The Buddha-carita of Aśvaghoṣa

Translated by E. B. Cowell

Book XIII [Defeat of Māra]

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1. When the great sage, sprung from a line of royal sages, sat down there with his soul fully resolved to obtain the highest knowledge, the whole world rejoiced; but Māra, the enemy of the good law, was afraid.

2. He whom they call in the world Kāmadeva, the owner of the various weapons, the flower-arrowed, the lord of the course of desire, — it is he whom they also style Māra the enemy of liberation.

3. His three sons, Confusion, Gaiety, and Pride, and his three daughters, Lust, Delight, and Thirst, asked of him the reason of his despondency, and he thus made answer unto them:

4. ‘This sage, wearing the armour of resolution, and having drawn the arrow of wisdom with the barb of truth, sits yonder intending to conquer my realms, — hence is this despondency of my mind.

5. ‘If he succeeds in overcoming me and proclaims to the world the path of final bliss, all this my realm will to-day become empty, as did that of the disembodied lord when he violated the rules of his station.

6. ‘While, therefore, he stands within my reach and while his spiritual eyesight is not yet attained, I will assail him to break his vow as the swollen might of a river assails a dam.’

7. Then having seized his flower-made bow and his five infatuating arrows, he drew near to the root of the Aśvattha tree with his children, he the great disturber of the minds of living beings.

8. Having fixed his left hand on the end of the barb and playing with the arrow, Māra thus addressed the calm seer as he sat on his seat, preparing to cross to the further side of the ocean of existence:

9. ‘Up, up, O thou Kṣatriya, afraid of death! follow thine own duty and abandon this law of liberation! and having conquered the lower worlds by thy arrows [and sacrifices], proceed to gain the higher worlds of Indra.

10. ‘That is a glorious path to travel, which has been followed by former leaders of men; this mendicant life is ill-suited for one born in the noble family of a royal sage to follow.

11. ‘But if thou wilt not rise, strong in thy purpose, — then be firm if thou wilt and quit not thy resolve, — this arrow is uplifted by me, — it is the very one which was shot against Sūryaka, the enemy of the fish.

12. ‘So too, I think, when somewhat probed by this weapon, even the son of Iḍā, the grandson of the moon, became mad; and Sāntanu also lost his self-control, — how much more then one of feebler powers now that the age has grown degenerate?

13. ‘Therefore quickly rise up and come to thyself - for this arrow is ready, darting out its tongue, which I do not launch even against the cakravāka birds, tenderly attached as they are and well deserving the name of lovers.’

14. But when, even though thus addressed, the Śākya saint unheeding did not change his posture, then Māra discharged his arrow at him, setting in front of him his daughters and his sons.

15. But even when that arrow was shot he gave no heed and swerved not from his firmness; and Māra, beholding him thus, sank down, and slowly thus spoke, full of thought:

16. ‘He does not even notice that arrow by which the god Śambhu was pierced with love for the daughter of the mountain and shaken in his vow; can he be destitute of all feeling? is not this that very arrow?

17. ‘He is not worthy of my flower-shaft, nor my arrow "gladdener," nor the sending of my daughter Rati (to tempt him); he deserves the alarms and rebukes and blows from all the gathered hosts of the demons.’

18. Then Māra called to mind his own army, wishing to work the overthrow of the Śākya saint; and his followers swarmed round, wearing different forms and carrying arrows, trees, darts, clubs, and swords in their hands;

19. Having the faces of boars, fishes, horses, asses, and camels, of tigers, bears, lions, and elephants, — one-eyed, many-faced, three-headed, — with protuberant bellies and speckled bellies;

20. Blended with goats, with knees swollen like pots, armed with tusks and with claws, carrying headless trunks in their hands, and assuming many forms, with half-mutilated faces, and with monstrous mouths;

21. Copper-red, covered with red spots, bearing clubs in their hands, with yellow or smoke-coloured hair, with wreaths dangling down, with long pendulous ears like elephants, clothed in leather or wearing no clothes at all;

22. Having half their faces white or half their bodies green, — red and smoke-coloured, yellow and black, — with arms reaching out longer than a serpent, and with girdles jingling with rattling bells.

23. Some were as tall as palm-trees, carrying spears, — others were of the size of children with projecting teeth, others birds with the faces of rams, others with men's bodies and cats' faces;

24. With dishevelled hair, or with topknots, or half-bald, with rope-garments or with head-dress all in confusion, — with triumphant faces or frowning faces, — wasting the strength or fascinating the mind.

25. Some as they went leaped about wildly, others danced upon one another, some sported about in the sky, others went along on the tops of the trees.

26. One danced, shaking a trident, another made a crash, dragging a club, another bounded for joy like a bull, another blazed out flames from every hair.

27. Such were the troops of demons who encircled the root of the Bodhi tree on every side, eager to seize it and to destroy it, awaiting the command of their lord.

28. Beholding in the first half of the night that battle of Māra and the bull of the Śākya race, the heavens did not shine and the earth shook and the (ten) regions of space flashed flame and roared.

29. A wind of intense violence blew in all directions, the stars did not shine, the moon gave no light, and a deeper darkness of night spread around, and all the oceans were agitated.

30. The mountain deities and the Nāgas who honoured the Law, indignant at the attack on the saint, rolling their eyes in anger against Māra, heaved deep sighs and opened their mouths wide.

31. But the god-sages, the Śuddhādhivāsas, being as it were absorbed in the perfect accomplishment of the good Law, felt only a pity for Māra in their minds and through their absolute passionlessness were unruffled by anger.

32. When they saw the foot of the Bodhi tree crowded with that host of Māra, intent on doing harm, — the sky was filled with the cry raised by all the virtuous beings who desired the world's liberation.

33. But the great sage having beheld that army of Māra thus engaged in an attack on the knower of the Law, remained untroubled and suffered no perturbation, like a lion seated in the midst of oxen.

34. Then Māra commanded his excited army of demons to terrify him; and forthwith that host resolved to break down his determination with their various powers.

35. Some with many tongues hanging out and shaking, with sharp-pointed savage teeth and eyes like the disk of the sun, with wide-yawning mouths and upright ears like spikes, — they stood round trying to frighten him.

36. Before these monsters standing there, so dreadful in form and disposition, the great sage remained unalarmed and untroubled, sporting with them as if they had been only rude children.

37. Then one of them, with his eyes rolling wildly, lifted up a club against him; but his arm with the club was instantly paralysed, as was Indra's of old with its thunderbolt.

38. Some, having lifted up stones and trees, found themselves unable to throw them against the sage; down they fell, with their trees and their stones, like the roots of the Vindhya shattered by the thunderbolt.

39. Others, leaping up into the sky, flung rocks, trees, and axes; these remained in the sky and did not fall down, like the many-coloured rays of the evening clouds.

40. Another hurled upon him a mass of blazing straw as big as a mountain-peak, which, as soon as it was thrown, while it hung poised in the sky, was shattered into a hundred fragments by the sage's power.

41. One, rising up like the sun in full splendour, rained down from the sky a great shower of live embers, as at the end of an aeon blazing Meru showers down the pulverised scoriae of the golden valleys.

42. But that shower of embers full of sparks, when scattered at the foot of the Bodhi tree, became a shower of red lotus-petals through the operation of the great saint's boundless charity.

43. But with all these various scorching assaults on his body and his mind, and all these missiles showered down upon him, the Śākya saint did not in the least degree move from his posture, clasping firmly his resolution as a kinsman.

44. Then others spat out serpents from their mouths as from old decayed trunks of trees; but, as if held fast by a charm, near him they neither breathed nor discharged venom nor moved.

45. Others, having become great clouds, emitting lightning and uttering the fierce roar of thunderbolts, poured a shower of stones upon that tree, — but it turned to a pleasant shower of flowers.

46. Another set an arrow in his bow, — there it gleamed but it did not issue forth, like the anger which falls slack in the soul of an ill-tempered impotent man.

47. But five arrows shot by another stood motionless and fell not, through the saint's ruling guidance, — like the five senses of him who is well experienced in the course of worldly objects and is afraid of embodied existence.

48. Another, full of anger, rushed towards the great saint, having seized a club with a desire to smite him; but he fell powerless without finding an opportunity, like mankind in the presence of faults which cause failure.

49. But a woman named Meghakālī, bearing a skull in her hand, in order to infatuate the mind of the sage, flitted about unsettled and stayed not in one spot, like the mind of the fickle student over the sacred texts.

50. Another, fixing a kindling eye, wished to burn him with the fire of his glance like a poisonous serpent; but he saw the sage and lo! he was not there, like the votary of pleasure when true happiness is pointed out to him.

51. Another, lifting up a heavy rock, wearied himself to no purpose, having his efforts baffled, like one who wishes to obtain by bodily fatigue that condition of supreme happiness which is only to be reached by meditation and knowledge.

52. Others, wearing the forms of hyenas and lions, uttered loudly fierce howls, which caused all beings round to quail with terror, as thinking that the heavens were smitten with a thunderbolt and were bursting.

53. Deer and elephants uttering cries of pain ran about or lay down, — in that night as if it were day screaming birds flew around disturbed in all directions.

54. But amidst all these various sounds which they made, although all living creatures were shaken, the saint trembled not nor quailed, like Garuḍa at the noise of crows.

55. The less the saint feared the frightful hosts of that multitude, the more did Māra, the enemy of the righteous, continue his attacks in grief and anger.

56. Then some being of invisible shape, but of pre-eminent glory, standing in the heavens, — beholding Māra thus malevolent against the seer, — addressed him in a loud voice, unruffled by enmity:

57. ‘Take not on thyself, O Māra, this vain fatigue, — throw aside thy malevolence and retire to peace; this sage cannot be shaken by thee any more than the mighty mountain Meru by the wind.

58. ‘Even fire might lose its hot nature, water its fluidity, earth its steadiness, but never will he abandon his resolution, who has acquired his merit by a long course of actions through unnumbered aeons.

59. ‘Such is that purpose of his, that heroic effort, that glorious strength, that compassion for all beings, — until he attains the highest wisdom, he will never rise from his seat, just as the sun does not rise, without dispelling the darkness.

60. ‘One who rubs the two pieces of wood obtains the fire, one who digs the earth finds at last the water, — and to him in his perseverance there is nothing unattainable, — all things to him are reasonable and possible.

61. ‘Pitying the world lying distressed amidst diseases and passions, he, the great physician, ought not to be hindered, who undergoes all his labours for the sake of the remedy knowledge.

62. ‘He who toilsomely pursues the one good path, when all the world is carried away in devious tracks, — he the guide should not be disturbed, like a right informant when the caravan has lost its way.

63. ‘He who is made a lamp of knowledge when all beings are lost in the great darkness, — it is not for a right-minded soul to try to quench him, — like a lamp kindled in the gloom of night.

64. ‘He who, when he beholds the world drowned in the great flood of existence and unable to reach the further shore, strives to bring them safely across, — would any right-minded soul offer him wrong?

65. ‘The tree of knowledge, whose roots go deep in firmness, and whose fibres are patience, — whose flowers are moral actions and whose branches are memory and thought, — and which gives out the law as its fruit, — surely when it is growing it should not be cut down.

66. ‘Him whose one desire is to deliver mankind bound in soul by the fast snares of illusion, — thy wish to overthrow him is not worthy, wearied as he is for the sake of unloosing the bonds of the world.

67. ‘To-day is the appointed period of all those actions which have been performed by him for the sake of knowledge, — he is now seated on this seat just as all the previous saints have sat.

68. ‘This is the navel of the earth's surface, endued with all the highest glory; there is no other spot of the earth than this, — the home of contemplation, the realm of well-being.

69. ‘Give not way, then, to grief but put on calm; let not thy greatness, O Māra, be mixed with pride; it is not well to be confident, — fortune is unstable, — why dost thou accept a position on a tottering base?’

70. Having listened to his words, and having seen the unshaken firmness of the great saint, Māra departed dispirited and broken in purpose with those very arrows by which, O world, thou art smitten in thy heart.

71. With their triumph at an end, their labour all fruitless, and all their stones, straw, and trees thrown away, that host of his fled in all directions, like some hostile army when its camp has been destroyed by the enemy.

72. When the flower-armed god thus fled away vanquished with his hostile forces and the passionless sage remained victorious, having conquered all the power of darkness, the heavens shone out with the moon like a maiden with a smile, and a sweet-smelling shower of flowers fell down wet with dew.

73. When the wicked one thus fled vanquished, the different regions of the sky grew clear, the moon shone forth, showers of flowers fell down from the sky upon the earth, and the night gleamed out like a spotless maiden.

[Such is the thirteenth chapter in the great poem Śri Buddhacarita,
written by Aśvaghosa, called Defeat of Māra]