Bimbisâra Raga Invites the Prince

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

The royal prince, departing from the court-master (i.e. the Purohita) and the great minister, Saddharma, keeping along the stream, then crossing the Ganges, he took the road towards the Vulture Peak,1 hidden among the five mountains, standing alone a lovely peak as a roof amid the others. The trees and shrubs and flowers in bloom, the flowing fountains, and the cooling rills; all these he gazed upon—then passing on, he entered the city of the five peaks, calm and peaceful, as one come down from heaven. The country folk, seeing the royal prince, his comeliness and his excessive grace, though young in years, yet glorious in his person, incomparable as the appearance of a great master, seeing him thus, strange thoughts affected them, as if they gazed upon the banner of Isvara. They stayed the foot, who passed athwart the path; those hastened on, who were behind; those going before, turned back their heads and gazed with earnest, wistful look. The marks and distinguishing points of his person, on these they fixed their eyes without fatigue, and then approached with reverent homage, joining both their hands in salutation. With all there was a sense of wondrous joy, as in their several ways they offered what they had, looking at his noble and illustrious features; bending down their bodies modestly, correcting every careless or unseemly gesture, thus they showed their reverence to him silently; those who with anxious heart, seeking release, were moved by love, with feelings composed, bowed down the more. Great men and women, in their several engagements, at the same time arrested on their way, paid to his person and his presence homage: and following him as they gazed, they went not back. For the white circle between his eyebrows adorning his wide and violet-colored eyes, his noble body bright as gold, his pure and web-joined fingers, all these, though he were but a hermit, were marks of one who was a holy king; and now the men and women of Râgagriha, the old and young alike, were moved, and cried, “This man so noble as a recluse, what common joy is this for us!” At this time Bimbisâra Râga, placed upon a high tower of observation, seeing all those men and women, in different ways exhibiting one mark of surprise, calling before him some man outside, inquired at once the cause of it; this one bending his knee below the tower, told fully what he had seen and heard, “That one of the Sâkya race, renowned of old, a prince most excellent and wonderful, divinely wise, beyond the way of this world, a fitting king to rule the eight regions, now without home, is here, and all men are paying homage to him.”

The king on hearing this was deeply moved at heart, and though his body was restrained, his soul had gone. Calling his ministers speedily before him, and all his nobles and attendants, he bade them follow secretly the prince’s steps, to observe what charity was given. So, in obedience to the command, they followed and watched him steadfastly, as with even gait and unmoved presence he entered on the town and begged his food, according to the rule of all great hermits, with joyful mien and undisturbed mind, not anxious whether much or little alms were given; whatever he received, costly or poor, he placed within his bowl, then turned back to the wood, and having eaten it and drunk of the flowing stream, he joyous sat upon the immaculate mountain. There he beheld the green trees fringing with their shade the crags, the scented flowers growing between the intervals, whilst the peacocks and the other birds, joyously flying, mingled their notes; his sacred garments bright and lustrous, shone as the sun-lit mulberry leaves; the messengers beholding his fixed composure, one by one returning, reported what they had seen; the king hearing it, was moved at heart, and forthwith ordered his royal equipment to be brought, his god-like crown and his flower-bespangled robes; then, as the lion-king, he strode forth, and choosing certain aged persons of consideration, learned men, able calmly and wisely to discriminate, he, with them, led the way, followed by a hundred thousand people, who like a cloud ascended with the king the royal mountain.

And now beholding the dignity of Bodhisattva, every outward gesture under government, sitting with ease upon the mountain crag, as the moon shining limpid in the pure heavens, so was his matchless beauty and purity of grace; then as the converting presence of religion dwelling within the heart makes it reverential, so, beholding him, he reverently approached, even as divine Sâkara comes to the presence of Mo-hi-su-ma, so with every outward form of courtesy and reverence the king approached and asked him respectfully of his welfare.

Bodhisattva, answering as he was moved, in his turn made similar inquiries. Then the king, the questioning over, sat down with dignity upon a clean-faced rock. And so he steadfastly beheld the divine appearance of the prince, the sweetness and complacency of his features revealing what his station was and high estate, his family renown, received by inheritance; the king, who for a time restrained his feelings, now wishful to get rid of doubts, inquired why one descended from the royal family of the sun-brightness having attended to religious sacrifices through ten thousand generations, whereof the virtue had descended as his full inheritance, increasing and accumulating until now, why he so excellent in wisdom, so young in years, had now become a recluse, rejecting the position of a Kakravartin’s son, begging his food, despising family fame, his beauteous form, fit for perfumes and anointings, why clothed with coarse Kasâya garments; the hand which ought to grasp the reins of empire, instead thereof, taking its little stint of food; if indeed (the king continued) you were not of royal descent, and would receive as an offering the transfer of this land, then would I divide with you my empire; saying this, he scarcely hoped to excite his feelings, who had left his home and family, to be a hermit. Then forthwith the king proceeded thus: “Give just weight I pray you to my truthful words: desire for power is kin to nobleness, and so is just pride of fame or family or wealth or personal appearance; no longer having any wish to subdue the proud, or to bend others down and so get thanks from men, it were better, then, to give to the strong and warlike martial arms to wear, for them to follow war and by their power to get supremacy; but when by one’s own power a kingdom falls to hand, who would not then accept the reins of empire? The wise man knows the time to take religion, wealth, and worldly pleasure. But if he obtains not the threefold profit, then in the end he abates his earnest efforts, and reverencing religion, he lets go material wealth. Wealth is the one desire of worldly men; to be rich and lose all desire for religion, this is to gain but outside wealth. But to be poor and even thus despise religion, what pleasure can indulgence give in such a case! But when possessed of all the three, and when enjoyed with reason and propriety, then religion, wealth, and pleasure make what is rightly called a great master; permit not, then, your perfectly endowed body to lay aside its glory, without reward; the Kakravartin, as a monarch, ruled the four empires of the world, and shared with Sakra his royal throne, but was unequal to the task of ruling heaven. But you, with your redoubtable strength, may well grasp both heavenly and human power; I do not rely upon my kingly power, in my desire to keep you here by force, but seeing you change your comeliness of person, and wearing the hermit’s garb, whilst it makes me reverence you for your virtue, moves me with pity and regret for you as a man; you now go begging your food, and I offer you the whole land as yours; whilst you are young and lusty enjoy yourself. During middle life acquire wealth, and when old and all your abilities ripened, then is the time for following the rules of religion; when young to encourage religious fervor, is to destroy the sources of desire; but when old and the breath is less eager, then is the time to seek religious solitude; when old we should avoid, as a shame, desire of wealth, but get honor in the world by a religious life; but when young, and the heart light and elastic, then is the time to partake of pleasure, in boon companionship to indulge in gayety, and partake to the full of mutual intercourse; but as years creep on, giving up indulgence, to observe the ordinances of religion, to mortify the five desires, and go on increasing a joyful and religious heart, is not this the law of the eminent kings of old, who as a great company paid worship to heaven, and borne on the dragon’s back received the joys of celestial abodes? All these divine and victorious monarchs, glorious in person, richly adorned, thus having as a company performed their religious offering, in the end received the reward of their conduct in heaven.” Thus Bimbasâra Râga used every kind of winning expedient in argument The royal prince, unmoved and fixed, remained firm as Mount Sumeru.

  1. The distance from the place of the interview with the ministers to the Vulture Peak would be, in a straight line, about 150 miles.

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