The Differences of the Likkhavis

Life of BuddhaAśvaghoṣa

The venerable Ânanda, seeing the earth shaking on every side, his heart was tearful and his hair erect; he asked the cause thereof of Buddha.

Buddha replied: “Ânanda! I have fixed three months to end my life, the rest of life I utterly give up; this is the reason why the earth is greatly shaken.”

Ânanda, hearing the instruction of Buddha, was moved with pity and the tears flowed down his face, even as when an elephant of mighty strength shakes the sandal-wood tree. Thus was Ânanda shaken and his mind perturbed, whilst down his cheeks the tears, like drops of perfume, flowed; so much he loved the lord his master, so full of kindness was he, and, as yet, not freed from earthly thoughts. Thinking then on these four things alone, he gave his grief full liberty, nor could he master it, but said, “Now I hear the lord declare that he has fixed for good his time to die, my body fails, my strength is gone, my mind is dazed, my soul is all discordant, and all the words of truth forgotten; a wild deserted waste seems heaven and earth. Have pity! save me, master! perish not so soon! Perished with bitter cold, I chanced upon a fire—forthwith it disappeared. Wandering amid the wilds of grief and pain, deceived, confused, I lost my way—suddenly a wise and prudent guide encountered me, but hardly saved from my bewilderment, he once more vanished. Like some poor man treading through endless mud, weary and parched with thirst, longs for the water, suddenly he lights upon a cool refreshing lake, he hastens to it—lo! it dries before him. The deep blue, bright, refulgent eye, piercing through all the worlds, with wisdom brightens the dark gloom, the darkness for a moment is dispelled. As when the blade shoots through the yielding earth, the clouds collect and we await the welcome shower, then a fierce wind drives the big clouds away, and so with disappointed hope we watch the dried-up field! Deep darkness reigned for want of wisdom, the world of sentient creatures groped for light, Tathâgata lit up the lamp of wisdom, then suddenly extinguished it—ere he had brought it out.”

Buddha, hearing Ânanda speaking thus, grieved at his words, and pitying his distress, with soothing accents and with gentle presence spake with purpose to declare the one true law:—

“If men but knew their own nature, they would not dwell in sorrow; everything that lives, whate’er it be, all this is subject to destruction’s law; I have already told you plainly, the law of things ‘joined’ is to ‘separate’; the principle of kindness and of love is not abiding, ‘tis better then to reject this pitiful and doting heart. All things around us bear the stamp of instant change; born, they perish; no self-sufficiency; those who would wish to keep them long, find in the end no room for doing so. If things around us could be kept for aye, and were not liable to change or separation, then this would be salvation! where then can this be sought? You, and all that lives, can seek in me this great deliverance! That which you may all attain I have already told you, and tell you, to the end. Why then should I preserve this body? The body of the excellent law shall long endure! I am resolved; I look for rest! This is the one thing needful. So do I now instruct all creatures, and as a guide, not seen before, I lead them; prepare yourselves to cast off consciousness, fix yourselves well in your own island. Those who are thus fixed mid-stream, with single aim and earnestness striving in the use of means, preparing quietly a quiet place, not moved by others’ way of thinking, know well, such men are safe on the law’s island. Fixed in contemplation, lighted by the lamp of wisdom, they have thus finally destroyed ignorance and gloom. Consider well the world’s four bounds, and dare to seek for true religion only; forget ‘yourself,’ and every ‘ground of self,’ the bones, the nerves, the skin, the flesh, the mucus, the blood that flows through every vein; behold these things as constantly impure, what joy then can there be in such a body? every sensation born from cause, like the bubble floating on the water. The sorrow coming from the consciousness of birth and death and inconstancy, removes all thought of joy—the mind acquainted with the law of production, stability, and destruction, recognizes how again and once again things follow or succeed one another with no endurance. But thinking well about Nirvâna, the thought of endurance is forever dismissed; we see how the samskâras from causes have arisen, and how these aggregates will again dissolve, all of them impermanent. The foolish man conceives the idea of ‘self,’ the wise man sees there is no ground on which to build the idea of ‘self,’ thus through the world he rightly looks and well concludes, all, therefore, is but evil; the aggregate amassed by sorrow must perish in the end! if once confirmed in this conviction, that man perceives the truth. This body, too, of Buddha now existing soon will perish: the law is one and constant, and without exception.” Buddha having delivered this excellent sermon, appeased the heart of Ânanda.

Then all the Likkhavis, hearing the report, with fear and apprehension assembled in a body; devoid of their usual ornaments, they hastened to the place where Buddha was. Having saluted him according to custom, they stood on one side, wishing to ask him a question, but not being able to find words. Buddha, knowing well their heart, by way of remedy, in the right use of means, spake thus:—

“Now I perfectly understand that you have in your minds unusual thoughts, not referring to worldly matters, but wholly connected with subjects of religion; and now you wish to hear from me, what may be known respecting the report about my resolve to terminate my life, and my purpose to put an end to the repetition of birth. Impermanence is the nature of all that exists, constant change and restlessness its conditions; unfixed, unprofitable, without the marks of long endurance. In ancient days the Rishi kings, Vasishtha Rishi, Mândhâtri, the Kakravartin monarchs, and the rest, these and all others like them, the former conquerors, who lived with strength like Îsvara, these all have long ago perished, not one remains till now; the sun and moon, Sakra himself, and the great multitude of his attendants, will all, without exception, perish; there is not one that can for long endure; all the Buddhas of the past ages, numerous as the sands of the Ganges, by their wisdom enlightening the world, have all gone out as a lamp; all the Buddhas yet to come will also perish in the same way; why then should I alone be different? I too will pass into Nirvana; but as they prepared others for salvation, so now should you press forward in the path; Vaisâli may be glad indeed, if you should find the way of rest! The world, in truth, is void of help, the ‘three worlds’ not enough for joy—stay then the course of sorrow, by engendering a heart without desire. Give up for good the long and straggling way of life, press onward on the northern track, step by step advance along the upward road, as the sun skirts along the western mountains.”

At this time the Likkhavis, with saddened hearts, went back along the way; lifting their hands to heaven and sighing bitterly: “Alas! what sorrow this! His body like the pure gold mountain, the marks upon his person so majestic, ere long and like a towering crag he falls; not to live, then why not, ‘not to love’? The powers of birth and death, weakened awhile, the lord Tathâgata, himself the fount of wisdom appeared, and now to give it up and disappear! without a saviour now, what check to sorrow? The world long time endured in darkness, and men were led by a false light along the way—when lo! the sun of wisdom rose; and now, again, it fades and dies—no warning given. Behold the whirling waves of ignorance engulfing all the world! Why is the bridge or raft of wisdom in a moment cut away? The loving and the great physician king came with remedies of wisdom, beyond all price, to heal the hurts and pains of men—why suddenly goes he away? The excellent and heavenly flag of love adorned with wisdom’s blazonry, embroidered with the diamond heart, the world not satisfied with gazing on it, the glorious flag of heavenly worship! Why in a moment is it snapped? Why such misfortune for the world, when from the tide of constant revolutions a way of escape was opened—but now shut again! and there is no escape from weary sorrow! Tathâgata, possessed of fond and loving heart, now steels himself and goes away; he holds his heart so patient and so loving, and, like the Wai-ka-ni flower, with thoughts cast down, irresolute and tardy, he goes depressed along the road. Or like a man fresh from a loved one’s grave, the funeral past and the last farewell taken, comes back with anxious look.”

Subscribe to The Empty Robot

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox

Spread the word: