The Mission to Seek the Prince

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

The king now suppressing his grief, urged on his great teacher and chief minister, as one urges on with whip a ready horse, to hasten onwards as the rapid stream; whilst they fatigued, yet with unflagging effort, come to the place of the sorrow-giving grove; then laying on one side the five outward marks of dignity and regulating well their outward gestures, they entered the Brahmans’ quiet hermitage, and paid reverence to the Rishis. They, on their part, begged them to be seated, and repeated the law for their peace and comfort.

Then forthwith they addressed the Rishis and said: “We have on our minds a subject on which we would ask for advice. There is one who is called Suddhodana râga, a descendant of the famous Ikshvâku family, we are his teacher and his minister, who instruct him in the sacred books as required. The king indeed is like Indra for dignity; his son, like Ke-yan-to, in order to escape old age, disease, and death, has become a hermit, and depends on this; on his account have we come hither, with a view to let your worships know of this.”

Replying, they said: “With respect to this youth, has he long arms and the signs of a great man? Surely he is the one who, inquiring into our practice, discoursed so freely on the matter of life and death. He has gone to the abode of Arâda, to seek for a complete mode of escape.”

Having received this certain information, respectfully considering the urgent commands of the anxious king, they dared not hesitate in their undertaking, but straightway took the road and hastened on. Then seeing the wood in which the royal prince dwelt, and him, deprived of all outward marks of dignity, his body still glorious with lustrous shining, as when the sun comes forth from the black cloud; then the religious teacher of the country and the great minister holding to the true law, put off from them their courtly dress, and descending from the chariot gradually advanced, like the royal Po-ma-ti and the Rishi Vasishtha, went through the woods and forests, and seeing the royal prince Râma, each according to his own prescribed manner, paid him reverence, as he advanced to salute him; or as Sukra, in company with Angiras, with earnest heart paid reverence, and sacrificed to Indra râga.

Then the royal prince in return paid reverence to the royal teacher and the great minister, as the divine Indra placed at their ease Sukra and Angiras; then, at his command, the two men seated themselves before the prince, as Pou-na and Pushya, the twin stars attend beside the moon; then the Purohita and the great minister respectfully explained to the royal prince, even as Pi-li-po-ti spoke to that Gayanta: “Your royal father, thinking of the prince, is pierced in heart, as with an iron point; his mind distracted, raves in solitude; he sleeps upon the dusty ground; by night and day he adds to his sorrowful reflections; his tears flow down like the incessant rain; and now to seek you out, he has sent us hither. Would that you would listen with attentive mind; we know that you delight to act religiously; it is certain, then, without a doubt, this is not the time for you to enter the forest wilds; a feeling of deep pity consumes our heart! You, if you be indeed moved by religion, ought to feel some pity for our case; let your kindly feelings flow abroad, to comfort us who are worn at heart; let not the tide of sorrow and of sadness completely overwhelm the outlets of our heart; as the torrents which roll down the grassy mountains; or the calamities of tempest, fiery heat, and lightning; for so the grieving heart has these four sorrows, turmoil and drought, passion and overthrow. But come! return to your native place, the time will arrive when you can go forth again as a recluse. But now to disregard your family duties, to turn against father and mother, how can this be called love and affection? that love which overshadows and embraces all. Religion requires not the wild solitudes; you can practise a hermit’s duties in your home; studiously thoughtful, diligent in expedients, this is to lead a hermit’s life in truth. A shaven head, and garments soiled with dirt—to wander by yourself through desert wilds—this is but to encourage constant fears, and cannot be rightly called ‘an awakened hermit’s life.’ Would rather we might take you by the hand, and sprinkle water on your head, and crown you with a heavenly diadem, and place you underneath a flowery canopy, that all eyes might gaze with eagerness upon you; after this, in truth, we would leave our home with joy. The former kings, Teou-lau-ma, A-neou-ke-o-sa, Po-ke-lo-po-yau, Pi-po-lo-‘anti, Pi-ti-o-ke-na, Na-lo-sha-po-lo, all these several kings refused not the royal crown, the jewels, and the ornaments of person; their hands and feet were adorned with gems, around them were women to delight and please, these things they cast not from them, for the sake of escape; you then may also come back home, and undertake both necessary duties; your mind prepare itself in higher law, whilst for the sake of earth you wield the sceptre; let there be no more weeping, but comply with what we say, and let us publish it; and having published it with your authority, then you may return and receive respectful welcome. Your father and your mother, for your sake, in grief shed tears like the great ocean; having no stay and no dependence now—no source from which the Sâkya stem may grow—you ought, like the captain of the ship, to bring it safely across to a place of safety. The royal prince Pi-san-ma, as also Lo-me-po-ti, they respectfully attended to the command of their father: you also should do the same! Your loving mother who cherished you so kindly, with no regard for self, through years of care, as the cow deprived of her calf, weeps and laments, forgetting to eat or sleep; you surely ought to return to her at once, to protect her life from evil; as a solitary bird, away from its fellows, or as the lonely elephant, wandering through the jungle, losing the care of their young, ever think of protecting and defending them, so you the only child, young and defenceless, not knowing what you do, bring trouble and solicitude; cause, then, this sorrow to dissipate itself; as one who rescues the moon from being devoured, so do you reassure the men and women of the land, and remove from them the consuming grief, and suppress the sighs that rise like breath to heaven, which cause the darkness that obscures their sight; seeking you, as water, to quench the fire; the fire quenched, their eyes shall open.”

Bodhisattva, hearing of his father the king, experienced the greatest distress of mind, and sitting still, gave himself to reflection; and then, in due course, replied respectfully: “I know indeed that my royal father is possessed of a loving and deeply considerate mind, but my fear of birth, old age, disease, and death, has led me to disobey, and disregard his extreme kindness. Whoever neglects right consideration about his present life, and because he hopes to escape in the end, therefore disregards all precautions in the present: on this man comes the inevitable doom of death. It is the knowledge of this, therefore, that weighs with me, and after long delay has constrained me to a hermit’s life; hearing of my father, the king, and his grief, my heart is affected with increased love; but yet, all is like the fancy of a dream, quickly reverting to nothingness. Know then, without fear of contradiction, that the nature of existing things is not uniform; the cause of sorrow is not necessarily the relationship of child with parent, but that which produces the pain of separation, results from the influence of delusion; as men going along a road suddenly meet midway with others, and then a moment more are separated, each one going his own way, so by the force of concomitance, relationships are framed, and then, according to each one’s destiny, there is separation; he who thoroughly investigates this false connection of relationship ought not to cherish in himself grief; in this world there is rupture of family love, in another life it is sought for again; brought together for a moment, again rudely divided, everywhere the fetters of kindred are formed! Ever being bound, and ever being loosened! who can sufficiently lament such constant separations; born into the world, and then gradually changing, constantly separated by death and then born again. All things which exist in time must perish; the forests and mountains, all things that exist; in time are born all sensuous things, so is it both with worldly substance and with time. Because, then, death pervades all time, get rid of death, and time will disappear. You desire to make me king, and it is difficult to resist the offices of love; but as a disease is difficult to bear without medicine, so neither can I bear this weight of dignity; in every condition, high or low, we find folly and ignorance, and men carelessly following the dictates of lustful passion; at last, we come to live in constant fear; thinking anxiously of the outward form, the spirit droops; following the ways of men, the mind resists the right; but, the conduct of the wise is not so. The sumptuously ornamented and splendid palace I look upon as filled with fire; the hundred dainty dishes of the divine kitchen, as mingled with destructive poisons; the lily growing on the tranquil lake, in its midst harbors countless noisome insects; and so the towering abode of the rich is the house of calamity; the wise will not dwell therein. In former times illustrious kings, seeing the many crimes of their home and country, affecting as with poison the dwellers therein, in sorrowful disgust sought comfort in seclusion; we know, therefore, that the troubles of a royal estate are not to be compared with the repose of a religious life; far better dwell in the wild mountains, and eat the herbs like the beasts of the field; therefore I dare not dwell in the wide palace, for the black snake has its dwelling there. I reject the kingly estate and the five desires; to escape such sorrows I wander through the mountain wilds. This, then, would be the consequence of compliance: that I, who, delighting in religion, am gradually getting wisdom, should now quit these quiet woods, and returning home, partake of sensual pleasures, and thus by night and day increase my store of misery. Surely this is not what should be done! that the great leader of an illustrious tribe, having left his home from love of religion, and forever turned his back upon tribal honor, desiring to confirm his purpose as a leader—that he—discarding outward form, clad in religious garb, loving religious meditation, wandering through the wilds—should now reject his hermit vestment, tread down his sense of proper shame and give up his aim. This, though I gained heaven’s kingly state, cannot be done! how much less to gain an earthly, though distinguished, home!

“For having spewed forth lust, passion, and ignorance, shall I return to feed upon it? as a man might go back to his vomit! such misery, how could I bear? Like a man whose house has caught fire, by some expedient finds a way to escape, will such a man forthwith go back and enter it again? such conduct would disgrace a man! So I, beholding the evils, birth, old age, and death, to escape the misery, have become a hermit; shall I then go back and enter in, and like a fool dwell in their company? He who enjoys a royal estate and yet seeks rescue, cannot dwell thus, this is no place for him; escape is born from quietness and rest; to be a king is to add distress and poison; to seek for rest and yet aspire to royal condition are but contradictions; royalty and rescue, motion and rest, like fire and water, having two principles, cannot be united. So one resolved to seek escape cannot abide possessed of kingly dignity! And if you say a man may be a king, and at the same time prepare deliverance for himself, there is no certainty in this! to seek certain escape is not to risk it thus; it is through this uncertain frame of mind that once a man gone forth is led to go back home again; but I, my mind is not uncertain; severing the baited hook of relationship, with straightforward purpose, I have left my home. Then tell me, why should I return again?”

The great minister, inwardly reflecting, thought, “The mind of the royal prince, my master, is full of wisdom, and agreeable to virtue, what he says is reasonable and fitly framed.” Then he addressed the prince and said: “According to what your highness states, he who seeks religion must seek it rightly; but this is not the fitting time for you; your royal father, old and of declining years, thinking of you his son, adds grief to grief; you say indeed, ‘I find my joy in rescue. To go back would be apostasy.’ But yet your joy denotes unwisdom, and argues want of deep reflection; you do not see, because you seek the fruit, how vain to give up present duty. There are some who say, There is ‘hereafter’; others there are who say, ‘Nothing hereafter.’ So whilst this question hangs in suspense, why should a man give up his present pleasure? If perchance there is ‘hereafter,’ we ought to bear patiently what it brings; if you say, ‘Hereafter is not,’ then there is not either salvation! If you say, ‘Hereafter is,’ you would not say, ‘Salvation causes it.’ As earth is hard, or fire is hot, or water moist, or wind is mobile, ‘Hereafter’ is just so. It has its own distinct nature. So when we speak of pure and impure, each comes from its own distinctive nature. If you should say, ‘By some contrivance this can be removed,’ such an opinion argues folly. Every root within the moral world has its own nature predetermined; loving remembrance and forgetfulness, these have their nature fixed and positive; so likewise age, disease, and death, these sorrows, who can escape by strategy? If you say, ‘Water can put out fire,’ or ‘Fire can cause water to boil and pass away,’ then this proves only that distinctive natures may be mutually destructive; but nature in harmony produces living things; so man when first conceived within the womb, his hands, his feet, and all his separate members, his spirit and his understanding, of themselves are perfected; but who is he who does it? Who is he that points the prickly thorn? This too is nature, self-controlling. And take again the different kinds of beasts, these are what they are, without desire on their part; and so, again, the heaven-born beings, whom the self-existent (Isvara) rules, and all the world of his creation; these have no self-possessed power of expedients; for if they had a means of causing birth, there would be also means for controlling death, and then what need of self-contrivance, or seeking for deliverance? There are those who say, ‘I’ (the soul) is the cause of birth, and others who affirm, ‘I’ (the soul) is the cause of death. There are some who say, ‘Birth comes from nothingness, and without any plan of ours we perish.’ Thus one is born a fortunate child, removed from poverty, of noble family, or learned in testamentary lore of Rishis, or called to offer mighty sacrifices to the gods, born in either state, untouched by poverty, then their famous name becomes to them ‘escape,’ their virtues handed down by name to us; yet if these attained their happiness, without contrivance of their own, how vain and fruitless is the toil of those who seek ‘escape.’ And you, desirous of deliverance, purpose to practise some high expedient, whilst your royal father frets and sighs; for a short while you have essayed the road, and leaving home have wandered through the wilds, to return then would not now be wrong; of old, King Ambarisha for a long while dwelt in the grievous forest, leaving his retinue and all his kinsfolk, but afterwards returned and took the royal office; and so Râma, son of the king of the country, leaving his country occupied the mountains, but hearing he was acting contrary to usage, returned and governed righteously. And so the king of Sha-lo-po, called To-lo-ma, father and son, both wandered forth as hermits, but in the end came back again together; so Po-‘sz-tsau Muni, with On-tai-tieh, in the wild mountains practising as Brahmakârins, these too returned to their own country. Thus all these worthies of a by-gone age, famous for their advance in true religion, came back home and royally governed, as lamps enlightening the world. Wherefore for you to leave the mountain wilds, religiously to rule, is not a crime.”

The royal prince, listening to the great minister’s loving words without excess of speaking, full of sound argument, clear and unconfused, with no desire to wrangle after the way of the schools, with fixed purpose, deliberately speaking, thus answered the great minister: “The question of being and not being is an idle one, only adding to the uncertainty of an unstable mind, and to talk of such matters I have no strong inclination; purity of life, wisdom, the practice of asceticism, these are matters to which I earnestly apply myself, the world is full of empty studies which our teachers in their office skilfully involve; but they are without any true principle, and I will none of them! The enlightened man distinguishes truth from falsehood; but how can truth be born from such as those? For they are like the man born blind, leading the blind man as a guide; as in the night, as in thick darkness both wander on, what recovery is there for them? Regarding the question of the pure and impure, the world involved in self-engendered doubt cannot perceive the truth; better to walk along the way of purity, or rather follow the pure law of self-denial, hate the practice of impurity, reflect on what was said of old, not obstinate in one belief or one tradition, with sincere mind accepting all true words, and ever banishing sinful sorrow (i.e. sin, the cause of grief). Words which exceed sincerity are vainly spoken; the wise man uses not such words. As to what you say of Râma and the rest, leaving their home, practising a pure life, and then returning to their country, and once more mixing themselves in sensual pleasures, such men as these walk vainly; those who are wise place no dependence on them. Now, for your sakes, permit me, briefly, to recount this one true principle of action: The sun, the moon may fall to earth, Sumeru and all the snowy mountains overturn, but I will never change my purpose; rather than enter a forbidden place, let me be cast into the fierce fire; not to accomplish rightly what I have entered on, and to return once more to my own land, there to enter the fire of the five desires, let it befall me as my own oath records.” So spake the prince, his arguments as pointed as the brightness of the perfect sun; then rising up he passed some distance off.

The Purohita and the minister, their words and discourse prevailing nothing, conversed together, after which, resolving to depart on their return, with great respect they quietly inform the prince, not daring to intrude their presence on him further; and yet regarding the king’s commands, not willing to return with unbecoming haste. They loitered quietly along the way, and whomsoever they encountered, selecting those who seemed like wise men, they interchanged such thoughts as move the learned, hiding their true position, as men of title; then passing on, they speeded on their way.

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