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14 | Buddha-Carita | Aśvaghoṣa

Buddha-carita, or The Life of Buddha

Book 14

Supreme Realisation

1. Then, having conquered the hosts of Māra by his firmness and calmness, he the great master of meditation set himself to meditate, longing to know the supreme end.

2. And having attained the highest mastery in all kinds of meditation, he remembered in the first watch the continuous series of all his former births.

3. In such a place I was so and so by name, and from thence I passed and came hither,' thus he remembered his thousands of births, experiencing each as it were over again.

4. And having remembered each birth and each death in all those various transmigrations, the compassionate one then felt compassion for all living beings.

5. Having wilfully rejected the good guides in this life and done all kinds of actions in various lives, this world of living beings rolls on helplessly, like a wheel.

6. As he thus remembered, to him in his strong self-control came the conviction, `All existence is insubstantial, like the fruit of a plantain.'

7. When the second watch came, he, possessed of unequalled energy, received a pre-eminent divine sight, like the highest of all sight-gifted beings.

8. Then by that divine perfectly pure sight he beheld the whole world as in a spotless mirror.

9. As he saw the various transmigrations and rebirths of the various beings with their several lower or higher merits from their actions, compassion grew up more within him.

10. These living beings, under the influence of evil actions, pass into wretched worlds, - these others, under the influence of good actions, go forward in heaven.

11. The one, being born in a dreadful hell full of terrors, are miserably tortured, alas! by many kinds of suffering;

12. Some are made to drink molten iron of the colour of fire, others are lifted aloft screaming on a red-hot iron pillar;

13. Others are baked like flour, thrown with their heads downwards into iron jars; others are miserably burned in heaps of heated charcoal;

14. Some are devoured by fierce dreadful dogs with iron teeth, others by gloating crows with iron beaks and all made as it were of iron;

15. Some, wearied of being burned, long for cold shade; these enter like bound captives into a dark blue wood with swords for leaves.

16. Others having many arms are split like timber with axes, but even in that agony they do not die, being supported in their vital powers by their previous actions.

17. Whatever deed was done only to hinder pain with the hope that it might bring pleasure, its result is now experienced by these helpless victims as simple pain.

18. These who did something evil for the sake of pleasure and are now grievously pained, - does that old taste produce even an atom of pleasure to them now?

19. The wicked deed which was done by the wicked-hearted in glee, - its consequences are reaped by them in the fullness of time with cries.

20. If only evil doers could see the fruits of their actions, they would vomit hot blood as if they were smitten in a vital part.

21. And worse still than all these bodily tortures in hell seems to me the association of an intelligent man with the base.

22. Others also, through various actions arising from the spasmodic violence of their minds, are born miserable in the wombs of various beasts.

23. There the poor wretches are killed even in the sight of their kindred, for the sake of their flesh, their skin, their hair, or their teeth, or through hatred or for mere pleasure.

24. Even though powerless and helpless, oppressed by hunger, thirst, and fatigue, they are driven along as oxen and horses, their bodies wounded with goads.

25. They are driven along, when born as elephants, by weaker creatures than themselves for all their strength, - their heads tormented by the hook and their bodies kicked by foot and heel.

26. And with all these other miseries there is an especial misery arising from mutual enmity and from subjection to a master.

27. Air-dwellers are oppressed by air-dwellers, the denizens of water by the denizens of water, those that dwell on dry land are made to suffer by the dwellers on dry land in mutual hostility.

28. And others there are who, when born again, with their minds filled with envy, reap the miserable fruit of their actions in a world of the Pitris destitute of all light;

29. Having mouths as small as the eye of a needle and bellies as big as a mountain, these miserable wretches are tortured with the pains of hunger and thirst.

30. If a man only knew that such was the consequence of selfishness, he would always give to others even pieces of his own body like Śibi.

31. Rushing up filled with hope but held back by their former deeds, they try in vain to eat anything large, however impure.

32. Others, having found a hell in an impure lake called the womb, are born amongst men and suffer there anguish.

32. At the first even at the moment of birth they are gripped by sharp hands, as if sharp swords were piercing them, whereat they weep bitterly.

33. They are loved and cherished and guarded by their kindred who bring them up with every care, only to be defiled by their own various deeds as they pass from suffering to greater suffering.

34. And in this state the fools, obsessed with desire, are borne along in the ever-flowing stream, thinking all the more, `this is to be done and this is to be done'.

35. These others, who have accumulated merit, are born in heaven, and are terrible burned by the flames of sensual passion (kāma), as by a fire.

36. And from there they fall, still not satiated with the objects of sense, with eyes turned upwards, their brilliance gone, and wretched at the fade of their garlands.

37. And as their lovers fall helplessly, the Apsarās regard them pitifully and catch their clothes with their hands.

38. Some look as if they were falling to earth with their ropes of pearls swaying, as they try to hold up their lovers falling miserably from the pavilions.

39. Others, wearing ornaments and garlands of many kinds and grieved at their fall into suffering, follow them with eyes unsteady with sympathy.

40. In their love for those who are falling, the troops of Apsarās beat their breasts with their hands and, distressed, as it were, with great affliction, remain attached to them.

41. The dwellers in Paradise (svarga?) fall distressed to earth, lamenting, “Alas, grove of Chaitraratha! Alas, heavenly lake! Alas, Mandākinī! Alas, beloved!

42. Seeing that Paradise, obtained by many labours, is uncertain and transitory, and that such suffering will be caused by separation from it,

43. Alas, inexorably this is in an especial degree the law of action (karma) in the world; this is the nature of the world and yet they do not see it to be such.

44. Others, who have disjoined themselves from sensual passion, conclude in their minds that their station is eternal (dhruvam); yet they fall miserably from heaven.

45. In the hells (apāya) is excessive torture, among animals eating each other, the suffering of hunger and thirst among the pretas, among men the sufferings of longings,

46. In the heavens that are free from love the suffering of rebirth is excessive. For the ever-wandering world of the living there is most certainly no peace anywhere.

47. This stream of the cycle of existence has no support and is ever subject to death. Creatures, thus beset of all sides, find no resting place.

48. Thus with the divine eyesight (divya-cakṣus) he examined the five spheres of life and found nothing substantial in existence, just as no heartwood is found in a plantain- tree when it is cut open.

49. Then as the third watch of that night drew on, the best of those who understood trance (dhyāna) meditated on the real nature of this world:-

50. “Alas! Living creatures obtain but toil; over and over again they are born, grow old, die, pass on and are reborn.

51. Further man's sight is veiled by passion (rajas) and by the darkness of delusion (moha), and from the excess of his blindness he does not know the way out of this great suffering.

52. After thus considering, he reflected in his mind, “What verily is it whose existence causes the approach of old age (jarā) and death (maraṇa)?”

53. Penetrating the truth to its core, he understood that old age and death are produced, when there is birth (jāti).

54. He saw that head-ache is only possible when the head is already in existence; for when the birth of a tree has come to pass, then only can the felling of it take place.

55. Then the thought again arose in him, “What does this birth proceed from?” Then he saw rightly that birth is produced from existence due to the power of the act (karma-bhava).

56. With his divine eyesight he saw that active being (pravṛtti) proceeds from the act, not from a Creator (Iśvara) or from Nature (Prakṛti?) or from a self without a cause.

57. Just as, if the first knot in a bamboo is wisely cut, everything quickly comes into order, so his knowledge advanced in proper order.

58. Thereon the sage applied his mind to determining the origin of existence (bhava). Then he saw that the origin of existence was to be found in appropriation (upādāna).

59. This act arises from appropriating the various vows and rules (śīla-vrata) of life, sensual pleasures (kāma), views of self (ātma-vāda) and false views (dṛṣṭi), as fire arises by appropriating fuel.

60. Then the though occurred to him, “From what cause does appropriation come?” Thereon he recognised the causal condition (pratyaya) of appropriation to lie in thirst (tṛṣṇā).

61. Just as the forest is set ablaze by a little fire, when the wind fans it, so thirst gives birth to the vast sins (kleśas) of sensual pleasure and the rest.

62. Then he reflected, “From what does thirst arise?” Thereon he concluded that the cause of thirst is sensation (vedanā).

63. Mankind, overwhelmed by their sensations, thirst for the means of satisfying them; for no one in the absence of thirst takes pleasure in water.

64. Then he again meditated, “What is the source of sensation?” He, who had put an end to sensation, saw also the cause of sensation to be in contact (sparśa?).

65. Contact is to be explained as the uniting of the object, the sense and the mind, whence sensation is produced, just as fire is produced from the uniting of the two rubbing sticks and fuel.

66. Next he considered that contact has a cause. Thereon he recognised the cause to lie in the six organs of sense (ṣaḍāyatana?).

67. The blind man does not perceive objects, since his eye does not bring them into junction with his mind; if sight exists, the junction takes place. Therefore there is contact, when the sense-organs exists.

68. Further he made up his mind to understand the origin of the six organs of sense. Thereon the knower of causes knew the cause to be name-and-form (nāma-rūpa).

69. Just as the leaf and the stalk are only said to exist when there is a shoot in existence, so the six organs of sense only arise when name-and-form is in existence.

70. Then the thought occurred to him, “What is the cause of name-and-form?” Thereon he, who had passed to the further side of knowledge (jñāna), saw its origin to lie in consciousness (vijñāna).

71. When consciousness arises, name-and-form is produced. When the development of the seed is completed, the sprout assumes a bodily form.

72. Next he considered, “From what does consciousness come into being?” Then he knew that it is produced by supporting itself on name-and-form.

73. Then after he had understood the order of causality, he thought over it; his mind travelled over the views that he had formed and did not turn aside to other thoughts.

74. Consciousness is the causal condition from which name and form is produced. Name-and-form again is the support on which consciousness is based.

75. Just as a boat conveys a man . . . . . . , so consciousness and name-and-form are causes of each other.

76. Just as red-hot iron causes grass to blaze and as blazing grass makes iron redhot, of such a kind is their mutual causality.

77. Thus he understood that from consciousness arises name-and-from, from the latter originate the senses and from the senses arises contact.

78. But of contact he knew sensation to be born, out of sensation thirst, out of thirst appropriation, and out of appropriation similarly existence.

79. From existence comes birth, from birth he knew old age and death to arise. He rightly understood that the world is produced by the causal conditions.

80. Then this conclusion came firmly on him, that from the annihilation of birth old age and death are suppressed (nirodha), that from the destruction of existence birth itself is destroyed, and that existence ceases to be through the suppression of appropriation.

81. Further the latter is suppressed through the suppression of thirst; if sensation does not exist, thirst does not exist; if contact is destroyed, sensation does not come into existence; from the non-existence of the six organs of sense contact is destroyed.

82. Similarly if name-and-form is rightly suppressed, all the six organs of sense are destroyed too; and the former is suppressed through the suppression of consciousness, and the latter is suppressed also through the suppression of the factors (saṁskāra).

83. Similarly the great seer understood that the factors are suppressed by the complete absence of ignorance (avidyā). Therefore he knew properly what was to be known and stood out before the world as the Buddha.

84. The best of men saw no self anywhere from the summit of existence downwards and came to tranquillity, like a fire whose fuel is burnt out, by the eightfold path of supreme insight, which starts forth and quickly reaches the desired point.

85. Then as his being was perfected, the thought arose in him, “I have obtained this perfect path which was travelled for the sake of the ultimate reality by former families of great seers, who knew the higher and the lower things”.

86. At that moment of the fourth watch when the dawn came up and all that moves or moves not was stilled, the great seer reached the stage which knows no alteration, the sovereign leader the state of omniscience.

87. When, as the Buddha, he knew this truth, the earth swayed like a woman drunken with wine, the quarters shone bright with crowds of Siddhas, and mighty drums resounded in the sky.

88. Pleasant breezes blew softly, the heaven rained moisture from a cloudless sky, and from the trees there dropped flowers and fruit out of due season as if to do him honour.

89. At that time, just as in Paradise, māndārava flowers, lotuses and water-lilies of gold and beryl fell from the sky and bestrewed the place of the Sakya sage.

90. At that moment none gave way to anger, no one was ill or experienced any discomfort, none resorted to sinful ways or indulged in intoxication of mind; the world became tranquil, as though it had reached perfection.

91. The companies of deities, who are devoted to salvation, rejoiced; even the beings in the spheres below felt joy. Through the prosperity of the party who favoured virtue the dharma spread abroad and the world rose above passion (rajas) and the darkness of ignorance (avidyā).

92. The seers of the Ikṣvāku race who had been rulers of men, the royal seers and the great seers, filled with joy and wonder at his achievement, stood in their mansions in the heavens reverencing him.

93. The great seers of the groups of invisible beings proclaimed his praises with loud utterance and the world of the living rejoiced as if flourishing. But Māra was filled with despondency, as before a great precipice.

94. Then for seven days, free from discomfort of body, he sat, looking into his own mind, his eyes never winking. The sage fulfilled his heart's desire, reflecting that on that spot he had obtained liberation.

95. Then the sage, who had grasped the principle of causation (idaṁpratyayatā) and was firmly fixed in the system of impersonality, roused himself, and, filled with great compassion (mahā-karuṇā), he gazed on the world with his Buddha-eye for the sake of its tranquillity.

96. Seeing that the world was lost in false views and vain efforts and that its passions were gross, seeing too that the law of salvation was exceeding subtle, he set his mind on remaining immobile.

97. Then remembering his former promise, he formed a resolution for the preaching of tranquillity. Thereon he reflected in his mind how there are some persons with great passion and others with little passion.

98. Then when the two chiefs of the heavenly dwellings (i.e. Brahma and Indra) knew that the Sugata's mind had taken the decision to preach tranquillity, they were filled with a desire for the world's benefit and, shining brightly, approached him.

99. As he sat, his aim accomplished by his rejection of sin, and the excellent dharma he had seen as his best companion, they lauded him in all reverence and addressed these words to him for the good of the world:-

100. “Ah! Does not the world deserve such good fortune that your mind should feel compassion for the creatures? In the worlds there exist beings of varied capacity, some with great passion, some with little passion.

101. O sage, having yourself crossed beyond the ocean of existence, rescue the world which is drowning in suffering, and, like a great merchant his wealth, bestow your excellences on others also.

102. There are some people here who, knowing what is to their advantage in this world and the hereafter, act only for their own good. But it is hard to find in this world or in heaven one who will be active for the good of the world.”

103. After thus addressing the great seer, they returned to the celestial sphere by the way they had come. After the sage also had pondered on that speech, the decision grew strong in him for the liberation of the world.

104. At the time for the alms-round the gods of the four quarters presented the seer with begging-bowls; Gautama, accepting the four, turned them into one for the sake of the dharma.

105. Then at that time two merchants of a passing caravan, being instigated thereto by a friendly deity, joyfully did obedience to the seer with exalted minds and were the first to give him alms.

106. The sage reflected that Arāḍa and Udraka Rāmaputra were the two who had minds capable of accepting the dharma, but, when he saw that both had gone to heaven, his thoughts turned to the five mendicants.

107. Then, wishing to preach tranquillity in order to dispel the darkness of ignorance, as the rising sun the darkness, Gautama proceeded to the blessed city, which was beloved of Bhīmaratha, and whose various forests are ornamented by the Varāṇasī.

108. Then the sage, whose eye was like a bull's, whose gait like a rutting elephant's, desired to go to the land of Kāśī, in order to convert the world, and turning his entire body like an elephant, he fixed his unwinking eyes on the bodhi tree.

[End of Chapter Fourteen]