Amitabha, A Story of Buddhist Theology, by Paul Carus, , at sacred-texts.com
During the preparations for war against Magadha there came tidings from the Parthian frontier that the troops of Gandhâra had gained a decisive victory which, however, was dearly bought, for the king himself who had been foremost among the combatants, died a glorious death on the field of battle. The crown now passed to Kanishka who deemed it his first duty to overcome the enemies of his nation. Leaving the trusted generals of his brother in command of the victorious army in Parthia, he placed himself at the head of the troops destined to march against Magadha. Charaka was requested to accompany him in the field, and Matura remained behind as chancellor of the state.
Charaka loved the princess without knowing it. She had been kindly disposed toward him from childhood; but her interest was heightened
to admiration since she had observed him at the bedside of her brother. How noble he was, how thoughtful, how unselfish; and at the same time how wise in spite of his youth. When the two parted she said: "Take care of my brother, be to him as a guardian angel; and," added the princess smiling, "be good to yourself,—for my sake."
Charaka stood bewildered. He felt his cheeks flushing, and did not know what to think or say. All at once he became conscious of the fact that a powerful yearning had gradually grown up in his heart, and a tender and as yet undefined relation had become established between himself and the princess. He was not sure, however, whether it was right for him to accept and press the beautiful woman's hand that was offered him in unaffected friendliness and with maidenly innocence. He stood before her like a schoolboy censured for a serious breach of the school regulations. He stammered; his head drooped; and at last covering his eyes with his hand, he began to sob like a child with a guilty conscience.
At this moment Kanishka approached to bid
his sister good-by; and after a few words of mutual good wishes Charaka and Kamalavatî parted.
While the king and his physician were riding side by side, their home behind them, their enemy in front, Kanishka inquired about the trouble which had stirred Charaka to tears. And Charaka said: "It is all my fault. When your sister bade me farewell, I became aware of a budding love toward her in my soul, and I feel that she reciprocates my sentiment. I know it is sinful, and I will not yield to temptation, but I am weak, and that brought tears to my eyes. I feel ashamed of myself."
"Do you think love a sin?" inquired the king.
"Is not celibacy the state of holiness," replied Charaka, "and is not marriage a mere concession to worldliness, being instituted for the sake of preventing worse confusion?"
"You ought to know more about it than I," continued Kanishka, "for you devoted yourself to religion by joining the brotherhood, while I am a layman, and my religious notions are not grounded on deeper knowledge."
"Alas!" sighed Charaka, "I am not fit to be a monk. The abbot of the Vihâra could not help me and advised me to have my doubts allayed and the problems of my soul settled by Açvaghosha of Magadha, the great philosopher and saint who is said to understand the doctrine of the Blessed One, the Buddha."
"What is the problem that oppresses you?" inquired King Kanishka. "Is your soul burdened with sin?"
"I am not guilty of a sinful deed, but I feel that my soul is sinful in its aspirations. My heart is full of passion, and I have an ambitious mind. I would perform great deeds, noble and miraculous, and would solve the problem of life; I would fathom the mysteries of being and comprehend the law of existence, its source and its purpose. There is an undefined yearning in my breast, a desire to do and to dare, to be useful to others, to live to the utmost of my faculties, and to be rooted in the mysterious ground from which springs all the life that unfolds itself in the world. I came into being, and I shall pass out of existence. I believe that I existed before I was born, and
that I shall exist after my death. But these other incarnations of mine are after all other than myself, other at least than my present existence. I understand very well that I am a reproduction of the life impulses that preceded me, and that I shall continue in subsequent reproductions of my karma. But I feel my present self to be the form of this life which will pass away, and I yearn for a union with that eternal substratum of all life which will never pass away."
Kanishka said: "While I was ill I had occasion to meditate on the problem of life and life's relation to death. Once I was dreaming; and in the dream I was not Prince Kanishka, but a king, not King of Gandhâra, but of some unknown country, and I was leading my men in battle; and it happened, as in the case of my brother, that I was victorious, and the hostile army before me turned in wild flight, but in the moment of victory a dying enemy shot an arrow at me which pierced my heart, and I knew my end was come. There was a pang of death, but it was not an unpleasant sensation, for my last thought was: 'Death in battle is
better than to live defeated.'13 I awoke. A gentle perspiration covered my forehead, and I felt as though I had passed through a crisis in which I had gained a new lease of life. My dream had been so vivid that when I awoke I had the impression that I and all the visions that surrounded me had been annihilated; yet after a while, when my mind was again fully adjusted, the dream appeared empty to me, a mere phantasma and illusion. Will it not be similar, if at the moment of death we make our final entrance into Nirvâna? Nirvâna appears to us in our present existence as a negative state, but our present existence is phenomenal, while Nirvâna is the abiding state."
Charaka replied: "I should think there is much truth in your words. But the Tathâgata teaches that by attaining enlightenment, we shall enter Nirvâna even in this present life; and if we do so, it seems to me that our main advantage lies in the comprehension of the transiency of all bodily existence and the permanence of our spiritual nature. Death has lost its terrors to him who sees the immortal
state. He knows that in death he sloughs off the mortal. But here my difficulty begins. I long for Nirvâna only as a means to enrich this present life.
"The Tathâgata teaches that life is suffering, and he is right. I do not doubt it. He has further discovered the way of emancipation, which is the eightfold noble path of righteousness. Now, I love life in spite of its suffering, and I am charmed with love. Love is life-giving, heart-gladdening, courage-inspiring! Oh, I love love, real worldly love! I admire heroism, the wild heroism of the battlefield! I long for wisdom, not the wisdom of the monks, but practical science which teaches us the why and wherefore of things and imparts to us the wizard's power over nature. Now, with all this I love righteousness; I feel the superiority of religious calmness, and the blissfulness of Nirvâna. I do not cling to self, but desire to apply myself: I want a field of activity. All these conflicting thoughts produce in me the longing for a solution: there it lies before me as an ideal which I cannot grasp, and I call it God. Oh, that I could speak to the
[paragraph continues] Tathâgata face to face; that I could go to him for enlightenment, that I could learn the truth so as to walk on the right path and find peace of soul in the tribulations of life. Since the Lord Buddha is no longer walking with us in the flesh, there is only one man in the world who can help me in my distress, and that is the great disciple of the Blessed Master, the philosopher and saint Açvaghosha of Magadha."
"Açvaghosha of Magadha!" replied the king. "Very well! We are waging war with the king of Magadha. Let the prize of combat be the possession of Açvaghosha!"