Visit to Ârâda Udrarâma

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

The child of the glorious sun of the Ikshvâku race, going to that quiet peaceful grove, reverently stood before the Muni, the great Rishi Ârâda Râma; the dark-clad followers of the Kalam (Sanghârâma) seeing afar-off Bodhisattva approaching, with loud voice raised a joyful chant, and with suppressed breath muttered “Welcome,” as with clasped hands they reverenced him. Approaching one another, they made mutual inquiries; and this being done, with the usual apologies, according to their precedence in age they sat down; the Brahmakârins observing the prince, beheld his personal beauty and carefully considered his appearance; respectfully they satisfied themselves of his high qualities, like those who, thirsty, drink the “pure dew.” Then with raised hands they addressed the prince: “Have you been long an ascetic, divided from your family and broken from the bonds of love, like the elephant who has cast off restraint? Full of wisdom, completely enlightened, you seem well able to escape the poisonous fruit of this world. In old time the monarch Ming Shing gave up his kingly estate to his son, as a man who has carried a flowery wreath, when withered casts it away: but such is not your case, full of youthful vigor, and yet not enamoured with the condition of a holy king; we see that your will is strong and fixed, capable of becoming a vessel of the true law, able to embark in the boat of wisdom, and to cross over the sea of life and death. The common class, enticed to come to learn, their talents first are tested, then they are taught; but as I understand your case, your mind is already fixed and your will firm; and now you have undertaken the purpose of learning, I am persuaded you will not in the end shrink from it.”

The prince hearing this exhortation, with gladness made reply: “You have with equal intention, illustrious! cautioned me with impartial mind; with humble heart I accept the advice, and pray that it may be so with me as you anticipate; that I may in my night-journey obtain a torch, to guide me safely through treacherous places; a handy boat to cross over the sea;—may it be so even now with me! But as I am somewhat in doubt and anxious to learn, I will venture to make known my doubts, and ask, with respect to old age, disease, and death, how are these things to be escaped?”

At this time O-lo-lam hearing the question asked by the prince, briefly from the various Sutras and Sâstras quoted passages in explanation of a way of deliverance. “But thou,” he said, “illustrious youth! so highly gifted, and eminent among the wise! hear what I have to say, as I discourse upon the mode of ending birth and death; nature, and change, birth, old age, and death, these five attributes belong to all; nature is (in itself) pure and without fault; the involution of this with the five elements, causes an awakening and power of perception, which, according to its exercise, is the cause of change; form, sound, order, taste, touch, these are called the five objects of sense; as the hand and foot are called the two ways, so these are called the roots of action (the five skandhas); the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, these are named the roots (instruments) of understanding. The root of mind (manas) is twofold, being both material, and also intelligent; nature by its involutions is the cause, the knower of the cause is I (the soul); Kapila the Rishi and his numerous followers, on this deep principle of soul, practising wisdom (Buddhi), found deliverance. Kapila and now Vâkaspati, by the power of Buddhi perceiving the character of birth, old age, and death, declare that on this is founded true philosophy; whilst all opposed to this, they say, is false. Ignorance and passion, causing constant transmigration, abiding in the midst of these (they say) is the lot of all that lives. Doubting the truth of soul is called excessive doubt, and without distinguishing aright, there can be no method of escape. Deep speculation as to the limits of perception is but to involve the soul; thus unbelief leads to confusion, and ends in differences of thought and conduct. Again, the various speculations on soul, such as ‘I say,’ ‘I know and perceive,’ ‘I come’ and ‘I go,’ or ‘I remain fixed,’ these are called the intricacies of soul. And then the fancies raised in different natures, some saying ‘this is so,’ others denying it, and this condition of uncertainty is called the state of darkness. Then there are those who say that outward things are one with soul, who say that the objective is the same as mind, who confuse intelligence with instruments, who say that number is the soul. Thus not distinguishing aright, these are called excessive quibbles, marks of folly, nature changes, and so on. To worship and recite religious books, to slaughter living things in sacrifice, to render pure by fire and water, and thus awake the thought of final rescue, all these ways of thinking are called without right expedient, the result of ignorance and doubt, by means of word or thought or deed; involving outward relationships, this is called depending on means; making the material world the ground of soul, this is called depending on the senses. By these eight sorts of speculation are we involved in birth and death. The foolish masters of the world make their classifications in these five ways: Darkness, folly, and great folly, angry passion, with timid fear. Indolent coldness is called darkness; birth and death are called folly; lustful desire is great folly; because of great men subjected to error, cherishing angry feelings, passion results; trepidation of the heart is called fear. Thus these foolish men dilate upon the five desires; but the root of the great sorrow of birth and death, the life destined to be spent in the five ways, the cause of the whirl of life, I clearly perceive, is to be placed in the existence of ‘I’; because of the influence of this cause, result the consequences of repeated birth and death; this cause is without any nature of its own, and its fruits have no nature; rightly considering what has been said, there are four matters which have to do with escape, kindling wisdom—opposed to dark ignorance—making manifest—opposed to concealment and obscurity—if these four matters be understood, then we may escape birth, old age, and death. Birth, old age, and death being over, then we attain a final place; the Brahmans all depending on this principle, practising themselves in a pure life, have also largely dilated on it, for the good of the world.”

The prince hearing these words again inquired of Ârâda: “Tell me what are the expedients you name, and what is the final place to which they lead, and what is the character of that pure Brahman life; and again what are the stated periods during which such life must be practised, and during which such life is lawful; all these are principles to be inquired into; and on them I pray you discourse for my sake.”

Then that Ârâda, according to the Sutras and Sâstras, spoke: “Yourself using wisdom is the expedient; but I will further dilate on this a little; first by removing from the crowd and leading a hermit’s life, depending entirely on alms for food, extensively practising rules of decorum, religiously adhering to right rules of conduct; desiring little and knowing when to abstain, receiving whatever is given in food, whether pleasant or otherwise, delighting to practise a quiet life, diligently studying all the Sûtras and Sâstras; observing the character of covetous longing and fear, without remnant of desire to live in purity, to govern well the organs of life, the mind quieted and silently at rest; removing desire, and hating vice, all the sorrows of life put away, then there is happiness; and we obtain the enjoyment of the first dhyâna.1 Having obtained this first dhyâna, then with the illumination thus obtained, by inward meditation is born reliance on thought alone, and the entanglements of folly are put away; the mind depending on this, then after death, born in the Brahma heavens, the enlightened are able to know themselves; by the use of means is produced further inward illumination; diligently persevering, seeking higher advance, accomplishing the second dhyâna, tasting of that great joy, we are born in the Kwong-yin heaven; then by the use of means putting away this delight, practising the third dhyâna, resting in such delight and wishing no further excellence, there is a birth in the Subhakritsna heaven; leaving the thought of such delight, straightway we reach the fourth dhyâna, all joys and sorrows done away, the thought of escape produced; we dwell in this fourth dhyâna, and are born in the Vrihat-phala heaven; because of its long enduring years, it is thus called Vrihat-phala (extensive-fruit); whilst in that state of abstraction rising higher, perceiving there is a place beyond any bodily condition, adding still and persevering further in practising wisdom, rejecting this fourth dhyâna, firmly resolved to persevere in the search, still contriving to put away every desire after form, gradually from every pore of the body there is perceived a feeling of empty release, and in the end this extends to every solid part, so that the whole is perfected in an apprehension of emptiness. In brief, perceiving no limits to this emptiness, there is opened to the view boundless knowledge. Endowed with inward rest and peace, the idea of ‘I’ departs, and the object of ‘I’—clearly discriminating the non-existence of matter, this is the condition of immaterial life. As the Muñga (grass) when freed from its horny case, or as the wild bird which escapes from its prison trap, so, getting away from all material limitations, we thus find perfect release. Thus ascending above the Brahmans, deprived of every vestige of bodily existence, we still endure. Endued with wisdom! let it be known this is real and true deliverance. You ask what are the expedients for obtaining this escape; even as I have before detailed, those who have deep faith will learn. The Rishis Gaigîshavya, Ganaka, Vriddha Parâsara, and other searchers after truth, all by the way I have explained, have reached true deliverance.”

The prince hearing these words, deeply pondering on the outline of these principles, and reaching back to the influences produced by our former lives, again asked with further words: “I have heard your very excellent system of wisdom, the principles very subtle and deep-reaching, from which I learn that because of not ‘letting go’ (by knowledge as a cause), we do not reach the end of the religious life; but by understanding nature in its involutions, then, you say, we obtain deliverance; I perceive this law of birth has also concealed in it another law as a germ; you say that the ‘I’ (i.e. the soul of Kapila) being rendered pure, forthwith there is true deliverance; but if we encounter a union of cause and effect, then there is a return to the trammels of birth; just as the germ in the seed, when earth, fire, water, and wind seem to have destroyed in it the principle of life, meeting with favorable concomitant circumstances will yet revive, without any evident cause, but because of desire; so those who have gained this supposed release, likewise keeping the idea of ‘I’ and living things, have in fact gained no final deliverance; in every condition, letting go the three classes and again reaching the three excellent qualities, because of the eternal existence of soul, by the subtle influences of that (influences resulting from the past), the heart lets go the idea of expedients, and obtains an almost endless duration of years. This, you say, is true release; you say ‘letting go the ground on which the idea of soul rests,’ that this frees us from ‘limited existence,’ and that the mass of people have not yet removed the idea of soul, and are therefore still in bondage. But what is this letting go gunas (cords fettering the soul); if one is fettered by these gunas, how can there be release? For gunî (the object) and guna (the quality) in idea are different, but in substance one; if you say that you can remove the properties of a thing and leave the thing by arguing it to the end, this is not so. If you remove heat from fire, then there is no such thing as fire, or if you remove surface from body, what body can remain? Thus guna is as it were surface, remove this and there can be no gunî. So that this deliverance, spoken of before, must leave a body yet in bonds. Again, you say that by clear knowledge you get rid of body; there is then such a thing as knowledge or the contrary; if you affirm the existence of clear knowledge, then there should be someone who possesses it (i.e. possesses this knowledge); if there be a possesor, how can there be deliverance from this personal ‘I’? If you say there is no ‘knower,’ then who is it that is spoken of as ‘knowing’? If there is knowledge and no person, then the subject of knowledge may be a stone or a log; moreover, to have clear knowledge of these minute causes of contamination and reject them thoroughly, these being so rejected, there must be an end, then, of the ‘doer.’ What Ârâda has declared cannot satisfy my heart. This clear knowledge is not universal wisdom, I must go on and seek a better explanation.”

Going on then to the place of Udra Rishi, he also expatiated on this question of “I.” But although he refined the matter to the utmost, laying down a term of “thought” and “no thought” taking the position of removing “thought” and “no thought,” yet even so he came not out of the mire; for supposing creatures attained that state, still (he said) there is a possibility of returning to the coil, whilst Bodhisattva sought a method of getting out of it. So once more leaving Udra Rishi, he went on in search of a better system, and came at last to Mount Kia-ke (the forest of mortification), where was a town called Pain-suffering forest. Here the five Bhikshus had gone before. When then he beheld these five, virtuously keeping in check their senses, holding to the rules of moral conduct, practising mortification, dwelling in that grove of mortification; occupying a spot beside the Nairañgana river, perfectly composed and filled with contentment, Bodhisattva forthwith by them selecting one spot, quietly gave himself to thought. The five Bhikshus knowing him with earnest heart to be seeking escape, offered him their services with devotion, as if reverencing Isvara Deva.

Having finished their attentions and dutiful services, then going on he took his seat not far off, as one about to enter on a course of religious practice, composing all his members as he desired. Bodhisattva diligently applied himself to “means,” as one about to cross over old age, disease, and death. With full purpose of heart he set himself to endure mortification, to restrain every bodily passion, and give up thought about sustenance, with purity of heart to observe the fast-rules, which no worldly man can bear; silent and still, lost in thoughtful meditation; and so for six years he continued, each day eating one hemp grain, his bodily form shrunken and attenuated, seeking how to cross the sea of birth and death, exercising himself still deeper and advancing further; making his way perfect by the disentanglements of true wisdom, not eating, and yet not looking to that as a cause of emancipation, his four members although exceedingly weak, his heart of wisdom increasing yet more and more in light; his spirit free, his body light and refined, his name spreading far and wide, as “highly gifted,” even as the moon when first produced, or as the Kumuda flower spreading out its sweetness. Everywhere through the country his excellent fame extended; the daughters of the lord of the place both coming to see him, his mortified body like a withered branch, just completing the period of six years, fearing the sorrow of birth and death, seeking earnestly the method of true wisdom, he came to the conviction that these were not the means to extinguish desire and produce ecstatic contemplation; nor yet the means by which in former time, seated underneath the Gambu tree, he arrived at that miraculous condition, that surely was the proper way, he thought, the way opposed to this of “withered body.”

“I should therefore rather seek strength of body, by drink and food refresh my members, and with contentment cause my mind to rest. My mind at rest, I shall enjoy silent composure; composure is the trap for getting ecstasy (dhyâna); while in ecstasy perceiving the true law, then the force of truth obtained, disentanglement will follow. And thus composed, enjoying perfect quiet, old age and death are put away; and then defilement is escaped by this first means; thus then by equal steps the excellent law results from life restored by food and drink.”

Having carefully considered this principle, bathing in the Nairañgana river, he desired afterwards to leave the water, but owing to extreme exhaustion was unable to rise; then a heavenly spirit holding out a branch, taking this in his hand he raised himself and came forth. At this time on the opposite side of the grove there was a certain chief herdsman, whose eldest daughter was called Nandâ. One of the Suddhavâsa Devas addressing her said, “Bodhisattva dwells in the grove, go you then, and present to him a religious offering.”

Nandâ Balada (or Balaga or Baladhya) with joy came to the spot, above her hands (i.e. on her wrists) white chalcedony bracelets, her clothing of a gray color; the gray and the white together contrasted in the light, as the colors of the rounded river bubble; with simple heart and quickened step she came, and, bowing down at Bodhisattva’s feet, she reverently offered him perfumed rice milk, begging him of his condescension to accept it. Bodhisattva taking it, partook of it at once, whilst she received, even then, the fruits of her religious act. Having eaten it, all his members refreshed, he became capable of receiving Bodhi; his body and limbs glistening with renewed strength, and his energies swelling higher still, as the hundred streams swell the sea, or the first quartered moon daily increases in brightness. The five Bhikshus having witnessed this, perturbed, were filled with suspicious reflection; they supposed that his religious zeal was flagging, and that he was leaving and looking for a better abode, as though he had obtained deliverance, the five elements entirely removed.

Bodhisattva wandered on alone, directing his course to that “fortunate” tree,2 beneath whose shade he might accomplish his search after complete enlightenment. Over the ground wide and level, producing soft and pliant grass, easily he advanced with lion step, pace by pace, whilst the earth shook withal; and as it shook, Kâla nâga aroused, was filled with joy, as his eyes were opened to the light. Forthwith he exclaimed: “When formerly I saw the Buddhas of old, there was the sign of an earthquake as now; the virtues of a Muni are so great in majesty, that the great earth cannot endure them; as step by step his foot treads upon the ground, so is there heard the sound of the rumbling earth-shaking; a brilliant light now illumes the world, as the shining of the rising sun; five hundred bluish-tinted birds I see, wheeling round to the right, flying through space; a gentle, soft, and cooling breeze blows around in an agreeable way; all these auspicious signs are the same as those of former Buddhas; wherefore I know that this Bodhisattva will certainly arrive at perfect wisdom. And now, behold! from yonder man, a grass cutter, he obtains some pure and pliant grass, which spreading out beneath the tree, with upright body, there he takes his seat; his feet placed under him, not carelessly arranged, moving to and fro, but like the firmly fixed and compact body of a Nâga; nor shall he rise again from off his seat till he has completed his undertaking.” And so he (the Nâga) uttered these words by way of confirmation. The heavenly Nâgas, filled with joy, caused a cool refreshing breeze to rise; the trees and grass were yet unmoved by it, and all the beasts, quiet and silent, looked on in wonderment.

These are the signs that Bodhisattva will certainly attain enlightenment.

  1. The dhyânas are the conditions of ecstasy, enjoyed by the inhabitants of the Brahmaloka heavens.

  2. The “fortunate tree,” the tree “of good omen,” the Bodhi tree.

Subscribe to The Empty Robot

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox

Spread the word: