Living in the Palace

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

And now in the household of Suddhodana râga, because of the birth of the royal prince, his clansmen and younger brethren, with his ministers, were all generously disposed, whilst elephants, horses and chariots, and the wealth of the country, and precious vessels, daily increased and abounded, being produced wherever requisite; so, too, countless hidden treasures came of themselves from the earth. From the midst of the pure snowy mountains, a wild herd of white elephants, without noise, of themselves, came; not curbed by any, self-subdued, every kind of colored horse, in shape and quality surpassingly excellent, with sparkling jewelled manes and flowing tails, came prancing round, as if with wings; these too, born in the desert, came at the right time, of themselves. A herd of pure-colored, well-proportioned cows, fat and fleshy, and remarkable for beauty, giving fragrant and pure milk with equal flow, came together in great number at this propitious time. Enmity and envy gave way to peace; content and rest prevailed on every side; whilst there was closer union amongst the true of heart, discord and variance were entirely appeased; the gentle air distilled a seasonable rain, no crash of storm or tempest was heard, the springing seeds, not waiting for their time, grew up apace and yielded abundant increase; the five cereals grew ripe with scented grain, soft and glutinous, easy of digestion; all creatures big with young, possessed their bodies in ease and their frames well gathered. All men, even those who had not received the seeds of instruction derived from the four holy ones;1 all these, throughout the world, born under the control of selfish appetite, without any thought for others’ goods, had no proud, envious longings; no angry, hateful thoughts. All the temples of the gods and sacred shrines, the gardens, wells, and fountains, all these like things in heaven, produced of themselves, at the proper time, their several adornments. There was no famishing hunger, the soldiers’ weapons were at rest, all diseases disappeared; throughout the kingdom all the people were bound close in family love and friendship; piously affectioned they indulged in mutual pleasures, there were no impure or polluting desires; they sought their daily gain righteously, no covetous money-loving spirit prevailed, but with religious purpose they gave liberally; there was no thought of any reward or return, but all practised the four rules of purity; and every hateful thought was suppressed and destroyed. Even as in days gone by, Manu râga begat a child called “Brilliancy of the Sun,” on which there prevailed through the country great prosperity, and all wickedness came to an end; so now the king having begotten a royal prince, these marks of prosperity were seen; and because of such a concourse of propitious signs, the child was named Siddhârtha.2 And now his royal mother, the queen Mâyâ, beholding her son born under such circumstances, beautiful as a child of heaven, adorned with every excellent distinction, from excessive joy which could not be controlled died, and was born in heaven. Then Pragâ-pati Gautami, beholding the prince, like an angel, with beauty seldom seen on earth, seeing him thus born and now his mother dead, loved and nourished him as her own child; and the child regarded her as his mother.

So as the light of the sun or the moon, little by little increases, the royal child also increased each day in every mental excellency and beauty of person; his body exhaled the perfume of priceless sandal-wood, decorated with the famed Gambunada gold gems; divine medicines there were to preserve him in health, glittering necklaces upon his person; the members of tributary states, hearing that the king had an heir born to him, sent their presents and gifts of various kinds: oxen, sheep, deer, horses, and chariots, precious vessels and elegant ornaments, fit to delight the heart of the prince; but though presented with such pleasing trifles, the necklaces and other pretty ornaments, the mind of the prince was unmoved, his bodily frame small indeed, but his heart established; his mind at rest within its own high purposes, was not to be disturbed by glittering baubles.

And now he was brought to learn the useful arts, when lo! once instructed he surpassed his teachers. His father, the king, seeing his exceeding talent, and his deep purpose to have done with the world and its allurements, began to inquire as to the names of those in his tribe who were renowned for elegance and refinement. Elegant and graceful, and a lovely maiden, was she whom they called Yasodharâ; in every way fitting to become a consort for the prince, and to allure by pleasant wiles his heart. The prince with a mind so far removed from the world, with qualities so distinguished, and with so charming an appearance, like the elder son of Brahmadeva, Sanatkumâra (She-na Kiu-ma-lo); the virtuous damsel, lovely and refined, gentle and subdued in manner; majestic like the queen of heaven, constant ever, cheerful night and day, establishing the palace in purity and quiet, full of dignity and exceeding grace, like a lofty hill rising up in space; or as a white autumn cloud; warm or cool according to the season; choosing a proper dwelling according to the year, surrounded by a return of singing women, who join their voices in harmonious heavenly concord, without any jarring or unpleasant sound, exciting in the hearers forgetfulness of worldly cares. As the heavenly Gandharvas of themselves, in their beauteous palaces, cause the singing women to raise heavenly strains, the sounds of which and their beauty ravish both eyes and heart—so Bodhisattva dwelt in his lofty palace, with music such as this. The king, his father, for the prince’s sake, dwelt purely in his palace, practising every virtue; delighting in the teaching of the true law, he put away from him every evil companion, that his heart might not be polluted by lust; regarding inordinate desire as poison, keeping his passion and his body in due control, destroying and repressing all trivial thoughts; desiring to enjoy virtuous conversation, loving instruction fit to subdue the hearts of men, aiming to accomplish the conversion of unbelievers; removing all schemes of opposition from whatever source they came by the enlightening power of his doctrine, aiming to save the entire world; thus he desired that the body of people should obtain rest; even as we desire to give peace to our children, so did he long to give rest to the world. He also attended to his religious duties, sacrificing by fire to all the spirits, with clasped hands adoring the moon, bathing his body in the waters of the Ganges; cleansing his heart in the waters of religion, performing his duties with no private aim, but regarding his child and the people at large; loving righteous conversation, righteous words with loving aim; loving words with no mixture of falsehood, true words imbued by love, and yet withal so modest and self-distrustful, unable on that account to speak as confident of truth; loving to all, and yet not loving the world; with no thought of selfishness or covetous desire: aiming to restrain the tongue and in quietness to find rest from wordy contentions, not seeking in the multitude of religious duties to condone for a worldly principle in action, but aiming to benefit the world by a liberal and unostentatious charity; the heart without any contentious thought, but resolved by goodness to subdue the contentious; desiring to mortify the passions, and to destroy every enemy of virtue; not multiplying coarse or unseemly words, but exhorting to virtue in the use of courteous language; full of sympathy and ready charity, pointing out and practising the way of mutual dependence; receiving and understanding the wisdom of spirits and Rishis; crushing and destroying every cruel and hateful thought. Thus his fame and virtue were widely renowned, and yet himself finally (or, forever) separate from the ties of the world, showing the ability of a master builder, laying a good foundation of virtue, an example for all the earth; so a man’s heart composed and at rest, his limbs and all his members will also be at ease. And now the son of Suddhodana, and his virtuous wife Yasodharâ, as time went on, growing to full estate, their child Râhula was born; and then Suddhodana râga considered thus: “My son, the prince, having a son born to him, the affairs of the empire will be handed down in succession, and there will be no end to its righteous government; the prince having begotten a son, will love his son as I love him, and no longer think about leaving his home as an ascetic, but devote himself to the practice of virtue; I now have found complete rest of heart, like one just born to heavenly joys.”

Like as in the first days of the kalpa, Rishi-kings by the way in which they walked, practising pure and spotless deeds, offered up religious offerings, without harm to living thing, and illustriously prepared an excellent karma, so the king excelling in the excellence of purity in family and excellence of wealth, excelling in strength and every exhibition of prowess, reflected the glory of his name through the world, as the sun sheds abroad his thousand rays. But now, being the king of men, or a king among men, he deemed it right to exhibit his son’s prowess, for the sake of his family and kin, to exhibit him; to increase his family’s renown, his glory spread so high as even to obtain the name of “God begotten;” and having partaken of these heavenly joys, enjoying the happiness of increased wisdom; understanding the truth by his own righteousness, derived from previous hearing of the truth. Would that this might lead my son, he prayed, to love his child and not forsake his home; the kings of all countries, whose sons have not yet grown up, have prevented them exercising authority in the empire, in order to give their minds relaxation, and for this purpose have provided them with worldly indulgences, so that they may perpetuate the royal seed; so now the king, having begotten a royal son, indulged him in every sort of pleasure; desiring that he might enjoy these worldly delights, and not wish to wander from his home in search of wisdom. In former times the Bodhisattva kings, although their way (life) has been restrained, have yet enjoyed the pleasures of the world, and when they have begotten a son, then separating themselves from family ties, have afterwards entered the solitude of the mountains, to prepare themselves in the way of a silent recluse.

  1. This seems to mean that those who had not received benefit from the teaching of the four previous Buddhas, that even these were placable and well-disposed.

  2. The description here given of the peace and content prevailing in the world on the birth of Bodhisattva (and his name given to him in consequence) resembles the account of the golden age in classic authors.

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