Interview between Father and Son

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

Buddha in the Magadha country employing himself in converting all kinds of unbelievers, entirely changed them by the one and self-same law he preached, even as the sun drowns with its brightness all the stars. Then leaving the city of the five mountains with the company of his thousand disciples, and with a great multitude who went before and came after him, he advanced towards the Ni-kin mountain, near Kapilavastu; and there he conceived in himself a generous purpose to prepare an offering according to his religious doctrine to present to his father, the king. And now, in anticipation of his coming, the royal teacher and the chief minister had sent forth certain officers and their attendants to observe on the right hand and the left what was taking place; and they soon espied him (Buddha) as he advanced or halted on the way. Knowing that Buddha was now returning to his country they hastened back and quickly announced the tidings, “The prince who wandered forth afar to obtain enlightenment, having fulfilled his aim, is now coming back.” The king hearing the news was greatly rejoiced, and forthwith went out with his gaudy equipage to meet his son; and the whole body of gentry belonging to the country, went forth with him in his company. Gradually advancing he beheld Buddha from afar, his marks of beauty sparkling with splendor twofold greater than of yore; placed in the middle of the great congregation he seemed to be even as Brahma râga. Descending from his chariot and advancing with dignity, the king was anxious lest there should be any religious difficulty in the way of instant recognition; and now beholding his beauty he inwardly rejoiced, but his mouth found no words to utter. He reflected, too, how that he was still dwelling among the unconverted throng, whilst his son had advanced and become a saint; and although he was his son, yet as he now occupied the position of a religious lord, he knew not by what name to address him. Furthermore he thought with himself how he had long ago desired earnestly this interview, which now had happened unawares. Meantime his son in silence took a seat, perfectly composed and with unchanged countenance. Thus for some time sitting opposite each other, with no expression of feeling the king reflected thus, “How desolate and sad does he now make my heart, as that of a man, who, fainting, longs for water, upon the road espies a fountain pure and cold; with haste he speeds towards it and longs to drink, when suddenly the spring dries up and disappears. Thus, now I see my son, his well-known features as of old; but how estranged his heart! and how his manner high and lifted up! There are no grateful outflowings of soul, his feelings seem unwilling to express themselves; cold and vacant there he sits; and like a thirsty man before a dried-up fountain so am I.”

Still distant thus they sat, with crowding thoughts rushing through the mind, their eyes full met, but no responding joy; each looking at the other, seemed as one thinking of a distant friend who gazes by accident upon his pictured form. “That you,” the king reflected, “who of right might rule the world, even as that Mândhâtri râga, should now go begging here and there your food! what joy or charm has such a life as this? Composed and firm as Sumeru, with marks of beauty bright as the sunlight, with dignity of step like the ox king, fearless as any lion, and yet receiving not the tribute of the world, but begging food sufficient for your body’s nourishment!”

Buddha, knowing his father’s mind, still kept to his own filial purpose. And then to open out his mind, and moved with pity for the multitude of people, by his miraculous power he rose in mid-air and with his hands appeared to grasp the sun and moon. Then he walked to and fro in space, and underwent all kinds of transformation, dividing his body into many parts, then joining all in one again. Treading firm on water as on dry land, entering the earth as in the water, passing through walls of stone without impediment, from the right side and the left water and fire produced! The king, his father, filled with joy, now dismissed all thought of son and father; then upon a lotus throne, seated in space, he (Buddha) for his father’s sake declared the law:—

“I know that the king’s heart is full of love and recollection, and that for his son’s sake he adds grief to grief; but now let the bands of love that bind him, thinking of his son, be instantly unloosed and utterly destroyed. Ceasing from thoughts of love, let your calmed mind receive from me, your son, religious nourishment such as no son has offered yet to father: such do I present to you the king, my father. And what no father yet has from a son received, now from your son you may accept, a gift miraculous for any mortal king to enjoy, and seldom had by any heavenly king! The way superlative of life immortal I offer now the Mahârâga; from accumulated deeds comes birth, and as the result of deeds comes recompense. Knowing then that deeds bring fruit, how diligent should you be to rid yourself of worldly deeds! how careful that in the world your deeds should be only good and gentle! Fondly affected by relationship or firmly bound by mutual ties of love, at end of life the soul goes forth alone—then, only our good deeds befriend us. Whirled in the five ways of the wheel of life, three kinds of deeds produce three kinds of birth, and these are caused by lustful hankering, each kind different in its character. Deprive these of their power by the practice now of proper deeds of body and of word; by such right preparation, day and night strive to get rid of all confusion of the mind and practise silent contemplation; only this brings profit in the end, besides this there is no reality; for be sure! the three worlds are but as the froth and bubble of the sea. Would you have pleasure, or would you practise that which brings it near? then prepare yourself by deeds that bring the fourth birth: but still the five ways in the wheel of birth and death are like the uncertain wandering of the stars; for heavenly beings too must suffer change: how shall we find with men a hope of constancy; Nirvâna! that is the chief rest; composure! that the best of all enjoyments! The five indulgences enjoyed by mortal kings are fraught with danger and distress, like dwelling with a poisonous snake; what pleasure, for a moment, can there be in such a case? The wise man sees the world as compassed round with burning flames; he fears always, nor can he rest till he has banished, once for all, birth, age, and death. Infinitely quiet is the place where the wise man finds his abode; no need of arms or weapons there! no elephants or horses, chariots or soldiers there! Subdued the power of covetous desire and angry thoughts and ignorance, there’s nothing left in the wide world to conquer! Knowing what sorrow is, he cuts away the cause of sorrow. This destroyed, by practising right means, rightly enlightened in the four true principles, he casts off fear and escapes the evil ways of birth.”

The king when first he saw his wondrous spiritual power of miracle rejoiced in heart; but now his feelings deeply affected by the joy of hearing truth, he became a perfect vessel for receiving true religion, and with clasped hands he breathed forth his praise: “Wonderful indeed! the fruit of your resolve completed thus! Wonderful indeed! the overwhelming sorrow passed away! Wonderful indeed, this gain to me! At first my sorrowing heart was heavy, but now my sorrow has brought forth only profit! Wonderful indeed! for now, to-day, I reap the full fruit of a begotten son. It was right he should reject the choice pleasures of a monarch, it was right he should so earnestly and with diligence practise penance; it was right he should cast off his family and kin; it was right he should cut off every feeling of love and affection. The old Rishi kings boasting of their penance gained no merit; but you, living in a peaceful, quiet place, have done all and completed all; yourself at rest now you give rest to others, moved by your mighty sympathy for all that lives! If you had kept your first estate with men, and as a Kakravartin monarch ruled the world, possessing then no self-depending power of miracle, how could my soul have then received deliverance? Then there would have been no excellent law declared, causing me such joy to-day; no! had you been a universal sovereign, the bonds of birth and death would still have been unsevered, but now you have escaped from birth and death; the great pain of transmigration overcome, you are able, for the sake of every creature, widely to preach the law of life immortal, and to exhibit thus your power miraculous, and show the deep and wide power of wisdom; the grief of birth and death eternally destroyed, you now have risen far above both gods and men. You might have kept the holy state of a Kakravartin monarch; but no such good as this would have resulted.” Thus his words of praise concluded, filled with increased reverence and religious love, he who occupied the honored place of a royal father, bowed down respectfully and did obeisance. Then all the people of the kingdom, beholding Buddha’s miraculous power, and having heard the deep and excellent law, seeing, moreover, the king’s grave reverence, with clasped hands bowed down and worshipped. Possessed with deep portentous thoughts, satiated with sorrows attached to lay-life, they all conceived a wish to leave their homes. The princes, too, of the Sâkya tribe, their minds enlightened to perceive the perfect fruit of righteousness, entirely satiated with the glittering joys of the world, forsaking home, rejoiced to join his company. Ânanda, Nanda, Kin-pi, Anuruddha, Nandupananda, with Kundadana, all these principal nobles and others of the Sâkya family, from the teaching of Buddha became disciples and accepted the law. The sons of the great minister of state, Udâyin being the chief, with all the royal princes following in order became recluses. Moreover, the son of Atalî, whose name was Upâli, seeing all these princes and the sons of the chief minister becoming hermits, his mind opening for conversion, he, too, received the law of renunciation. The royal father seeing his son possessing the great qualities of Riddhi, himself entered on the calm flowings of thought, the gate of the true law of eternal life. Leaving his kingly estate and country, lost in meditation, he drank sweet dew. Practising his religious duties in solitude, silent and contemplative he dwelt in his palace, a royal Rishi. Tathâgata following a peaceable life, recognized fully by his tribe, repeating the joyful news of religion, gladdened the hearts of all his kinsmen hearing him. And now, it being the right time for begging food, he entered the Kapila country; in the city all the lords and ladies, in admiration, raised this chant of praise: “Siddhârtha! fully enlightened! has come back again!” The news flying quickly in and out of doors, the great and small came forth to see him; every door and every window crowded, climbing on shoulders, bending down the eyes, they gazed upon the marks of beauty on his person, shining and glorious! Wearing his Kashâya garment outside, the glory of his person from within shone forth, like the sun’s perfect wheel; within, without, he seemed one mass of splendor. Those who beheld were filled with sympathizing joy; their hands conjoined, they wept for gladness; and so they watched him as he paced with dignity the road, his form collected, all his organs well-controlled! His lovely body exhibiting the perfection of religious beauty, his dignified compassion adding to their regretful joy; his shaven head, his personal beauty sacrificed! his body clad in dark and sombre vestment, his manner natural and plain, his unadorned appearance; his circumspection as he looked upon the earth in walking! “He who ought to have had held over him the feather-shade,” they said, “whose hands should grasp ‘the reins of the flying dragon,’ see how he walks in daylight on the dusty road! holding his alms-dish, going to beg! Gifted enough to tread down every enemy, lovely enough to gladden woman’s heart, with glittering vesture and with godlike crown reverenced he might have been by servile crowds! But now, his manly beauty hidden, with heart restrained, and outward form subdued, rejecting the much-coveted and glorious apparel, his shining body clad with garments gray, what aim, what object, now! Hating the five delights that move the world, forsaking virtuous wife and tender child, loving the solitude, he wanders friendless; hard, indeed, for virtuous wife through the long night, cherishing her grief; and now to hear he is a hermit! She inquires not now of the royal Suddhodana if he has seen his son or not! But as she views his beauteous person, to think his altered form is now a hermit’s! hating his home, still full of love; his father, too, what rest for him! And then his loving child Râhula, weeping with constant sorrowful desire! And now to see no change, or heart-relenting; and this the end of such enlightenment! All these attractive marks, the proofs of a religious calling, whereas, when born, all said, these are marks of a ‘great man,’ who ought to receive tribute from the four seas! And now to see what he has come to! all these predictive words vain and illusive.”

Thus they talked together, the gossiping multitude, with confused accents. Tathâgata, his heart unaffected, felt no joy and no regret. But he was moved by equal love to all the world, his one desire that men should escape the grief of lust; to cause the root of virtue to increase, and for the sake of coming ages, to leave the marks of self-denial behind him, to dissipate the clouds and mists of sensual desire.

He entered, thus intentioned, on the town to beg. He accepted food both good or bad, whatever came, from rich or poor, without distinction; having filled his alms-dish, he then returned back to the solitude.

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