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For ascetic practice, then, he left Kapilavāstu -- a teeming mass of horses, elephants and chariots, /

Majestic, safe, and loved by its citizens. Leaving the city, he started resolutely for the forest. // 3.1 //


In the approach to ascetic practice of the various traditions, and in the attachment of sages to various restraints, /

He observed the miseries of thirsting after an object. Seeing asceticism to be unreliable, he turned away from it. // 3.2 //


Then Ārāḍa, who spoke of freedom, and likewise Uḍraka, who inclined towards quietness, /

He served, his heart set on truth, and he left. He who intuited the path intuited: "This also is not it." // 3.3 //


Of the different traditions in the world, he asked himself, which one was the best? /

Not obtaining certainty elsewhere, he entered after all into ascetic practice that was most severe. // 3.4 //


Then, having seen that it was not the path, he also abandoned that extreme asceticism. /

Understanding the realm of meditation to be supreme, he ate good food in readiness to realise the deathless. // 3.5 //


With golden arms fully expanded and as if in a yoke, with lengthened eyes, and bull-like gait, /

He came to a fig tree, growing up from the earth, with the will to awakening that belongs to the supreme method of investigation. // 3.6 //


Sitting there, mind made up, as unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, /

He overcame the grim army of Māra and awoke to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible. // 3.7 //


Sensing the completion of his task, the denizens of heaven whose heart's desire is the deathless nectar /

Buzzed with unbridled joy. But Māra's crew was downcast and trembled. // 3.8 //


The earth with its mountains shook, that which feeds the fire blew benignly, /

The drums of the gods resounded, and from the cloudless sky rain fell. // 3.9 //


Awake to the one great ageless purpose, and universal in his compassion, /

He proceeded, in order to display the eternal deathless nectar, to the city sustained by the waters of the Varaṇā and the Asī – to Vārāṇasī. // 3.10 //


And so the wheel of dharma -- whose hub is uprightness, whose rim is constancy, determination, and balanced stillness, /

And whose spokes are the rules of discipline -- there the Seer turned, in that assembly, for the welfare of the world. // 3.11 //


"This is suffering; this is the tangled mass of causes producing it; /

This is cessation; and here is a means." Thus, one by one, this supreme set of four, // 3.12 //


The seer set out, with its three divisions1 of the unequalled, the incontrovertible, the ultimate; /

And with its statement of twelvefold determination;2 after which he instructed, as the first follower, him of the Kauṇḍinya clan.3 // 3.13 //


For the fathomless sea of faults, whose water is falsity, where fish are cares, /

And which is disturbed by waves of anger, lust, and fear; he had crossed, and he took the world across too. // 3.14 //


Having instructed many people at Kāśi and at Gaya as also at Giri-vraja, /

He made his way then to the city of his fathers, in his deeply compassionate desire to include it. // 3.15 //


To people possessed by ends, serving many and various paths, /

Splendour had arisen that seemed like the sun: Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness. // 3.16 //


Seeing then all sides of Kapilavāstu -- which was famed for its most beautiful properties, /

And was pure and clean in substance and design, and pleasantly wooded -- he looked without longing, as though at a forest. // 3.17 //


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? // 3.18 //


Being revered gave him no thrill, and neither did disrespect cause him any grief. /

His direction was decided, come sword or sandalwood, and whether the going was tough or easy he was not diminished. // 3.19 //


And so the king learned that his son had arrived as the Tathāgata, the One Arrived Thus; /

With but a few horses straggling behind him, out the king charged, in his eagerness to see his son. // 3.20 //


The Sugata, the One Gone Well, saw the king coming thus, composure lost in expectation, /

And saw the rest of the people too, with tearful faces; wishing to direct them, up he took himself, into the sky. // 3.21 //


He strode over heaven as if over the earth; and sat again, in the stillness of having stopped. /

Without changing his direction, he lay down; he showed many changing forms while remaining, in this manner, all of one piece. // 3.22 //


He walked over water as if on dry land, immersed himself in the soil as though it were water, /

Rained as a cloud in the sky, and shone like the newly-risen sun. // 3.23 //


Simultaneously glowing like a fire and passing water like a cloud, /

He gave off a light resembling molten gold, like a cloud set aglow by daybreak or by dusk. // 3.24 //


Looking up at him in the network of gold and pearls that seemed to wrap around him like an upraised flag,4 /

The king became joyful beyond measure and the assembled people, bowing down, felt deep appreciation. // 3.25 //


And so, seeing that he had made a vessel of the ruler of men, through the wealth of his accomplishments, /

And that the townsfolk also were amenable, the Guide gave voice to the dharma and the discipline. // 3.26 //


Then the royal hero reaped the first fruit for the fulfillment of the deathless dharma. /

Having obtained unthinkable dharma from the sage, he bowed accordingly in the sage's direction, as to a guru. // 3.27 //


Many then who were clear in mind -- alert to the agony of birth and death -- /

Among mighty Śākya-born men of action, went forth into the wandering life, like bulls that had been startled by fire. // 3.28 //


But even those who did not leave home, out of regard for children or father or mother: /

They also, until their death, embraced the preventive rule and, with ready minds, they held to it:5 // 3.29 //


No living creature, no matter how small, was subjected to violence, even by a person who killed for a living, /

Still less by a man of great virtue, good family and unfailing gentleness -- and how much less by a servant of the Sage?6 // 3.30 //


The man not shy of hard work and yet still short of money, though he could not bear the other's slights, /

Did not, even so, carry off the other's goods; for he shrank from others' riches as from a snake.7 // 3.31 //


Even the man of money and youth with senses excited by objects of his affection -- /

Even he never approached others' wives, for he deemed them to be more dangerous than a burning fire.8 // 3.32 //


Nobody told an untruth, nor made true but nasty gossip, /

Nor crooned slick but malicious words, nor spoke kindly words that had a backbiting motive.9 // 3.33 //


No greedy-minded person, in his heart, had any designs on the treasures of others; /

Seeing sensual happiness to be no happiness, the wise went freely on their way, as if satisfied in that area already.10 // 3.34 //


Nobody showed any hostility towards the other; rather, they looked on others with positive warmth, /

As mother, father, child or friend: for each person there saw in the other himself.11 // 3.35 //


That the fruit of conduct, inevitably, will be realized in the future, is being realized now, and has been realized in the past; /

And that thus is determined how one fares in the world: this is an insight that, again, each experienced unerringly.12 // 3.36 //


By this most skillful and powerful tenfold means, by the means of their conduct, /

Although virtue was lax in a declining age, the people there, with the Sage's help, fared well. // 3.37 //


But nobody there, because of his virtues, expected happiness in a resulting birth; /

Having learned that all becoming is pernicious, people worked to eradicate becoming, not to become something. // 3.38 //


Even householders were free from endless doubting, their views washed spotlessly away: /

For many had entered the stream,13 and others14 had reduced the passions to a trickle. // 3.39 //


Even one there who had been given over to ends like wealth15 /

Was now content with free giving, discipline, and restraint: he also fared well, not straying from the true path. // 3.40 //


Neither from within the self, nor from without, did any terror arise; nor from fate. /

By dint of their true happiness and material plenty and practical merits, the citizens there rejoiced as in the golden age of Manu.16 // 3.41 //


Thus exulting in freedom from disease and calamity, that city was the equal of Kuru,17 Raghu and Pūru, /

With the great dispassionate Seer serving there, for the good of all, as a guide to peace.18 // 3.42 //



The 3rd Canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled "A Portrait of the Tathāgata."




1 The three divisions of the noble eightfold path, as clarified in 16.30-33, are (1) threefold integrity (using the voice and body well, and earning a living well); (2) threefold wisdom (insight into the four noble truths, thinking straight, and initiative); and (3) twofold tranquillity (awareness and balanced stillness).

2 That is, the deterministic twelve-linked chain of cause-and-effect, sometimes called “dependent origination.”

3 Kauṇḍinya, cited first in the long list of courageous individual practitioners that the Buddha holds up, from 16.87, as examples for Nanda to emulate. Also known as Ājñāta Kauṇḍinya,“Kauṇḍinya Who Knows” (Pali: Aññā Koṇḍañña), because at the end of the first turning of the Dharma-wheel, the Buddha is said to have declared, “Kauṇḍinya surely knows. Kauṇḍinya surely knows.”

4 This is the first of several verses in Saundarananda in which Aśvaghoṣa alludes to the colour of the buddha-robe. It is described as being yellow-red, and therefore, in the right light, having a golden hue. The robe is comparable to a net in that it is a patchwork of panels, stitched together in back-stitches whose heads sometimes look like little pearls.

5 Or, reading the final word as dadhyire “And, with ready minds, they meditated.” EHJ's rejection of this reading, on the grounds that meditation is not suitable for householders, is not well founded. The context, however, which is observance of the ten precepts, does seem to point more to dadhrire than dadhyire.

6 Precept one: not to inflict needless harm on living beings.

7 Precept two: not to steal.

8 Precept three: not to engage in illicit sexual relations.

9 Precepts four, five, six and seven: not to engage in four kinds of false speech.

10 Precept eight: not to covet.

11 Precept nine: not to show hostility.

12 Precept ten: not to have any doubt about cause and effect.

13 Stream-entry is the first of four levels of awakening, or fruits of dharma, that Nanda is described as realizing in Canto 17, “having shaken off every vestige of the personality view” (17.27). The personality view is the first of five lower fetters, and shaking off that view is associated with the first two levels of awakening. Rajasas, “the passions” here suggests sensual desire and ill-will, the fourth and fifth of the five lower fetters, the cutting of which is associated with the third level of awakening.

14 Alternate reading: “Afterwards they reduced the passions to a trickle” – pare means (1) “others” and (2) “afterwards.”

15 Cf. 2.60 and 2.61. Aśvaghoṣa's attitude to wealth at first glance seems contradictory. But on closer investigation, there is no contradiction: as a means, wealth is useful; but pursuit of wealth as an end is errant behaviour.

16 Manu means archetypal Man, progenitor of the human race.

17 Kuru was the name of an ancient Indo-Aryan tribe, and of their kingdom.

18 Abhaya, peace, or absence of fear, is opposed to bhayam (“terror”) in the previous verse. Vi-hṛ, translated previously as “to fare well,” has a sense of freedom of movement, or carefree adventure, which has been lost in the translation of this verse (see also 5.20).






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