By Spiritual Power Fixing His Term of Years

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

At this time the great men among the Likkhavis, hearing that the lord of the world had entered their country and was located in the Âmrâ garden, went thither riding in their gaudy chariots with silken canopies, and clothed in gorgeous robes, both blue and red and yellow and white, each one with his own cognizance. Accompanied by their body guard surrounding them, they went; others prepared the road in front; and with their heavenly crowns and flower-bespangled robes they rode, richly dight with every kind of costly ornament. Their noble forms resplendent increased the glory of that garden grove; now taking off the five distinctive ornaments, alighting from their chariots, they advanced afoot. Slowly thus, with bated breath, their bodies reverent they advanced. Then they bowed down and worshipped Buddha’s foot, and, a great multitude, they gathered round the lord, shining as the sun’s disc, full of radiance.

There was the lion Likkhavi, among the Likkhavis the senior, his noble form bold as the lion’s, standing there with lion eyes, but without the lion’s pride, taught by the Sâkya lion, who thus began: “Great and illustrious personages, famed as a tribe for grace and comeliness! put aside, I pray, the world’s high thoughts, and now accept the abounding lustre of religious teaching. Wealth and beauty, scented flowers and ornaments like these, are not to be compared for grace with moral rectitude! Your land productive and in peaceful quiet—this is your great renown; but true gracefulness of body and a happy people depend upon the heart well-governed. Add but to this a reverent feeling for religion, then a people’s fame is at its height! a fertile land and all the dwellers in it, as a united body, virtuous! To-day then learn this virtue, cherish with carefulness the people, lead them as a body in the right way of rectitude, even as the ox-king leads the way across the river-ford. If a man with earnest recollection ponder on things of this world and the next, he will consider how by right behavior right morals he prepares, as the result of merit, rest in either world. For all in this world will exceedingly revere him, his fame will spread abroad through every part, the virtuous will rejoice to call him friend, and the outflowings of his goodness will know no bounds forever. The precious gems found in the desert wilds are all from earth engendered; moral conduct, likewise, as the earth, is the great source of all that is good. By this, without the use of wings, we fly through space, we cross the river needing not a handy boat; but without this a man will find it hard indeed to cross the stream of sorrow or stay the rush of sorrow. As when a tree with lovely flowers and fruit, pierced by some sharp instrument, is hard to climb, so is it with the much-renowned for strength and beauty, who break through the laws of moral rectitude! Sitting upright in the royal palace, the heart of the king was grave and majestic; with a view to gain the merit of a pure and moral life, he became a convert of a great Rishi. With garments dyed and clad with hair, shaved, save one spiral knot, he led a hermit’s life, but, as he did not rule himself with strict morality, he was immersed in suffering and sorrow. Each morn and eve he used the three ablutions, sacrificed to fire and practised strict austerity, let his body be in filth as the brute beast, passed through fire and water, dwelt amidst the craggy rocks, inhaled the wind, drank from the Ganges’ stream, controlled himself with bitter fasts—but all! far short of moral rectitude. For though a man inure himself to live as any brute, he is not on that account a vessel of the righteous law; whilst he who breaks the laws of right behavior invites detraction, and is one no virtuous man can love; his heart is ever filled with boding fear, his evil name pursues him as a shadow. Having neither profit nor advantage in this world, how can he in the next world reap content? Therefore the wise man ought to practise pure behavior; passing through the wilderness of birth and death, pure conduct is to him a virtuous guide. From pure behavior comes self-power, which frees a man from many dangers; pure conduct, like a ladder, enables us to climb to heaven. Those who found themselves on right behavior, cut off the source of pain and grief; but they who by transgression destroy this mind, may mourn the loss of every virtuous principle. To gain this end first banish every ground of ‘self’; this thought of ‘self’ shades every lofty aim, even as the ashes that conceal the fire, treading on which the foot is burned. Pride and indifference shroud this heart, too, as the sun is obscured by the piled-up clouds; supercilious thoughts root out all modesty of mind, and sorrow saps the strongest will. As age and disease waste youthful beauty, so pride of self destroys all virtue; the Devas and Asuras, thus from jealousy and envy, raised mutual strife. The loss of virtue and of merit which we mourn, proceeds from ‘pride of self’ throughout; and as I am a conqueror amid conquerors, so he who conquers self is one with me. He who little cares to conquer self, is but a foolish master; beauty, or earthly things, family renown and such things, all are utterly inconstant, and what is changeable can give no rest of interval. If in the end the law of entire destruction is exacted, what use is there in indolence and pride? Covetous desire is the greatest source of sorrow, appearing as a friend in secret ‘tis our enemy. As a fierce fire excited from within a house, so is the fire of covetous desire: the burning flame of covetous desire is fiercer far than fire which burns the world. For fire may be put out by water in excess, but what can overpower the fire of lust? The fire which fiercely burns the desert grass dies out, and then the grass will grow again; but when the fire of lust burns up the heart, then how hard for true religion there to dwell! for lust seeks worldly pleasures, these pleasures add to an impure karman; by this evil karman a man falls into perdition, and so there is no greater enemy to man than lust. Lusting, man gives way to amorous indulgence, by this he is led to practise every kind of lustful longing; indulging thus, he gathers frequent sorrow. No greater evil is there than lust. Lust is a dire disease, and the foolish master stops the medicine of wisdom. The study of heretical books not leading to right thought, causes the lustful heart to increase and grow, for these books are not correct on the points of impermanency, the non-existence of self, and any object ground for ‘self.’ But a true and right apprehension through the power of wisdom, is effectual to destroy that false desire, and therefore our object should be to practise this true apprehension. Right apprehension once produced then there is deliverance from covetous desire, for a false estimate of excellency produces a covetous desire to excel, whilst a false view of demerit produces anger and regret; but the idea of excelling and also of inferiority (in the sense of demerit) both destroyed, the desire to excel and also anger (on account of inferiority) are destroyed. Anger! how it changes the comely face, how it destroys the loveliness of beauty! Anger dulls the brightness of the eye, chokes all desire to hear the principles of truth, cuts and divides the principle of family affection, impoverishes and weakens every worldly aim. Therefore let anger be subdued, yield not to the angry impulse; he who can hold his wild and angry heart is well entitled ‘illustrious charioteer.’ For men call such a one ‘illustrious team-breaker’ who can with bands restrain the unbroken steed; so anger not subdued, its fire unquenched, the sorrow of repentance burns like fire. A man who allows wild passion to arise within, himself first burns his heart, then after burning adds the wind thereto which ignites the fire again, or not, as the case may be. The pain of birth, old age, disease, and death, press heavily upon the world, but adding ‘passion’ to the score, what is this but to increase our foes when pressed by foes? But rather, seeing how the world is pressed by throngs of grief, we ought to encourage in us love, and as the world produces grief on grief, so should we add as antidotes unnumbered remedies.” Tathâgata, illustrious in expedients, according to the disease, thus briefly spoke; even as a good physician in the world, according to the disease, prescribes his medicine. And now the Likkhavis, hearing the sermon preached by Buddha, arose forthwith and bowed at Buddha’s feet, and joyfully they placed them on their heads. Then they asked both Buddha and the congregation on the morrow to accept their poor religious offerings. But Buddha told them that already Âmrâ had invited him. On this the Likkhavis, harboring thoughts of pride and disappointment, said: “Why should that one take away our profit?” But, knowing Buddha’s heart to be impartial and fair, they once again regained their cheerfulness. Tathâgata, moreover, nobly seizing the occasion, appeasing them, produced within a joyful heart; and so subdued, their grandeur of appearance came again, as when a snake subdued by charms glistens with shining skin. And now, the night being passed, the signs of dawn appearing, Buddha and the great assembly go to the abode of Âmrâ, and having received her entertainment, they went on to the village of Pi-nau, and there he rested during the rainy season; the three months’ rest being ended, again he returned to Vaisâli, and dwelt beside the Monkey Tank; sitting there in a shady grove, he shed a flood of glory from his person; aroused thereby, Mâra Pisuna came to the place where Buddha was, and with closed palms exhorted him thus: “Formerly, beside the Nairañganâ river, when you had accomplished your true and steadfast aim, you said, ‘When I have done all I have to do, then will I pass at once to Nirvâna’; and now you have done all you have to do, you should, as then you said, pass to Nirvâna.”

Then Buddha spake to Pisuna: “The time of my complete deliverance is at hand, but let three months elapse, and I shall reach Nirvâna.” Then Mâra, knowing that Tathâgata had fixed the time for his emancipation, his earnest wish being thus fulfilled, joyous returned to his abode in heaven. Tathâgata, seated beneath a tree, straightway was lost in ecstasy, and willingly rejected his allotted years, and by his spiritual power fixed the remnant of his life. On this, Tathâgata thus giving up his years, the great earth shook and quaked through all the limits of the universe; great flames of fire were seen around, the tops of Sumeru were shaken, from heaven there rained showers of flying stones, a whirling tempest rose on every side, the trees were rooted up and fell, heavenly music rose with plaintive notes, whilst angels for a time were joyless. Buddha rising from out his ecstasy, announced to all the world: “Now have I given up my term of years; I live henceforth by power of faith; my body like a broken chariot stands, no further cause of ‘coming’ or of ‘going’; completely freed from the three worlds, I go enfranchised, as a chicken from its egg.”

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