Turning the Law-wheel

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

Tathâgata piously composed and silent, radiant with glory, shedding light around, with unmatched dignity advanced alone, as if surrounded by a crowd of followers. Beside the way he encountered a young Brahman whose name was Upâka; struck with the deportment of the Bhikshu, he stood with reverent mien on the roadside. Joyously he gazed at such an unprecedented sight, and then, with closed hands, he spake as follows:—“The crowds who live around are stained with sin, without a pleasing feature, void of grace, and the great world’s heart is everywhere disturbed; but you alone, your senses all composed, with visage shining as the moon when full, seem to have quaffed the water of the immortals’ stream. The marks of beauty yours, as the great man’s, the strength of wisdom, as an all-sufficient, independent king’s; what you have done must have been wisely done: what then your noble tribe and who your master?” Answering he said, “I have no master; no honorable tribe; no point of excellence; self-taught in this profoundest doctrine, I have arrived at superhuman wisdom. That which behooves the world to learn, but through the world no learner found, I now myself and by myself have learned throughout; ‘tis rightly called Sambodhi. That hateful family of griefs the sword of wisdom has destroyed; this then is what the world has named, and rightly named, the ‘chiefest victory.’ Through all Benares soon will sound the drum of life, no stay is possible—I have no name—nor do I seek profit or pleasure. But simply to declare the truth; to save men from pain, and to fulfil my ancient oath, to rescue all not yet delivered. The fruit of this my oath is ripened now, and I will follow out my ancient vow. Wealth, riches, self all given up, unnamed, I still am named ‘Righteous Master.’ And bringing profit to the world, I also have the name ‘Great Teacher’; facing sorrows, not swallowed up by them, am I not rightly called ‘Courageous Warrior?’ If not a healer of diseases, what means the name of ‘Good Physician?’ Seeing the wanderer, not showing him the way, why then should I be called ‘Good Master-guide?’ Like as the lamp shines in the dark, without a purpose of its own, self-radiant, so burns the lamp of the Tathâgata, without the shadow of a personal feeling. Bore wood in wood, there must be fire; the wind blows of its own free self in space; dig deep and you will come to water; this is the rule of self-causation. All the Munis who perfect wisdom, must do so at Gayâ; and in the Kâsi country they must first turn the Wheel of Righteousness.” The young Brahman Upâka, astonished, breathed the praise of such strange doctrine, and called to mind like thoughts he had before experienced; lost in thought at the wonderful occurrence, at every turning of the road he stopped to think; embarrassed in every step he took, Tathâgata proceeding slowly onwards, came to the city of Kâsi. The land so excellently adorned as the palace of Sakradevendra; the Ganges and Baranâ, two twin rivers flowed amidst; the woods and flowers and fruits so verdant, the peaceful cattle wandering together, the calm retreats free from vulgar noise, such was the place where the old Rishis dwelt. Tathâgata, glorious and radiant, redoubled the brightness of the place; the son of the Kaundinya tribe, and next Dasabalakâsyapa, and the third Vâshpa, the fourth Asvagit, the fifth called Bhadra, practising austerities as hermits, seeing from far Tathâgata approaching, sitting together all engaged in conversation, said: “This Gautama, defiled by worldly indulgence, leaving the practice of austerities, now comes again to find us here, let us be careful not to rise in salutation, nor let us greet him when he comes, nor offer him the customary refreshments. Because he has broken his first vow, he has no claim to hospitality”—for men on seeing an approaching guest by rights prepare things for his present and his after wants. They arrange a proper resting-couch, and take on themselves care for his comfort. Having spoken thus and so agreed, each kept his seat, resolved and fixed. And now Tathâgata slowly approached, when, lo! these men unconsciously, against their vow, rose and invited him to take a seat; offering to take his robe and Pâtra. They begged to wash and rub his feet, and asked him what he required more; thus in everything attentive, they honored him and offered all to him as teacher. They did not cease however to address him still as Gautama, after his family. Then spake the Lord to them and said: “Call me not after my private name, for it is a rude and careless way of speaking to one who has obtained Arhat-ship; but whether men respect or disrespect me, my mind is undisturbed and wholly quiet. But you—your way is not so courteous: let go, I pray, and cast away your fault. Buddha can save the world; they call him, therefore, Buddha. Towards all living things, with equal heart he looks as children, to call him then by his familiar name is to despise a father; this is sin.” Thus Buddha, by exercise of mighty love, in deep compassion spoke to them; but they, from ignorance and pride, despised the only wise and true one’s words. They said that first he practised self-denial, but having reached thereby no profit, now giving rein to body, word, and thought, how by these means, they asked, has he become a Buddha? Thus equally entangled by doubts, they would not credit that he had attained the way. Thoroughly versed in highest truth, full of all-embracing wisdom, Tagâgata on their account briefly declared to them the one true way; the foolish masters practising austerities, and those who love to gratify their senses, he pointed out to them these two distinctive classes, and how both greatly erred. “Neither of these,” he said, “has found the way of highest wisdom, nor are their ways of life productive of true rescue. The emaciated devotee by suffering produces in himself confused and sickly thoughts, not conducive even to worldly knowledge, how much less to triumph over sense! For he who tries to light a lamp with water, will not succeed in scattering the darkness, and so the man who tries with worn-out body to trim the lamp of wisdom shall not succeed, nor yet destroy his ignorance or folly. Who seeks with rotten wood to evoke the fire will waste his labor and get nothing for it; but boring hard wood into hard, the man of skill forthwith gets fire for his use. In seeking wisdom then it is not by these austerities a man may reach the law of life. But to indulge in pleasure is opposed to right: this is the fool’s barrier against wisdom’s light. The sensualist cannot comprehend the Sûtras or the Sâstras, how much less the way of overcoming all desire! As some man grievously afflicted eats food not fit to eat, and so in ignorance aggravates his sickness, so can he get rid of lust who pampers lust? Scatter the fire amid the desert grass, dried by the sun, fanned by the wind—the raging flames who shall extinguish? Such is the fire of covetousness and lust. I, then, reject both these extremes: my heart keeps in the middle way. All sorrow at an end and finished, I rest at peace, all error put away; my true sight greater than the glory of the sun, my equal and unvarying wisdom, vehicle of insight—right words as it were a dwelling-place—wandering through the pleasant groves of right conduct, making a right life my recreation, walking along the right road of proper means, my city of refuge in right recollection, and my sleeping couch right meditation; these are the eight even and level roads by which to avoid the sorrows of birth and death. Those who come forth by these means from the slough, doing thus, have attained the end; such shall fall neither on this side or the other, amidst the sorrow-crowd of the two periods. The tangled sorrow-web of the three worlds by this road alone can be destroyed; this is my own way, unheard of before; by the pure eyes of the true law, impartially seeing the way of escape, I, only I, now first make known this way; thus I destroy the hateful company of Trishnâ’s host, the sorrows of birth and death, old age, disease, and all the unfruitful aims of men, and other springs of suffering. There are those who warring against desire are still influenced by desire; who whilst possessed of body, act as though they had none; who put away from themselves all sources of true merit—briefly will I recount their sorrowful lot. Like smothering a raging fire, though carefully put out, yet a spark left, so in their abstraction, still the germ of ‘I,’ the source of great sorrow still surviving, perpetuates the suffering caused by lust, and the evil consequences of every kind of deed survive. These are the sources of further pain, but let these go and sorrow dies, even as the seed of corn taken from the earth and deprived of water dies; the concurrent causes not uniting, then the bud and leaf cannot be born; the intricate bonds of every kind of existence, from the Deva down to the evil ways of birth, ever revolve and never cease; all this is produced from covetous desire; falling from a high estate to lower ones, all is the fault of previous deeds. But destroy the seed of covetousness and the rest, then there will be no intricate binding, but all effect of deeds destroyed, the various degrees of sorrow then will end for good. Having this, then, we must inherit that; destroying this, then that is ended too; no birth, old age, disease, or death; no earth, or water, fire, or wind. No beginning, end, or middle; and no deceptive systems of philosophy; this is the standpoint of wise men and sages; the certain and exhausted termination, complete Nirvâna. Such do the eight right ways declare; this one expedient has no remains; that which the world sees not, engrossed by error I declare, I know the way to sever all these sorrow-sources; the way to end them is by right reason, meditating on these four highest truths, following and perfecting this highest wisdom. This is what means the ‘knowing’ sorrow; this is to cut off the cause of all remains of being; these destroyed, then all striving, too, has ended, the eight right ways have been assayed.

“Thus, too, the four great truths have been acquired, the eyes of the pure law completed. In these four truths, the equal, true or right, eyes not yet born, there is not mention made of gaining true deliverance; it is not said what must be done is done, nor that all is finished, nor that the perfect truth has been acquired. But now because the truth is known, then by myself is known ‘deliverance gained,’ by myself is known that ‘all is done,’ by myself is known ‘the highest wisdom.‘” And having spoken thus respecting truth, the member of the Kaundinya family, and eighty thousand of the Deva host, were thoroughly imbued with saving knowledge. They put away defilement from themselves, they got the eyes of the pure law; Devas and earthly masters thus were sure, that what was to be done was done. And now with lion-voice he joyfully inquired, and asked Kaundinya, “Knowest thou yet?” Kaundinya forthwith answered Buddha, “I know the mighty master’s law.” And for this reason, knowing it, his name was Âgnâta Kaundinya. Amongst all the disciples of Buddha, he was the very first in understanding. Then as he understood the sounds of the true law, hearing the words of the disciple—all the earth spirits together raised a shout triumphant, “Well done! deeply seeing the principles of the law, Tathâgata, on this auspicious day, has set revolving that which never yet revolved, and far and wide, for gods and men, has opened the gates of immortality. Of this wheel the spokes are the rules of pure conduct; equal contemplation, their uniformity of length; firm wisdom is the tire; modesty and thoughtfulness, the rubbers (sockets in the nave in which the axle is fixed); right reflection is the nave; the wheel itself the law of perfect truth; the right truth now has gone forth in the world, not to retire before another teacher.”

Thus the earth spirits shouted, the spirits of the air took up the strain, the Devas all joined in the hymn of praise, up to the highest Brahma heaven. The Devas of the triple world, now hearing what the great Rishi taught, in intercourse together spoke, “The widely honored Buddha moves the world! Widespread, for the sake of all that lives, he turns the wheel of the law of complete purity!” The stormy winds, the clouds, the mists, all disappeared; down from space the heavenly flowers descended. The Devas revelled in their joys celestial, filled with unutterable gladness.

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