Reading for Lesson 14: excerpts from





"Path of the Buddha" by Asvaghosha Bodhisattva (first century CE), trans. E.B. Cowell (modernized). A full text is available online at





Book 1: birth

   1. Praise be to the liberated one [Arhat] who brings supreme happiness: he betters Brahman by as much as a hot sun exceeds the lovely moon in burning away darkness.

   2. There was a city, the home of the great saint Kapila, its walls surrounded by lovely high plains as by a line of clouds so that its high-soaring palaces seemed to be seated in the sky. . .

   3. Splendid clouds were attracted by the pure and lofty city as if they stole from Mount Kailash. . .

    6. The sun each day retired to swim in the western ocean as if hurrying to quench his flaming desires, but still at night he imagined the moon-lit faces of the women of the city, for they put lotuses to shame. . .

   9. Adorning the city like a bee in a full-blown lotus, ruling over it, was kin of the sun, a king named Suddhodana, one anointed to stand at the head of earth's monarchs.

   10. His followers ever near him, he was the best of kings, intent on liberality, devoid of pride, an ever-equal eye thrown on all, a gentle nature and yet with wide-reaching majesty. . .

   15. He had a queen, whose name was Māyā, though she was free from deceit [māyā]: she was the chief queen in the united assembly of all queens. . .

   23. One day she had a great longing in her mind and by the king's permission went with those women staying in the gynaeceum into the garden Lumbinī.

   24. She supported herself by a bough which hung laden with a weight of flowers, and the Bodhisattva suddenly opened her womb and came forth. . .

    40. When he was born, the earth, though fastened down by Himālaya, shook like a ship tossed by the wind; and from a cloudless sky there fell a shower full of lotuses and water-lilies, and perfumed with sandalwood. . .

    54. The great seer Asita had learned by signs and through the power of his penances this birth of him who was to destroy all birth, and so in his thirst for knowledge the sage came to the palace of the Sākya king.

   55. He was welcomed into the palace with reverence and respect, for he shone with the glory of sacred knowledge and ascetic observances, the king's own advisor, a special student among the students of sacred things.

   56. The women's chambers were all astir with the joy arisen from the birth of the young prince, but the seer was grave from his consciousness of power, his asceticism, and old age.

   57. The king seated and duly honored the sage with water for his feet and an arghya offering, and with all respect invited him to speak, as did Antideva in olden time to Vasishtha:

   58. 'I am indeed fortunate. My family is the object of high favor that you have come to visit me. Please advise what I should do, as I am your disciple, so be be confident in me.'

   59. The sage, filled with intense feeling, uttered his deep and solemn words, his eyes opened wide with wonder:

   60. 'This is worthy of you, great-soul as you are, fond of guests, liberal and a lover of duty,--that you should be thus kind towards me, in accord with your nature, family, wisdom, and age.

   61. 'It was the way of the seer-kings of old to reject trivial riches, being poor in outward substance but rich in ascetic endurance,

   62. 'So hear why I have come and rejoice in my message. I have heard a heavenly voice in the heavenly path, that your son has been born for the sake of supreme knowledge.

   63. 'I know by signs that this is true. I have come here  longing to see the banner of the Sākya race, as if it were Indra's festival banner being raised.'

   64. The king, his steps light with joy, took the prince, who lay at his nurse's side, and showed him to the holy ascetic.

   65. The great seer noted the child with wonder. The infant his foot marked with a wheel, his fingers and toes webbed, with a circle of hair between his eyebrows, and strong as an elephant.

   66. By the nurse's side the infant looked was like the son of Agni (Skanda) at Devī's side. Tears hung on the ends of the old man's eyelashes, and sighing he looked up towards heaven.

   67. The king was filled with wonder in the love for his son, and he addressed the seer in a broken voice choked with weeping,

   68. 'Why, on seeing him, do tears come to you, O reverend one?

   69. 'Is the prince not destined to a long life? Surely he cannot be born for my sorrow. Surely death will not come here to drink this handful of water I have have gathered?

   70. 'Tell me, is my future secure? Is this chief treasure of my family secure? Shall I ever depart happily to another life,--I who keep one eye ever awake, even when my son is asleep?

   71. 'Surely this young shoot of my family is not born barren, destined only to wither! Speak quickly, my lord, I cannot wait; you well know the love of a father for a son.'

   72. The king so much fearing some impending evil, the sage thus answered: 'Let not you mind be disturbed, O king. All that I have said is certainly true.

   73. 'I have no fear that he will be subject to change. It is almost my time to die, and this child will unlock the mystery so hard to solve, the means of destroying birth.

   74. 'He will travel by the noble path. He will forsake his kingdom, become indifferent to all worldly objects, work to attain the highest truth, and shine like a sun of knowledge that destroys the darkness of illusion in the world."

     80. 'As king of the Law, he will be delivered from the bonds of the world which now is overcome by misery, destitute of safety, and encumbered in chains of delusion.

   81. 'Do not be sad for him, kind sire, but for all of the pitiable people, who through illusion or the pleasures of desire or intoxication, will refuse to hear his perfect Law. . .

    83. The king with his queen abandoned sorrow and rejoiced; thinking, 'such is this our son.'

   84. Yet the king could not forget the prophesy, 'he will travel by the noble path.'  He was not opposed to religion, but he was distressed at the prospect of losing his child.

   85. Having completed his mission, revered Asita departed in flight by the way of the wind as he had come.   



Book 2: temptation

   1. From the time of the birth of that son of his, who, the true master of himself, was to end all birth and old age, the king increased day by day in wealth, elephants, horses, and friends as a river increases with its influx of waters.

   2. Of different kinds of wealth and jewels, and of gold, wrought or unwrought, he found treasures of manifold variety, surpassing even the capacity of his desires. . .

   17. Since at the birth of this son of the king such a universal accomplishment of all objects took place, the king in consequence caused the prince's name to be Sarvārthasiddha.

   18. But the queen Māyā, having seen the great glory of her new-born son, like some Rishi of the gods, could not sustain the joy which it brought; and that she might not die she went to heaven.

   19. Then the queen's sister, with an influence like a mother's, undistinguished from the real mother in her affection or tenderness, brought up as her own son the young prince who was like the offspring of the gods.

   20. The prince gradually grew in all due perfection, like the moon in the fortnight of brightness or like the young sun on the eastern mountain or the fire when fanned by the wind

   21. They brought him as presents from the houses of his friends costly unguents of sandalwood, and strings of gems exactly like wreaths of plants, and little golden carriages yoked with deer;

   22. Ornaments also suitable to his age, and elephants, deer, and horses made of gold, carriages and oxen decked with rich garments, and carts gay with silver and gold.

   23. Thus indulged with all sorts of such objects to please the senses as were suitable to his years. Child as he was, he behaved not like a child in gravity, purity, wisdom, and dignity.

   24. When he had passed childhood and reached middle youth, he learned in a few days the various sciences suitable to his race, which generally took many years to master.

   25. But having heard from Asita the prince's destined future, which was to embrace transcendent  happiness, the anxious Sākyas king turned the prince to sensual pleasures.

   26. He sought for him from a family of unblemished moral excellence a bride possessed of beauty, modesty, and gentle bearing, of wide-spread glory, Yasodharā by name, having a name well worthy of her, a very goddess of good fortune.

   27. The prince, beloved of the king his father, he who was like Sanatkumāra, rejoiced in the society of that Sākya prinoess as the thousand-eyed Indra rejoiced with his bride Sakī.

   28. The king reflected: 'He may see some inauspicious sight which could disturb his mind.' So he prepared for his son a retreat house apart from the busy palace.

   29. Those apartments were furnished with the delights proper for every season, gaily decorated like heavenly chariots upon the earth, and bright like the clouds of autumn, amidst the splendid musical concerts of singing-women.

   30. With the softly-sounding tambourines beaten by the tips of the women's hands, and ornamented with golden rims, and with the dances which were like the dances of the heavenly nymphs, that place shone like Mount Kailāsa.

   31. The women delighted him with their soft voices, their beautiful pearl-garlands, their playful intoxication, their sweet laughter, and stolen glances concealed by their brows. . .

   46. In course of time to the fair-bosomed Yasodharā,--who was truly glorious in accordance with her name,--there was born from the son of Suddhodana a son named Rāhula, with a face like the enemy of Rāhu.

   47. The king who from regard to his lineage had longed for a son and had delighted at his coming, now rejoiced at the birth of his grandson.

   48. 'I must feel that love which my son feels for my grandson.' Thus thinking in his joy he at the due time attended to every enjoined rite like one who fondly loves his son and is about to rise to heaven. . .   

   55. The prudent kings of the earth, who wish to guard their prosperity, watch over their sons in the world; but this king, though loving religion, kept his son from religion and set him free towards all objects of pleasure.



Book 3: the old, the sick and the dead

   1. On a certain day the prince heard about the forests carpeted with tender grass, their canopies resounding with blackbirds, adorned with lotus-ponds.

   2. Having heard of the delightful appearance of the city groves beloved by the women, he resolved to go out of doors, like an elephant long shut up in a cage.

   3. Upon learning of his son's wish, the king ordered a pleasure-party to be prepared, worthy of his love to his son and worthy of his son's beauty and youth.

   4. He prohibited the common people afflicted with illness from encountering the prince on the road. 'Heaven forbid that the tender prince should even imagine himself to be ill.'

   5. They beautified the highway by gently removing out of the way all those with mutilated limbs or maimed senses, the decrepit and the sick and all squalid beggars.

   6. Once the road was prepared, the fortunate prince with his well-trained attendants came down to the palace to get leave of the king to depart.

   7. The king, with tears rising to his eyes, held his son's head and long gazed upon him for a long time, and finally gave his permission, though in his heart he did not wish to see his son depart.

   8. The prince mounted a golden chariot, adorned with reins bright like flashing lightning, and yoked with four gentle horses, all wearing golden trappings.

   9. With a worthy retinue he entered the road which was strewn with piles of gleaming flowers. His garlands were suspended and banners were waving, like the moon and evening constellations entering the sky.

   10. Slowly, slowly he passed along the highway. Watched on every side by the citizens, he was showered by their eyes wide with curiosity like blue lotuses.

   11. Some praised him for his gentle disposition, others hailed him for his glorious appearance, others eulogized his beauty from his fine countenance and desired for him length of days.

   12. Bowing men coming out from great houses, and troops of foresters and dwarfs, and women coming out from the meaner dwellings bowed down as if it had been some procession of the gods.

   13. Hearing the news, 'the prince is going out,' from the attendants of the female apartments, the women hastened to the roofs of the different mansions, having obtained the permission of their lords.

   14. They crowded round hastily with curiosity, hindered by the strings of their girdles which had slipped down, with their eyes bewildered as just awakened from sleep, and with their ornaments hastily put on in the stir of the news.

   15. Frightening the flocks of birds which lived in the houses, with the noise of their girdles and the jingling of their anklets which resounded on the staircases and roofs of the mansions, and mutually reproaching one another for their hurry.

   16. Some, even in their haste as they rushed longing to see, were slowed in their going by the weight of their big hips and full bosoms.

   17. Another, though well able to go herself, checked her pace and forbore to run, hiding with shame her ornaments hitherto worn only in seclusion, and now too boldly displayed.

   18. There they were restlessly swaying about in the windows, crowded together in the mutual press, with their earrings polished by the continual collision and their ornaments all jingling.

   19. The lotus-like faces of the women gleamed while they looked out from the windows with their earrings coming into mutual proximity, as if they were real lotuses fastened upon the houses.

   20. With the palaces all alive with crowds of damsels, every aperture thrown open in eager curiosity, the magnificent city appeared on every side like heaven with its divine chariots thronged with celestial nymphs.

   21. The faces of the beautiful women shone like lotuses wreathed in garlands, while through the narrowness of the windows their earrings were transferred to each other's cheeks.

  25. Beholding for the first time that high-road thus crowded with respectful citizens, all dressed in white garments, the prince for a while did feel a little pleasure and thought that it seemed to promise a revival of his youth.

   26. But then the gods, dwelling in pure abodes, having beheld that city thus rejoicing like heaven itself, created an old man to walk along on purpose to stir the heart of the king's son.

   27. The prince saw this man overcome with decrepitude and so different in form from other men, and with his gaze intently fixed on the man, the prince addressed his driver naively:

   28. 'Who is this man that has come here, O charioteer? His hair is white, his hand rests on a staff, his eyes are shrunken in his head, his limbs bent down and hanging loose. What is wrong with him? Is this his natural state or did some accident happen to him?'

   29. The charioteer told the king's son the secret that had been kept so carefully, for he saw no harm is disclosing what the gods had revealed:

   30. 'It is old age by which he is broken down,--the ravisher of beauty, the ruin of vigor, the cause of sorrow, the destruction of delights, the bane of memories, the enemy of the senses.

   31. 'He once once drank milk in his childhood, and in course of time he learned to grope on the ground; having step by step become a lively youth, but now he has step by step in the same way reached old age.'

   32. The prince answered, 'What! will this evil come to me also?' and to him again spoke the charioteer:

   33. 'It will come without doubt by the force of time through multitude of years even to my long-lived lord; all the world knows thus that old age will destroy their beauty, for it must be so.'

   34. The great-soul was upset. His mind had been purified by the impressions of former good actions, and he possessed a store of merits accumulated through many lives in preceding eons, but now he was like a bull who has heard the crash of a thunderbolt close by.

   35. Drawing a long sigh and shaking his head, and fixing his eyes on that decrepit old man, and looking round on that exultant multitude he said:

   36. 'Old age thus strikes down all alike, our memory, beauty, and courage; and yet the world does not care, even when this is obvious.

   37. 'Since such is our condition, O charioteer, turn back the horses,--go quickly home. How can I rejoice in the pleasure-garden, when the thoughts arising from old age overpower me?'

   38. Then the charioteer at the command of the king's son turned the chariot back, and the prince lost in thought entered even that royal palace as if it were empty.

   39. But when he found no happiness even there, as he continually kept reflecting, 'old age, old age,' then once more, with the permission of the king, he went out with the same arrangement as before.

   40. This time the gods created another man with a body all afflicted by disease; and on seeing him the son of Suddhodana addressed the charioteer:

   41. 'Yonder man with a swollen belly, his whole frame shaking as he pants, his arms and shoulders hanging loose, his body all pale and thin, uttering plaintively the word "mother," who is this?'

   42. Then his charioteer answered, 'Gentle Sir, in him you see a very great affliction called sickness, that has grown upon his body by the inflammation of the humors. This was once a strong man, but now he is no longer master of himself.'

   43. The prince looked upon the man compassionately as he spoke to the driver. 'Is this evil peculiar to him or are all beings alike threatened by sickness?'

   44. The charioteer answered, 'O prince, this evil is common to all; thus pressed round by diseases men run to pleasure, though racked with pain.'

   45. The prince's mind was deeply distressed, trembling like the moon reflected in waves of water; and in sorrow he uttered these words in a low voice:

   46. 'Even while they see this calamity of disease men can yet pursue pleasures! What scatter brains they are who who can smile when afflicted by the terrors of disease!

   47. 'Turn back the chariot to the palace; having heard this news about disease, my mind is repelled from pleasures.'

   48. Then having turned back, with all joy departed, he entered his home, absorbed in thought.

   49. The king found out why the prince had return, and he rebuked him whose duty it was to see that the road was clear.

   50. And once more he arranged for his son all kinds of worldly enjoyments to their highest point; imploring in his heart, 'Would that he might not be able to forsake us, even though rendered unable only through the restlessness of his senses.'

   51. In the women's apartments the prince no longer found any joy in sweet sounds and sensual pleasure, so the king gave orders for another progress outside for a diversion.

   52. And pondering on the condition of his son, never thinking of any ills that might come from his haste, he ordered the best singing-women to be in attendance, as well-skilled in all the soft arts that can please.

   53. Then the royal road being specially adorned and guarded, the king once more made the prince go out, having ordered the charioteer and chariot to proceed in a contrary direction to the previous way.

   54. But as the king's son was riding forth, the gods created a dead man.  Only the charioteer and the prince could see the corpse as it was carried along the road.

   55. The prince asked, 'Who is this, borne by four men, followed by mournful companions, who is bewailed, adorned but no longer breathing?'

   56. The gods put into the driver's mind knowledge of the truth, and to his lord he uttered it:

   57. 'This is some poor man who, bereft of his intellect, senses, vital airs and qualities, lying asleep and unconscious, like mere wood or straw, is abandoned alike by friends and enemies after they have carefully swathed and guarded him.'

   58. The prince was shocked and said, 'Is this an accident peculiar to him alone, or is such the end of all living creatures?'

   59. The charioteer answered, 'This is the final end of all living creatures; be it a mean man, a man of middle state, or a noble. Destruction is fixed to all in this world.'

   60. Then the king's son, sedate though he was, as soon as he heard of death, immediately sank down overwhelmed, and pressing the end of the chariot-pole with his shoulder spoke with a loud voice,

   61. 'Is this end appointed to all creatures, and yet the world throws off all fear and is infatuated with itself! Hard must be the hearts of men be, who can be self-composed in such a road.

   62. 'O charioteer, turn back our chariot, this is no time or place for a pleasure trip. How can a rational being, who knows what death is, stay heedless here in the hour of calamity?'


 Book 5: leaving home

1. The son of the Sākya king, even though faced with temptations that infatuate others, yielded not to pleasure and felt not delight: he was like a lion pierced deep in his heart by a poisoned arrow.

   2. One day he went out with the king's permission to see the peaceful glades of the forest, accompanied by some worthy sons of his father's ministers, friends full of lively conversation.

   3. He seemed to ride on a comet, having mounted his good horse Kamthaka, decked with bells and bridle-bit of new gold, with beautiful golden harness and the chowrie waving.

   4. Lured by love of the trees and vegetation of the forest, they came to the edge of the woods where they saw a field being plowed. The path of the plow broke the sod as easily as waves on the water.

   5. Seeing the young grass scattered and torn by the plow, and the ground covered with the eggs and young of little insects which were killed, the prince was filled with deep sorrow as for the slaughter of his own kindred.

   6. And seeing the men plowing, their complexions dirtied by the dust and sun and wind, and their cattle straining under the work of pulling, the most noble one felt extreme compassion.

   7. He dismounted and went over the ground slowly, overcome with sorrow, pondering the birth and destruction of the world. 'This is pitiable,' he grieved.

   8. To be alone in his thoughts, he walked on by himself to a solitary spot at the root of a rose-apple which was shedding its petals in the breeze.

   9. He sat down on the covered ground, its young grass bright like lapis lazuli, and there he considered the origin and destruction of the world. His thoughts took the path that leads to clarity of mind.

   10. In this reflection frame of mind, setting himself free from all sorrows and desires of worldly objects, he attained the first stage of meditation, a restful calm unaffected by passion.

   11. Having attained this happy liberation, he thoroughly understood the way of the world, and he continued his thought:

   12. 'What a sorry thing it is that people, though powerless and subject to sickness, old age, and death, are yet so blinded by passion and ignorance that they look with disgust on others who are old or diseased or dead!

   13. 'If I felt such disgust for others because of these things, it would not be worthy or right in me who know this highest duty.'

   14. As he considered that sickness, old age, and death which belong to all living beings, all the joy which he had felt in the activity of his vigor, his youth, and his life, vanished in a moment.

   15. He did not rejoice, he did not feel remorse; he suffered no hesitation, indolence, nor sleep; he felt no drawing towards the qualities of desire; he hated not nor scorned another.

   16. As this pure passionless meditation grow within the great-soul, a man in beggar's dress crept up to him. He was invisible to others.

   17. The king's son asked, 'Tell me, who are you?' The other replied, 'Oh bull of men, I m an ascetic seeking liberation, one horrified at birth and death.

   18. 'Desiring liberation from a world full of destruction, I seek a happy permanent home, apart from men, my thoughts unlike those of others, my sinful passions turned away from all earthly objects.

   19. 'Staying anywhere, at the root of a tree, or in an uninhabited house, a mountain or a forest, I wander without a family and without illusion, a beggar accepting any fare, seeking only the highest good.'

   20. Following these words, suddenly he flew up into the sky. It had been a heaven dweller who knew the prince's thoughts and came to inspire him.

   21. When he was gone like a bird to heaven, the prince rejoiced and was astonished to know the meaning of dharma, and he set his mind on how to accomplish deliverance.

    23. To make end of old age, sickness and death, he wished to remain in the woods, but he entered the city again without feelings of longing, like an elephant entering an exercise-ground after roaming in forestland.

    27. Then stepping like a lion he went to the king who was attended by numerous counselors, like Sanatkumāra in heaven waiting on Indra resplendent in the assembly of the Maruts.

   28. Prostrating himself, with folded hands, he addressed him, 'Grant me graciously your permission, lord of men: I want to become a wandering mendicant seeking liberation, since separation is appointed for me.'

   29. The king shook like a tree struck by an elephant, and seizing his son's folded hands which were like a lotus, he answered choked with tears:

   30. 'O my son, stop that thought. It can't be time for you to commit yourself to dharma. They say that the life of an ascetic is full of troubles in youth when the mind is still fickle.

   31. 'The young mind does not yet know; it lacks judgment. A young man's desires are fixed on worldly objects, so that there is no settled resolution for vows of penance, no dedication to life of the forest.

   32. 'It is time now for me to become the ascetic, my child of loved qualities, leaving my royal glory to you who are well worthy to distinguish yourself by it. Asceticism is to be practiced in the right way; it would not be right for you to leave your own father.

   33. 'So abandon this plan for now. Devote yourself to the duties of a householder. Enjoy the pleasures of the prime of life. The time will come to seek the delights of the penance-forest.'

   34. Having heard these words of the king, the prince replied in a soft voice like a sparrow's: 'If you can promise me four things, king, I will not go to the forest.

   35. 'Let me never die, and let disease never impair my health; let old age never rob my youth, and let misfortune never destroy my wealth.'

   36. The king of the Sākyas did not understand his son's meaning. He simply replied: 'Abandon this idea of leaving; extravagant desires are only ridiculous.'

   37. But he was firm as Mount Meru in addressing his father: 'If what I ask is impossible, then you must let me go; it is not right to detain one escaping from a house that is on fire.

  38. 'It is inevitable to be separated from the world. If I do not follow Dharma, death will sever me helplessly, my goals unachieved and myself unsatisfied?'

   39. The king heard this resolve of his son longing for liberation, and ordered, 'He shall not go!' He set guards to pen him up in the pleasures of the palace.

   41. He returned to his consorts with their restless eyes, their faces kissed by dangling earrings, their bosoms heaving with thick sighs. They were like so many innocent fawns.

   45. They waited during the night on the noblest of men who was like Indra himself, with a concert of musical instruments, as the crowds of heavenly nymphs wait on the son of the Lord of wealth upon the white moon-lit summit of Himavat.

   46. But even those beautiful instruments and heavenly music failed to move him to pleasure or delight; he did not forget his wish to leave home to seek the highest bliss.

   47. Then by the power of the heavenly Akanishthas [spirits], who knew the purpose of his heart, deep sleep suddenly overcame all that company of women, and they lay on the floor in distorted positions.

   48. One was lying there, resting her cheek on her trembling arm; leaving as in anger her lute, though dearly loved, which lay on her side, decorated with gold-leaf.

   49. Another shone with her flute clinging to her hand, lying with her white garments fallen from her bosom,--like a river whose banks are smiling with the foam of the water and whose lotuses are covered with a straight line of bees.

   50. Another was sleeping, embracing her drum as a lover, with her two arms tender like the shoot of young lotus and bearing their bracelets closely linked, blazing with gold.

   51. Others, decked with new golden ornaments and wearing peerless yellow garments, fell down helpless with sleep, like the boughs of the Karnikāra broken by an elephant.  . .

   59. Others, helpless and lost to shame, though naturally self-possessed and endued with all graces of person, breathed violently as they lay and yawned with their arms distorted and tossed about.

   60. Others, with their ornaments and garlands thrown off,--unconscious, with their garments spread out unfastened,--their bright eyes wide open and motionless,--lay without any beauty as if they were dead.

   61. Another, with fully-developed limbs, her mouth wide open, her saliva dropping, and her person exposed, lay as though sprawling in intoxication,--she spoke not, but bore every limb distorted.

   62. Thus that company of women, lying in different attitudes, according to their disposition and family, bore the aspect of a lake whose lotuses were bent down and broken by the wind.

   63. Seeing these young women so distorted and uncontrolled, however excellent graceful their appearance had been when awake, the king's son felt moved with scorn.

   64. 'Here is the nature of women, impure and monstrous in the world of living beings, but men are deceived by their dress and ornaments. They are infatuated by a woman's attractions.

   65. 'Men are smitten and succumb to passion, but a man who considers the natural state of women and this change produced in them by sleep, surely will not cherish his folly.'

   66. With this recognition there arose in the prince a desire to escape in the night, and the gods who knew his purpose threw open the gates of the palace.

   67. Then he descended from the chambers where those women lay contorted, and went out boldly into the courtyard.

   68. He awakened his horse's attendant, the swift Khamdaka, and said to him: 'Bring me quickly my horse Kamthaka, I wish to-day to go hence to attain immortality.

   71. Then, accepting his lord's command, though he knew the king's commands, as being urged by a higher power in his mind, he went to fetch the horse.

   72. He brought to his master the noble steed, furnished with a golden bit, his back bearing light impressions of the bed on which he had been lying, an animal endued with strength, vigor, speed, and swiftness;

   74. The broad-chested prince embraced him, and caressing him with his lotus-like hand, ordered him with a gentle-toned voice, as if he were going to attack an army:

   75. 'Oftentimes evil enemies been overthrown by the king when mounted on you, O best of steeds. Now exert yourself today so that I too may obtain the highest immortality.

   78. 'When I attain this righteous end, my escape from here tonight will be for the good of the world, so commit your speed and energy now for your own good and the good of the world.'

   79. Thus having exhorted the best of steeds like a friend to his duty, he, the best of men, longing to go to the forest, wearing a noble form, in brightness like fire, mounted the white horse as the sun an autumnal cloud.

   80. Then that good steed, avoiding all noises which would sound startling in the dead of night and awaken the household,--all sound of his jaws hushed and his neighing silenced,--went forth, planting his hurrying steps at full speed. . .

      82. The city-roads which were closed with heavy gates and bars, and which could be with difficulty opened even by elephants, flew open of their own accord without noise, as the prince went through. . .

      87. But he with his horse like the horse of Indra, the lord of bay horses, hurrying on as if spurred in his mind, went over the leagues full of many conflicting emotions--the sky all the while with its cloud-masses checkered with the light of the dawn.


Book 6: parting with his horse

[The prince sends his horse back to the palace and enters the wilderness alone.]


Book 7: Wood of the Rishi Masters

[The prince talks with the rishi-masters in the woods.]


Book 8: return of the horse

[The horse returns to the palace with its groom, and the king grieves the loss of his son.]


Book 9: the mission to the prince

[The king sends a minister to persuade his son to return from the wilds, but the prince rejects his advice.]


Book 10 & 11: disputes about the way

[The prince debates the way of asceticism.]


Book 12: the end of mortification

{The prince now known as Bodhisattva decides that mortification of the flesh through starvation and deprivation is not the way to enlightment. He takes nourishment.]

   1025. Bodhisattva wandered on alone, directing his course to that fortunate tree, beneath whose shade he might accomplish his search for complete enlightenment. .

   1026. Over the ground wide and level, producing soft and pliant grass, he advanced with lion step, and earth shook as he walked, pace by pace.

   1027. The quake aroused Kāla Nāga [a magical being who protects meditators], who was filled with joy, as his eyes were opened to the light. He exclaimed: 'When I saw the Buddhas of the old days, there was the sign of an earthquake, just as now!

   1028. 'The virtues of a Muni are so great in majesty, that the great earth cannot endure them; as step by step his foot treads upon the ground, so is there heard the rumbling sound of earth shaking.

   1029. 'A brilliance now lights the world, as the shining of the rising sun; five hundred bluish tinted birds I see, wheeling round to the right, flying through space.

   1030. 'A gentle, soft, and cooling breeze blows around in an agreeable way; all these auspicious signs are the same as those of former Buddhas.

   1031. 'The signs tell me that this Bodhisattva will arrive at perfect wisdom. And now, look! from that grass cutter there, he obtains some pure and pliant grass.

   1032. 'Which spreading out beneath the tree, with upright body, there he takes his seat; his feet placed under him, not carelessly arranged (moving to and fro), but like the firmly fixed and compact body of a Nāga.

   1033. 'Nor shall he rise again from his seat till he has completed his undertaking.' And so the Nāga uttered these words by way of confirmation, and the Nāgas of the heavens filled with joy.

   1034. A cool refreshing breeze arose; the trees and grass were yet unmoved by it, and all the beasts were quiet and silent.

   1035. These are the signs that Bodhisattva will certainly attain enlightenment.


Book 13: defeating Māra

   1036. The great Rishi, of the royal tribe of Rishis, beneath the Bodhi tree firmly established, swore an oath to perfect the way of complete deliverance.

   1037. The spirits, Nāgas, and the heavenly multitude, all were filled with joy, but Māra Devarāga, enemy of spirituality, was grieved, and rejoiced not.

   1038. He is Lord of the five desires, skilled in all the arts of warfare, the foe of those who seek deliverance, therefore rightly is he called Pisuna.

   1039. Now this Māra rāga had three daughters, mincingly beautiful and of a pleasant countenance, in every way fit by artful ways to enflame a man with love, highest in this respect among the Devīs.

   1040. The first was named Yuh-yen (lust), the second Neng-yueh-gin (sexual delight), the third Ngai-loh (love joy). These three, at this time, advanced together

  1041. And addressed their father Pisuna and said: 'May we not know the trouble that afflicts you?' He calmed down enough to answer them:

   1042. 'The world has now a great Muni, he has taken a strong oath as a helmet, he holds a mighty bow in his hand, wisdom is the diamond shaft he uses.

   1043. 'His goal is to master the world, to ruin and destroy my domain; I am myself unequal to him, for all men will believe in him.

   1044. 'If all find refuge in the way of his salvation, then my kingdom will be desert and unoccupied, like a man becomes empty when he breaks the laws of morality.

   1045. 'The eye of wisdom is not yet opened in this man, so while my empire still has peace, I will go and overturn his purpose, and break down and divide the ridge-pole of his house).'

   1046. Seizing then his bow and his five arrows, with all his retinue of male and female attendants, he went to that grove of 'fortunate rest' with the vow that humanity should not find peace.

   1047. He saw the quiet Muni preparing to cross the sea of the three worlds. In his left hand grasping his bow, with his right hand pointing his arrow

   1048. he addressed Bodhisattva and said: 'Kshatriya! get up quickly! or your death will be at hand! You may practice your own personal religion,

   1049. 'But stop trying to deliver others. Wage war on charity, satisfy the tumultuous world, and so in the end reach your happiness in heaven.

   1050. 'This is a way renowned and well established, in which great ones have walked in former days, Rishis and kings and men of eminence, but this system of penury and alms-begging that you promote is unworthy of you.

   1051. 'If you do not get up now and give up your foolish vow, you will tempt me to shoot you.

   1052. 'Remember Aila, grandchild of Soma? Touched lightly by one of these arrows of mine, as by a little breeze, he lost his mind and became a madman.

   1053. 'And think how the Rishi Vimala, practicing austerities, merely heard the sound of one of these darts: he lost heart, and bewildered with fear forgot who he was.

   1054. 'How much less can you--a modern man--hope to escape this shaft of mine. Get up quickly or you will not get away!

   1055. 'This arrow full of deadly poison, fearfully insidious where it strikes a foe! See now! with all my strength, I aim at you! How can rest there in the face of such calamity?

   1056. 'How is it that you fear not this dread arrow? say! why do you not tremble?' Māra uttered these and many other threats to awe Bodhisattva,

   1057. But Bodhisattva's heart remained unmoved, fearless. so Māra attacked by setting the three attractive women out in front of him.

   1058.  Bodhisattva disregarded them and the arrow. Māra rāga now was troubled much with doubt, and muttered between his heart and mouth.

   1059. 'The maiden of the snowy mountains shot Mahesvara long ago and made him change his mind, but Bodhisattva is unmoved,

   1060. 'he does not care about my arrow or my three heavenly daughters! Nothing moves his heart or raises the smallest spark of love within him.

   1061. 'I must call my army and subdue him with force.' With this thought, Māra's host suddenly assembled around him.

   1062.  They were all kinds. Some were holding spears, others grasping swords, others pulling up trees, others wielding diamond maces. They had every sort of weapon.

   1063. Some had heads like hogs, others like fish, others like asses, others like horses; some with forms like snakes or like the ox or savage tiger; lion-headed, dragon-headed, and looking like every other kind of animal.

   1064. Some had many heads on one body-trunk, with faces having but a single eye, and then again some had many eyes> Some were great-bellied,

   1065. And others thin and skinny, or bellyless. Others were long-legged, mighty-knee’d; and others were big-shanked and fat-calved. Some had long and claw-like nails.

   1066. Some were headless, breastless, faceless; some had two feet but many bodies; some had huge faces looking in every direction; some were pale and ash-coloured,

   1067. Others colored like the bright star rising, others steaming fiery vapor, some with ears like elephants, with humps like mountains, some were naked forms covered with hair

   1068 And some had leather skins for clothing, their faces two tone red and white; some had tiger skins as robes, some were covered with snake skins,

   1069. Some had tinkling bells around their waists, others with twisted screw-like hair, others with hair dishevelled covering the body. Some were breath-suckers,

   1070. And others were body-snatchers, some dancing and shrieking awhile, some jumping onwards with their feet together, some hitting one another as they went,

   1071. Others wheeled around in the air, others flying and leaping between the trees, others howling, or hooting, or screaming, or whining, with their evil noises shaking the great earth.

   1072. Thus this wicked goblin troop encircled the Bodhi tree on all four sides. Some wanted to tear his body to pieces, others would devour it whole.

   1073. From the four sides flames belched forth, and fiery steam ascended up to heaven; tempestuous winds arose on every side; the mountain forests shook and quaked.

   1074. Wind, fire, and steam, with dust combined, eventually produced such pitchy darkness that nothing could be seen. And now the Devas who loved the law, and all the Nāgas and the spirits (kwei-shin),

   1075. All incensed at this host of Māra, were fired with anger or wept tears of blood; the great company of Suddhavāsa gods, beholding Māra tempting Bodhisattva,

   1076. with hearts undisturbed by passion, were moved by pity towards him. With commiseration they came in a body to see the Bodhisattva, so calmly seated and so undisturbed,

   1077. Surrounded with an uncounted host of devils, shaking the heaven and earth with sounds of ill-omen. Bodhisattva remained silent in their midst, his expression as bright as heretofore, unchanged.

   1078. Like the great lion-king placed amongst all the beasts howling and growling round him, he was a sight never seen before, so strange and wonderful!

   1079. The host of Māra hastening, as arranged, each one exerting his utmost force, taking each other's place in turns, threatening every moment to destroy him,

   1080. Fiercely staring, grinning with their teeth, flying tumultuously, bounding here and there. But Bodhisattva, silently watched them as one might watch the games of children.

   1081. And now the demon host became more angry, and to add force to force they grasped at stones, but they could not lift the stones, or lifting them, they could not throw them.

   1082. Their flying spears, lances, and javelins, stuck fast in the upper air, and would not descend to their target; the angry thunder-drops and mighty hail were changed into five-colored lotus flowers,

   1083 And the foul poison of the dragons was turned to spicy-breathing air. All these countless creatures, wishing to destroy the Bodhisattva

   1084. Were unable remove him from the spot, and instead were wounded with their own weapons. Now Māra had an aunt-attendant whose name was Māha Kālī

   1085. Who held a skull-dish in her hands, and she stood in front of Bodhisattva, making all sorts of provocative gestures, to tempt Bodhisattva to love her.

   1086. So all these followers of Māra, possessed of every demon-body form, united in discordant uproar, hoping to terrify Bodhisattva,

   1087. But not a hair of his was moved, and Māra's host was filled with sorrow. Then in the air the crowd of angels (spirits), their forms invisible, raised their voices, saying:

   1088. 'Behold the great Muni; his mind unmoved by any feeling of resentment, whilst all that wicked Māra race, besotted, are vainly bent on his destruction

   1089. 'Let go your foul and murderous thoughts against that silent Muni, calmly seated! You cannot with a breath move the Sumeru mountain.

   1090. 'Fire may freeze, water may burn, the roughened earth may grow soft and pliant, but you cannot harm the Bodhisattva disciplined by past lives of suffering

   1091. Bodhisattva right thinking, using proper means, pure and illustrious for wisdom, loving and merciful to all,

   1092. 'These four excellent virtues cannot be taken away from him, so as to make it doubtful whether he will gain the highest wisdom.

   1093. 'For as the thousand rays of yonder sun must drown the darkness of the world, or as wood must kindle fire, or as wells give water,

   1094. 'So he who practices the right means, by seeking will find the world to be without instruction, poisoned by lust and hate and ignorance.

   1095. 'Because he pitied all people, he sought on their account the joy of wisdom. Why then would you molest and hinder one who seeks to banish sorrow from the world?

   1096. 'The ignorance that everywhere prevails is due to false pernicious books (sūtras), but Bodhisattva, walking uprightly, would lead and draw men after his example.

   1097. 'It is evil to mislead him, the new leader of the world, for it is as though in the great desert a man would purposely mislead the merchant-guide

   1098. 'All people having fallen into darkness, ignorant of where they are going, for their sakes he would light the lamp of wisdom. So why would you extinguish it?

   1099. 'All people surrounded and overwhelmed in the great sea of birth and death, this one prepares the boat of wisdom; say then! why will you destroy and sink it? . . .

   1105. 'Bring down and moderate your mind's desire, banish these high and envious thoughts, prepare yourselves for right reflection, be patient in your services.'

   1106. Māra hearing these sounds in space, and seeing Bodhisattva still unmoved, filled with fear and banishing his proud and vain thoughts, fled away into the sky.

   1107. All his host were scattered, filled with grief and disappointment, fallen from their high estate, bereft of their warrior pride, their warlike weapons and gear thrown heedlessly away in woods and deserts.

   1108. As when some cruel chieftain slain, his hateful band immediately quits and scatters, so the host of Māra fled away dispirited, and the mind of Bodhisattva reposed in peace and quiet.

   1109. The morning sun-beams brighten with the dawn, the dust-like mist disperses, then disappears; the moon and stars pale their faint light, and the barriers of the night are all removed,

   1110. Whilst from above a fall of heavenly flower petals pay sweet tribute to the Bodhisattva.



Book 14: the vision

   1111. Bodhisattva having subdued Māra, his firmly fixed mind at peace, he entered into deep and subtle contemplation.

   1112. Every kind of Sāmadhi in order passed before him. During the first watch he entered on right perception and recalled all of his former births.

   1113. Born in such a place, of such a name, and downwards to his present birth, so through hundreds, thousands, myriads, all his births and deaths he saw

   1114. Countless in number were they, of every kind and sort; then knowing, too, his family relationships, great pity rose within his heart.

   1115. This sense of deep compassion passed, he considered all that lives, and how they move within the six portions of life's revolution, no final term to birth and death,

   1116. Hollow all, and false and transient as the plantain tree, or as a dream or fantasy. Then in the middle watch of night, he saw the pure Devas,

   1117. And beheld before him every creature, as one sees images in a mirror; all creatures born and born again to die, noble and mean, the poor and rich, .

   1118. Reaping the fruit of right or evil deeds, and receiving happiness or misery in consequence. First he saw those evil deeds that must ever result in an evil rebirth.

   1119. They are reborn in hells full of every kind of misery, while those who practice righteous deeds are reborn among men or gods.

   1120. Swallowing molten brass, iron skewers piercing their bodies, confined within the boiling caldron, forced to enter the fiery oven,

   1121. Food for hungry long-toothed dogs, or preyed upon by brain-eating birds, scorched by fire, they wander in thick woods, with leaves like razors slashing their arms and legs,

   1122. They are unable to die even if knives divide their writhing bodies, or hatchets lop their members, bit by bit, or they drink the bitterest poisons.

   1123. Thus those who found their joy in evil deeds, he saw receiving now their direst sorrow; a momentary taste of pleasure here, an unrelieved length of suffering there.

   1124. A laugh or joke because of others' pain turns to crying and weeping at punishment received. Surely if the living saw these consequence of all their evils deeds, they would be self-controlled,

   1125. Terrified of the bloody ruin to follow death, and so they would hate all evil deeds and turn away from them. He also saw rebirths in beast forms, each deed entailing its own result,

   1126. Each death leading to rebirth in a corresponding beast shape. They are transformed in their skin or flesh, or with horns or hair or bones or wings,

   1127. Many are torn or killed in fighting with friends or relatives, or burdened with loads or dragging heavy weights, they are whipped and driven on by pricking goads.

   1128. Blood flows down their tortured forms, parched and hungry, ever unrelieved. Then, behind him he saw one with another contending vainly to get away.

   1129. Even flying through air or sunk in deep water, they found no place that was a refuge from death. He also saw misers and covetous people reborn now as hungry ghosts,

   1130. With vast bodies like towering mountains, but mouths as small as needle holes, so they were always hungry and thirsty, with nothing to eat but fire and poisoned flame which cooked their guts within.

   1131. The covetous had not given to those in need, or they had duped those who gave to charity, so now they had been reborn among these famished ghosts desperate for food but unable to find any.

   1132. They would eat garbage that they see left in the filth, but it disappears before it can be eaten. Anyone who can see that covetousness is thus repaid,

   1133. Would give his very flesh in charity, even as Sivi rāga did! Then, he looked again and saw those reborn as men with bodies like sewers,

   1134. Ever moving in pain, born with fear and trembling, and such tender bodies as to feel cut with knives at the touch of anything

   1135. For those in this condition, no moment is free from toil and sorrow and the risk of death, yet they want to be reborn and endure even more pain.

   1136. Then he saw those who wanted to enjoy heaven, but love had consuming them. Their joy ended with the signs of their fading beauty,

   1137. Like blossoms decaying, withering away, losing all of their bright colors. Not all their lovers, living still, can save them, even if they grieve for them.

   1138. The palaces and pleasure precincts empty now, the Devīs all alone and desolate, sit in the dust and weep bitter tears in memory of their mortal lovers;

   1139. Those who are born decay. The dead cause grief for those who loved them, and so the struggle goes on forever, from one sorrow to the next. They are covetous for joys

   1140. But obtaining joys, they find more sorrows still. Despicable joys! oh, who would want them! They try to banish pain, but they cannot succeed.

   1141. Even these Devis are deceived. Long ages full of suffering have not crushed their desires and lusts.

   1142. Now certainly expecting long reprieve, and yet once more destined to fall in hell enduring every kind of pain, as beasts tearing and killing onethe other,

   1143. As Pretas parched with direst thirst, as men worn out, seeking enjoyment; although, they say, when born in heaven, 'then we shall escape these greater ills,'

   1144.  Incorrect! No place is exempt. Every birth brings incessant pain! A great sea of birth and death swirls like an ever-turning wheel,

   1145. All flesh immersed within its waves cast here and there with no safe shore anywhere. Thus with his pure Deva eyes he thoughtfully considered the five domains of life.

   1146. He saw that all was empty and vain alike! with no dependence! like the plantain or the bubble. Then, on the third eventful watch, he entered on the deep, true apprehension;

   1147. He meditated on the entire world of creatures, whirling in life's tangle, born to sorrow; the crowds who live, grow old, and die, innumerable multitudes,

   1148. Covetous, lustful, ignorant, darkly-fettered, with no way known for final rescue. Rightly considering, inwardly he reflected from what source birth and death proceed;

   1149. He was assured that age and death must come from birth as from a source. To be born in a body is to inherit decay.

   1150. Then looking further whence comes birth, he saw it comes from deeds in former lives; then with his Deva-eyes scanning these deeds, he saw they were not framed by Isvara;

   1151. They were not self-caused, they were not personal existences, nor were they either uncaused; then, as one who breaks the first bamboo joint finds all the rest easy to separate,

   1152. Having discerned the cause of birth and death, he gradually came to see the truth; deeds come from upādāna, just as fire catches hold of grass;

   1153. Upādāna comes from trishnā, just as a little fire enflames the mountains; trishnā comes from vedanā;

   1154. As the starving or the thirsty man seeks food and drink, so sense perception brings desires; contact with the senses is the cause of all sensation, all pain and pleasure,

   1155. The six senses are like a man rubbing sticks together to start a fire, they make contact and the flame ignites . . .

   1159. Contact is the root of the problem. It brings forth sensation; sensation brings forth longing desire; longing desire produces upādāna;

   1160. Upādāna is the cause of deeds; and these in turn engender rebirth; rebirth again produces age and death; so  this is all simply one incessant round.

   1161. He was thus enlightened, and he understood that to destroy old age and death required destruction of birth;

   1162. Destroy bhava then will birth cease; destroy upādāna then will bhava end; destroy trishnā then will attachment end; destroy sensation then will trishnā end;

   1163. Destroy contact then will end sensation; destroy the six senses, then will contact cease; the six entrances all destroyed, moreover, names and things will cease;

   1164. Knowledge destroyed, names and things will cease; samskāra destroyed, then knowledge perishes; ignorance destroyed, then the samskāra will die. Having completed this understanding, the great Rishi was done.

   1165. He then devised for the world's benefit the eightfold path, right sight, and so on, the only true path for the world to tread.

   1166. Thus he completed the destruction of 'self,' as fire goes out for want of grass; and he had taught what he would have men do.

   1167. So Buddha finished the first great lesson (paramārtha), and as he entered the house, the darkness disappeared. Light was coming on. It was still perfectly silent, all at rest . . .

   1180. There rose in him deep compassion; much he wanted to care for others, to gain for them that most excellent deliverance

   1181. From covetous desire, hatred, ignorance, and false teaching; how to suppress this sinful heart by right direction; not by anxious use of rituals, but by rest in thoughtful silence.

   1182. Now there came to his mind a wish to preach the law; and looking carefully throughout the world, he saw how pain and sorrow ripened and increased everywhere.

   1183. Brahma knew his thoughts, and considered it right to ask him to preach for the spread the Brahma-glory and for deliverance of all people from sorrow,

   1184. And he beheld upon the person of the reverend monk all the distinguishing marks of a great preacher, visible to an excellent degree. Fixed and unmoved he sat in the possession of truth and wisdom,

   1185. Free from all evil impediments, with a heart cleansed from all insincerity or falsehood. Then with reverent and a joyful heart, (great Brahma stood and) with hands joined, thus made known his request:

   1186. 'What good in all the world is so great as when a loving teacher meets those who await deliverance from  impurity of mind, dire confusion,

   1187. 'Heavy grief or, at least, sorrows. This lord of men has crossed the wide and mournful sea of birth and death,

   1188. 'And now wants to rescue the struggling creatures still engulphed in it, like a man of business who has made a profit and justly rebates some of it.

   1189. 'The world indeed is bent on large personal gain, and rare it is to find one who will share with others.

   1190. 'Let your loving heart be moved with pity towards the world so burdened with vexing cares.' Having spoken, with reverent mien he turned back to the Brahma heaven.

   1191. With this invitation of Brahma, Buddha rejoiced at heart, and his goal was set. His heart so greatly nourished by pity, the purpose in his mind was to preach . . .

   [Asvaghosha's work continues through 27 books and the passing of the Buddha.]



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