The Return of Kandaka

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

And now the night was in a moment gone, and sight restored to all created things, when the royal prince looked through the wood, and saw the abode of Po-ka, the Rishi. The purling streams so exquisitely pure and sparkling, and the wild beasts all unalarmed at man, caused the royal prince’s heart to exult. Tired, the horse stopped of his own will, to breathe. “This, then,” he thought, “is a good sign and fortunate, and doubtless indicates divine approval.” And now he saw belonging to the Rishi, the various vessels used for asking charity, and other things arranged by him in order, without the slightest trace of negligence. Dismounting then he stroked his horse’s head, and cried, “You now have borne me well!”

With loving eyes he looked at Kandaka: eyes like the pure cool surface of a placid lake and said, “Swift-footed! like a horse in pace, yea! swift as any light-winged bird, ever have you followed after me when riding, and deeply have I felt my debt of thanks, but not yet had you been tried in other ways; I only knew you as a man true-hearted, my mind now wonders at your active powers of body; these two I now begin to see are yours; a man may have a heart most true and faithful, but strength of body may not too be his; bodily strength and perfect honesty of heart, I now have proof enough are yours. To be content to leave the tinselled world, and with swift foot to follow me, who would do this but for some profit; if without profit to his kin, who would not shun it? But you, with no private aim, have followed me, not seeking any present recompense; as we nourish and bring up a child, to bind together and bring honor to a family, so we also reverence and obey a father, to gain obedience and attention from a begotten son; in this way all think of their own advantage; but you have come with me disdaining profit; with many words I cannot hold you here, so let me say in brief to you, we have now ended our relationship; take, then, my horse and ride back again; for me, during the long night past, that place I sought to reach now I have obtained.”

Then taking off his precious neck-chain, he handed it to Kandaka. “Take this,” he said, “I give it you, let it console you in your sorrow.” The precious jewel in the tire that bound his head, bright-shining, lighting up his person, taking off and placing in his extended palm, like the sun which lights up Sumeru, he said, “O Kandaka! take this gem, and going back to where my father is, take the jewel and lay it reverently before him, to signify my heart’s relation to him; and then, for me, request the king to stifle every fickle feeling of affection, and say that I, to escape from birth and age and death, have entered on the wild forest of painful discipline; not that I may get a heavenly birth, much less because I have no tenderness of heart, or that I cherish any cause of bitterness, but only that I may escape this weight of sorrow. The accumulated long-night weight of covetous desire (love), I now desire to ease the load so that it may be overthrown forever; therefore I seek the way of ultimate escape; if I should obtain emancipation, then shall I never need to put away my kindred, to leave my home, to sever ties of love. O! grieve not for your son! The five desires of sense beget the sorrow; those held by lust themselves induce the sorrow. My very ancestors, victorious kings, thinking their throne established and immovable, have handed down to me their kingly wealth; I, thinking only on religion, put it all away; the royal mothers at the end of life their cherished treasures leave for their sons, those sons who covet much such worldly profit; but I rejoice to have acquired religious wealth; if you say that I am young and tender, and that the time for seeking wisdom is not come, you ought to know that to seek true religion, there never is a time not fit; impermanence and fickleness, the hate of death, these ever follow us, and therefore I embrace the present day, convinced that now is time to seek religion. With such entreaties as the above, you must make matters plain on my behalf; but, pray you, cause my father not to think longingly after me; let him destroy all recollection of me, and cut out from his soul the ties of love; and you, grieve not because of what I say, but recollect to give the king my message.”

Kandaka hearing respectfully the words of exhortation, blinded and confused through choking sorrow, with hands outstretched did worship; and answering the prince, he spoke, “The orders that you give me will, I fear, add grief to grief, and sorrow thus increased will deepen, as the elephant who struggles into deeper mire. When the ties of love are rudely snapped, who, that has any heart, would not grieve! The golden ore may still by stamping be broken up, how much more the feelings choked with sorrow! the prince has grown up in a palace, with every care bestowed upon his tender person, and now he gives his body to the rough and thorny forest; how will he be able to bear a life of privation? When first you ordered me to equip your steed, my mind was indeed sorely troubled, but the heavenly powers urged me on, causing me to hasten the preparation of the horse, but what is the intention that urges the prince, to resolve thus to leave his secure palace? The people of Kapilavastu, and all the country afflicted with grief; your father, now an old man, mindful of his son, loving him moreover tenderly; surely this determination to leave your home, this is not according to duty; it is wrong, surely, to disregard father and mother—we cannot speak of such a thing with propriety! Gotami, too, who has nourished you so long, fed you with milk when a helpless child, such love as hers cannot easily be forgotten; it is impossible surely to turn the back on a benefactor; the highly gifted virtuous mother of a child, is ever respected by the most distinguished families; to inherit distinction and then to turn round, is not the mark of a distinguished man. The illustrious child of Yasodharâ, who has inherited a kingdom, rightly governed, his years now gradually ripening, should not thus go away from and forsake his home; but though he has gone away from his royal father, and forsaken his family and his kin, forbid it he should still drive me away, let me not depart from the feet of my master; my heart is bound to thee, as the heat is bound up in the boiling water. I cannot return without thee to my country; to return and leave the prince thus, in the midst of the solitude of the desert, then should I be like Sumanta, who left and forsook Râma; and now if I return alone to the palace, what words can I address to the king? How can I reply to the reproaches of all the dwellers in the palace with suitable words? Therefore let the prince rather tell me, how I may truly describe, and with what device, the disfigured body, and the merit-seeking condition of the hermit! I am full of fear and alarm, my tongue can utter no words; tell me then what words to speak; but who is there in the empire will believe me? If I say that the moon’s rays are scorching, there are men, perhaps, who may believe me; but they will not believe that the prince, in his conduct, will act without piety; for the prince’s heart is sincere and refined, always actuated with pity and love to men. To be deeply affected with love, and yet to forsake the object of love, this surely is opposed to a constant mind. O then, for pity’s sake! return to your home, and thus appease my foolish longings.”

The prince having listened to Kandaka, pitying his grief expressed in so many words, with heart resolved and strong in its determination, spoke thus to him once more, and said: “Why thus on my account do you feel the pain of separation? you should overcome this sorrowful mood, it is for you to comfort yourself; all creatures, each in its way, foolishly arguing that all things are constant, would influence me to-day not to forsake my kin and relatives; but when dead and come to be a ghost, how then, let them say, can I be kept? My loving mother when she bore me, with deep affection painfully carried me, and then when born she died, not permitted to nourish me. One alive, the other dead, gone by different roads, where now shall she be found? Like as in a wilderness, on some high tree, all the birds living with their mates assemble in the evening and at dawn disperse, so are the separations of the world; the floating clouds rise like a high mountain, from the four quarters they fill the void, in a moment again they are separated and disappear; so is it with the habitations of men; people from the beginning have erred thus, binding themselves in society and by the ties of love, and then, as after a dream, all is dispersed; do not then recount the names of my relatives; for like the wood which is produced in spring, gradually grows and brings forth its leaves, which again fall in the autumn-chilly-dews—if the different parts of the same body are thus divided—how much more men who are united in society! and how shall the ties of relationship escape rending? Cease therefore your grief and expostulation, obey my commands and return home; the thought of your return alone will save me, and perhaps after your return I also may come back. The men of Kapilavastu, hearing that my heart is fixed, will dismiss from their minds all thought of me, but you may make known my words, ‘when I have escaped from the sad ocean of birth and death, then afterwards I will come back again; but I am resolved, if I obtain not my quest, my body shall perish in the mountain wilds.‘” The white horse hearing the prince, as he uttered these true and earnest words, bent his knee and licked his foot, whilst he sighed deeply and wept. Then the prince with his soft and glossy palm, fondly stroking the head of the white horse, said, “Do not let sorrow rise within, I grieve indeed at losing you, my gallant steed—so strong and active, your merit now has gained its end; you shall enjoy for long a respite from an evil birth, but for the present take as your reward these precious jewels and this glittering sword, and with them follow closely after Kandaka.” The prince then drawing forth his sword, glancing in the light as the dragon’s eye, cut off the knot of hair with its jewelled stud, and forthwith cast it into space; ascending upwards to the firmament, it floated there as the wings of the phoenix; then all the Devas of the Trayastrimsa heavens seizing the hair, returned with it to their heavenly abodes; desiring always to adore the feet (offer religious service), how much rather now possessed of the crowning locks, with unfeigned piety do they increase their adoration, and shall do till the true law has died away.

Then the royal prince thought thus, “My adornments now are gone forever, there only now remain these silken garments, which are not in keeping with a hermit’s life.”

Then the Deva of the Pure abode, knowing the heart-ponderings of the prince, transformed himself into a hunter’s likeness, holding his bow, his arrows in his girdle, his body girded with a Kashâya-colored robe, thus he advanced in front of the prince. The prince considering this garment of his, the color of the ground, a fitting pure attire, becoming to the utmost the person of a Rishi, not fit for a hunter’s dress, forthwith called to the hunter, as he stood before him, in accents soft, and thus addressed him: “That dress of thine belikes me much, as if it were not foul, and this my dress I’ll give thee in exchange, so please thee.”

The hunter then addressed the prince, “Although I ill can spare this garment, which I use as a disguise among the deer, that alluring them within reach I may kill them, notwithstanding, as it so pleases you, I am now willing to bestow it in exchange for yours.” The hunter having received the sumptuous dress, took again his heavenly body.

The prince and Kandaka, the coachman, seeing this, thought deeply thus: “This garment is of no common character, it is not what a worldly man has worn”—and in the prince’s heart great joy arose, as he regarded the coat with double reverence, and forthwith giving all the other things to Kandaka, he himself was clad in it, of Kashâya color; then like the dark and lowering cloud, that surrounds the disc of the sun or moon, he for a moment gazed, scanning his steps, then entered on the hermit’s grot; Kandaka following him with wistful eyes, his body disappeared, nor was it seen again. “My lord and master now has left his father’s house, his kinsfolk and myself,” he cried; “he now has clothed himself in hermit’s garb, and entered the painful forest.” Raising his hands he called on Heaven, o’erpowered with grief he could not move; till holding by the white steed’s neck, he tottered forward on the homeward road, turning again and often looking back, his body going on, his heart back-hastening; now lost in thought and self-forgetful, now looking down to earth, then raising up his drooping eye to heaven, falling at times and then rising again, thus weeping as he went, he pursued his way homewards.

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