Leaving the City

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

And so the king increased the means for gratifying the appetite for pleasure; both night and day the joys of music wore out the prince, opposed to pleasure; disgusted with them, he desired their absence, his mind was weaned from all such thoughts, he only thought of age, disease, and death; as the lion wounded by an arrow.

The king then sent his chief ministers, and the most distinguished of his family, young in years and eminent for beauty, as well as for wisdom and dignity of manners, to accompany and rest with him, both night and day, in order to influence the prince’s mind. And now within a little interval, the prince again requested the king that he might go abroad.

Once more the chariot and the well-paced horses were prepared, adorned with precious substances and every gem; and then with all the nobles, his associates, surrounding him, he left the city gates. Just as the four kinds of flower, when the sun shines, open out their leaves, so was the prince in all his spiritual splendor; effulgent in the beauty of his youth-time. As he proceeded to the gardens from the city, the road was well prepared, smooth, and wide, the trees were bright with flowers and fruit, his heart was joyous, and forgetful of its care.

Now by the roadside, as he beheld the ploughmen, plodding along the furrows, and the writhing worms, his heart again was moved with piteous feeling, and anguish pierced his soul afresh; to see those laborers at their toil, struggling with painful work, their bodies bent, their hair dishevelled, the dripping sweat upon their faces, their persons fouled with mud and dust; the ploughing oxen, too, bent by the yokes, their lolling tongues and gaping mouths. The nature of the prince, loving, compassionate, his mind conceived most poignant sorrow, and nobly moved to sympathy, he groaned with pain; then stooping down he sat upon the ground, and watched this painful scene of suffering; reflecting on the ways of birth and death! “Alas! he cried, for all the world! how dark and ignorant, void of understanding!” And then to give his followers chance of rest, he bade them each repose where’er they list, whilst he beneath the shadow of a Gambu tree, gracefully seated, gave himself to thought. He pondered on the fact of life and death, inconstancy, and endless progress to decay. His heart thus fixed without confusion, the five senses covered and clouded over, lost in possession of enlightenment and insight, he entered on the first pure state of ecstasy. All low desire removed, most perfect peace ensued; and fully now in Samâdhi he saw the misery and utter sorrow of the world; the ruin wrought by age, disease, and death; the great misery following on the body’s death; and yet men not awakened to the truth! oppressed with others’ suffering (age, disease, and death), this load of sorrow weighed his mind. “I now will seek,” he said, “a noble law, unlike the worldly methods known to men. I will oppose disease and age and death, and strive against the mischief wrought by these on men.”

Thus lost in tranquil contemplation, he considered that youth, vigor, and strength of life, constantly renewing themselves, without long stay, in the end fulfil the rule of ultimate destruction. Thus he pondered, without excessive joy or grief, without hesitation or confusion of thought, without dreaminess or extreme longing, without aversion or discontent, but perfectly at peace, with no hindrance, radiant with the beams of increased illumination. At this time a Deva of the Pure abode, transforming himself into the shape of a Bhikshu, came to the place where the prince was seated; the prince with due consideration rose to meet him, and asked him who he was. In reply he said, “I am a Shâman, depressed and sad at thought of age, disease, and death; I have left my home to seek some way of rescue, but everywhere I find old age, disease, and death; all things hasten to decay and there is no permanency. Therefore I search for the happiness of something that decays not, that never perishes, that never knows beginning, that looks with equal mind on enemy and friend, that heeds not wealth nor beauty; the happiness of one who finds repose alone in solitude, in some unfrequented dell, free from molestation, all thoughts about the world destroyed; dwelling in some lonely hermitage, untouched by any worldly source of pollution, begging for food sufficient for the body.” And forthwith as he stood before the prince, gradually rising up he disappeared in space.

The prince, with joyful mind, considering, recollected former Buddhas, established thus in perfect dignity of manner; with noble mien and presence, as this visitor. Thus calling things to mind with perfect self-possession, he reached the thought of righteousness, and by what means it can be gained. Indulging thus for some time in thoughts of religious solitude, he now suppressed his feelings and controlled his members, and rising turned again towards the city. His followers all flocked after him, calling him to stop and not go far from them, but in his mind these secret thoughts so held him, devising means by which to escape from the world, that though his body moved along the road, his heart was far away among the mountains; even as the bound and captive elephant ever thinks about his desert wilds. The prince now entering the city, there met him men and women, earnest for their several ends; the old besought him for their children, the young sought something for the wife, others sought something for their brethren; all those allied by kinship or by family, aimed to obtain their several suits, all of them joined in relationship dreading the pain of separation. And now the prince’s heart was filled with joy, as he suddenly heard those words “separation and association.” “These are joyful sounds to me,” he said, “they assure me that my vow shall be accomplished.” Then deeply pondering the joy of “snapped relationship,” the idea of Nirvâna, deepened and widened in him, his body as a peak of the Golden Mount, his shoulder like the elephant’s, his voice like the spring-thunder, his deep-blue eye like that of the king of oxen; his mind full of religious thoughts, his face bright as the full moon, his step like that of the lion king, thus he entered his palace; even as the son of Lord Sakra, or Sakra-putra, his mind reverential, his person dignified, he went straight to his father’s presence, and with head inclined, inquired, “Is the king well?” Then he explained his dread of age, disease, and death, and sought respectfully permission to become a hermit. “For all things in the world,” he said, “though now united, tend to separation.” Therefore he prayed to leave the world; desiring to find “true deliverance.”

His royal father hearing the words “leave the world,” was forthwith seized with great heart-trembling, even as the strong wild elephant shakes with his weight the boughs of some young sapling; going forward, seizing the prince’s hands, with falling tears, he spake as follows: “Stop! nor speak such words, the time is not yet come for ‘a religious life;’ you are young and strong, your heart beats full, to lead a religious life frequently involves trouble; it is rarely possible to hold the desires in check, the heart not yet estranged from their enjoyment; to leave your home and lead a painful ascetic life, your heart can hardly yet resolve on such a course. To dwell amidst the desert wilds or lonely dells, this heart of yours would not be perfectly at rest, for though you love religious matters, you are not yet like me in years; you should undertake the kingdom’s government, and let me first adopt ascetic life; but to give up your father and your sacred duties, this is not to act religiously; you should suppress this thought of ‘leaving home,’ and undertake your worldly duties, find your delight in getting an illustrious name, and after this give up your home and family.”

The prince, with proper reverence and respectful feelings, again besought his royal father; but promised if he could be saved from four calamities, that he would give up the thought of “leaving home.” If he would grant him life without end, no disease, nor undesirable old age, and no decay of earthly possessions, then he would obey and give up the thought of “leaving home.”

The royal father then addressed the prince, “Speak not such words as these, for with respect to these four things, who is there able to prevent them, or say nay to their approach; asking such things as these, you would provoke men’s laughter! But put away this thought of ‘leaving home,’ and once more take yourself to pleasure.”

The prince again besought his father, “If you may not grant me these four prayers, then let me go I pray, and leave my home. O! place no difficulties in my path; your son is dwelling in a burning house, would you indeed prevent his leaving it! To solve a doubt is only reasonable, who could forbid a man to seek its explanation? Or if he were forbidden, then by self-destruction he might solve the difficulty, in an unrighteous way: and if he were to do so, who could restrain him after death?”

The royal father, seeing his son’s mind so firmly fixed that it could not be turned, and that it would be waste of strength to bandy further words or arguments, forthwith commanded more attendant women, to provoke still more his mind to pleasure; day and night he ordered them to keep the roads and ways, to the end that he might not leave his palace. He moreover ordered all the ministers of the country to come to the place where dwelt the prince, to quote and illustrate the rules of filial piety, hoping to cause him to obey the wishes of the king.

The prince, beholding his royal father bathed with tears and o’erwhelmed with grief, forthwith returned to his abode, and sat himself in silence to consider; all the women of the palace, coming towards him, waited as they circled him, and gazed in silence on his beauteous form. They gazed upon him not with furtive glance, but like the deer in autumn brake looks wistfully at the hunter; around the prince’s straight and handsome form, bright as the mountain of true gold (Sumeru). The dancing women gathered doubtingly, waiting to hear him bid them sound their music; repressing every feeling of the heart through fear, even as the deer within the brake; now gradually the day began to wane, the prince still sitting in the evening light, his glory streaming forth in splendor, as the sun lights up Mount Sumeru; thus seated on his jewelled couch, surrounded by the fumes of sandal-wood, the dancing women took their places round; then sounded forth their heavenly music, even as Vaisaman produces every kind of rare and heavenly sounds. The thoughts which dwelt within the prince’s mind entirely drove from him desire for music, and though the sounds filled all the place, they fell upon his ear unnoticed. At this time the Deva of the Pure abode, knowing the prince’s time was come, the destined time for quitting home, suddenly assumed a form and came to earth, to make the shapes of all the women unattractive, so that they might create disgust, and no desire arise from thought of beauty. Their half-clad forms bent in ungainly attitudes, forgetful in their sleep, their bodies crooked or supine, the instruments of music lying scattered in disorder; leaning and facing one another, or with back to back, or like those beings thrown into the abyss, their jewelled necklets bound about like chains, their clothes and undergarments swathed around their persons; grasping their instruments, stretched along the earth, even as those undergoing punishment at the hands of keepers, their garments in confusion, or like the broken kani flower; or some with bodies leaning in sleep against the wall, in fashion like a hanging bow or horn, or with their hands holding to the window-frames, and looking like an outstretched corpse. Their mouths half opened or else gaping wide, the loathsome dribble trickling forth, their heads uncovered and in wild disorder, like some unreasoning madman’s; the flower wreaths torn and hanging across their face, or slipping off the face upon the ground; others with body raised as if in fearful dread, just like the lonely desert bird; or others pillowed on their neighbor’s lap, their hands and feet entwined together, whilst others smiled or knit their brows in turn; some with eyes closed and open mouth, their bodies lying in wild disorder, stretched here and there, like corpses thrown together. And now the prince seated, in his beauty, looked with thought on all the waiting women; before, they had appeared exceeding lovely, their laughing words, their hearts so light and gay, their forms so plump and young, their looks so bright; but now, how changed! so uninviting and repulsive. And such is woman’s disposition! how can they, then, be ever dear, or closely trusted; such false appearances! and unreal pretences; they only madden and delude the minds of men.

“And now,” he said, “I have awakened to the truth! Resolved am I to leave such false society.” At this time the Deva of the Pure abode descended and approached, unfastening the doors. The prince, too, at this time rose and walked along, amid the prostrate forms of all the women; with difficulty reaching the inner hall, he called to Kandaka, in these words, “My mind is now athirst and longing for the draught of the fountain of sweet dew; saddle then my horse, and quickly bring it here. I wish to reach the deathless city; my heart is fixed beyond all change, resolved I am and bound by sacred oath; these women, once so charming and enticing, now behold I altogether loathsome; the gates, which were before fast-barred and locked, now stand free and open! these evidences of something supernatural, point to a climax of my life.”

Then Kandaka stood reflecting inwardly, whether to obey or not the prince’s order, without informing his royal father of it, and so incur the heaviest punishment.

The Devas then gave spiritual strength; and unperceived the horse equipped came round, with even pace; a gallant steed, with all his jewelled trappings for a rider; high-maned, with flowing tail, broad-backed, short-haired and eared, with belly like the deer’s, head like the king of parrots, wide forehead, round and claw-shaped nostrils, breath like the dragon’s, with breast and shoulders square, true and sufficient marks of his high breed. The royal prince, stroking the horse’s neck, and rubbing down his body, said, “My royal father ever rode on thee, and found thee brave in fight and fearless of the foe; now I desire to rely on thee alike! to carry me far off to the stream (ford) of endless life, to fight against and overcome the opposing force of men, the men who associate in search of pleasure, the men who engage in the search after wealth, the crowds who follow and flatter such persons; in opposing sorrow, friendly help is difficult to find, in seeking religious truth there must be rare enlightenment, let us then be knit together thus as friends; then, at last, there will be rest from sorrow. But now I wish to go abroad, to give deliverance from pain; now then, for your own sake it is, and for the sake of all your kind, that you should exert your strength, with noble pace, without lagging or weariness.” Having thus exhorted him, he bestrode his horse, and grasping the reins proceeded forth; the man like the sun shining forth from his tabernacle, the horse like the white floating cloud, exerting himself but without exciting haste, his breath concealed and without snorting; four spirits (Devas) accompanying him, held up his feet, heedfully concealing his advance, silently and without noise; the heavy gates fastened and barred, the heavenly spirits of themselves caused to open. Reverencing deeply the virtuous father, loving deeply the unequalled son, equally affected with love towards all the members of his family these Devas took their place.

Suppressing his feelings, but not extinguishing his memory, lightly he advanced and proceeded beyond the city, pure and spotless as the lily flowers which spring from the mud; looking up with earnestness at his father’s palace, he announced his purpose—unwitnessed and unwritten—“If I escape not birth, old age, and death, for evermore I pass not thus along.” All the concourse of Devas, the space-filling Nâgas and spirits followed joyfully and exclaimed, “Well! well!” in confirmation of the true words he spoke. The Nâgas and the company of Devas acquired a condition of heart difficult to obtain, and each with his own inherent light led on the way shedding forth their brightness. Thus man and horse, both strong of heart, went onwards, lost to sight like streaming stars, but ere the eastern quarter flashed with light, they had advanced three yoganas.

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