Then, one day, to places carpeted with tender grass
Where trees resounded with a cuckoo's calls,
To places adorned with profusions of lotuses, he went --
To forests fabricated in songs.
Thus having heard how agreeable
Were the city's forests,
which the women loved so dearly,
He made a decision to get out,
Like an elephant shut inside a house.
Then the king, catching the gist
Of the prince's expression of his heart's desire,
Convened a procession,
commensurate with his affection and wealth,
and with a young man's energy --
The ruler of men decreed a pleasure outing.
He decreed, again, that on the royal road
No afflicted common person must be met,
So that the prince with his impressionable young mind
Would not be mentally perturbed -- or so the king supposed.
Those bereft of extremities, with disabled organs of sense,
Along with pitiable people everywhere
-- the old, the infirm, and the like --
Were therefore caused, with great gentleness,
to clear the area,
So that the royal road
was made to shine with great splendour.
And so in majestic action on the royal road,
A majesty-possessing heir-apparent
with an amenable assembly in his train,
Having alighted at the proper time
from atop his elevated perch,
Approached, with his assent, a protector of men.
Then the king, tears welling,
Gazed long upon his son, kissed his head,
And issued his command, with the word “Go!”
But with his heart, because of attachment,
he did not let him go.
Yoked to four calm submissive horses
Bearing golden trappings,
With an assertive driver at the reins,
a complete man of knowledge and integrity,
Was the golden carriage which he then ascended.
And so a road bestrewn with masses of flowers in full bloom,
Along which wreaths hung down and flags fleetingly fluttered,
He entered, with suitable backing,
Like the moon entering the sky in the company of stars.
And while eyes that bulged with curiosity,
Covered him, like so many halves of blue lotuses,
He travelled the royal road, quietly and calmly,
Viewed on all sides by the townsfolk.
Some praised him for his gentle, moon-like quality;
Others celebrated his blazing brilliance.
But such was the brightness of his face,
That some wished to make his majesty their own,
and to attain the depth of his vital power.
Crooked men from noble houses,
And regiments of mountain-men and dwarves,
And women from homes of no consequence,
Like hanging flags in the procession of a god,
all came out and bowed.
Then the women, hearing from their servants
The news that the prince was on his way,
Went, wishing to see him, onto the roofs and balconies
-- With assent from their masters.
Impeded by slipping girdles and strings,
With the bleary eyes of those roused from deep sleep,
And having put on their unfolded splendour as events unfolded,
The girls, unabashed in their eager desire, circled around.
With the banging of feet on platform steps,
With jingling of girdles and jangling of anklets,
They sent congregations of house sparrows fluttering,
And each derided the others for their haste.
But some among these fine ladies,
Hurry though they might in their eagerness,
Were stopped in their tracks, by the heft
Of the mighty chariots of their hips
and their big fat bosoms.
An individual who was different, meanwhile,
though she was capable of going quickly,
Restrained her movement and went slowly,
Not showing off, but modestly keeping secret
Splendid adornments connected to intimate practices.
At the windows at that time,
women pressed up against each other in squashed masses,
Their earrings colliding and ricocheting,
Their jewellery rattling,
So that in each airy aperture there was a commotion.
And yet, as they emerged from the windows,
Ear-rings setting each other aflutter,
The women's lotus faces looked
Like flowers of mud-born lotuses
that had attached themselves to the grand mansions.
Thus, with its lofty mansions,
whose gaping balconies young women lined,
And whose shutters had been opened up out of curiosity,
The splendid city was wholly resplendent,
Like the atmosphere
with its celestial chariots bearing celestial nymphs.
Through the narrowness of the windows,
The women's ear-rings overlapped each other's cheeks,
So that the faces of those most gorgeous of girls seemed
Like tied-together bunches of lotus flowers.]
As down they gazed at the prince upon the road,
The women seemed to wish to go to earth;
And the men, as up they looked at him, with upturned faces,
Seemed to wish to go to heaven.
Those women, seeing the king's son,
Shining bright with beauty and majesty,
Said “Lucky is his wife!” in a soft whisper,
With pure minds and out of no other sense at all.
“He of arms so lengthened and full, so they say,
Who is like a flower-bannered god of love in his manifest form,
Will give up royal sovereignty and pursue dharma.”
Thus the women conferred on him the full weight of their estimation.
On his first reading of the royal road
Which was filled like this with obedient citizens
ostensibly displaying purity and steadfastness,
The prince was thrilled
And somewhat conscious of himself being as if reborn.
But when they saw that city all buoyed up,
as if it were heaven,
The gods whose perch is purity
Elicited an old man to wander by,
For the purpose of provoking a prince
who was an offspring of a protector of the earth.
And so the prince beheld that man
humbled by growing old,
Who was of an order different to other men;
He quizzed the gatherer of the reins,
being full of interest in that state,
In which sole direction he rested his eyes, immovably.
Who is this man, O master of the horses, that has appeared
With hair all white, hand firmly gripping a staff,
Eyes concealed below his brow, limbs loose and bending:
Is this strange transformation his original condition?
Is it a chance occurrence?
Addressed thus, the driver of a chariot of joy
Divulged to the offspring of a ruler of men
The very information he was supposed to protect;
failing to see the fault in this,
Under the influence of those same old gods,
he was confounded via his own resolve.
“Ripping away of beautiful appearance, defeat of force,
Beginning of sorrow, ending of joys of passion,
And fading out of things remembered:
An adversary of the senses
Is this process, called 'growing old,'
by which the one here is being undone.
For even such a man sucked milk in infancy
And, in the course of time, again he went on hands and knees upon the earth;
Having become, step by step, an adult in possession of his body,
By that same process, step by step, he has grown old.”
Thrown somewhat off balance on being thus informed,
He the fruit of a king's loins said to the master of the horses:
“Will I also have this fault in the future?”
Then the driver of the chariot in which the two were riding said to him:
The present span of life of you who are so full of life
Will also in future, through the power of time, surely run its course.
The world knows that growing old thus destroys beautiful appearances,
And yet the world desires it.”
And so he whose mind had been cleansed by good intentions,
before the fact,
He who had heaped up piles of good karma, through long kalpas,
by his acts,
When he heard about growing old, recoiled mightily,
Like a bull hearing the crash of a nearby thunderbolt.
He took an audible deep breath, then shook his head,
Then fixed his eye upon the old man,
And then he took in in the joyful throng;
After that, still in a state of alarm, he uttered these words:
“Growing old like this demolishes without discrimination
Memory, beautiful appearance, and forcefulness;
And yet the world is not stirred,
Even as it witnesses it so before its very eyes.
Being so, O master of the horses, turn the horses back!
Take us home, good sir, quickly!
For what pleasure can there be for me in parkland
While the reality of growing old is occupying my mind?”
And so at the behest of the child of his master,
The tamer of horses turned the chariot around;
Then into the palace, that real piece of royal real estate,
the prince went,
In the thrall of anxious thought,
as if he were going into emptiness.
When actually there, however, he found no happiness,
Looking deeper and deeper into aging,
and thinking, “growing old..., growing old...”;
Whereupon, with the king's approval, again,
By the exact same procedure, he went outside.
Then one whose body was encompassed by sickness,
A human being unlike any other,
those same old gods conjured up;
And on seeing him the son of Śuddhodana
addressed the driver of the chariot,
With his eye directed squarely in that direction.
“That individual with an expanded belly,
whose body moves as he breathes,
Whose arms hang loose from his shoulders,
whose limbs are wasted and pale,
And who keeps saying 'Mother!', pathetically,
While leaning on others for support: This man is Who?”
Then spoke the leader who was in the same chariot as him:
“O gentle moon-like man!
Stemming originally from excitement of primitive elements
and now far advanced
Is the momentous reverse, known as a breakdown,
That has rendered even this strong man helpless.”
The son of the king spoke again,
Being moved by pity as he looked at the man:
“[Is] this fault arisen specifically in the one here [?].
[Is] the terror of breaking down common to all creatures [?].”
Then the driver of that vehicle of joy said:
“This fault, O Prince, is common to all.
For, while thus pressed all around by forces of disintegration,
People pained by disorder move towards pleasure."
Mentally dejected to listen to this truth,
He trembled like the moon reflected in ripples of water;
And, emoting with compassion,
He uttered these words, in a somewhat feeble voice:
“Seeing this for living creatures as 'the evil of disease,'
Still the world rests easy.
Vast, alas, is the ignorance of men
Who laugh and joke
though not yet liberated from their fears of disease.
Let the chariot of joy, O master of the horse!,
be turned back from going onward and outward.
Let the chariot go back to the royal seat of the best of men.
Having learned of the danger arising from disease,
My mind, driven back from miscellaneous enjoyments,
also seems to turn inward.”
Then, having turned back, and having turned back exuberance,
He deeply entered the royal abode, absorbed in deep reflection.
And, seeing him thus twice turned back,
A possessor of the earth made an investigation.
On learning, then, a cause of turning back,
He felt himself being totally abandoned by him.
And though [the possessor of the earth] railed against
the overseer who was charged with clearing the road,
However annoyed he was,
he did not resort to cruelty with the cudgel.
And once more he arranged for his son
A special playground of sensual enjoyments,
All the time praying:
“Though be it through the fickle power of the senses,
Would that he were unable to leave us!”
But when his son took no delight in the sounds of voices,
Or in the other sensory stimuli,
within the battlements of the women's apartments,
Then he gave the order for another excursion outdoors,
Thinking that this might be a different enjoyment.
Attentive, out of attachment, to his son's state of mind,
And heedless of any faults associated with nervous excitement,
He summoned to be present there well-practised women
Who, being adept in subtle skills, were mistresses of deferred pleasure.
Then, the royal road having been adorned even more beautifully
And inspected with even more care,
The king switched around the charioteer and the chariot,
And urged the prince on his way, outwards.
Consequently, as the son of the king thus went into movement,
Those same old gods conjured up one who had breathed his last;
And as he, being dead, was borne along the road,
Nobody saw him but the charioteer and the prince.
Then the son of the king said to the master of the horses:
“This is Who, who is being carried by four people,
Who is being followed by afflicted human beings,
Who is beautifully adorned,
and yet, as one who does not breathe, inspires tears.”
Then, while his mind was overpowered
by the gods whose essence is purity itself,
By the gods who sit upon pure perches,
He, in a voice full of meaning, as the tamer of the horses,
Conveyed to the prince the unspeakable meaning in question.
“Dissevered from the strings of sense power and breathing,
Inactive and insensible, akin to straw and wood,
Having been nurtured and cherished,
he is deliberately left alone by his dearest friends –
This, indeed, is Who.”
On hearing the words of a guide
He was somewhat agitated, and said to him:
“Is this a condition unique to this person here?
Is such the end for all creatures?”
Then the guide said to him:
“This is the ultimate karma of all creatures:
For everybody in this world, whether low, middling, or mighty,
Utter loss is certain.”
Then, mild-mannered though he was, as a son of the best of men,
On learning of dying, he sank back and down, instantly deflated,
And, bringing his shoulder into contact
with the tip of the pole of the yoke of the chariot,
He asserted in a sonorous voice:
“This, for sentient creatures, is a certain conclusion,
And yet the world barges heedlessly about, disregarding danger.
Stiffened, I venture, are the mental sinews of men,
Who so self-assuredly remain on such a path.
Therefore, O master of the horses, let our chariot of joy be turned back,
For this is not the time or the place for roaming around:
Knowing utter loss, in the hour of pain,
How could anybody possessed of consciousness
be negligent in this area?”
Even with an offspring of a ruler of men telling him so,
He assuredly did not turn that chariot back;
Rather, following the order of the best of men,
to a wood imbued with special distinction,
To Sa-padma-ṣaṇda Vana,
'the Wood of the Liberated Bull among Lotuses,'
he ventured further out.
There with young trees in flower,
Lusty cuckoos roving joyously around,
And tiered pavilions in charming stretches of lotus-covered water,
That happy glade he glimpsed,
like Nandana Vana, 'the Gladdening Garden.'
Most lushly wooded with beautiful women was that park
To which the offspring of a ruler of men was then forcibly led,
Like a sage to a palace populated by the choicest nymphs in Alaka,
When his practice is young and he is nervous about impediments.
The 3rd canto, titled “Arising of Nervous Excitement” in an epic story of awakened action.