The General Grief of the Palace

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

Kandaka leading back the horse, opening the way for his heart’s sorrow, as he went on, lamented and wept: unable to disburden his soul. First of all with the royal prince, passing along the road for one night, but now dismissed and ordered to return. As the darkness of night closed on him, irresolute he wavered in mind. On the eighth day approaching the city, the noble horse pressed onwards, exhibiting all his qualities of speed; but yet hesitating as he looked around and beheld not the form of the royal prince; his four members bent down with toil, his head and neck deprived of their glossy look, whinnying as he went on with grief, he refused night and day his grass and water, because he had lost his lord, the deliverer of men. Returning thus to Kapilavastu, the whole country appeared withered and bare, as when one comes back to a deserted village; or as when the sun hidden behind Sumeru causes darkness to spread over the world. The fountains of water sparkled no more, the flowers and fruits were withered and dead, the men and women in the streets seemed lost in grief and dismay. Thus Kandaka with the white horse went on sadly and with slow advance, silent to those inquiring, wearily progressing as when accompanying a funeral; so they went on, whilst all the spectators seeing Kandaka, but not observing the royal Sâkya prince, raised piteous cries of lamentation and wept; as when the charioteer returned without Râma.

Then one by the side of the road, with his body bent, called out to Kandaka: “The prince, beloved of the world, the defender of his people, the one you have taken away by stealth, where dwells he now?” Kandaka, then, with sorrowful heart, replied to the people and said: “I with loving purpose followed after him whom I loved; ‘tis not I who have deserted the prince, but by him have I been sent away; by him who now has given up his ordinary adornments, and with shaven head and religious garb, has entered the sorrow-giving grove.”

Then the men hearing that he had become an ascetic, were oppressed with thoughts of wondrous boding; they sighed with heaviness and wept, and as their tears coursed down their cheeks, they spake thus one to the other: “What then shall we do?” Then they all exclaimed at once, “Let us haste after him in pursuit; for as when a man’s bodily functions fail, his frame dies and his spirit flees, so is the prince our life, and he our life gone, how shall we survive? This city, perfected with slopes and woods; those woods, that cover the slopes of the city, all deprived of grace, ye lie as Bharata when killed!”

Then the men and women within the town, vainly supposing the prince had come back, in haste rushed out to the heads of the way, and seeing the horse returning alone, not knowing whether the prince was safe or lost, began to weep and to raise every piteous sound; and said, “Behold! Kandaka advancing slowly with the horse, comes back with sighs and tears; surely he grieves because the prince is lost.” And thus sorrow is added to sorrow!

Then like a captive warrior is drawn before the king his master, so did he enter the gates with tears, his eyes filled so that he said nought. Then looking up to heaven he loudly groaned; and the white horse too whined piteously; then all the varied birds and beasts in the palace court, and all the horses within the stables, hearing the sad whinnying of the royal steed, replied in answer to him, thinking “now the prince has come back.” But seeing him not, they ceased their cries!

And now the women of the after-palace, hearing the cries of the horses, birds, and beasts, their hair dishevelled, their faces wan and yellow, their forms sickly to look at, their mouths and lips parched, their garments torn and unwashed, the soil and heat not cleansed from their bodies, their ornaments all thrown aside, disconsolate and sad, cheerless in face, raised their bodies, without any grace, even as the feeble little morning star; their garments torn and knotted, soiled like the appearance of a robber, seeing Kandaka and the royal horse shedding tears instead of the hoped-for return, they all, assembled thus, uttered their cry, even as those who weep for one beloved just dead. Confused and wildly they rushed about, as a herd of oxen that have lost their way.

Mahâpragâpati Gotamî, hearing that the prince had not returned, fell fainting on the ground, her limbs entirely deprived of strength, even as some mad tornado wind crushes the golden-colored plantain tree; and again, hearing that her son had become a recluse, deeply sighing and with increased sadness she thought, “Alas! those glossy locks turning to the right, each hair produced from each orifice, dark and pure, gracefully shining, sweeping the earth when loose,1 or when so determined, bound together in a heavenly crown, and now shorn and lying in the grass! Those rounded shoulders and that lion step! Those eyes broad as the ox-king’s, that body shining bright as yellow gold; that square breast and Brahma voice; that you! possessing all these excellent qualities, should have entered on the sorrow-giving forest; what fortune now remains for the world, losing thus the holy king of earth? That those delicate and pliant feet, pure as the lily and of the same color, should now be torn by stones and thorns; O how can such feet tread on such ground! Born and nourished in the guarded palace, clad with garments of the finest texture, washed in richly scented water, anointed with the choicest perfumes, and now exposed to chilling blasts and dews of night, O! where during the heat or the chilly morn can rest be found! Thou flower of all thy race! Confessed by all the most renowned! Thy virtuous qualities everywhere talked of and exalted, ever reverenced, without self-seeking! why hast thou unexpectedly brought thyself upon some morn to beg thy food for life! Thou who wert wont to repose upon a soft and kingly couch, and indulge in every pleasure during thy waking hours: how canst thou endure the mountain and the forest wilds, on the bare grass to make thyself a resting-place!”

Thus thinking of her son—her heart was full of sorrow, disconsolate she lay upon the earth. The waiting women raised her up, and dried the tears from off her face, whilst all the other courtly ladies, overpowered with grief, their limbs relaxed, their minds bound fast with woe, unmoved they sat like pictured-folk.

And now Yasodharâ, deeply chiding, spoke thus to Kandaka: “Where now dwells he, who ever dwells within my mind? You two went forth, the horse a third, but now two only have returned! My heart is utterly o’erborne with grief, filled with anxious thoughts, it cannot rest. And you, deceitful man! Untrustworthy and false associate! evil contriver! plainly revealed a traitor, a smile lurks underneath thy tears! Escorting him in going; returning now with wails! Not one at heart—but in league against him—openly constituted a friend and well-wisher, concealing underneath a treacherous purpose; so thou hast caused the sacred prince to go forth once and not return again! No questioning the joy you feel! Having done ill you now enjoy the fruit; better far to dwell with an enemy of wisdom, than work with one who, while a fool, professes friendship. Openly professing sweetness and light, inwardly a scheming and destructive enemy. And now this royal and kingly house, in one short morn is crushed and ruined! All these fair and queen-like women, with grief o’erwhelmed, their beauty marred, their breathing choked with tears and sobs, their faces soiled with crossing tracks of grief! Even the queen (Mâyâ) when in life, resting herself on him, as the great snowy mountains repose upon the widening earth, through grief in thought of what would happen, died. How sad the lot of these—within these open lattices—these weeping ones, these deeply wailing! Born in another state than hers in heaven, how can their grief be borne!” Then speaking to the horse she said, “Thou unjust! what dulness this—to carry off a man, as in the darkness some wicked thief bears off a precious gem. When riding thee in time of battle, swords, and javelins and arrows, none of these alarmed or frighted thee! But now what fitfulness of temper this, to carry off by violence, to rob my soul of one, the choicest jewel of his tribe. O! thou art but a vicious reptile, to do such wickedness as this! to-day thy woeful lamentation sounds everywhere within these palace walls, but when you stole away my cherished one, why wert thou dumb and silent then! if then thy voice had sounded loud, and roused the palace inmates from their sleep, if then they had awoke and slumbered not, there would not have ensued the present sorrow.”

Kandaka, hearing these sorrowful words, drawing in his breath and composing himself, wiping away his tears, with hands clasped together, answered: “Listen to me, I pray, in self-justification—be not suspicious of, nor blame the royal horse, nor be thou angry with me, either. For in truth no fault has been committed by us. It is the gods who have effected this. For I, indeed, extremely reverenced the king’s command, it was the gods who drove him to the solitudes, urgently leading on the horse with him: thus they went together fleet as with wings, his breathing hushed! suppressed was every sound, his feet scarce touched the earth! The city gates wide opening of themselves! all space self-lighted! this was the work indeed of the gods; and what was I, or what my strength, compared with theirs?”

Yasodharâ hearing these words, her heart was lost in deep consideration! the deeds accomplished by the gods could not be laid to others’ charge, as faults; and so she ceased her angry chiding, and allowed her great consuming grief to smoulder. Thus prostrate on the ground she muttered out her sad complaints, “That the two doves should be divided! Now,” she cried, “my stay and my support is lost, between those once agreed in life, separation has sprung up! those who were at one as to religion are now divided! where shall I seek another mode of life? In olden days the former conquerors greatly rejoiced to see their kingly retinue; these with their wives in company, in search of highest wisdom, roamed through groves and plains. And now, that he should have deserted me! and what is the religious state he seeks! the Brahman ritual respecting sacrifice, requires the wife to take part in the offering, and because they both share in the service they shall both receive a common reward hereafter! but you O prince! art niggard in your religious rites, driving me away, and wandering forth alone! Is it that you saw me jealous, and so turned against me! that you now seek someone free from jealousy! or did you see some other cause to hate me, that you now seek to find a heaven-born nymph! But why should one excelling in every personal grace seek to practise self-denying austerities! is it that you despise a common lot with me, that variance rises in your breast against your wife! Why does not Râhula fondly repose upon your knee. Alas! alas! unlucky master! full of grace without, but hard at heart! The glory and the pride of all your tribe, yet hating those who reverence you! O! can it be, you have turned your back for good upon your little child, scarce able yet to smile! My heart is gone! and all my strength! my lord has fled, to wander in the mountains! he cannot surely thus forget me! he is then but a man of wood or stone.” Thus having spoken, her mind was dulled and darkened, she muttered on, or spoke in wild mad words, or fancied that she saw strange sights, and sobbing past the power of self-restraint, her breath grew less, and sinking thus, she fell asleep upon the dusty ground! The palace ladies seeing this, were wrung with heartfelt sorrow, just as the full-blown lily, struck by the wind and hail, is broken down and withered.

And now the king, his father, having lost the prince, was filled, both night and day, with grief; and fasting, sought the gods for help. He prayed that they would soon restore him, and having prayed and finished sacrifice, he went from out the sacred gates; then hearing all the cries and sounds of mourning, his mind distressed became confused, as when heaven’s thundering and lightning put to bewildering flight a herd of elephants. Then seeing Kandaka with the royal steed, after long questioning, finding his son a hermit, fainting he fell upon the earth, as when the flag of Indra falls and breaks. Then all the ministers of state, upraising him, exhort him, as was right, to calm himself. After awhile, his mind somewhat recovered, speaking to the royal steed, he said: “How often have I ridden thee to battle, and every time have thought upon your excellence! but now I hate and loathe thee, more than ever I have loved or praised thee! My son, renowned for noble qualities, thou hast carried off and taken from me; and left him ‘mid the mountain forests; and now you have come back alone; take me, then, quickly hence and go! And going, never more come back with me! For since you have not brought him back, my life is worth no more preserving; no longer care I about governing! My son about me was my only joy; as the Brahman Gayanta met death for his son’s sake, so I, deprived of my religious son, will of myself deprive myself of life. So Manu, lord of all that lives, ever lamented for his son; how much more I, a mortal man deprived of mine, must lose all rest! In old time the king Aga, loving his son, wandering through the mountains, lost in thought, ended life, and forthwith was born in heaven. And now I cannot die! Through the long night fixed in this sad state, with this great palace round me, thinking of my son, solitary and athirst as any hungry spirit; as one who, thirsty, holding water in his hand, but when he tries to drink lets all escape, and so remains athirst till death ensues, and after death becomes a wandering ghost; so I, in the extremity of thirst, through loss, possessed once of a son, but now without a son, still live and cannot end my days! But come! tell me at once where is my son! let me not die athirst for want of knowing this and fall among the Pretas. In former days, at least, my will was strong and firm, difficult to move as the great earth; but now I’ve lost my son, my mind is dazed, as was in old time the king Dasaratha’s.”

And now the royal teacher (Purohita), an illustrious sage, with the chief minister, famed for wisdom, with earnest and considerate minds, both exhorted with remonstrances, the king. “Pray you (they said) arouse yourself to thought, and let not grief cramp and hold your mind! in olden days there were mighty kings, who left their country, as flowers are scattered; your son now practises the way of wisdom; why then nurse your grief and misery; you should recall the prophecy of Asita, and reasonably count on what was probable! Think of the heavenly joys which you, a universal king, have inherited! But now, so troubled and constrained in mind, how will it not be said, ‘The Lord of earth can change his golden-jewel-heart!’ Now, therefore, send us forth, and bid us seek the place he occupies, then by some stratagem and strong remonstrances, and showing him our earnestness of purpose, we will break down his resolution, and thus assuage your kingly sorrow.”

The king, with joy, replied and said: “Would that you both would go in haste, as swiftly as the Saketa bird flies through the void for her young’s sake; thinking of nought but the royal prince, and sad at heart—I shall await your search!”

The two men having received their orders, the king retired among his kinsfolk, his heart somewhat more tranquillized, and breathing freely through his throat.

  1. This description of the prince’s hair seems to contradict the head arrangement of the figures of Buddha, unless the curls denote the shaven head of the recluse.

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