The Great Disciple Becomes a Hermit

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

At this time Bimbisâra Râga, bowing his head, requested the honored of the world to change his place of abode for the bamboo grove; graciously accepting it, Buddha remained silent. Then the king, having perceived the truth, offered his adoration and returned to his palace. The world-honored, with the great congregation, proceeded on foot, to rest for awhile in the bamboo garden. There he dwelt to convert all that breathed, to kindle once for all the lamp of wisdom, to establish Brahma and the Devas, and to confirm the lives of saints and sages. At this time Asvagit and Vâshpa, with heart composed and every sense subdued, the time having come for begging food, entered into the town of Râgagriha. Unrivalled in the world were they for grace of person, and in dignity of carriage excelling all. The lords and ladies of the city seeing them, were filled with joy; those who were walking stood still, those before waited, those behind hastened on. Now the Rishi Kapila amongst all his numerous disciples had one of wide-spread fame, whose name was Sâriputra; he, beholding the wonderful grace of the Bhikshus, their composed mien and subdued senses, their dignified walk and carriage, raising his hands, inquiring, said: “Young in years, but pure and graceful in appearance, such as I before have never seen. What law most excellent have you obeyed? and who your master that has taught you? and what the doctrine you have learned? Tell me, I pray you, and relieve my doubts.” Then of the Bhikshus, one, rejoicing at his question, with pleasing air and gracious words, replied: “The omniscient, born of the Ikshvâku family, the very first ‘midst gods and men, this one is my great master. I am indeed but young, the sun of wisdom has but just arisen, how can I then explain the master’s doctrine? Its meaning is deep and very hard to understand, but now, according to my poor wisdom, I will recount in brief the master’s doctrine:—‘Whatever things exist all spring from cause, the principles of birth and death may be destroyed, the way is by the means he has declared.‘” Then the twice-born Upata, embracing heartily what he had heard, put from him all sense-pollution, and obtained the pure eyes of the law. The former explanations he had trusted, respecting cause and what was not the cause that there was nothing that was made, but was made by Isvara; all this, now that he had heard the rule of true causation, understanding the wisdom of the no-self, adding thereto the knowledge of the minute dust troubles, which can never be overcome in their completeness but by the teaching of Tathâgata, all this he now forever put away; leaving no room for thought of self, the thought of self will disappear. Who, when the brightness of the sun gives light, would call for the dimness of the lamp? for, like the severing the lotus, the stem once cut, the pods will also die. “So Buddha’s teaching cutting off the stem of sorrow, no seeds are left to grow or lead to further increase.” Then bowing at the Bhikshu’s feet, with grateful mien, he wended homewards. The Bhikshus after having begged their food, likewise went back to the bamboo grove. Sâriputra on his arrival home rested with joyful face and full of peace. His friend, the honored Mugalin, equally renowned for learning, seeing Sâriputra in the distance, his pleasing air and lightsome step, spoke thus:—“As I now see thee, there is an unusual look I notice; your former nature seems quite changed, the signs of happiness I now observe, all indicate the possession of eternal truth: these marks are not uncaused.” Answering he said: “The words of the Tathâgata are such as never yet were spoken,” and then, requested, he declared what he had heard. Hearing the words and understanding them, he too put off the world’s defilement, and gained the eyes of true religion, the reward of a long-planted virtuous cause; and, as one sees by a lamp that comes to hand, so he obtained an unmoved faith in Buddha; and now they both set out for Buddha’s presence, with a large crowd of followers. Buddha seeing the two worthies coming, thus spoke to his disciples:—“These two men who come shall be my two most eminent followers, one unsurpassed for wisdom, the other for powers miraculous.” And then with Brahma’s voice, profound and sweet, he forthwith bade them “Welcome!” Here is the pure and peaceful law, he said; here the end of all discipleship! Their hands grasping the triple-staff, their twisted hair holding the water-vessel, hearing the words of Buddha’s welcome, they forthwith changed into complete Sramanas; the leaders two and all their followers, assuming the complete appearance of Bhikshus, with prostrate forms fell down at Buddha’s feet, then rising, sat beside him, and with obedient heart listening to the word, they all became Arhats. At this time there was a twice-born sage, Kâsyapa Shi-ming-teng, celebrated and perfect in person, rich in possessions, and his wife most virtuous. But all this he had left and become a hermit, seeking the way of salvation. And now in the way by the To-tseu tower he suddenly encountered Sâkya Muni, remarkable for his dignified and illustrious appearance, as the embroidered flag of a temple. Respectfully and reverently approaching, with head bowed down, he worshipped his feet, whilst he said: “Truly, honored one, you are my teacher, and I am your follower: much and long time have I been harassed with doubts, oh! would that you would light the lamp of knowledge.” Buddha knowing that this twice-born sage was heartily desirous of finding the best mode of escape, with soft and pliant voice, he bade him come and welcome. Hearing his bidding and his heart complying, losing all listlessness of body or spirit, his soul embraced the terms of this most excellent salvation. Quiet and calm, putting away defilement, the great merciful, as he alone knew how, briefly explained the mode of this deliverance, exhibiting the secrets of his law, ending with the four indestructible acquirements. The great sage, everywhere celebrated, was called Mahâ Kâsyapa. His original faith was that “body and soul are different,” but he had also held that they are the same; that there was both “I” and a place for “I”; but now he forever cast away his former faith, and considered only that “sorrow” is ever accumulating; so by removing sorrow there will be “no remains”; obedience to the precepts and the practice of discipline, though not themselves the cause, yet he considered these the necessary mode by which to find deliverance. With equal and impartial mind, he considered the nature of sorrow, for evermore freed from a cleaving heart. Whether we think “this is” or “this is not” he thought, both tend to produce a listless, idle mode of life. But when with equal mind we see the truth, then certainty is produced and no more doubt. If we rely for support on wealth or form, then wild confusion and concupiscence result: inconstant and impure. But lust and covetous desire removed, the heart of love and equal thoughts produced, there can be then no enemies or friends, but the heart is pitiful and kindly disposed to all, and thus is destroyed the power of anger and of hate. Trusting to outward things and their relationships, then crowding thoughts of every kind are gendered. Reflecting well, and crushing out confusing thought, then lust for pleasure is destroyed. Though born in the Arûpa world he saw that there would be a remnant of life still left; unacquainted with the four right truths, he had felt an eager longing for this deliverance, for the quiet resulting from the absence of all thought. And now putting away forever covetous desire for such a formless state of being, his restless heart was agitated still, as the stream is excited by the rude wind. Then entering on deep reflection in quiet he subdued his troubled mind, and realized the truth of there being no “self,” and that therefore birth and death are no realities; but beyond this point he rose not: his thought of “self” destroyed, all else was lost. But now the lamp of wisdom lit, the gloom of every doubt dispersed, he saw an end to that which seemed without an end; ignorance finally dispelled, he considered the ten points of excellence; the ten seeds of sorrow destroyed, he came once more to life, and what he ought to do, he did. And now regarding with reverence the face of his lord, he put away the three and gained the three; so were there three disciples in addition to the three; and as the three stars range around the Trayastrimsas heaven, waiting upon the three and five, so the three wait on Buddha.

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