extract from the poem The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold 1879
A small part of the splendid lore which broke
From Buddha’s lips: I am a late-come scribe
Who love the Master and his love of men,
And tell this legend, knowing he was wise,
But have not wit to speak beyond the books;
And time hath blurred their script and ancient sense,
Which once was new and mighty, moving all.
A little of that large discourse I know
Which Buddha spake on the soft Indian eve.
Also I know it writ that they who heard
Were more — lakhs more — crores more — than could be seen,
For all the Devas and the Dead thronged there,
Till Heaven was emptied to the seventh zone
And uttermost dark Hells opened their bars;
Also the daylight lingered past its time
In rose-leaf radiance on the watching peaks,
So that it seemed night listened in the glens,
And Noon upon the mountains; yea! they write,
The Evening stood between them like some maid
Celestial, love-struck, rapt; the smooth-rolled clouds
Her braided hair; the studded stars the pearls
And diamonds of her coronal; the moon
Her forehead-jewel, and the deepening dark
Her woven garments. ’Twas her close-held breath
Which came in scented sighs across the lawns
While our Lord taught; and, while he taught, who heard —
Though he were stranger in the land, or slave,
High caste or low, come of the Aryan blood,
Or Mlech or Jungle-dweller — seemed to hear
What tongue his fellows talked. Nay, outside those
Who crowded by the river, great and small,
The birds and beasts and creeping things — ’tis writ —
Had sense of Buddha’s vast embracing love
And took the promise of his piteous speech;
So that their lives — prisoned in shape of ape,
Tiger, or deer, shagged bear, jackal, or wolf,
Foul-feeding kite, pearled dove, or peacock gemmed,
Squat toad, or speckled serpent, lizard, bat;
Yea, or of fish fanning the river-waves —
Touched, meekly at the skirts of brotherhood
With man who hath less innocence than these;
And in mute gladness knew their bondage broke
Whilst Buddha spake these things before the King:
Om, Amitaya! measure not with words
Th’ Immeasurable; nor sink the string of thought
Into the Fathomless. Who asks doth err,
Who answers, errs. Say nought!
The Books teach Darkness was, at first of all,
And Brahma, sole meditating in that Night;
Look not for Brahma and the Beginning there!
Nor him, nor any light.
Shall any gazer see with mortal eyes,
Or any searcher know by mortal mind;
Veil after veil will lift — but there must be
Veil upon veil behind.
Stars sweep and question not. This is enough
That life and death and joy and woe abide;
And cause and sequence, and the course of time,
And Being’s ceaseless tide,
Which, ever changing, runs, linked like a river
By ripples following ripples, fast or slow —
The same yet not the same — from far-off fountain
To where its waters flow
Into the seas. These, steaming to the Sun,
Give the lost wavelets back in cloudy fleece
To trickle down the hills, and glide again;
Having no pause or peace.
This is enough to know, the phantasms are;
The Heavens, Earths, Worlds, and changes changing them
A mighyty whirling wheel of strife and stress
Which none can stay or stem.
Pray not! the Darkness will not brighten! Ask
Nought from the Silence, for it cannot speak!
Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains!
Ah! Brothers, Sisters! Seek
Nought from the helpless gods by gift and hymn,
Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruit and cakes;
Within yourselves deliverance must be sought;
Each man his prison makes.
Each hath such lordship as the loftiest ones;
Nay, for with Powers above, around, below,
As with all flesh and whatsoever lives,
Act maketh joy and woe.
What hath been bringeth what shall be, and is,
Worse — better — last for first and first for last;
The Angels in the Heavens of Gladness reap
Fruits of a holy past.
The devils in the underwords wear out
Deeds that were wicked in and age gone by.
Nothing endures: fair virtues waste with time,
Foul sins grow purged thereby.
Who toiled a slave may come anew a Prince
For gentle worthiness and merit won;
Who ruled a King may wander earth in rags
For things done and undone.
Higher than Indra’s ye may lift your lot,
And sink it lower than the worm or gnat;
The end of many myriad lives is this,
The end of myriads that.
Only, while turns this wheel invisible,
No pause, no peace, no staying-place can be;
Who mounts may fall, who falls may mount; the spokes
Go round unceasingly!
If ye lay bound upon the wheel of change,
And no way were of breaking from the chain,
The Heart of boundless Being is a curse,
The Soul of Things fell Pain.
Ye are not bound! the Soul of Things is sweet,
The Heart of Being is celestial rest;
Stronger then woe is will: that which was Good
Doth pass to Better — Best.
I, Buddha, who wept with all my brothers’ tears,
Whose heart was broken by a whole world’s woe,
Laugh and am glad, for there is Liberty!
Ho! ye who suffer! Know
Ye suffer from yourselves. None else compels,
None other holds you that ye live and die,
And whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss
Its spokes of agony,
Its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness.
Behold, I show you Truth! Lower than hell,
Higher than Heaven, outside the utmost stars,
Farther than Brahma doth dwell,
Before begining, and without an end,
As space eternal and as surety sure,
Is fixed a Power divine which moves to good,
Only its laws endure.
This is its touch upon the blossomed rose,
The fashion of its hand shaped lotus-leaves;
In dark soil and the silence of the seeds
The robe of Spring it weaves;
That is its painting on the glorious clouds,
And these its emeralds on the peacock’s train;
It hath its stations in the stars; its slaves
In lightning, wind, and rain,
Out of the dark it wrought the heart of man,
Out of dull shells the pheasant’s pencilled neck;
Ever at toil, it brings to loveliness
All ancient wrath and wreck.
The grey eggs in the golden sun-bird’s nest
Its treasures are, the bees’ six-sided cell
Its honey-pot; the ant wots of its ways,
The white doves know them well.
It spreadeth forth for flight the eagle’s wings
What time she beareth home her prey; it sends
The she-wolf to her cubs; for unloved things
It fi ndeth food and friends.
It is not marred nor stayed in any use,
All liketh it; the sweet white milk it brings
To mothers’ breasts, it brings the white drops, too,
Wherewith the young snake stings.
The ordered music of the marching orbs
It makes in viewless canopy of sky;
In deep abyss of earth it hides up gold,
Sards, sapphires, lazuli.
Ever and ever fetching secrets forth,
It sitteth in the green of forest-glades
Nursing strange seedlings at the cedar’s root,
Devising leaves, blooms, blades.
It slayeth and it saveth, nowise moved
Except unto the working out of doom;
Its threads are Love and Life; and Death and Pain
The shuttles of its loom.
It maketh and unmaketh, mending all;
What it hath wrought is better than had been;
Slow grows the splendid pattern that it plans
Its wistful hands between.
This is its work upon the things ye see,
The unseen things are; men’s hearts and minds,
The thoughts, of peoples and their ways, and wills,
Those, too, the great Law binds.
Unseen it helpeth ye with faithful hands,
Unheard it speaketh stronger than the storm.
Pity and Love are man’s because long stress
Moulded blind mass to form.
It will not be contemned of any one;
Who thwarts it loses, and who serves it gains;
The hidden good it pays with peace and bliss,
The hidden ill with pains.
It seeth everywhere and marketh all:
Do right — it recompenseth! do one wrong —
The equal retribution must be made,
Though Dharma tarry long.
It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter-true
Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are as nought, to-morrow it will judge,
Or after many days.
By this the slayer’s knife did stab himself;
The unjust judge hath lost his own defender;
The false tongue dooms its lie; the creeping thief
And spoiler rob, to render.
Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is Love, the end of it
Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!
The Books say well, my Brothers! each man’s life
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes
The bygone right breeds bliss.
That which ye sow ye reap. See yonder fields!
The sesamum was sesamum, the corn
Was corn. The Silence and the Darkness knew!
So is a man’s fate born.
He cometh, reaper of the things he sowed,
Sesamum, corn, so much cast in past birth;
And so much weed and poison-stuff, which mar
Him and the aching earth.
If he shall labour rightly, rooting these,
And planting wholesome seedlings where they grew,
Fruitful and fair and clean the ground shall be,
And rich the harvest due.
If he who liveth, learning whence woe springs,
Endureth patiently, striving to pay
His utmost debt for ancient evils done
In Love and Truth alway;
If making none to lack, he thoroughly purge
The lie and lust of self forth from his blood;
Suffering all meekly, rendering for offence
Nothing but grace and good:
If he shall day by day dwell merciful,
Holy and just and kind and true; and rend
Desire from where it clings with bleeding roots.
Till love of life have end:
He — dying — leaveth as the sum of him
A life-count closed, whose ills are dead and quit,
Whose good is quick and mighty, far and near,
So that fruits follow it.
No need hath such to live as ye name life;
That which began in him when he began
Is fi nished: he hath wrought the purpose through
Of what did make him Man.
Never shall yearnings torture him, nor sins
Stain him, nor ache of earthly joys and woes
Invade his safe eternal peace; nor deaths
And lives recur. He goes
Unto Nirvàna. He is one with Life
Yet lives not. He is blest, ceasing to be.
Om, Mani Padme, Hom! the Dewdrop slips
Into the shining sea!
This is the doctrine of the Karma. Learn!
Only when all the dross of sin is quit,
Only when life dies like a white flame spent
Death dies along with it.
Say not “I am,” “I was,” or “I shall be,”
Think not ye pass from house to house of flesh
Like travellers who remember and forget,
Ill-lodged or well-lodged. Fresh
Issues upon the Universe that sum
Which is the lattermost of lives. It makes
Its habitation as the worm spins silk
And dwells therein. It takes
Function and substance as the snake’s egg hatched
Takes scale and fang; as feathered reed-seeds fly
O’er rock and loam and sand, until they find
Their marsh and multiply.
Also it issues forth to help or hurt.
When Death the bitter murderer doth smite,
Red roams the unpurged fragment of him, driven
On wings of plague and blight.
But when the mild and just die, sweet airs breathe;
The world grows richer, as if desert-stream
Should sink away to sparkle up again
Purer, with broader gleam;
So merit won winneth the happier age
Which by demerit halteth short of end;
Yet must this Law of Love reign King of all
Before the Kalpas end.
What lets? — Brothers! the Darkness lets! Which breeds
Ignorance, mazed whereby ye take these shows
For true, and thirst to have, and, having, cling
To lists which work you woes.
Ye that will tread the Middle Road, whose course
Bright Reason traces and soft Quiet smoothes;
Ye who will take the high Nirvàna-way,
List the Four Noble Truths.
The First Truth is of Sorrow. Be not mocked!
Life which ye prize is long drawn agony:
Only its pains abide; its pleasures are
As birds which light and fly.
Ache of the birth, ache of the helpless days,
Ache of hot youth and ache of manhood’s prime;
Ache of the chill grey years and choking death,
These fill your piteous time.
Sweet is fond Love, but funeral-flames must kiss
The breasts which pillow and the lips which cling;
Gallant is warlike Might, but vultures pick
The joints of chief and King.
Beauteous is Earth, but all its forest-broods
Plot mutual slaughter, hungering to live;
Of sapphire are the skies, but when men cry
Famished, no drops they give.
Ask of the sick, the mourners, ask of him
Who tottereth on his staff, lone and forlorn,
“Liketh thee life?” — these say the babe is wise
That weepeth, being born.
The Second Truth is Sorrow’s Cause. What grief
Springs of itself and springs not of Desire?
Senses and things perceived mingle and light
Passion’s quick spark of fire:
So flameth Trishna, lust and thirst of things.
Eager ye cleave to shadows, dote on dreams;
A false Self in the midst ye plant, and make
A world around which seems
Blind to the height beyond, deaf to the sound
Of sweet airs breathed from far past Indra’s sky;
Dumb to the summons of the true life kept
For him who false puts by.
So grow the strifes and lusts which make earth’s war,
So grieve poor cheated hearts and flow salt tears;
So wax the passions, envies, angers, hates;
So years chase blood-stained years
With wild red feet. So, where the grain should grow,
Spreads the biran-weed with its evil root
And poisonous blossoms; hardly good seeds find
Soil where to fall and shoot;
And drugged with poisonous drink the soul departs,
And, fierce with thirst to drink, Karma returns;
Sense-struck again the sodden Self begins,
And new deceits it earns.
The Third is Sorrow’s Ceasing. This is peace —
To conquer love of self and lust of life,
To tear deep-rooted passion from the breast,
To still the inward strife;
For love, to clasp Eternal Beauty close;
For glory, to be Lord of self; for pleasure,
To live beyond the gods; for countless wealth,
To lay up lasting treasure
Of perfect service rendered, duties done
In charity, soft speech, and stainless days:
These riches shall not fade away in life,
Nor any death dispraise.
Then Sorrow ends, for Life and Death have ceased;
How should lamps flicker when their oil is spent?
The old sad count is clear, the new is clean;
Thus hath a man content.
The Fourth Truth is The Way. It openeth wide,
Plain for all feet to tread, easy and near,
The Noble Eightfold Path; it goeth straight
To peace and refuge. Hear!
Manifold tracks lead to yon sister-peaks
Around whose snows the gilded clouds are curled;
By steep or gentle slopes the climber comes
Where breaks that other world.
Strong limbs may dare the rugged road which storms
Soaring and perilous, the mountain’s breasts;
The weak must wind from slower ledge to ledge,
With many a place of rest.
So is the Eightfold Path which brings to peace;
By lower or by upper heights it goes.
The firm soul hastes, the feeble tarries. All
Will reach the sunlit snows.
The First good Level is Right Doctrine. Walk
In fear of Dharma, shunning all offence;
In heed of Karma, which doth make man’s fate;
In lordship over sense.
The Second is Right Purpose. Have good-will
To all that lives, letting unkindness die
And greed and wrath; so that your lives be made
Like soft airs passing by.
The Third is Right Discourse. Govern the lips
As they were palace-doors, the King within;
Tranquil and fair and courteous be all words
Which from that presence win.
The Fourth is Right Behaviour. Let each act
Assoil a fault or help a merit grow;
Like threads of silver seen through crystal beads
Let love through good deeds show.
Four higher roadways be. Only those feet
May tread them which have done with earthly things,
Right Purity, Right Thought, Right Loneliness
Right Rapture. Spread no wings
For sunward flight, thou soul with unplumed vans!
Sweet is the lower air, and safe and known
The homely levels: only strong ones leave
The nest each makes his own.
Dear is the love, I know, of Wife and Child;
Pleasant the friends and pastimes of your years;
Fruitful of good Life’s gentle charities;
False, though firm-set, its fears.
Live — ye who must — such lives as live on these;
Make golden stair-ways of your weakness; rise
By daily sojourn with those phantasies
To lovelier verities,
So shall ye pass to clearer heights and find
Easier ascents and lighter loads of sins,
And larger will to burst the bonds of sense,
Entering the Path. Who wins
To such commencement hath the First Stage touched,
He knows the Noble Truths, the Eightfold Road;
By few or many steps such shall attain
Nirvana’s blest abode.
Who standeth at the Second Stage, made free
From doubts, delusions, and the inward strife,
Lord of all lusts, quit of the priests and books,
Shall live but one more life.
Yet onward lies the Third Stage: purged and pure
Hath grown the stately spirit here, hath risen
To love all living things in perfect peace.
His life at end, life’s prison
Is broken. Nay, there are who surely pass
Living and visible to utmost goal
By Fourth Stage of the Holy ones — the Buddhas —
And they of stainless soul.
Lo! like fi erce foes slain by some warrior,
Ten sins along these Stages lie in dust,
The Love of Self, False Faith, and Doubt are three,
Two more Hatred and Lust.
Who of these Five is conqueror hath trod
Three stages out of Four: yet there abide
The Love of Life on earth, Desire for Heaven,
Self-Praise, Error, and Pride.
As one who stands on yonder snowy horn
Having nought o’er him but the boundless blue,
So, these sins being slain, the man is come
Nirvàna’s verge unto.
Him the Gods envy from their lower seats;
Him the Three Worlds in ruin should not shake;
All life is lived for him, all deaths are dead;
Karma will no more make
New houses. Seeking nothing, he gains all;
Foregoing self, the Universe grows “I”:
If any teach Nirvàna is to cease,
Say unto such they lie.
If any teach Nirvàna is to live,
Say unto such they err; not knowing this,
Nor what light shines beyond their broken lamps,
Nor lifeless, timeless bliss.
Enter the Path! There is no grief like Hate!
No pains like passion, no deceit like sense!
Enter the path! far hath he gone whose foot
Trades down one fond offence.
Enter the Path! There spring the healing streams
Quenching all thirst! there bloom th’ immortal flowers
Carpeting all the way with joy! there throng
Swiftest and sweetest hours!
More is the treasure of the Law than gems;
Sweeter than comb its sweetness; its delights
Delightful past compare. Thereby to live
Hear the Five Rules aright: —
Kill not — for Pity’s sake — and lest ye slay
The meanest thing upon its upward way.
Give freely and receive, but take from none
By greed, or force, or fraud, what is his own.
Bear not false witness, slander not, nor lie;
Truth is the speech of inward purity.
Shun drugs and drinks which work the wit abuse;
Clear minds, clean bodies, need no soma juice.
Touch not thy neighbour’s wife, neither commit
Sins of the flesh unlawful and unfit.
These words the Master spake of duties due
To father, mother, children, fellows, friends;
Teaching how such as may not swiftly break
The clinging chains of sense — whose feet are weak
To tread the higher road — should order so
This life of flesh that all their hither days
Pass blameless in discharge of charities
And first true footfalls in the Eightfold Path;
Living pure, reverent, patient, pitiful,
Loving all things which live even as themselves;
Because what falls for ill is fruit of ill
Wrought in the past, and what falls well of good;
And that by howsomuch the householder
Purgeth himself of self and he helps the world,
By so much happier comes he to next stage,
In so much bettered being.