Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

When Buddha went towards the place of his Nirvâna, the city of Vaisâli was as if deserted, as when upon a dark and cloudy night the moon and stars withdraw their shining. The land that heretofore had peace, was now afflicted and distressed; as when a loving father dies, the orphan daughter yields to constant grief. Her personal grace unheeded, her clever skill but lightly thought of, with stammering lips she finds expression for her thoughts; how poor her brilliant wit and wisdom now! Her spiritual powers ill regulated without attractiveness, her loving heart faint and fickle, exalted high but without strength, and all her native grace neglected; such was the case at Vaisâli; all outward show now fallen, like autumn verdure in the fields bereft of water, withered up and dry; or like the smoke of a half-smouldering fire, or like those who having food before them yet forget to eat, so these forgot their common household duties, and nought prepared they for the day’s emergencies. Thinking thus on Buddha, lost in deep reflection, silent they sat nor spoke a word. And now the lion Likkhavis manfully enduring their great sorrow, with flowing tears and doleful sighs, signifying thereby their love of kindred, destroyed forever all their books of heresy, to show their firm adherence to the true law. Having put down all heresy, they left it once for all; severed from the world and the world’s doctrines, convinced that non-continuance was the great disease. Moreover thus they thought: “The lord of men now enters the great quiet place (Nirvâna), and we are left without support, and with no saviour; the highest lord of ‘means’ is now about to extinguish all his glory in the final place of death. Now we indeed have lost our steadfast will, as fire deprived of fuel; greatly to be pitied is the world, now that the lord gives up his world-protecting office, even as a man bereft of spiritual power throughout the world is greatly pitied. Oppressed by heat we seek the cooling lake, nipped by the cold we use the fire; but in a moment all is lost, the world is left without resource; the excellent law, indeed, is left, to frame the world anew, as a metal-caster frames anew his work. The world has lost its master-guide, and, men bereaved of him, the way is lost; old age, disease, and death, self-sufficient, now that the road is missed, pervade the world without a way. What is there now throughout the world equal to overcome the springs of these great sorrows? The great cloud’s rain alone can make the raging and excessive fire, that burns the world, go out. So only he can make the raging fire of covetous desire go out; and now he, the skilful maker of comparisons, has firmly fixed his mind to leave the world! And why, again, is the sword of wisdom, ever ready to be used for an uninvited friend, only like the draught of wine given to him about to undergo the torture and to die? Deluded by false knowledge the mass of living things are only born to die again; as the sharp knife divides the wood, so constant change divides the world. The gloom of ignorance like the deep water, lust like the rolling billow, sorrow like the floating bubbles, false views like the Makara fish, amidst all these the ship of wisdom only can carry us across the mighty sea. The mass of ills are like the flowers of the sorrow-tree, old age and all its griefs, the tangled boughs; death the tree’s tap-root, deeds done in life the buds, the diamond sword of wisdom only strong enough to cut down the mundane tree! Ignorance the burning-glass, covetous desire the scorching rays, the objects of the five desires the dry grass, wisdom alone the water to put out the fire. The perfect law, surpassing every law, having destroyed the gloom of ignorance, we see the straight road leading to quietness and rest, the end of every grief and sorrow. And now the loving one, converting men, impartial in his thoughts to friend or foe, the all-knowing, perfectly instructed, even he is going to leave the world! He with his soft and finely modulated voice, his compact body and broad shoulders, he, the great Rishi, ends his life! Who then can claim exemption? Enlightened, now he quickly passes hence! let us therefore seek with earnestness the truth, even as a man meets with the stream beside the road, then drinks and passes on. Inconstancy, this is the dreaded enemy—the universal destroyer—sparing neither rich nor poor; rightly perceiving this and keeping it in mind, this man, though sleeping, yet is the only ever-wakeful.”

Thus the Likkhavi lions, ever mindful of the Buddha’s wisdom, disquieted with the pain of birth and death, sighed forth their fond remembrance of the man-lion. Retaining in their minds no love of worldly things, aiming to rise above the power of every lustful quality, subduing in their hearts the thought of light or trivial matters, training their thoughts to seek the quiet, peaceful place; diligently practising the rules of unselfish, charitable conduct; putting away all listlessness, they found their joy in quietness and seclusion, meditating only on religious truth. And now the all-wise, turning his body round with a lion-turn, once more gazed upon Vaisâli, and uttered this farewell verse:—

“Now this, the last time this, I leave Vaisâli—the land where heroes live and flourish! Now am I going to die.” Then gradually advancing, stage by stage he came to Bhoga-nagara, and there he rested in the Sâla grove, where he instructed all his followers in the precepts:—

“Now having gone on high I shall enter on Nirvana: ye must rely upon the law—this is your highest, strongest, vantage ground. What is not found in Sûtra, or what disagrees with rules of Vinaya, opposing the one true system of my doctrine, this must not be held by you. What opposes Dharma, what opposes Vinaya, or what is contrary to my words, this is the result of ignorance: ye must not hold such doctrine, but with haste reject it. Receiving that which has been said aright, this is not subversive of true doctrine, this is what I have said, as the Dharma and Vinaya say. Accepting that which I, the law, and the Vinaya declare, this is to be believed. But words which neither I, the law, nor the Vinaya declare, these are not to be believed. Not gathering the true and hidden meaning, but closely holding to the letter, this is the way of foolish teachers, but contrary to my doctrine and a false way of teaching. Not separating the true from false, accepting in the dark without discrimination, is like a shop where gold and its alloys are sold together, justly condemned by all the world. The foolish masters, practising the ways of superficial wisdom, grasp not the meaning of the truth; but to receive the law as it explains itself, this is to accept the highest mode of exposition. Ye ought, therefore, thus to investigate true principles, to consider well the true law and the Vinaya, even as the goldsmith does who melts and strikes and then selects the true. Not to know the Sûtras and the Sâstras, this is to be devoid of wisdom; not saying properly that which is proper, is like doing that which is not fit to see. Let all be done in right and proper order, according as the meaning of the sentence guides, for he who grasps a sword unskilfully, does but inflict a wound upon his hand. Not skilfully to handle words and sentences, the meaning then is hard to know; as in the night-time travelling and seeking for a house, if all be dark within, how difficult to find. Losing the meaning, then the law is disregarded, disregarding the law the mind becomes confused; therefore every wise and prudent master neglects not to discover the true and faithful meaning.”

Having spoken these words respecting the precepts of religion, he advanced to the town of Pâvâ, where all the Mallas prepared for him religious offerings of every kind. At this time a certain householder’s son whose name was Kunda, invited Buddha to his house, and there he gave him, as an offering, his very last repast. Having partaken of it and declared the law, he onward went to the town of Kusi, crossing the river Tsae-kieuh and the Hiranyavati. Then in that Sâla grove, a place of quiet and seclusion, he took his seat: entering the golden river he bathed his body, in appearance like a golden mountain. Then he spake his bidding thus to Ânanda: “Between those twin Sâla trees, sweeping and watering, make a clean space, and then arrange my sitting-mat. At midnight coming, I shall die.”

Ânanda hearing the bidding of his master, his breath was choked with heart-sadness; but going and weeping he obeyed the instruction, and spreading out the mat he came forthwith back to his master and acquainted him. Tathâgata having lain down with his head towards the north and on his right side, slept thus. Resting upon his hand as on a pillow with his feet crossed, even as a lion-king; all grief is passed, his last-born body from this one sleep shall never rise. His followers round him, in a circle gathered, sigh dolefully: “The eye of the world is now put out!” The wind is hushed, the forest streams are silent, no voice is heard of bird or beast. The trees sweat out large flowing drops, flowers and leaves out of season singly fall, whilst men and Devas, not yet free from desire, are filled with overwhelming fear. Thus were they like men wandering through the arid desert, the road full dangerous, who fail to reach the longed-for hamlet; full of fear they go on still, dreading they might not find it, their heart borne down with fear they faint and droop. And now Tathâgata, aroused from sleep, addressed Ânanda thus: “Go! tell the Mallas, the time of my decease is come; they, if they see me not, will ever grieve and suffer deep regret.” Ânanda listening to the bidding of his master, weeping went along the road. And then he told those Mallas all—“The lord is near to death.” The Mallas hearing it, were filled with great, excessive grief. The men and women hurrying forth, bewailing as they went, came to the spot where Buddha was; with garments torn and hair dishevelled, covered with dust and sweat they came. With piteous cries they reached the grove, as when a Deva’s day of merit comes to an end, so did they bow weeping and adoring at the feet of Buddha, grieving to behold his failing strength. Tathâgata, composed and quiet, spake: “Grieve not! the time is one for joy; no call for sorrow or for anguish here; that which for ages I have aimed at, now am I just about to obtain; delivered now from the narrow bounds of sense, I go to the place of never-ending rest and peace. I leave these things, earth, water, fire, and air, to rest secure where neither birth nor death can come. Eternally delivered there from grief, oh! tell me! why should I be sorrowful? Of yore on Sirsha’s mount, I longed to rid me of this body, but to fulfil my destiny I have remained till now with men in the world; I have kept this sickly, crumbling body, as dwelling with a poisonous snake; but now I am come to the great resting-place, all springs of sorrow now forever stopped. No more shall I receive a body, all future sorrow now forever done away; it is not meet for you, on my account, for evermore, to encourage any anxious fear.”

The Mallas hearing Buddha’s words, that he was now about to die, their minds confused, their eyes bedimmed, as if they saw before them nought but blackness, with hands conjoined, spake thus to Buddha: “Buddha is leaving now the pain of birth and death, and entering on the eternal joy of rest; doubtless we ought to rejoice thereat. Even as when a house is burnt a man rejoices if his friends are saved from out the flames; the gods! perhaps they rejoice—then how much more should men! But—when Tathâgata has gone and living things no more may see him, eternally cut off from safety and deliverance—in thought of this we grieve and sorrow. Like as a band of merchants crossing with careful steps a desert, with only a single guide, suddenly he dies! Those merchants now without a protector, how can they but lament! The present age, coming to know their true case, has found the omniscient, and looked to him, but yet has not obtained the final conquest; how will the world deride! Even as it would laugh at one who, walking o’er a mountain full of treasure, yet ignorant thereof, hugs still the pain of poverty.”

So spake the Mallas, and with tearful words excuse themselves to Buddha, even as an only child pleads piteously before a loving father. Buddha then, with speech most excellent, exhibited and declared the highest principle of truth, and thus addressed the Mallas:—

“In truth, ‘tis as you say; seeking the way, you must exert yourselves and strive with diligence—it is not enough to have seen me! Walk, as I have commanded you; get rid of all the tangled net of sorrow; walk in the way with steadfast aim; ‘tis not from seeing me this comes—even as a sick man depending on the healing power of medicine, gets rid of all his ailments easily without beholding the physician. He who does not do what I command sees me in vain, this brings no profit; whilst he who lives far off from where I am, and yet walks righteously, is ever near me! A man may dwell beside me, and yet, being disobedient, be far away from me. Keep your heart carefully—give not place to listlessness! earnestly practise every good work. Man born in this world is pressed by all the sorrows of the long career, ceaselessly troubled—without a moment’s rest, as any lamp blown by the wind!” The Mallas all, hearing Buddha’s loving instruction, inwardly composed, restrained their tears, and, firmly self-possessed, returned.

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