The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book XII [Visit to Arāḍa]

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1. Then the moon of the Ikṣvāku race turned towards the hermitage of the sage Arāḍa of tranquil life, — as it were, doing honour to it by his beauty.

2. He drew near, on being addressed in a loud voice ‘Welcome’ by the kinsman of Kālāma, as he saw him from afar.

3. They, having mutually asked after each other's health as was fitting, sat down in a clean place on two pure wooden seats.

4. The best of sages, having seen the prince seated, and as it were drinking in the sight of him with eyes opened wide in reverence, thus addressed him:

5. ‘I know, gentle youth, how thou hast come forth from thy home, having severed the bond of affection, as a wild elephant its cord.

6. ‘In every way thy mind is stedfast and wise, who hast come here after abandoning royal luxury like a creeper-plant with poisonous fruit.

7. ‘It is no marvel that kings have retired to the forest who have grown old in years, having given up their glory to their children, like a garland left behind after being used.

8. ‘But this is to me indeed a marvel that thou art come hither in life's fresh prime, set in the open field of the world's enjoyments, ere thou hast as yet tasted of their happiness.

9. ‘Verily thou art a worthy vessel to receive this highest religion; having mastered it with full knowledge, cross at once over the sea of misery.

10. ‘Though the doctrine is generally efficient only after a time, when the student has been thoroughly tested, thou art easy for me to examine from thy depth of character and determination.’

11. The prince, having heard these words of Arāḍa, was filled with great pleasure and thus made reply:

12. ‘This extreme kindliness which thou showest to me, calmly passionless as thou art, makes me, imperfect as I am, seem even already to have attained perfection.

13. ‘I feel at the sight of thee like one longing to see who finds a light, — like one wishing to journey, a guide, — or like one wishing to cross, a boat.

14. ‘Wilt thou therefore deign to tell me that secret, if thou thinkest it should be told, whereby thy servant may be delivered from old age, death, and disease.’

15. Arāḍa, thus impelled by the noble nature of the prince, declared in a concise form the tenets of his doctrine:

16. ‘O best of hearers, hear this our firmly-settled theory, how our mortal existence arises and how it revolves.

17. “The evolvent" and "the evolute," birth, old age, and death, — know that this has been called the reality by us; do thou receive our words, O thou who art stedfast in thy nature.

18. ‘But know, O thou who art deep in the search into the nature of things, that the five elements, egoism, intellect, and "the unmanifested" are the "evolvents;"

19. ‘But know that the "evolutes" consist of intellect, external objects, the senses, and the hands, feet, voice, anus, and generative organ, and also the mind.

20. ‘There is also a something which bears the name kṣetrajña, from its knowledge of this "field" (kṣetra or the body); and those who investigate the soul call the soul kṣetrajña.

21. ‘Kapila with his disciple became the illuminated, — such is the tradition; and he, as the illuminated, with his son is now called here Prajāpati.

22. ‘That which is born and grows old and is bound and dies, — is to be known as "the manifested," and "the unmanifested" is to be distinguished by its contrariety.

23. ‘Ignorance, the merit or demerit of former actions, and desire are to be known as the causes of mundane existence; he who abides in the midst of this triad does not attain to the truth of things, —

24. ‘From mistake, egoism, confusion, fluctuation, indiscrimination, false means, inordinate attachment, and gravitation.

25. ‘Now "mistake" acts in a contrary manner, it does wrongly what it should do, and what it should think it thinks wrongly.

26. “I say," "I know," "I go," "I am firmly fixed," it is thus that "egoism" shows itself here, O thou who art free from all egoism.

27. ‘That state of mind is called "confusion," O thou who art all unconfused, which views under one nature, massed like a lump of clay, objects that thus become confused in their nature.

28. ‘That state of mind which says that this mind, intellect, and these actions are the same as "I," and that which says that all this aggregate is the same as "I," — is called "fluctuation."

29. ‘That state of mind is called "indiscrimination," O thou who art discriminating, which thinks there is no difference between the illuminated and the unwise, and between the different evolvents.

30. ‘Uttering "namas" and "vaṣaṭ," sprinkling water upon sacrifices, &c. with or without the recital of Vedic hymns, and such like rites, — these are declared by the wise to be "false means," O thou who art well skilled in true means.

31. ‘That is called "inordinate attachment," by which the fool is entangled in external objects through his mind, speech, actions, and thoughts, O thou who hast shaken thyself free from all attachments.

32. ‘The misery which a man imagines by the ideas "This is mine," "I am connected with this," is to be recognised as "gravitation," — by this a man is borne downwards into new births.

33. ‘Thus Ignorance, O ye wise, being fivefold in its character, energises towards torpor, delusion, the great delusion, and the two kinds of darkness.

34. ‘Know, that among these indolence is "torpor," death and birth are "delusion," and be it clearly understood, O undeluded one, that desire is the "great delusion."

35. ‘Since by it even the higher beings are deluded, therefore, O hero, is this called the "great delusion."

36. ‘They define anger, O thou angerless one, as "darkness;" and despondency, O undesponding, they pronounce to be the "blind darkness."

37. ‘The child, entangled in this fivefold ignorance, is effused in his different births in a world abounding with misery.

38. ‘He wanders about in the world of embodied existence, thinking that I am the seer, and the hearer, and the thinker, — the effect and the cause.

39. ‘Through these causes, O wise prince, the stream of "torpor" is set in motion; be pleased to consider that in the absence of the cause there is the absence of the effect.

40. ‘Let the wise man who has right views know these four things, O thou who desirest liberation, — the illuminated and the unilluminated, the manifested and the unmanifested.

41. ‘The soul, having once learned to distinguish these four properly, having abandoned all (ideas of) straightness or quickness, attains to the immortal sphere.

42. ‘For this reason the Brāhmans in the world, discoursing on the supreme Brahman, practise here a rigorous course of sacred study and let other Brāhmans live with them to follow it also.’

43. The prince, having heard this discourse from the seer, asked concerning the means and the final state.

44. ‘Wilt thou please to explain to me how, how far, and where this life of sacred study is to be led, and the limit of this course of life?’

45. Then Arāḍa, according to his doctrine, declared to him in another way that course of life clearly and succinctly.

46. ‘The devotee, in the beginning, having left his house, and assumed the signs of the mendicant, goes on, following a rule of conduct which extends to the whole life.

47. ‘Cultivating absolute content with any alms from any person, he carries out his lonely life, indifferent to all feelings, meditating on the holy books, and satisfied in himself.

48. ‘Then having seen how fear arises from passion and the highest happiness from the absence of passion, he strives, by restraining all the senses, to attain to tranquillity of mind.

49. ‘Then he reaches the first stage of contemplation, which is separated from desires, evil intentions and the like, and arises from discrimination and which involves reasoning.

50. ‘And having obtained this ecstatic contemplation, and reasoning on various objects, the childish mind is carried away by the possession of the new unknown ecstasy.

51. ‘With a tranquillity of this kind, which disdains desire or dislike, he reaches the world of Brahman, deceived by the delight.

52. ‘But the wise man, knowing that these reasonings bewilder the mind, reaches a (second) stage of contemplation separate from this, which has its own pleasure and ecstasy.

53. ‘And he who, carried away by this pleasure, sees no further distinction, obtains a dwelling full of light, even amongst the Ābhāsura deities.

54. ‘But he who separates his mind from this pleasure and ecstasy, reaches the third stage of contemplation ecstatic but without pleasure.

55. ‘Upon this stage some teachers make their stand, thinking that it is indeed liberation, since pleasure and pain have been left behind and there is no exercise of the intellect.

56. ‘But he who, immersed in this ecstasy, strives not for a further distinction, obtains an ecstasy in common with the Śubhakṛtsna deities.

57. ‘But he who, having attained such a bliss desires it not but despises it, obtains the fourth stage of contemplation which is separate from all pleasure or pain.

58. ‘The fruit of this contemplation which is on an equality with the Vṛhatphala deities, those who investigate the great wisdom call the Vṛhatphala.

59. ‘But rising beyond this contemplation, having seen the imperfections of all embodied souls, the wise man climbs to a yet higher wisdom in order to abolish all body.

60. ‘Then, having abandoned this contemplation, being resolved to find a further distinction, he becomes as disgusted with form itself as he who knows the real is with pleasures.

61. ‘First he makes use of all the apertures of his body; and next he exerts his will to experience a feeling of void space even in the solid parts.

62. ‘But another wise man, having contracted his soul which is by nature extended everywhere like the ether, — as he gazes ever further on, detects a yet higher distinction.

63. ‘Another one of those who are profoundly versed in the supreme Self, having abolished himself by himself, sees that nothing exists and is called a Nihilist.

64. ‘Then like the Muñja-reed's stalk from its sheath or the bird from its cage, the soul, escaped from the body, is declared to be "liberated."

65. ‘This is that supreme Brahman, constant, eternal, and without distinctive signs; which the wise who know reality declare to be liberation.

66. ‘Thus have I shown to thee the means and liberation; if thou hast understood and approved it, then act accordingly.

67. ‘Jaigīṣavya and Janaka, and the aged Parāsara, by following this path, were liberated, and so were others who sought liberation.’

68. The prince having not accepted his words but having pondered them, filled with the force of his former arguments, thus made answer:

69. ‘I have heard this thy doctrine, subtil and pre-eminently auspicious, but I hold that it cannot be final, because it does not teach us how to abandon this soul itself in the various bodies.

70. ‘For I consider that the embodied soul, though freed from the evolutes and the evolvents, is still subject to the condition of birth and has the condition of a seed.

71. ‘Even though the pure soul is declared to be "liberated," yet as long as the soul remains there can be no absolute abandonment of it.

72. ‘If we abandon successively all this triad, yet "distinction" is still perceived; as long as the soul itself continues, there this triad continues in a subtil form.

73. ‘It is held (by some) that this is liberation, because the "imperfections" are so attenuated, and the thinking power is inactive, and the term of existence is so prolonged;

74. ‘But as for this supposed abandonment of the principle of egoism, — as long as the soul continues, there is no real abandonment of egoism.

75. ‘The soul does not become free from qualities as long as it is not released from number and the rest; therefore, as long as there is no freedom from qualities, there is no liberation declared for it.

76. ‘There is no real separation of the qualities and their subject; for fire cannot be conceived, apart from its form and heat.

77. ‘Before the body there will be nothing embodied, so before the qualities there will be no subject; how, if it was originally free, could the soul ever become bound?

78. ‘The body-knower (the soul) which is unembodied, must be either knowing or unknowing; if it is knowing, there must be some object to be known, and if there is this object, it is not liberated.

79. ‘Or if the soul is declared to be unknowing, then of what use to you is this imagined soul? Even without such a soul, the existence of the absence of knowledge is notorious as, for instance, in a log of wood or a wall.

80. ‘And since each successive abandonment is held to be still accompanied by qualities, I maintain that the absolute attainment of our end can only be found in the abandonment of everything.’

81. Thus did he remain unsatisfied after he had heard the doctrine of Arāḍa; then having decided it to be incomplete, he turned away.

82. Seeking to know the true distinction, he went to the hermitage of Udraka, but he gained no clear understanding from his treatment of the soul.

83. For the sage Udraka, having learned the inherent imperfections of the name and the thing named, took refuge in a theory beyond Nihilism, which maintained a name and a non-name.

84. And since even a name and a non-name were substrata, however subtil, he went even further still and found his restlessness set at rest in the idea that there is no named and no un-named;

85. And because the intellect rested there, not proceeding any further, — it became very subtil, and there was no such thing as un-named nor as named.

86. But because, even when it has reached this goal it yet returns again to the world, therefore the Bodhisattva, seeking something beyond, left Udraka.

87. Having quitted his hermitage, fully resolved in his purpose, and seeking final bliss, he next visited the hermitage, called a city, of the royal sage Gaya.

88. Then on the pure bank of the Nairañjanā the saint whose every effort was pure fixed his dwelling, bent as he was on a lonely habitation.

Then he saw five mendicants who had come there before him; they had taken vows on themselves and practised austerities, vaunting themselves of control of the five senses.

89. Five mendicants, desiring liberation, came up to him when they beheld him there, just as the objects of the senses come up to a percipient who has gained wealth and health by his previous merit.

90. Being honoured by these disciples who were dwelling in that family, as they bowed reverently with their bodies bent low in humility, as the mind is honoured by the restless senses,

91. And thinking, ‘this may be the means of abolishing birth and death,’ he at once commenced a series of difficult austerities by fasting.

92. For six years, vainly trying to attain merit, he practised self-mortification, performing many rules of abstinence, hard for a man to carry out.

93. At the hours for eating, he, longing to cross the world whose farther shore is so difficult to reach, broke his vow with single jujube fruits, sesame seeds, and rice.

94. But the emaciation which was produced in his body by that asceticism, became positive fatness through the splendour which invested him.

95. Though thin, yet with his glory and his beauty unimpaired, he caused gladness to other eyes, as the autumnal moon in the beginning of her bright fortnight gladdens the lotuses.

96. Having only skin and bone remaining, with his fat, flesh and blood entirely wasted, yet, though diminished, he still shone with undiminished grandeur like the ocean.

97. Then the seer, having his body evidently emaciated to no purpose in a cruel self-mortification; — dreading continued existence, thus reflected in his longing to become a Buddha:

98. ‘This is not the way to passionlessness, nor to perfect knowledge, nor to liberation; that was certainly the true way which I found at the root of the Jambu tree.

99. ‘But that cannot be attained by one who has lost his strength’, — so resuming his care for his body, he next pondered thus, how best to increase his bodily vigour:

100. ‘Wearied with hunger, thirst, and fatigue, with his mind no longer self-possessed through fatigue, how should one who is not absolutely calm reach the end which is to be attained by his mind?

101. ‘True calm is properly obtained by the constant satisfaction of the senses; the mind's self-possession is only obtained by the senses being perfectly satisfied.

102. ‘True meditation is produced in him whose mind is self-possessed and at rest, — to him whose thoughts are engaged in meditation the exercise of perfect contemplation begins at once.

103. ‘By contemplation are obtained those conditions through which is eventually gained that supreme calm, undecaying, immortal state, which is so hard to be reached.’

104. Having thus resolved, ‘this means is based upon eating food,’ the wise seer of unbounded wisdom, having made up his mind to accept the continuance of life,

105. And having bathed, thin as he was, slowly came up the bank of the Nairañjanā, supported as by a hand by the trees on the shore, which bent down the ends of their branches in adoration.

106. Now at that time Nandabalā, the daughter of the leader of the herdsmen, impelled by the gods, with a sudden joy risen in her heart, had just come near,

107. Her arm gay with a white shell, and wearing a dark blue woollen cloth, like the river Yamunā, with its dark blue water and its wreath of foam.

108. She, having her joy increased by her faith, with her lotus-like eyes opened wide, bowed down before him and persuaded him to take some milk.

109. By partaking that food having made her obtain the full reward of her birth, he himself became capable of gaining the highest knowledge, all his six senses being now satisfied,

110. The seer, having his body now fully robust, together with his glorious fame, one beauty and one majesty being equally spread in both, shone like the ocean and the moon.

111. Thinking that he had returned to the world the five mendicants left him, as the five elements leave the wise soul when it is liberated.

112. Accompanied only by his own resolve, having fixed his mind on the attainment of perfect knowledge, he went to the root of an Aśvattha tree, where the surface of the ground was covered with young grass.

113. Then Kāla, the best of serpents, whose majesty was like the lord of elephants, having been awakened by the unparalleled sound of his feet, uttered this praise of the great sage, being sure that he was on the point of attaining perfect knowledge:

114. ‘Inasmuch as the earth, pressed down by thy feet, O sage, resounds repeatedly, and inasmuch as thy splendour shines forth like the sun, thou shalt assuredly to-day enjoy the desired fruit.

115. ‘Inasmuch as lines of birds fluttering in the sky offer thee reverential salutation, O lotus-eyed one, and inasmuch as gentle breezes blow in the sky, thou shalt certainly to-day become the Buddha.’

116. Being thus praised by the best of serpents, and having taken some pure grass from a grasscutter, he, having made his resolution, sat down to obtain perfect knowledge at the foot of the great holy tree.

117. Then he sat down on his hams in a posture, immovably firm and with his limbs gathered into a mass like a sleeping serpent's hood, exclaiming, ‘I will not rise from this position on the earth until I have obtained my utmost aim.’

118. Then the dwellers in heaven burst into unequalled joy; the herds of beasts and the birds uttered no cry; the trees moved by the wind made no sound, when the holy one took his seat firm in his resolve.

[Such is the twelth chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
written by Aśvaghosa, called Visit to Arāḍa]