wavering in their direction, like plants beaten by the rain from a cloud.

69. ‘I have come here with a wish to see next the seer Arāḍa who proclaims liberation; I start this very day, — happiness be to thee, O king; forgive my words which may seem harsh through their absolute freedom from passion.

70. ‘Now therefore do thou guard (the world) like Indra in heaven; guard it continually like the sun by thy excellencies; guard its best happiness here; guard the earth; guard life by the noble; guard the sons of the good; guard thy royal powers, O king; and guard thine own religion.

71. ‘As in the midst of a sudden catastrophe arising from the flame of (fire), the enemy of cold, a bird, to deliver its body, betakes itself to the enemy of fire (water), — so do thou, when occasion calls, betake thyself, to deliver thy mind, to those who will destroy the enemies of thy home.’

72. The king himself, folding his hands, with a sudden longing come upon him, replied, ‘Thou art obtaining thy desire without hindrance; when thou hast at last accomplished all that thou hast to do, thou shalt show hereafter thy favour towards me.’

73. Having given his firm promise to the monarch, he proceeded to the Vaiśvantara hermitage; and, after watching him with astonishment, as he wandered on in his course, the king and his courtiers returned to the mountain (of Rājagiri).

[Such is the eleventh chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
written by Aśvaghosa, called The Passions Spurned]