Monday, January 26, 2009

Canto 3: A Depiction of the Realised One

For ascetic practice, then, [he left] Kapilavastu --

A teeming mass of horses, elephants and chariots,

Majestic, safe, loved by its citizens.

He left it behind, starting resolutely for the forest.

In the approach to ascetic practice
of various sacred traditions,

And in the attachment of sages
to various restrictive rules,

He observed the miseries of thirsting for an object.

Seeing ascetic practice to be unreliable,
he turned away from it.

Then he served under Arada,
champion of freedom,

And likewise under Udraka,
who inclined towards quietness --

He served them, his heart set on truth,
and he left them.

He who intuited the path intuited:
"This also is not it."

When he mentally scoured the world, however,

For the most solid
among this and that tradition,

Certainty was not to be found out there.

He entered, after all, into ascetic practice
that was most severe.

Then, having ascertained that this was not the path,

He abandoned that extreme asceticism too.

He knew from past experience
that the realm of realisation was ascendant,

And so he ate most wholesome rice,
in readiness to realise the deathless.

He of arms golden and full,
fit for a yoke,

Of bull-like gait
and far-seeing eyes,

Came to a fig tree,
growing up from the earth,

With the will to awakening
that befits an ascendant method of inquiry.

Sitting there, mind made up,

As unmovingly stable as the king of mountains,

He overcame the grim army of Mara

And awoke to that step
which is happiness,
which nobody can take away,
and which can never be destroyed.

Sensing the completion of his task,

Beings in the sky minded towards the undying

Buzzed and fluttered about with unbridled joy,

While Mara and his crew departed, downcast and trembling.

The earth with its mountains shook,

That which feeds the fire blew auspiciously,

The drums of the gods sounded,

And rain fell from the cloudless sky.

Truly understanding the one great purpose,

Which never ages; and universal in his compassion,

In order to cause others to realise
that which is constant and undying,

He made his way to the city
that the River Varanasi encircled.

Then the wheel of Dharma,
whose hub is truthfulness,

Whose rim is a constant veering
towards physical harmony,

And whose spokes are the guiding rules of practice:
[that wheel] there the seer [turned].

In that assembly, for the welfare of the world,
he rolled the wheel:

"This is suffering; and this, belonging to it,

Is the tangled mass of tendrils producing it;

This is inhibition; and this is a means."

He thus spelled out, one by one,
the ascendant set of four.

He further enumerated the three divisions

Of the imponderable, most transcendent
one-way path,

And made the twelvefold statement of the inevitable;
after which the seer

Led away, to begin with,
him of the Kaundinas' cow-shed.

For he [had crossed] the fathomless sea of faults

Where cares are fish and falsity is the water --

Moved by waves of anger, over-exuberance, and fear.

He had crossed and he took the world across too.

Having at Kasi and at Gaya led away

Many people; as also at the cow-pens of Giri-vraja,

He felt deepest compassion too
for his ancestral hometown.

Wishing to scent how it actually was,
he made his way to the city.

To people possessed by their ends,

In thrall to a jumble of many pathways,

Splendour that seemed like the sun had arisen.

Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness.

Surrounded, then, in Kapilavastu

By the loveliest of houses,
for which the city was famed;

By purity both material and mental;
and by welcoming gardens;

He looked without longing, as though at a forest.

For he had become free of belonging:

He was sure in his thinking, the master of himself.

How much less did he belong
to those causes of manifold worry --

Family, countrymen, friends and property?

Being revered gave him no thrill;

Disrespect caused him no grief.

His own direction was decided,
come sword or sandalwood.

Whether the going was tough or easy,
he was not diminished.

And so the king, ear to the ground, learned

That his son had arrived, a realised man,

And out he galloped,
a horse or two straggling behind him.

In his eagerness to see his son he charged ahead.

The One Who Went Well saw [the king] arrive like that

-- The leader of men, his composure lost in hope --

And the rest of the people too, with tearful faces.

Wishing to direct them, he took himself up,
truly, into the sky.

He went up into the sky
as freely as if roaming the earth:

Even while sitting, perfectly still;

Even while lying down,
an unmoving flow of direction.

He showed many changing forms
while thus remaining
all of a piece.

He walked over water as if on dry land,

Dug through soil as though it were water,

Rained as a cloud in the sky,

And radiated light and warmth like the newly-risen sun.

All in harness, he glowed like a fire,

Passed water like a cloud,

And radiated light like molten gold.

He shone like a cloud set aglow,
by the breaking of day, or dusk.

Looking up at him in the network of gold and pearls

That seemed to wrap around him like an upraised flag,

The king became incredibly joyful,

And everybody, head bowed down,
felt deep appreciation.

So, perceiving that he had made a vessel

Of the ruler of men,
through the wealth of his accomplishments,

And that the townsfolk also
would be favourably inclined,

The guide laid out the dharma and the discipline.

Then the royal hero reaped the first

Fruit for the fulfillment of the deathless Dharma.

Having met the unthinkable dharma of the sage,

He bowed to the sage accordingly, as to a guru.

Many then who were clear in mind

-- Alert to the agony of birth and death --

Among mighty Shakya-born men of action

Went forth into the wandering life,
like bulls startled by fire.

But even those who did not leave home

Out of regard for children or father or mother:

They also kept the precepts until death.

They took them and kept them, with ready minds.

No person inflicted suffering on any creature,
no matter how small

-- Not even a person who killed for a living.

How full of good was the man of good family!

And of a compassion still greater, always,
was a servant of the sage.

Even the man of scarce means,
despite abundant hard graft,

Who could not stand
the high-handed ways of superiors,

Did not, like them, rip others off:

For he shrank from others' riches
as from a snake.

Even the man of money and youth,

Virile power set twitching by its object,

Even he never went near the wives of another.

For they, more than a fire, were full of unknown dangers.

Nobody told an untruth,

Nor made true but nasty gossip,

Nor spoke slick but hurtful words.

The speaking of beneficial words, again,
was free of slanderous intent.

No mind was ever confounded

By unconscious grasping for the treasures of others.

Perceiving the happiness of sensual pleasures
to be no happiness,

The wise went freely on their way,
as if satisfied in that area already.

Nobody showed any hostility towards the other,

In fact they looked on others with positive warmth,

As mother, father, child or friend:

For each person saw in the other himself.

That the future will be, inevitably,

That the present is, and that the past indeed was

The result of actions;
and that how one fares in the world also

Is so determined
-- this is a realisation that they truly earned.

Thus, by means of action, by means of ten precepts,

By most skillful means, by powerful means,

Although virtue was lax in a declining age,

The people there fared well,
through devotion to the sage.

But nobody who was there [craved] accomplishment,

Expecting a happy payoff for these good works.

Having learned that all becoming is pernicious,

People worked to eradicate becoming,
not to become something.

Even householders were free from endless doubting,

Their views washed spotlessly away:

For many had entered the stream.

Farther on, their passion would be reduced to a trickle.

Even the man hitherto caught in pursuit of absurd ends

-- Money, power and suchlike --

Was content with free giving
and the discipline of the precepts.

He also fared well, not straying from the true path.

What is more, [arising] from self and from the other,

No terror occured; nor from fate.

At that time and place,
by dint of their true happiness
and material plenty and practical merits,

The citizens rejoiced as in the golden age of Manu.

Thus, glad to be free from disease and calamity,

That city stood as safe as the cities
of Kuru, Raghu and Puru,

With the great seer serving as its guide to peace --

Roaming free,
in the moment,
for the welfare of others,
without passion.

End of the 3rd Canto of the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled 'A Depiction of the Realised One.'


Madhu said...


Very nice post.

Hope, Ashvaghosh will keep flying.

all the best.


Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Madhu, and thank you for your blog, which provides perspective on what Ashvgaghosha might have meant by "the high-handed ways of superiors" (= Brahmins?); as well as on your own struggle not to show hostility towards "the other" (=Brahmins?).

Wishing you all the best in your struggle to combat oppression with truth,