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Chapter Ten:  Cousin Srenya of Rajgriha

The broad-shouldered prince, having dismissed the minister and priest, crossed the Ganges with its rushing current and went to Rajagriha with its beautiful palaces and temples.

As calmly as Brahma ascending to highest heaven he reached the City of Five Hills surrounded by its ancient stone wall, and blessed by the presence of so many sacred sites.

The people of the region, although they had heard of his majesty, his prowess and his outstandingly splendid appearance, were as amazed as if suddenly confronted by Lord Shiva.

People stopped in their tracks at the sight of him and some even helplessly found themselves following after him.  Staid men began to hurry, and those who had been just sitting around suddenly stood up.

Some people pressed their palms together in reverence, others bowed their heads.  Some addressed him affectionately, but not one went without paying some form of homage.

On the road, the gaily dressed felt ashamed as he passed, and those who had been idly chatting fell silent. No one indulged in any improper thought -- it was as if Dharma herself had suddenly appeared.

Men and the women on the highway intent on other business, found that only conduct of the profoundest reverence seemed appropriate, such as that enjoined by rules of royal protocol but his eyes never even noticed them.

They could not tear their eyes away from his brows, his forehead, his mouth, or his eyes; his body, his hands, his feet, or his gait, or whatever part that had at first attracted them.

The Goddess of Rajagriha herself became disturbed when she saw him with the beautiful circle of down between his brows, his long eyes, his radiant body and his hands with their delicate membrane between the fingers.  He was worthy of ruling the earth and yet he was dressed like a common mendicant.

When Srenya, lord of the Magadha court, saw the huge procession of people going past his palace, he asked the reason for it and a man told him:

The one predicted by the brahmins is out there.  It is said that he will either attain supreme wisdom or rule the empire of the earth.  He is the son of the king of the Sakyas, who became an ascetic, and the people are gazing at him.

The king listened to that and having understood, at once commanded the man to ask where the prince was going, so the man followed the crowd.

With unwavering gaze, focusing about a yoke's length ahead, and in a slow and measured gait keeping his limbs and his thoughts from wandering,  in lowered tones, the noblest of mendicants went along begging alms. 

Having received such alms as were offered, he retired to a lonely mountain cascade and having eaten there in a fitting manner, he ascended Mount Pandava.

In that wood, thickly filled with lodhra trees resonant with the cries of peacocks, the Sun of mankind wearing his red robe, shone like the morning sun above the eastern mountain.

The royal attendant, having watched him there, related it all to King Srenya, and when he heard it, in his deep veneration he started after him with only a modest retinue.

Like the Pandavas, the 5 heroes of the Mahabharata, and great as the noblest of mountains named for them, the king like a maned lion -- truly a lion among men -- ascended Mount Pandava, with lion-like determination.

There he beheld the Bodhisattva resplendently seated with his senses subdued, and it was as if the mountain were moving and he were the peak; like the moon rising from the top of a cloud.

As distinguished in his beauty and perfect tranquility as the very creation of Dharma, so Srenya the king was filled with astonishment and admiration and he went over to him the way Indra might approach Brahma.

That most courteous man, having politely approached, asked after his health -- the equilibrium of his bodily humours -- and the other with equal gentility assured the king that he was fine in both mind and body.

Then the king sat down on the clean surface of the rock that was dark blue as an elephant's ear and with permission, asked about his state of mind:

"You know I am a friend of your family's and that we are closely related and that is the reason I would like to speak to you, my son, so please listen to my words because I care about you.

"When I consider your illustrious origins that begin with the sun, your youth, and your obvious beauty, I cannot help but wonder how you chose to become a religious beggar rather than opt for the kingdom?  It is so out of character with all the rest. 

"Your limbs deserve the balm of red sandalwood, not itchy red cloth.  That hand is for protecting your subjects; it was not made to hold food doled out by another's.

"Young cousin, if out of consideration for your father, you do not  want to assume his kingdom, well that is certainly understandable.  Then please accept one half of my kingdom.

"In that way there will not be any disruption to your own people, and then when time determines that it is appropriate, from our powerful alliance there will be a peaceful transition to an empire. Please do me that kindness.  'The prosperity of the good becomes very powerful, when aided by the good.'

"However, if out of some sense of pride in your warrior background you do not feel that this is the way to proceed, then with me as an ally, we can wage war on countless armies and emerge victorious.

"By choosing one of these alternatives, you could acquire religious merit, wealth, and pleasure; for those things -- love and the others -- in reverse order of importance, are the three fitting objectives of life.  When men die they vanish, at least as far as this world is concerned.

"Pleasure when it surpasses wealth and merit, is wealth once it has conquered merit and pleasure.  And so is merit, when pleasure and wealth are overcome, but all three would have to be abandoned, if you achieve your desired goal.

"Pursue those three objectives in life and let your  beauty bear its fruit.  They say that when attainment of religion, wealth, and pleasure is successful, then a man's life has been fulfilled.

"Do not let those two strong arms of yours so worthy of drawing a bow remain useless. They are as well equipped as those of Mandhatri's, and are even more capable of winning the three worlds than they are of conquering the earth.

"I say this to you out of affection; not through love of power or out of shock at seeing you dressed like this, though I am filled with compassion and I do shed tears.

"O aspiring ascetic, enjoy pleasure now for in due time, lover of religion, you will indeed have to practice religion, because before long you will be  too old and no longer handsome, though it certainly suits an illustrious young man of the warrior class now.

"An old man can obtain merit by religion, since old age is useless for enjoyment of pleasures. That is why they say that pleasures are for the young man, wealth for the middle-aged, and religion for the old.

"In the world of today, youth is the enemy of religion and wealth because our pleasures, however, well we may guard them, are hard to maintain.  Therefore, wherever pleasures are to be found, then youth should grab them.

" 'Old age is prone to reflection' they say, and is serious and preferring of peace and quiet.  An old person easily achieves equanimity -- it is unavoidable and a pity, really.

"That is why once having gone through the deceptive period of youth in which they were fickle, intent on external objects, unheeding, impatient, and unmindful of the long term, they finally can catch their breath, like men who have escaped safely through a forest.

So wait and let this transient time of youth pass with its recklessness and excitement. The early years are intended as a time of pleasure, they cannot help but be a time for indulging our senses.

" Or if religion is really your one true aim, then offer sacrifices as is this family's custom since time immemorial.  It is the highest form of religion for us and even Indra, lord of the winds, achieved highest heaven by means of them.

"Even with their arms weighed down by golden bracelets, and their colourful crowns resplendently shining with precious stones, royal sages reach the same goal by means of sacrifices as great sages do by means of self-mortification."

That is what the King of Magadha said, speaking as well and as forcefully as Indra, and though the prince had heard him, he still did not falter but stood steadfast as Mount Kailash with its striped peak.

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lodhra:  A tree whose scientific designation is Symplocos racemosa.  Its pollen was used as a face powder in ancient India.


NEXT: Chapter 11  Response to his cousin, King of Magadha

 

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