The real gold in this canto, as I read it, is not in historical information about the King but rather in Ashvaghosha's portrayal of a king. The real gold, in other words, is in understanding what Ashvaghosha considered in human affairs to be most important, central, primary.
Thus in this canto Ashvaghosha praises King Shuddhodhana again and again for certain virtues, such as:
- Doing no wrong
- Not deferring to the power of the senses
- Not being unduly proud of himself
- Honouring forebears by his integrity / excellent conduct
- Not end-gaining
- Free giving of fitting gifts
- Devotion to dharma
- Being in the middle
- Directing fiery energy upon his enemies; i.e. greed, hatred, delusion and, especially, conceit
- A good relationship with those "offshoots" (prajaa) subject to the primary agency of his control.
Some time thereafter that realm passed,
Through familial succession,
To a king named Shuddodhana
Who, being pure in his actions,
had thwarted the power of the senses.
Neither stuck in his desires
Nor conceited about gaining sovereignty,
He did not, as he grew, look down on others,
And nor did he shrink from others in fear.
Strong and strong-minded,
Learned as well as intelligent,
Daring and yet prudent,
Determined, and cheerful with it,
He had a fine form without being stiff,
Was dexterous but not dishonest,
Was energetic but not impatient,
And active but never flustered.
Challenged by his enemies in battle,
And petitioned by friends,
He was not backward in responding
With an intense energy, and a willingness to give.
Wishing to tread the dutiful path of dharma
Trodden by previous kings,
And bearing his kingship like a call to total dedication,
He emulated the forefathers through his conduct.
Due to his good governance,
And under his protection,
his subjects rested at ease,
Free from anxiety,
As if in a father's lap.
Whether skilled in use of book or of sword,
Whether born into an eminent family or not,
No-one was seen as useless,
Who came into his presence.
When given good advice, however disagreeable,
He listened and did not react;
He let go of a wrong done to him, however great,
And remembered a service rendered, however small.
The meek and mild he befriended;
Tribal foes he apprehended;
Sufferers he comprehended;
Waverers he reprehended.
As the general rule in his dominion
Those influenced by his integrity
Seemed to take possession,
As if securing treasures, of virtues.
He minded the supreme sacred word,
He never failed in fortitude,
He gave fitting gifts to deserving recipients,
No evil did he do at all.
He resolutely carried out a promise undertaken
Like a good horse carrying a load;
For he did not desire, apart from truthfulness,
Even a moment of life.
He was there for the intellectually bright;
He shone with his own self-containment;
And on people in the directed state,
he positively beamed,
Like the moon in the last month of the rains.
He knew, through intelligence and learning,
What was fitting, both in here and out there;
He guarded, with constancy and directed energy,
Both his senses and his subjects.
He bore away the suffering of the oppressed
And the boastful fame of the cruel,
And covered the earth with guiding principles
And a much greater glory.
Seeing people suffering he overflowed
With his original emotion as a man of compassion;
But he did not, through eager desire,
undermine his honour
By unprincipled acquisition of treasured objects.
In his kind-hearted iron devotion
Even to imperfect friends,
He had no will to take away from them,
but willingly gave,
Cheerful-faced, to each according to his need.
Without offering the first portion to revered beings,
And without bathing, he did not eat anything;
Neither did he milk the earth unjustly,
As a cow is milked by a man thirsting for milk.
He never scattered the food offering except when due;
He never developed lordly arrogance;
Committing of the scriptures to his mind
He did for dharma, not for praise.
A few doers of harsh deeds,
though they deserved harsh treatment,
He did not treat harshly;
And due to his noble nature he never cast a veil
Over the virtues of a true man, even one who defied him.
With his fine form he ripped away,
As does the moon, people's views;
He never touched, in an act of becoming,
what belonged to others,
Any more than he would touch
a venomous snake slithering on the earth.
Nowhere in his dominion
Lamented anyone hurt by anyone;
For the bow in his hand
Bestowed peace upon the afflicted.
Even those who transgressed, if submissive,
-- And before them, of course,
those who acted agreeably --
He surveyed with an affectionate eye
And steeped in loving speech.
He studied many subjects
Without being interested in objects;
Abiding in dharma as it was in the golden age,
He did not drift, even in a predicament,
Because of his virtues, he continually grew;
In joy at friends' success, he kept growing;
In the stream of grown elders, again he kept going,
But on a blameworthy path he did not go.
He quietened his enemies, using arrows;
He gladdened his friends, using virtues;
His servants, when there were faults, he did not goad;
The offshoots who were his subjects he did not,
with doing hands, overtax.
Under his protection, and because of his heroism,
Seeds were planted over the whole earth;
And by the transparent working of his judicial system,
Sessions were sat into the dark stillness of night.
By the conduct of a royal seer,
He propagated through his house
the fragrance of honour;
Like the son of Aditi shining light into darkness,
He with the intensity of his energy
caused the enemies to scatter.
Using virtues that befitted a good son,
He caused the forefathers, again,
to disseminate their light;
And, like a raincloud using rain,
He enlivened his offshoots, his subjects, using conduct.
With inexhaustible and great acts of giving,
He caused the brahmins to press out their soma;
And by dutifully adhering to his kingly dharma,
He caused corn, at the right moment, to ripen.
He talked no talk that went against dharma,
Being free in himself of doubts and questions;
While, like a wheel-roller, he caused others
To bear up in service of dharma.
No special tribute
Did he cause the kingdom to pay him;
But with sustained endeavour, and using only regulars,
He caused enemy pride to be cut down.
Again and again, he caused his own house to be pure,
Using just his own virtues;
At the same time, he did not let his offshoots decay,
For all were established in all dharmas.
A man of tireless sacrifice when the time was right,
He caused sacrificial ground to be measured out;
And he enabled twice-born men,
who under his protection were unburdened by anxiety,
To know the weight of the sacred word.
He caused the soma to be measured out on time
-- in the presence of gurus, and obeying the rule --
As a cool, mild man of soma;
And yet, with intense ardour, with fiery energy,
He saw the enemy army cut down to size.
As knower of the dharma that is paramount,
He caused his offshoots to abide in dharma in a small way,
And yet caused them, because of experiencing dharma,
To let heaven wait.
Even the obvious course, in dire straits,
He did not institute if it went against dharma;
Nor, out of nothing more than fondness,
Did he dotingly promote incompetence.
With his intense energy and his light
He exposed to view his enemies, the conceited;
And with the blazing lantern of his brightness,
He caused the world to shine.
He gave out of non-cruelty,
not for his glorification,
And always to meet a need;
Giving up even a thing of great substance,
He mentioned nothing of it.
He did not shun one afflicted by suffering,
Even an enemy, who had taken refuge;
And having conquered his enemies, the conceited,
He did not become proud on that account.
No rule did he break,
Out of love, hate, or fear;
Even while abiding in pleasurable circumstances,
He did not remain in thrall to the power of the senses.
He was never seen to do shoddily
Anything anywhere that was to be done;
When required by friend and non-friend to act
He did not fall into inaction.
He drank and guarded, as prescribed,
The soma and his honour;
And he was constantly mindful of the vedas
As well as the dharma proclaimed in the vedas.
Not eschewed by such
Uncommon virtues as these
Was he who on no side could be shackled --
The unshackleable Shakya King, like Shakra.
Now at that time
Dharma-loving denizens of the heavens
Moved into the orbit of the human world,
Wishing to investigate dharma movements.
Those essences of dharma, moving,
With the desire to know dharma, over the earth,
Saw that leader of men
Whose essence was particularly given over to dharma.
Then, rather than among Tushita gods,
The bodhisattva, coming down to earth,
Put down birth-roots
In the family of that earth-lord.
That man-god at that time had a goddess,
A queen whose name was Maya;
She was as devoid of anger, darkness
and the maya which is deceit
As was the goddess Maya in heaven.
In a dream during that period
She saw entering her womb
A white six-tusked elephant,
Mighty as Airavata.
When they heard this dream,
Brahmins who knew dreams predicted
The birth of a prince
Who would bring honour,
through wealth or through dharma.
At the birth of this exceptional being
Whose mission was the end of re-birth
The earth with its immoveable mountains shook
Like a boat being battered by waves.
Unwilted by the sun's rays,
A rain of flowers fell from the sky
As if shaken,
by the trunks of the elephants of the quarters,
From the trees of Citra-ratha's forest.
Drums sounded in heaven,
As if the storm-gods were rolling dice;
The sun blazed inestimably,
And the wind blew benignly.
Gods in Tusita Heaven became calm and content,
As did gods of the clear Shuddhavasa yonder,
Through thinking highly of true dharma
And through fellow feeling among sentient beings.
To one who was a lamp of honour
Came a supreme bringer
of the brightness of higher good:
He shone with tranquil splendour
Like dharma in a separate bodily form.
To the king's younger queen, also,
Like fire in the notch of a fire-board,
A son was born named Nanda, Joy,
A bringer of constant joy to his family.
Long in the arm, broad in the chest,
With shoulders of a lion and eyes of a bull,
He because of his superlative looks
Bore the epithet "handsome."
Like a first month in spring having arrived,
Like a new moon having risen;
like the non-physical having taken a physical form,
He radiated sheer loveliness.
The king with exceeding gladness
Brought up the two of them,
As great wealth in the hands of a good man
Promotes dharma and pleasure.
Those two good sons, in time,
Grew up to do the king proud,
Just as, when his investment is great,
Dharma and wealth pay a noble person well.
Being in the middle, with regard to those two good sons,
The Shakya king reigned resplendent,
Like the middle region, adorned
By the Himalaya and Pariyatra mountains.
those two sons of the king became educated,
In practical arts and in learning.
Nanda frittered all his time on idle pleasures;
But Sarvartha-siddha, Accomplisher of Every Aim,
was not mottled by the redness of passions.
For he had seen for himself
an old man, a sick man, and a corpse,
as he witnessed with a wounded mind
the unwitting world,
He was disgusted to the core
and found no pleasure in objects
But wished totally to terminate
the terror of being born and dying.
Having focused his agitated mind
on the end of becoming,
He fled the king's palace,
to the most beautiful of women sleeping there;
Determined to go to the forest, he fled in the night
Like a goose from a lake of ruined lotus flowers.
The 2nd canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "A Portrayal of the King."