Refusing the Offer

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Chapter Eleven: Refusing the Offer

Impermanence: On Friendship and Family Ties

After this ostensibly friendly and helpful speech by the monarch of Magadha, the son of Shuddhodana, as self-possessed and unchanged as ever, his integrity intact, replied:

"You would not call this a weird situation if you really considered yourself a member of the great Shakya clan.  And if you think of yourself as being without ulterior motives, caring cousin, then is that how you should behave to someone whom you call a friend of yours?

"Amongst people of bad character, family ties do not long exist, but fade like  prosperity among those with no self-control.  Only good people are worthy of maintaining ancestral ties and alliances, and they continually renew those connections by means of a continuing series of friendly acts.

"Also, people who act unchangingly towards their friends in times of reversals of fortune -- those I also consider as true friends, for who is not the friend of the prosperous man in his times of plenty? ("A friend in [time of] need is a friend, indeed!")

"When those who are rich use their wealth for the sake of their friends and for religion, then their wealth has actual value and there are no regrets when it is gone.

So if your regard for me, O king, is prompted by pure generosity and friendship, I will return that courteously with simple friendship, and will say nothing more about it.

On Craving 

"Now, having felt the fear of old age and death, I fly to this path of religion in my desire for liberation.  Even if it means leaving behind my dear family with tears in their faces along with all those pleasures which are the causes of evil.

"I am not as afraid even of serpents, thunderbolts falling from heaven, nor of a fire storm, as I am afraid of those worldly objects.

"Those transient pleasures, robbers of our happiness and wealth floating empty like illusions throughout the world, infatuate men's minds just like fantasies -- and more so when they become obsessions.

"Victims of pleasure never achieve happiness even in heaven, still less in the realm of mortals, and someone who has a craving is never satisfied ..., just as a fire ( the wind's ally) can never get enough fuel.

"There is no calamity in the world like pleasures, and in their delusion people are devoted to them.  However, what wise man once he knows the truth [about addiction] and so fears evil,  would choose evil of his own free will ?

On Ambition

"Even when they have obtained the whole sea-encircled earth, kings still wish to conquer what's across that wide ocean.  Human beings can never get enough of pleasures, just as the ocean is never full no matter how much water falls into it.

"When a golden shower rained from heaven and he had conquered the continents and the four seas, and even obtained half of Shakra's throne, Mandhitr was still unsatisfied.

"Though he had long enjoyed an existence in the god realm, when out of fear of Vritra, the new Indra hid himself out of vanity, he could not help but make himself conspicuous by demanding that great Rishis carry his litter.  That was Nahusha's undoing.

"And [The Brahmanas say] Pururavas, son of Ida reached farthest heaven to capture the apsara Urvashi, but later in his greed and still unsatisfied, he tried to abscond with the Rishis' gold, and that was his downfall.

"Who would put his trust in these material objects, heavenly or earthly, unsettled as they are? [They may last, but the owner's family or lot does not:] they passed from Bali to Indra, from Indra to Nahusha, and then from Nahusha and back to Indra, again.

"Who wants to seek those enemies known as pleasures by whom even those sages were overcome?  And the sages were devoted to other [serious] pursuits and their only clothes were rags, their food roots, fruits, and water, and they wore twisted locks as long as snakes !

"Those pleasures, for whose sake even Ugrayudha, armed as he was with his terrible blazing discus Ghandali, found death at Bhishma's hands -- is not the mere thought of them unlucky and fatal ? And even more so the mere thought of those irreligious people whose lives are spent chasing after pleasures.


"And considering the paltry, meager taste of worldly things -- it's like being at the heights of an embrace and still feeling unsatisfied.  Who caught up in lust --the curse of the virtuous and a sin, for sure -- has ever even drawn near that poison called pleasure?

"When they hear of the miseries of those intent on pleasure and those dedicated to worldly pursuits such as agriculture and all the rest --  as compared to the satisfaction of those who care nothing for pleasure,  the self-controlled person would do better just to fling it all away.

"Success in pleasure is actually a misery for a man of pleasure, for he gets intoxicated once he has achieved his desired goal.  Then, through that intoxication he does what should not be done, not what should be done, and brings harm to himself falling to a miserable end.

Impermanence and Self-respect

"Pleasures which are gained and kept through effort, but after having fooled you for a time, return to wherever they came from are really only borrowed for a time.  What man of self-control, if he is wise, would take any delight in them?

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in those pleasures which are like a self-consuming torch of straw?  They only aggravate your craving when you seek them and when you grasp them, and if you do not give them up they keep you in a state of constant misery.

"Those men without self-control who are bitten by them to the core, fall into ruin and never achieve bliss.  What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in such pleasures that are like an angry, cruel serpent?

"Even if they enjoy them men are not satisfied but behave as dogs ravening over a bone.  What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in a skeleton made of  dry bones?

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which are like scraps of meat, and which produce misery and have the same appeal for kings or thieves, water or fire?

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which, like the senses, are destructive and bring calamity on every hand to those who abide in them, bringing misery to friends even more than overt enemies?

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which, are like the fruit that grows on the top of a tree?  And those who leap up to try and reach it crash upon the rocky mountain, or into a forest, water, or even the ocean?

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which, are like snatching a hot coal?  Men never attain happiness however hard they pursue them, increase them, or guard them.

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which are like enjoyments in a dream?  They are gained after thousands of pilgrimages and labours, and then [they] vanish in the wink of an eye.

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which are like a spear, sword, or club?  For the sake of such things all the heroes of mythology -- the Kurus, the Vrishnis and the Amdhakas, the Maithilas and the Damdakas [all] suffered destruction.

"What self-controlled person could find any satisfaction in these pleasures which create discord, ruining friendships so that like the two ashuras, Sumda and Upasumda, they can perish both together while engaged in mutual enmity?

The End of Pleasure is Ultimate Disgrace

"No one, no matter how clever, can avoid giving themselves over to the ravenous beasts that are pleasure, once blinded by them.  So what man of self-control could find satisfaction in such pleasures that are like disastrous, constant enemies?

"He whose intellect is blinded with pleasure does pitiable things; he incurs calamities such as death, slavery, and such.  The poor wretch who is a miserable slave of hope for the sake of pleasure deserves to suffer the pain of death even while in the land of the living.

"Deer are lured to destruction by the calls of hunters imitating females, and insects fly into the flames for the sake of the brightness.  The fish greedy for food swallows the iron hook, and in the same way worldly objects produce misery as their end.

The Truth About Materialism

"As for the usual opinion that "pleasures are just fun," none of them when examined are worthy of being enjoyed.  Fine garments and the rest are only the accoutrements of other things.  They are substitutes -- only to be regarded as remedies for pain.

"Water is desired for allaying thirst; food in the same way for removing hunger; a house for keeping off the wind, the heat of the sun, and the rain; and dress for keeping off the cold and to cover one's nakedness.

"So then, a bed is for removing drowsiness; a carriage the remedy for the fatigue of travel, a seat for alleviating the pain of standing and also, bathing as a means for washing -- for health and strength.

"Therefore to human beings external objects are only the means for remedying pain  and not in themselves sources of enjoyment.  What wise man would say he enjoys what in fact are only remedies?

The Folly of Seeing the Treatment as a Cure

"Maybe someone who is burning up with a bilious fever will maintain that cold poultices are an enjoyment, for when he is only engaged in alleviating pain, he indeed might call that an enjoyment.

"But since variableness is found in all pleasures, I cannot apply to them the name of enjoyment; the very conditions which characterize pleasure also in turn bring pain.

"In the cold, heavy garments and fragrant aloeswood are pleasant, but in the heat they are an annoyance.  And moonbeams and sandalwood are pleasant in the heat, but a pain in the cold.

"Since the well-known pairs of opposites such as gain and loss and so on are inseparably connected with everything in this world, therefore no one on earth is  invariably happy nor invariably wretched.

On Status-seeking

"So when I see how the nature of pleasure and pain are mixed, I consider royalty and slavery as one and the same.  A king does not always smile, and a slave is not always in pain.

"Since kingship involves a greater influence, the pains of a king are correspondingly great for a king is a kind of fulcrum, enduring trouble for the sake of the world.

"A king is unfortunate if he places his trust in his court that is apt to desert and loves scheming.  On the other hand, if he does not trust it, what sort of happiness can there be for a paranoid king?

"And even after conquering the whole earth, only one city can serve as a capital and even there, only one house can be inhabited.  So, is not royalty merely labour for others?

"And even as far as royal wardrobe goes: one set of garments is all he needs, and just enough food to stave off hunger.  Similarly, only one bed and only one seat.  All other royal distinctions are only for show.


"And if all these fruit are desirable for my satisfaction, I can be satisfied without a kingdom.  If a man is satisfied only once in this world, are not all varieties of satisfaction  the same?

One who has finally found the auspicious road to happiness is not to be deceived with regard to pleasures.  If you remember what you said about your friendship for me, tell me again and again, do pleasures keep their promise?

The Sanity of Renunciation

"I have not retired to the forest out of anger, nor because I had my crown knocked off in defeat by some enemy.  And I am not refusing your proposal just because I have some greater worldly aim in mind. 

"Someone who once had the sense to let go of an angry poisonous snake or a brand that burst into flame through spontaneous combustion would be unlikely to snatch them up again.  Similarly, who would ever seek pleasures again after having once abandoned them?

[The only one foolish enough to do such a thing would be] someone who, though sighted would envy the blind; though free, the bound; though wealthy, the destitute; though sane, the maniac.  Only he, I say, would envy one who is devoted to worldly objects !

"He who lives on alms, my good friend, is not to be pitied, for he has achieved his goal and is now set on escaping the fear of old age and death.  Here he has the best happiness, perfect calm and forever after for him all suffering is ended.

"The one who deserves pity is he who is overpowered by craving even though he is surrounded by great wealth.  Not only has he got no happiness in the here and now, but also consider his pain in the hereafter.

Karma, Fate and Freewill

"So it is appropriate for you to have this talk with me for it is in your character, your lifestyle and your background; but it is in my character, my way of life, and my background to carry out my resolve.

"I have been wounded by enjoyment of the world, and I have come out longing for   peace.  I would not accept -- even for free -- any empire, even a tranquil one in the [third] highest heaven, much less one here amongst men.

"But as for what you told me, O king, about the notion that "the universal pursuit of the three objects is the supreme end of man" and also that what I regard desirable you find miserable, your three objects are not only perishable but also unsatisfying.

[Because] "That world where there is no old age, nor fear; no birth, nor death, nor anxieties --  that alone I consider the highest objective, for there there are no repercussions [no eternally renewing activity, ie. karma.]

There are No 'Stages of Life'

"And as for what you also said about "wait till old age comes, for youth is ever subject to change. "  Lack of determination does not depend on age -- the old can be uncertain and the young can be firm.

But since Fate is very skillful in its ability to affect the world and all its inhabitants  whatever their age, how can a wise man desiring tranquility sit around and wait for old age when he never can know the time of his death?

"When Death stands aiming like a hunter, with old age as his weapon ready with an assortment of diseases scattered about as his arrows, smiting down living creatures who flee like deer to the Forest of Destiny, how can anyone even desire a long life?

"It is better for a person of any age --  the youthful son or the old man or the child --  to act immediately and choose the action of the religious man with compassion at his heart --- no, better to choose his inaction !

No Ritual Sacrifices

"And as for what you said about  "be diligent in sacrifices for religion, such as are worthy of thy race and bring a glorious fruit,"  Honour to such sacrifices?  I do not desire any so-called fruit that results from the pain and suffering of others !

"To kill a helpless victim through a wish for future reward -- that would be an unseemly action for any merciful-hearted good man, even if the benefit of the sacrifice were some reward -- and might not the reward be subject to decay?

"And even if true religion were not to consist in quite another rule of conduct entirely but only a way that advocates self-restraint, moral practice and a total absence of passion -- still it would not be right to observe the rites of sacrifice where the highest reward  described is attainable only by means of slaughter.

"The happiness which comes to a man in this existence that is gotten through the injury of another being is hateful to any wise compassionate heart; how much more if it is something invisible, in another life?

No Heavenly Reward

"I will not be lured into a course of action for future reward; my mind does not delight, O king, in future births.  Those actions [or their consequences] are uncertain and wavering in their direction like plants beaten down by a cloudburst.

On Dharma (in the traditional sense of Duty)

"I am here with the wish to visit the sage, Harada, who teaches liberation.  I am off this very day.  So happiness to you, O king!  Forgive my words, which may seem harsh since they are absolutely free of emotion.

"Now [in your capacity as a ruler,] stand guard over the world, like Indra in heaven; guard it continually by your excellence, like the sun.  Protect its best interests here: protect the land, protect the nobility, protect the good people, safeguard your royal powers, O king. And preserve your own religious duty [dharma.]

"Just like a bird, which in the midst of a sudden fire will, in order to save its body from a flame (the opposite of cold) will seek out water (the opposite of fire,) so you must do to keep peace of mind whenever the [political] situation arises and do the expedient thing to destroy any enemies of your home."

The king, folding his hands as a sudden longing come over him, replied, "You will get your wish; no one will stand in your way.  But when at last you have  accomplished all you set out to do --  in the future, remember me with kindness."

Having given his firm promise to do that, the princely ascetic proceeded on his way to Vishvamitra Ashram.  And after watching in admiration as he wandered off into the distance, the king and his courtiers returned to Pandava Mountain and Rajgiri.


Impermanence:  The small headings are not in the original text.  They have been inserted to help the reader see how this chapter is linked directly  to the Four Noble Truths, and also to emphasize the clarity and logic of Ashvaghosha, who is absolutely faithful to Buddha Shakyamuni's arguments as they appear in scripture.

*In The Mahabharata, the usurper of Panchala, Ugrayudha, handed over his weapon Gandhakali to Bhishma in return for material wealth.  Later, the discus lost its miraculously deadly powers because of its owner's lust for the wife of another man. 

NEXT:  Study and Determination  


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