Stirring the Victorian Imagination

Wendell Piez

The Light of Asia (from Book 7)

When Book 7 begins, the Buddha has achieved enlightenment. At Kapilavastu, the king Suddhodana and Yasodhara, the wife of Siddhartha, still mourn his loss. Yasodhara hears rumors that the prophecy has been fulfilled and that Siddhartha has become a holy man. She rejoices and calls for the merchants who have spoken of him, and they come and report that they have seen him. A merchant tells of how he was enlightened sitting under the Bodhi tree, how he resolved to proclaim what he had seen, how he started teaching, and how he has been acclaimed by King Bimbasara. King Suddhodana and Yasodhara both send out messengers, but they, coming to where the Buddha teaches in the bamboo grove, Join the community of his disciples. Suddhodana then sends Udayi, the friend of Siddhartha's youth. He goes to the Buddha, who answers that he will come to the city. Kapilavastu prepares itself to receive the prince. Yasodhara rides to the gate to meet him. Going out she meets a hermit surrounded by followers, who proves to be Siddhartha. She falls at his feet. Book 7 then turns to the king.

But when the King heard how Sidhartha came
Shorn, with the mendicant's sad-coloured cloth,
And stretching out a bowl to gather orts
From base-borns' leavings, wrathful sorrow drave
Love from his heart. Thrice on the ground he spat,
Plucked at his silvered beard, and strode straight forth
Lackeyed by trembling lords. Frowning he clomb
Upon his war-horse, drove the spurs, and dashed,
Angered through wandering streets and lanes of folk
Scarce finding breath to say, "The King, bow down!"
Ere the loud cavalcade had clattered by:
Which—at the turning by the Temple-wall,
Where the south gate was seen—encountered full
A mighty crowd; to every edge of it
Poured fast more people, till the roads were lost,
Blotted by that huge company which thronged
And grew, close following him whose look serene
Met the old King's. Not lived the father's wrath
Longer than while the gentle eyes of Buddh
Lingered in worship on his troubled brows,
Then downcast sank, with his true knee, to earth
In proud humility. So dear it seemed
To see the Prince, to know him whole, to mark
That glory greater than of earthly state
Crowning his head, that majesty which brought
All men, so awed and silent, in his steps.
Nathless, the King broke forth, "Ends it in this
That great Sidhartha steals into his realm,
Wrapt in a clout, shorn, sandalled, craving food
Of low-borns, he whose life was as a god's?
My son! heir of this spacious power, and heir
Of Kings who did but clap their palms to have
What earth could give or eager service bring?
Thou should'st have come apparelled in thy rank,
With shining spears, and tramp of horse and foot.
Lo! all my soldiers camped upon the road,
And all my city waited at the gates;
Where hast thou sojourned through these evil years
Whilst thy crowned father mourned? and she, too,
Lived as the widows used, foregoing joys;
Never once hearing sound of song or string,
Nor wearing once the festal robe, till now
When in her cloth of gold she welcomes home
A beggar-spouse in yellow remnants clad.
Son! why is this?"
"My father!" came reply,
"It is the custom of my race."
"Thy race,"
Answered the King, "counteth a hundred thrones
From Maha Sammat, but no deed like this."
"Not of a mortal line," the Master said,
"I spake, but of descent invisible,
The Buddhas who have been and who shall be
Of these am I, and what they did I do.
And this, which now befalls, so fell before,
That at his gate a King in warrior-mail
Should meet his son, a Prince in hermit-weeds;
And that, by love and self-control, being more
Than mightiest Kings in all their puissance,
The appointed helper of the Worlds should bow—
As now do I—and with all lowly love
Proffer, where it is owed for tender debts,
The first-fruits of the treasure he hath brought; Which I now proffer."
Then the King amazed
Inquired "What treasure?" and the Teacher took
Meekly the royal palm, and while they paced
Through worshiping streets—the Princess
and the King
On either side—he told the things which make
For peace and pureness, those Four Noble Truths
Which hold all wisdom as shores shut the seas,
Those eight right Rules whereby who will may walk—
Monarch or slave-upon the perfect Path
That hath its Stages Four and Precepts Eight,
Whereby whoso will live—mighty or mean,
Wise or unlearned, man, woman, young or old—
Shall, soon or late, break from the wheels of life,
Attaining blest Nirvana. So they came
Into the Palace-porch, Suddhodana
With brows unknit drinking the mighty words,
And in his own hand carrying Buddha's bowl,
Whilst a new light brightened the lovely eyes
Of sweet Yasodhara and sunned her tears;
And that night entered they the Way of Peace.


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