Universal Brotherhood – January 1898

THE NATIVITY OF BUDDHA (Buddha Charita) — trans. Charles Johnston

(From the Buddha Charita of Ashva Ghosha.)


M! Reverence to Him who Knoweth all things; — He hath provided for us a higher joy than Providence itself, — He who, in driving away our darkness, hath outshone the sun, — He who, allaying our hot passion, hath out-charmed the silver moon, — Him, the Worthy One I praise, who never had his like on earth.

There was a city, the dwelling place of the holy man of old, Kapila; surrounded on all sides by a fair, broad upland, set in hills that girt it round like clouds. The lofty pinnacles of the city soared towards heaven; and its rule was a white mountain of holiness, — that might draw away the clouds from the snowy peaks, misleading them, yet repaying all their hopes by its beauty. And darkness and misery found no refuge there, for the bright shining, and wealth of the city. And smiling Fortune dwelt there gladly, amid such worthy dwellers. And, for that nowhere throughout the whole earth was seen the like of it, for gardens and arches and jeweled spires, the city could vie only with itself, one palace striving with another.

And the women of the city were fair in face as the moon, more lovely than lotuses, so that the sun, even in setting, could not forget them, but hastened towards the west to slake his hot longing for them in the waters of the ocean.

And seeing that even the King of the old-world gods was eclipsed by the gathered splendors of the Shakya nation, the people strove to wash away even the memory of him, with their flags and bright-waving banners. By night, the rays of the moon, that fell on the silver cupolas were like the whiteness of a fullblown lotus; and by day the sunlight gleaming on the golden domes was like the brightness of yellow water-lilies.


And the king of the city was Shuddhodana, of the Solar line, anointed chieftest monarch of the world; and he adorned the city, ruling over it as the sun adorns a full-blown lotus. And the king, though ruler of all, yet listened to counsel; though liberal, he was not lavish; though master, he yet shewed equal justice; though full of graciousness, he was yet mighty in valor. By his arm had been slain the war-elephants of the enemy, in the field of battle; their heads all decked with jewels, scattered now, had bowed down before his might, like worshippers that scatter offerings of flowers.

And he shook the enemy with the fiery might of his valor, as the hot sun shakes off the darkness of eclipse. And he shone forth over the people, lighting them in all their ways.

Under his rule, though holiness and wealth and pleasure each had its own aim, yet the outward face of them was the same; and vying against each other, each shone brighter in their triumphant course. And the king, full of glory, yet drew glory from his noble counsellors; as the moon shines not less brightly for the shining of the stars.


And Maya the queen, like the Mother of the Worlds on earth, was not less in high honor than the high honor of the king; she was radiant as the sun, driving away the darkness by her majesty, — a goddess more glorious than the multitude of the heavenly host. And the people loved her as a mother, while the great folk esteemed her as one beloved.

And she, who was to bring great joy into the world, shone like goddess Fortune in the family of the king. And though a woman's lot loves best seclusion, yet when that lot fell on her, it shone more brightly; so night is no longer dark when it falls on the brightly shining moon.


"This nether world cannot perceive me, so far above their human sight," — thus spoke the Law Divine, and laying aside his heavenly form, took upon himself a shape visible to outward eyes. And descending thus from his heavenly dwelling place, lighting up the three worlds, that Being of Wisdom entered the womb of the queen, — as the king of the Serpents enters the cave of joy — taking that form whose symbol is the sacred elephant, (1) white as the snows of Himalay, six-tusked, and full of welldoing. So he entered the womb of King Shuddhodana's queen, to take away the sorrows of the world.

And the Sovereigns of the Spheres came down from heaven, to worship him, who was the one Lord of all the world; so the moonbeams, that shine on all things, yet shine more brightly on the Holy Mountain. Queen Maya also, perceiving that he had entered her womb, like a flash of heavenly light, blessing all the world, made the misery of the poor to cease by a rain of gifts upon the people.

And as she, goddess-like, surrounded by the courtiers of the palace, best among those that bear children, went once to the garden with the permission of the king, that Being of Wisdom came forth from her womb, as she was resting on the bough of a tree, heavily laden with blossoms.


Thus a blessing came upon the world's dark age, and thus a son was born to that fair lady, all her vows performed, — a son who should bring joy to the world, nor did she suffer sorrow or sickness. As the morning sun comes forth from the clouds, so he came forth into birth, from his mother's womb.

And as the sun pours forth its shining rays, that slay the darkness, he filled the world full of golden light.

And the king of the old-world gods, well pleased, received the new-born child, bright as a pillar of gold, and from the heavens upon his head descended twin streams of pure water, with flowers of the scarlet coral-tree.

And held by the chiefest of the heavenly host, he shone back on them, with the magical rays that came forth from his form, and by his brightness excelled the new moon, framed in the glory of the twilight clouds.

And new-born he shone as one who had descended from heaven, not passed through the gates of birth; he who had manifested himself in many an age, already full of understanding, was not dismayed.

And by his brightness, his firmness and his beauty the boy shone, illumining the world, thus descending into birth. And he held the eyes of those that looked on him, as the bright moon does, such was his luminous glory.

For by the brightness of his body he robbed all other lights of their glory, as the sun does; for he was in color like to fair gold, and illumined all the lands of the earth with his shining. And taking seven steps, fearless, bright as the moon, firmly planted, full of valor, and steadfast, shining like the seven stars, he spoke:


"Born am I for Wisdom, and the welfare of the world, and this is my final birth": thus spoke he, whose going was like the lion, looking forth through the four worlds; thus he spoke, declaring the purpose of what was to come.

And two streams of water, shining like the rays of the moon, flowed down from heaven, soft as falling dew; and they descended on his moon-like head, for the gladdening of his body, who had no equal.

And as he lay there on a couch, whose feet were of lapis-lazuli, whose body was of sparkling gold, whose covering was rich and beautiful, the genii of the earth stood round him as his courtiers, with yellow lotuses in their hands. And at the majesty of him, born thus of queen Maya, the heavenly dwellers, with heads bowed in reverence, came to him bearing a snow-white canopy, bringing blessings for him who was thus born for Wisdom.

And great Serpents who had done honor to the Buddhas of ages gone by, drew near to him through love of the great Law, their eyes full of devotion, and strewed the scarlet coral-flowers upon him. They rejoiced at the birth of him, who came as the Others had come, they dwellers in the pure worlds, Beings of purity.

The gods rejoiced, even though their chiefest was gone, descending into birth for the good of this world sunk in woe; at whose birth the earth trembled, like a ship struck by the wind, the earth adorned by the king of mountains. And from the cloudless sky fell a rain of lotus-buds, sandal-scented. And the winds breathed soft, with loving touch, descending from their dwellings in the sky; and the Sun shone out with exceeding brightness; the fire-lord flamed with rays of beauty, unconstrained.

And in the neighborhood of his dwelling-place a stream of pure water burst forth, and the palace was astonished at it, and it became as a shrine for holy acts. And the spring of water received virtue from the hosts of divine beings who came there, longing for the Law, and seeking to behold it.

And they shewed joyful reverence, bringing branches of scented flowers. And the flowering trees blossomed forth of themselves, showering their scented blooms on every side, full of the murmur of bees, and the scented air was breathed by the assembled serpents. And on all sides the place was gladdened by the tinkling of women's tabors, and the soft sounds of the lute, and many-voiced instruments giving forth sweet music melodious.


Is it not written in the holy books of old, that what Bhrgu and Augiras could not accomplish, that the sons of these two sages, founders of noble lines attained, — their two sons, Shukra and Vrhaspati. And the son of Sarasvati gave out again the lost Doctrine, which they of old had not beheld, — Vyasa, the sage, accomplishing what Vasishta, with all his knowledge, could not accomplish.

And Valmiki, likewise, made such a song as Chyavana the mighty seer could never make; and what Atri could not attain to, that the. son of Atri afterwards performed. And the honor of second birth, which Kushika did not reach, that his son successfully obtained. And the sons of Ikshvaku were able to set such limits to the ocean as Sagara had tried to set, and failed.

And Janaka reached a fame as teacher in the mystic lore, which had not been reached by any others of the twice-born. And many are the doings recorded, which great heroes were unable to compass, — but which yet were compassed by the heroes' sons. Hence it is manifest that neither age nor time avail for preeminence in the world; the deeds that kings and sages set their hearts upon, — these things have been done by their sons, which had not been done by those who went before them.

Thus was the king consoled by his trusted counsellors from among the twice-born, and even made glad. And he put away unwished-for fear from his mind, and even rejoiced with great rejoicing. And well pleased with those excellent twice-born men, he gave them gifts and shewed them hospitality, saying: "Let him indeed become king of the earth, as has been declared, and, in old age, let him depart to the forest."


Thereupon, learning by heavenly signs, and through the power of his magic knowledge, that he was born who should make an end of birth, the mighty sage, Asita, came to the palace of the Shakya king, full of thirst for the Good Law.

Him gleaming with holy radiance, and radiance magical, the king's own Teacher led within the king's abode, — himself a knower of truth eminent among truth-knowers, — with reverence and hospitality. And the mighty Sage drew near to the inner chamber of the king, where all was rejoicing at the young prince's birth; he came full of dignity through his magical power, and the force of his mystic knowledge, and the sense that old age was upon him.

Thereupon the king, shewing the saint all due honor, and setting him upon a seat, and causing water to be brought, to wash his feet, welcomed him, as of old Antideva welcomed Vashishta: "Happy am I, and favored is my race, in that thy greatness has come to visit me; oh august one, order what I am to do, for I am thy disciple; deign thou, then, to shew confidence in me."

Thus, verily, welcomed by the king, with every honor, as was fit, the saint spoke these deep, wise words, his eyes opened wide with wonder.


"In thee, magnanimous, is this well and seemly, that thy mind is so full of affection towards me, — whose desire is the Law, who practice renunciation, — as to a beloved guest, in accordance with thy goodness, wisdom, and age. It is thus that kingly sages, casting away from them perishable riches according to the Law, and renouncing them altogether, grew rich in mystic power, though poor in outward substance. But hear thou now the cause of my coming, and draw great gladness from it.

"For by me, on the heavenly path, was heard a heavenly voice: that a son had been born to thee, for Wisdom. Hearing the voice, therefore, and having set my mind to it, and understanding it by heavenly signs, I came hither, full of the desire to behold him who shall raise aloft the banner of the Shakyas, as they raise the banner of Indra at the festival."


And when the king heard this speech of the sage, with swift and joyful step he went and took the boy from the nurse's arms, and shewed him to the saint, rich in magical power. And the mighty sage with great wonder beheld the prince, his soles marked with the sacred disc; his palms and feet with joining membranes; the circle of hair between his brows; his body vigorous as an elephant.

And beholding him, in the arms of his nurse, like the son of the Fire-lord in the arms of his mother, the tears came, hanging to his eyelashes, and sighing deeply, he was as one who gazes into paradise. And seeing Asita, his eyes suffused with tears, the king trembled, for love of his son. And, his throat choked with tears, he asked, sobbing, bending suppliant before the saint:

"Why, O wise one, beholding him whose form is almost like a god's, — whose birth was marvelous and full of light, — whose future, thou sayest, is most excellent, — why, beholding him, dost thou weep?

"Is it, sage, that this prince is destined for long life, or is he born for my sorrow? And after taking up water in my hand, shall I not have time to drink it? Is the treasure of my glory also secure, or is the strength of my family certain? Shall I go forth happily to the next world, with the unwinking eye of the gods, while my son is asleep? Or shall my race be without a flower? Are the descendants of my family destined to wither away? Tell me quickly, Master, for I have no peace; for thou knowest the love of kindred toward a son."


The saint thus replied to the king, thus overcome with faintness at the thought of misfortune:

"Let not thy belief be changed, O King, for what I have declared is fixed and sure. Nor indeed was it on his account or for any change in him, but for my own misfortune, that I grieved.

For my time has come; and he, the teacher who shall put an end to birth, who is hard to find, is but newly born; he who, giving up his kingdom, and unallured by things of sense, shall reach the Truth by fierce striving.

For he shall blaze forth as a sun, to slay the world's darkness of delusion, — by full knowledge.

From the ocean of sorrow, whose foam is sickness, wide-spread, whose waves are weakness, and whose swift tide is death, shall he save the deluded and afflicted world, on the raft of wisdom.

The thirsty world shall drink his river of the Law, flowing forth most excellent, whose swift waters are wisdom, whose banks are firm righteousness, the birds on whose waves are vows.

He shall declare the way of freedom to those who have lost their way, and wandered from the road, to those who are worn out with sorrow, shewing them the path from this rough highway of necessity, hemmed in by objects of sense.

He shall bring joy to the people in the world, burnt up by the fire of passsion, whose fuel is material life; he shall bring them the glad moisture of the Law, as the great cloud brings rain allaying the burning heat.

He shall break open the prison house whose bars are lust, and whose doors are darkness and delusion, for the freeing of the people; he shall break it open with blows of the good Law, excellent, irresisitble.

He, as king of the Law, shall make a freeing from bondage for the people who are fettered by the bonds of their own delusions; who are wrapped round with sorrow; who have no place of refuge.

Therefore grieve not for this grief of mine; for he is to be grieved for, in this grievous human world, who shall not hear thy son's strong Law, whether through delusion, or the allurement of desire, or strong fascination. And therefore, lost are my meditations, and failed of their aim; since I shall not hear him. I esteem even dwelling in paradise as a misfortune."


When the king heard this his heart was glad, and he put away from him despondency; "Thus, indeed, shall my son be," he thought, his grief assuaged; "on the Noble Path shall he go," he thought within his heart. Nor indeed was he unfriendly to the Law, yet he saw in this a fear of his son's loss. Thus the sage Asita, having told the truth to the king, fearing for his son, departed again as he had come, by the pathways of the wind, greatly honored, and reverenced by all.


1. The symbol of Esoteric wisdom. (return to text)

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