Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

At this time there was a Brahmakârin whose name was Su-po-to-lo; he was well-known for his virtuous qualities, leading a pure life according to the rules of morality, and protecting all living things. When young he had adopted heretical views, and become a recluse among unbelievers—this one, wishing to see the lord, spake to Ânanda thus:—

“I hear that the system of Tathâgata is of a singular character and very profound, and that he has reached the highest wisdom in the world, the first of all horse-tamers. I hear moreover that he is now about to die, it will be difficult indeed to meet with him again, and difficult to see those who have seen him with difficulty, even as it is to catch in a mirror the reflection of the moon. I now desire respectfully to see him the greatest and most virtuous guide of men, because I seek to escape this mass of sorrow and reach the other shore of birth and death. The sun of Buddha now about to quench its rays, O! let me for a moment gaze upon him.” The feelings of Ânanda now were much affected, thinking that this request was made with a view to controversy, or that he felt an inward joy because the lord was on the eve of death. He was not willing therefore to permit the interview with Buddha. Buddha, knowing the man’s earnest desire and that he was a vessel fit for true religion, therefore addressed Ânanda thus: “Permit that heretic to advance; I was born to save mankind, make no hindrance therefore, or excuse!”

Subhadra, hearing this, was overjoyed at heart, and his religious feelings were much enlarged, as with increased reverence he advanced to Buddha’s presence. Then, as the occasion required, he spoke becoming words and with politeness made his salutation, his features pleasing and with hands conjoined he said:—

“Now I desire to ask somewhat from thee; the world has many teachers of religion, those who know the law as I am myself; but I hear that Buddha has attained a way which is the end of all complete emancipation. O that you would, on my account, briefly explain your method, moisten my empty, thirsty soul! not with a view to controversy or from a desire to gain the mastery, but with sincerity I ask you so to do.”

Then Buddha, for the Brahmakârin’s sake, in brief recounted the eight “right ways”—on hearing which, his empty soul accepted it, as one deceived accepts direction in the right road. Perceiving now, he knew that what he had before perceived was not the final way of salvation, but now he felt he had attained what he had not before attained, and so he gave up and forsook his books of heresy. Moreover, now he rejected the gloomy hindrances of doubt, reflecting how by his former practices, mixed up with anger, hate, and ignorance, he had long cherished no real joy. For if, he argued, the ways of lust and hate and ignorance are able to produce a virtuous karman, then “hearing much” and “persevering wisdom,” these, too, are born from lust, which cannot be. But if a man is able to cut down hate and ignorance, then also he puts off all consequences of works, and these being finally destroyed, this is complete emancipation. Those thus freed from works are likewise freed from subtle questionings, such as what the world says “that all things, everywhere, possess a self-nature.” But if this be the case and therefore lust, hate, and ignorance, possess a self-implanted nature, then this nature must inhere in them; what then means the word “deliverance”? For even if we rightly cause the overthrow of hate and ignorance, yet if lust remains, then there is a return of birth; even as water, cold in its nature, may by fire be heated, but when the fire goes out then it becomes cold again, because this is its constant nature; so we may ever know that the nature which lust has is permanent, and neither hearing wisdom nor perseverance can alter it. Neither capable of increase or diminution, how can there be deliverance? I held aforetime that birth and death resulted thus, from their own innate nature; but now I see that such a belief excludes deliverance; for what is born by nature must endure so, what end can such things have? Just as a burning lamp cannot but give its light; the way of Buddha is the only true one, that lust, as the root-cause, brings forth the things that live; destroy this lust then there is Nirvana; the cause destroyed then the fruit is not produced. I formerly maintained that “I” was a distinct entity, not seeing that it has no maker. But now I hear the right doctrine preached by Buddha, there is no “self” in all the world, for all things are produced by cause, and therefore there is no creator. If then sorrow is produced by cause, the cause may likewise be destroyed; for if the world is cause-produced, then is the view correct, that by destruction of the cause, there is an end. The cause destroyed, the world brought to an end, there is no room for such a thought as permanence, and therefore all my former views are “done away,” and so he deeply “saw” the true doctrine taught by Buddha.

Because of seeds well sown in former times, he was enabled thus to understand the law on hearing it; thus he reached the good and perfect state of quietness, the peaceful, never-ending place of rest. His heart expanding to receive the truth, he gazed with earnest look on Buddha as he slept, nor could he bear to see Tathâgata depart and die; “ere yet,” he said, “Buddha shall reach the term I will myself first leave the world;” and then with hands close joined, retiring from the holy form, he took his seat apart, and sat composed and firm. Then giving up his life, he reached Nirvâna, as when the rain puts out a little fire. Then Buddha spake to all his followers: “This my very last disciple has now attained Nirvâna, cherish him properly.”

Then Buddha, the first night watch passed, the moon bright shining and all the stars clear in their lustre, the quiet grove without a sound, moved by his great compassionate heart, declared to his disciples this his bequeathed precepts: “After my Nirvâna, ye ought to reverence and obey the Pratimoksha, as your master, a shining lamp in the dark night, or as a great jewel treasured by a poor man. These injunctions I have ever given, these you ought to obey and follow carefully, and treat in no way different from myself. Keep pure your body, words, and conduct, put from you all concerns of daily life, lands, houses, cattle, storing wealth or hoarding grain. All these should be avoided as we avoid a fiery pit; sowing the land, cutting down shrubs, healing of wounds or the practice of medicine, star-gazing and astrology, forecasting lucky or unfortunate events by signs, prognosticating good or evil, all these are things forbidden. Keeping the body temperate, eat at proper times; receive no mission as a go-between; compound no philteries; abhor dissimulation; follow right doctrine, and be kind to all that lives; receive in moderation what is given; receive but hoard not up; these are, in brief, my spoken precepts. These form the groundwork of my rules, these also are the ground of full emancipation. Enabled thus to live this is rightly to receive all other things. This is true wisdom which embraces all, this is the way to attain the end; this code of rules, therefore, ye should hold and keep, and never let it slip or be destroyed. For when pure rules of conduct are observed then there is true religion; without these, virtue languishes; found yourselves therefore well on these my precepts; grounded thus in rules of purity, the springs of feeling will be well controlled, even as the well-instructed cow-herd guides well his cattle. Ill-governed feelings, like the horse, run wild through all the six domains of sense, bringing upon us in the present world unhappiness, and in the next, birth in an evil way. So, like the horse ill-broken, these land us in the ditch; therefore the wise and prudent man will not allow his senses license. For these senses are, indeed, our greatest foes, causes of misery; for men enamoured thus by sensuous things cause all their miseries to recur. Destructive as a poisonous snake, or like a savage tiger, or like a raging fire, the greatest evil in the world, he who is wise, is freed from fear of these. But what he fears is only this—a light and trivial heart, which drags a man to future misery—just for a little sip of pleasure, not looking at the yawning gulf before us; like the wild elephant freed from the iron curb, or like the ape that has regained the forest trees, such is the light and trivial heart; the wise man should restrain and hold it therefore. Letting the heart go loose without restraint, that man shall not attain Nirvâna; therefore we ought to hold the heart in check, and go apart from men and seek a quiet resting-place. Know when to eat and the right measure; and so with reference to the rules of clothing and of medicine; take care you do not by the food you take, encourage in yourselves a covetous or an angry mind. Eat your food to satisfy your hunger and drink to satisfy your thirst, as we repair an old or broken chariot, or like the butterfly that sips the flower destroying not its fragrance or its texture. The Bhikshu, in begging food, should beware of injuring the faithful mind of another; if a man opens his heart in charity, think not about his capabilities, for ‘tis not well to calculate too closely the strength of the ox, lest by loading him beyond his strength you cause him injury. At morning, noon, and night, successively, store up good works. During the first and after-watch at night be not overpowered by sleep, but in the middle watch, with heart composed, take sleep and rest—be thoughtful towards the dawn of day. Sleep not the whole night through, making the body and the life relaxed and feeble; think! when the fire shall burn the body always, what length of sleep will then be possible? For when the hateful brood of sorrow rising through space, with all its attendant horrors, meeting the mind o’erwhelmed by sleep and death, shall seize its prey, who then shall waken it?

“The poisonous snake dwelling within a house can be enticed away by proper charms, so the black toad that dwells within his heart, the early waker disenchants and banishes. He who sleeps on heedlessly without plan, this man has no modesty; but modesty is like a beauteous robe, or like the curb that guides the elephant. Modest behavior keeps the heart composed, without it every virtuous root will die. Who has this modesty, the world applauds; without it, he is but as any beast. If a man with a sharp sword should cut the body bit by bit, let not an angry thought, or of resentment, rise, and let the mouth speak no ill word. Your evil thoughts and evil words but hurt yourself and not another; nothing so full of victory as patience, though your body suffer the pain of mutilation. For recollect that he who has this patience cannot be overcome, his strength being so firm; therefore give not way to anger or evil words towards men in power. Anger and hate destroy the true law; and they destroy dignity and beauty of body; as when one dies we lose our name for beauty, so the fire of anger itself burns up the heart. Anger is foe to all religious merit, he who loves virtue let him not be passionate; the layman who is angry when oppressed by many sorrows is not wondered at. But he who has ‘left his home’ indulging anger, this is indeed opposed to principle, as if in frozen water there were found the heat of fire. If indolence arises in your heart, then with your own hand smooth down your head, shave off your hair, and clad in sombre garments, in your hand holding the begging-pot, go ask for food; on every side the living perish, what room for indolence? the worldly man, relying on his substance or his family, indulging in indolence, is wrong; how much more the religious man, whose purpose is to seek the way of rescue, who encourages within an indolent mind; this surely is impossible!

“Crookedness and straightness are in their nature opposite and cannot dwell together more than frost and fire; for one who has become religious, and practises the way of straight behavior, a false and crooked way of speech is not becoming. False and flattering speech is like the magician’s art; but he who ponders on religion cannot speak falsely. To ‘covet much,’ brings sorrow; desiring little, there is rest and peace. To procure rest, there must be small desire—much more in case of those who seek salvation. The niggard dreads the much-seeking man lest he should filch away his property, but he who loves to give has also fear, lest he should not possess enough to give; therefore we ought to encourage small desire, that we may have to give to him who wants, without such fear. From this desiring-little-mind we find the way of true deliverance; desiring true deliverance we ought to practise knowing-enough contentment.

“A contented mind is always joyful, but joy like this is but religion; the rich and poor alike, having contentment, enjoy perpetual rest. The ill-contented man, though he be born to heavenly joys, because he is not contented would ever have a mind burned up by the fire of sorrow. The rich, without contentment, endures the pain of poverty; though poor, if yet he be contented, then he is rich indeed! That ill-contented man, the bounds of the five desires extending further still, becomes insatiable in his requirements, and so through the long night of life gathers increasing sorrow. Without cessation thus he cherishes his careful plans, whilst he who lives contented, freed from anxious thoughts about relationships, his heart is ever peaceful and at rest. And so because he rests and is at peace within, the gods and men revere and do him service. Therefore we ought to put away all cares about relationship.

“For like a solitary desert tree in which the birds and monkeys gather, so is it when we are cumbered much with family associations; through the long night we gather many sorrows. Many dependents are like the many bands that bind us, or like the old elephant that struggles in the mud. By diligent perseverance a man may get much profit; therefore night and day men ought with ceaseless effort to exert themselves; the tiny streams that trickle down the mountain slopes by always flowing eat away the rock. If we use not earnest diligence in drilling wood in wood for fire, we shall not obtain the spark, so ought we to be diligent and persevere, as the skilful master drills the wood for fire. A ‘virtuous friend’ though he be gentle is not to be compared with right reflection—right thought kept well in the mind, no evil thing can ever enter there.

“Wherefore those who practise a religious life should always think about ‘the body’; if thought upon one’s self be absent, then all virtue dies. For as the champion warrior relies for victory upon his armor’s strength, so ‘right thought’ is like a strong cuirass, able to withstand the six sense-robbers. Right faith enwraps the enlightened heart, so that a man perceives the world throughout is liable to birth and death; therefore the religious man should practise faith.

“Having found peace in faith, we put an end to all the mass of sorrows, wisdom then can enlighten us, and so we put away the rules by which we acquire knowledge by the senses. By inward thought and right consideration following with gladness the directions of the ‘true law,’ this is the way in which both laymen of the world and men who have left their homes should walk.

“Across the sea of birth and death, ‘wisdom’ is the handy bark; ‘wisdom’ is the shining lamp that lightens up the dark and gloomy world. ‘Wisdom’ is the grateful medicine for all the defiling ills of life; ‘wisdom’ is the axe wherewith to level all the tangled forest trees of sorrow. ‘Wisdom’ is the bridge that spans the rushing stream of ignorance and lust—therefore, in every way, by thought and right attention, a man should diligently inure himself to engender wisdom. Having acquired the threefold wisdom, then, though blind, the eye of wisdom sees throughout; but without wisdom the mind is poor and insincere; such things cannot suit the man who has left his home.

“Wherefore let the enlightened man lay well to heart that false and fruitless things become him not, and let him strive with single mind for that pure joy which can be found alone in perfect rest and quietude.

“Above all things be not careless, for carelessness is the chief foe of virtue; if a man avoid this fault he may be born where Sakra-râga dwells. He who gives way to carelessness of mind must have his lot where the Asuras dwell. Thus have I done my task, my fitting task, in setting forth the way of quietude, the proof of love. On your parts be diligent! with virtuous purpose practise well these rules, in quiet solitude of desert hermitage nourish and cherish a still and peaceful heart. Exert yourselves to the utmost, give no place to remissness, for as in worldly matters when the considerate physician prescribes fit medicine for the disease he has detected, should the sick man neglect to use it, this cannot be the physician’s fault, so I have told you the truth, and set before you this the one and level road. Hearing my words and not with care obeying them, this is not the fault of him who speaks; if there be anything not clearly understood in the principles of the ‘four truths,’ you now may ask me, freely; let not your inward thoughts be longer hid.” The lord in mercy thus instructing them, the whole assembly remained silent.

Then Anuruddha, observing that the great congregation continued silent and expressed no doubt, with closed hands thus spake to Buddha:—

“The moon may be warm, the sun’s rays be cool, the air be still, the earth’s nature mobile; these four things, though yet unheard of in the world, may happen; but this assembly never can have doubt about the principles of sorrow, accumulation, destruction, and the incontrovertible truths, as declared by the lord. But because the lord is going to die, we all have sorrow; and we cannot raise our thoughts to the high theme of the lord’s preaching. Perhaps some fresh disciple, whose feelings are yet not entirely freed from other influences might doubt; but we, who now have heard this tender, sorrowful discourse, have altogether freed ourselves from doubt. Passed the sea of birth and death, without desire, with nought to seek, we only know how much we love, and, grieving, ask why Buddha dies so quickly?”

Buddha regarding Anuruddha, perceiving how his words were full of bitterness, again with loving heart, appeasing him, replied:—

“In the beginning things were fixed, in the end again they separate; different combinations cause other substances, for there is no uniform and constant principle in nature. But when all mutual purposes be answered, what then shall chaos and creation do! the gods and men alike that should be saved, shall all have been completely saved! Ye then! my followers, who know so well the perfect law, remember! the end must come; give not way again to sorrow!

“Use diligently the appointed means; aim to reach the home where separation cannot come; I have lit the lamp of wisdom, its rays alone can drive away the gloom that shrouds the world. The world is not forever fixed! Ye should rejoice therefore! as when a friend, afflicted grievously, his sickness healed, escapes from pain. For I have put away this painful vessel, I have stemmed the flowing sea of birth and death, free forever now, from pain! for this you should exult with joy! Now guard yourselves aright, let there be no remissness! that which exists will all return to nothingness! and now I die. From this time forth my words are done, this is my very last instruction.”

Then entering the Samâdhi of the first Dhyâna, he went successively through all the nine in a direct order; then inversely he returned throughout and entered on the first, and then from the first he raised himself and entered on the fourth. Leaving the state of Samâdhi, his soul without a resting-place, forthwith he reached Nirvâna. And then, as Buddha died, the great earth quaked throughout. In space, on every hand, was fire like rain, no fuel, self-consuming. And so from out the earth great flames arose on every side.

Thus up to the heavenly mansions flames burst forth; the crash of thunder shook the heavens and earth, rolling along the mountains and the valleys, even as when the Devas and Asuras fight with sound of drums and mutual conflict. A wind tempestuous from the four bounds of earth arose—whilst from the crags and hills, dust and ashes fell like rain. The sun and moon withdrew their shining; the peaceful streams on every side were torrent-swollen; the sturdy forests shook like aspen leaves, whilst flowers and leaves untimely fell around, like scattered rain. The flying dragons, carried on pitchy clouds, wept down their tears; the four kings and their associates, moved by pity, forgot their works of charity. The pure Devas came to earth from heaven, halting mid-air they looked upon the changeful scene, not sorrowing, not rejoicing. But yet they sighed to think of the world, heedless of its sacred teacher, hastening to destruction. The eightfold heavenly spirits, on every side filled space: cast down at heart and grieving, they scattered flowers as offerings. Only Mâra-râga rejoiced, and struck up sounds of music in his exultation. Whilst Gambudvipa shorn of its glory, seemed to grieve as when the mountain tops fall down to earth, or like the great elephant robbed of its tusks, or like the ox-king spoiled of his horns; or heaven without the sun and moon, or as the lily beaten by the hail; thus was the world bereaved when Buddha died!

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