Category: Buddhist
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Buddhacarita ("Acts of the Buddha"; Buddhacaritam, Devanagari बुद्धचरितम्) is an epic poem in the Sanskrit mahakavya style on the life of Gautama Buddha by Aśvaghoṣa, composed in the early second century CE.

The Buddhacarita



Book I.

That Arhat is here saluted, who has no counterpart, — who, as bestowing the supreme happiness, surpasses (Brahman) the Creator, — who, as driving away darkness, vanquishes the sun — and, as dispelling all burning heat, surpasses the beautiful moon.

There was a city, the dwelling-place of the great saint Kapila, having its sides surrounded by the beauty of a lofty broad table-land as by a line of clouds, and itself, with its high-soaring palaces immersed in the sky.

By its pure and lofty system of government it, as it were, stole the splendour of the clouds of Mount Kailāsa, and while it bore the clouds which came to it through a mistake, it fulfilled the imagination which had led them thither

In that city, shining with the splendour of gems, darkness like poverty could find no place; prosperity shone resplendently, as with a smile, from the joy of dwelling with such surpassingly excellent citizens.

With its festive arbours, its arched gateways and pinnacles it was radiant with jewels in every dwelling; and unable to find any other rival in the world, it could only feel emulation with its own houses.

There the sun, even although he had retired, was unable to scorn the moon-like faces of its women which put the lotuses to shame, and as if from the access of passion, hurried towards the western ocean to enter the (cooling) water.

‘Yonder Indra has been utterly annihilated by the people when they saw the glories acquired by the Śākyas,’ — uttering this scoff, the city strove by its banners with gay-fluttering streamers to wipe away every mark of his existence.

After mocking the water-lilies even at night by the moonbeams which rest on its silver pavilions, — by day it assumed the brightness of the lotuses through the sunbeams falling on its golden palaces.

A king, by name Śuddhodana, of the kindred of the sun, anointed to stand at the head of earth’s monarchs, — ruling over the city, adorned it, as a bee-inmate a full-blown lotus.

The very best of kings with his train ever near him intent on liberality yet devoid of pride a sovereign, yet with an ever equal eye thrown on all of gentle nature and yet with wide-reaching majesty

Falling smitten by his arm in the arena of battle, the lordly elephants of his enemies bowed prostrate with their heads pouring forth quantities of pearls as if they were offering handfuls of flowers in homage.

Having dispersed his enemies by his preeminent majesty as the sun disperses the gloom of an eclipse, he illuminated his people on every side, showing them the paths which they were to follow.

Duty, wealth, and pleasure under his guidance assumed mutually each other’s object, but not the outward dress; yet as if they still vied together they shone all the brighter in the glorious career of their triumphant success.

He, the monarch of the Śākyas, of native pre-eminence, but whose actual pre-eminence was brought about by his numberless councillors of exalted wisdom, shone forth all the more gloriously, like the moon amidst the stars shining with a light like its own

To him there was a queen, named Māyā, as if free from all deceit (māyā) — an effulgence proceeding from his effulgence, like the splendour of the sun when it is free from all the influence of darkness, — a chief queen in the united assembly of all queens.

Like a mother to her subjects, intent on their welfare, — devoted to all worthy of reverence like devotion itself, — shining on her lord’s family like the goddess of prosperity, — she was the most eminent of goddesses to the whole world.

Verily the life of women is always darkness, yet when it encountered her, it shone brilliantly; thus the night does not retain its gloom, when it meets with the radiant crescent of the moon.

‘This people, being hard to be roused to wonder in their souls, cannot be influenced by me if I come to them as beyond their senses,’ — so saying, Duty abandoned her own subtile nature and made her form visible.

Then falling from the host of beings in the Tushita heaven and illumining the three worlds, the most excellent of Bodhisattvas suddenly entered at a thought into her womb, like the Nāga-king entering the cave of Nandā.

Assuming the form of a huge elephant white like Himālaya, armed with six tusks with his face perfumed with flowing ichor, he entered the womb of the queen of king Śuddhodana, to destroy the evils of the world.

The guardians of the world hastened from heaven to mount watch over the world’s one true ruler; thus the moonbeams, though they shine everywhere, are especially bright on Mount Kailāsa.

Māyā also, holding him in her womb, like a line of clouds holding a lightning-flash, relieved the people around her from the sufferings of poverty by raining showers of gifts.

Then one day by the king’s permission the queen, having a great longing in her. mind, went with the inmates of the gynaeceum into the garden Lumbinī.

As the queen supported herself by a bough which hung laden with a weight of flowers, the Bodhisattva suddenly came forth, cleaving open her womb.

At that time the constellation Pushya was auspicious, and from the side of the queen, who was purified by her vow, her son was born for the welfare of the world, without pain and without illness.

Like the sun bursting from a cloud in the morning, — so he too, when he was born from his mother’s womb, made the world bright like gold, bursting forth with his rays which dispelled the darkness.

As soon as he was born the thousand-eyed (Indra) well-pleased took him gently, bright like a golden pillar; and two pure streams of water fell down from heaven upon his head with piles of Mandāra flowers.

Carried about by the chief suras, and delighting them with the rays that streamed from his body, he surpassed in beauty the new moon as it rests on a mass of evening clouds.

As was Aurva’s birth from the thigh and Prithu's from the hand and Mândhâtri's, who was like Indra himself, from the forehead and Kakshīvat’s from the upper end of the arm thus too was his birth (miraculous).

Having thus in due time issued from the womb, he shone as if he had come down from heaven, he who had not been born in the natural way, — he who was born full of wisdom, not foolish, — as if his mind had been purified by countless aeons of contemplation.

With glory, fortitude, and beauty he shone like the young sun descended upon the earth; when he was gazed at, though of such surpassing brightness, he attracted all eyes like the moon.

With the radiant splendour of his limbs he extinguished like the sun the splendour of the lamps; with his beautiful hue as of precious gold he illuminated all the quarters of space.

Unflurried, with the lotus-sign in high relief far-striding, set down with a stamp, — seven such firm footsteps did he then take, — he who was like the constellation of the seven ṛshis.

‘I am born for supreme knowledge, for the welfare of the world, — thus this is my last birth,’ — thus did he of lion gait, gazing at the four quarters, utter a voice full of auspicious meaning.

Two streams of water bursting from heaven, bright as the moon’s rays, having the power of heat and cold, fell down upon that peerless one’s benign head to give refreshment to his body.

His body lay on a bed with a royal canopy and a frame shining with gold, and supported by feet of lapis lazuli, and in his honour the yaksha-lords stood round guarding him with golden lotuses in their hands.

The gods in homage to the son of Māyā, with their heads bowed at his majesty, held up a white umbrella in the sky and muttered the highest blessings on his supreme wisdom.

The great dragons in their great thirst for the Law they who had had the privilege of waiting on the past Buddhas, — gazing with eyes of intent devotion, fanned him and strewed Mandāra flowers over him.

Gladdened through the influence of the birth of the Tathāgata, the gods of pure natures and inhabiting pure abodes were filled with joy, though all passion was extinguished, for the sake of the world drowned in sorrow.

When he was born, the earth, though fastened down by (Himālaya) the monarch of mountains, 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.

Pleasant breezes blew soft to the touch, dropping down heavenly garments; the very sun, though still the same, shone with augmented light, and fire gleamed, unstirred, with a gentle lustre.

In the north-eastern part of the dwelling a well of pure water appeared of its own accord, wherein the inhabitants of the gynaeceum, filled with wonder, performed their rites as in a sacred bathing-place.

Through the troops of heavenly visitants, who came seeking religious merit, the pool itself received strength to behold Buddha, and by means of its trees bearing flowers and perfumes it eagerly offered him worship.

The flowering trees at once produced their blossoms, while their fragrance was borne aloft in all directions by the wind, accompanied by the songs of bewildered female bees, while the air was inhaled and absorbed by the many snakes (gathering near)

Sometimes there resounded on both sides songs mingled with musical instruments and tabours, and lutes also, drums, tambourines, and the rest, — from women adorned with dancing bracelets.

That royal law which neither Bhrigu nor Angiras ever made, those two great seers the founders of families, their two sons Śukra and Vṛhaspati left revealed at the end. ’

‘Yea, the son of Sarasvatī proclaimed that lost Veda which they had never seen in former ages, — Vyāsa rehearsed that in many forms, which Vaśishṭha helpless could not compile;

‘The voice of Vāmīki uttered its poetry which the great seer Kyavana could not compose; and that medicine which Atri never invented the wise son of Atri proclaimed after him;

‘That Brahmanhood which Kuśika never attained, — his son, O king, found out the means to gain it; (so) Sagara made a bound for the ocean, which even the Ikshvākus had not fixed before him.

Ganaka attained a power of instructing the twice-born in the rules of Yoga which none other had ever reached and the famed feats of the grandson of Śūra (Krishna) Śūra and his peers were powerless to accomplish.

‘Therefore it is not age nor years which are the criterion; different persons win pre-eminence in the world at different places; those mighty exploits worthy of kings and sages, when left undone by the ancestors, have been done by the sons.’

The king, being thus consoled and congratulated by those well-trusted Brahmans, dismissed from his mind all unwelcome suspicion and rose to a still higher degree of joy;

And well-pleased he gave to those most excellent of the twice-born rich treasures with all due honour, — ’May he become the ruler of the earth according to your words, and may he retire to the woods when he attains old age.’

Then having learned by signs and through the power of his penances this birth of him who was to destroy all birth, the great seer Asita in his thirst for the excellent Law came to the palace of the Śākya king.

Him shining with the glory of sacred knowledge and ascetic observances, the king’s own priest, — himself a special student among the students of sacred knowledge, — introduced into the royal palace with all due reverence and respect.

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