Amitabha, A Story of Buddhist Theology, by Paul Carus, , at sacred-texts.com
Açvaghosha held daily conversations with Kanishka, in which not only his friends Charaka and the king of Magadha, but also Princess Bhadraçrî, his bride-elect, were now wont to join.
One day Subâhu was detained by important affairs of state, and when he made his appearance in the accustomed circle of his philosophical friends, he was so full of distress as to be almost beyond the power of speech.
"My royal friend," said Kanishka, "what disturbs your mind? How terrible must the calamity be that so affects a man of your composure! Are you or one of your kin in danger of death, or pray, what else is the cause of your trouble?"
"My dear friend and ally," replied king Subâhu, "it is your life that is endangered. I come to take counsel with you as to how we
may save you from the perilous situation in which the false patriotism of my people has placed you. Some of my southern generals having but lately arrived with subsidies which ought to have been with me at the beginning of the war, entered into a conspiracy with my prime minister to surround the palace, take you prisoner and put you to the sword; then to attack your unwary soldiers and drive them out of the country. Everything has been planned in the strictest privacy, and your noble confidence in my faith and friendship made it easy for them to replace the guards gradually by their friends until they now have everything their own way, and I am given to understand that unless I join the conspirators they will elect another king."
"And what is your pleasure in this matter?" asked Kanishka, who betrayed no more concern than if he were talking about a game of checkers.
"My pleasure?" exclaimed the disconsolate king; "ask not what my pleasure is. I see only my duty, and that is to save you or to die with you!"
Kanishka was a man of deeds, not of words. He bade Charaka at once to hoist on the tower of the palace a blue flag, which was the secret sign to summon the Gandhâra generals that were camping in the vicinity of the town. Having inquired into the situation and learned that all the gates were in possession of the conspirators, he requested the king to call into his presence the treacherous prime minister who was at the head of the conspiracy, indicating, as though nothing had happened, that he wanted to speak to him.
The prime minister entered, and the king spoke to him graciously about his fidelity to King Subâhu and the kingdom of Magadha, and said that he himself, anxious to honor the people of Magadha, wished to show him some recognition and confer some favor on him, the most faithful servant of King Subâhu.
While King Kanishka thus idled away the time the prime minister felt uneasy, for his fellow-conspirators, the generals from the south, were waiting for the signal to overpower the few foreign guards, to close the gates, and take possession of the palace. Kanishka
in the meanwhile inquired as to his health, his general prosperity, his children, his brothers and sisters, until the prime minister lost patience and said: "Sire, allow me to withdraw; a number of my friends from the southern provinces, men of great prominence in their distant homes, have arrived and are anxious to meet me and my sovereign."
With a royal courtesy which could not be refused, King Kanishka replied: "Let me accompany you to greet them. Your friends are my friends, and the vassals of my most noble ally King Subâhu are my allies."
The prime minister blushed and looked inquiringly at the king; but King Kanishka's eye was calm and showed not the least sign of suspicion. At the same time there was a firmness and determination in the king's attitude which made the treacherous minister wince and submit.
"This is the way to the hall where my friends are assembled," said the prime minister, and showed the king the way.
"Wait a moment," said King Kanishka, "it would be wrong of us if my royal brother, King
[paragraph continues] Subâhu, were not present. Let us call my councilors and generals so as to indicate our desire to honor your guests."
In the meantime some of the horsemen had arrived, and their officers demanded admission at the palace gates to report their presence to the king. They were announced and admitted.
"Welcome, my gallant officers," exclaimed King Kanishka, "join my retinue when I greet the friends of the prime minister, and let your men remain under arms at the main gate ready to receive my commands."
Thus the two kings with a stately retinue both of dignified councilors and warlike officers entered the hall where the conspirators were impatiently waiting. They were dumbfounded when they saw at the side of their most hated enemy their own sovereign accompanied by the prime minister with downcast eye, meek as a tame doe and giving no sign for action. Then Kanishka addressed the conspirators with great cordiality as though he had long desired to meet them and show them his good will. He praised the generals for their valor, for their love of their country,
their faithfulness to their king, and expressed his great happiness that the old times of national hatred had passed away, that the two nations Magadha and Gandhâra should forthwith be like brothers, and that they would join to set a good example to the world by obeying the maxim of the Tathâgata
Not yet, however, had the ice of spite and ill will entirely melted from the hostile hearts of his enemies; and not yet was his retinue strong enough to make him feel master of the situation. So Kanishka continued his policy of gaining time by having each one of the hostile officers personally introduced to him and, this done, he began to address the company a second time.
"Allow me to improve this rare opportunity of having so many friends assembled here, to explain my policy. I am a disciple of the Buddha, the Blessed One, who taught us to make
an end of hatred by ceasing to hate. If there be any just cause for war, let us have war and let us wage war openly and resolutely, but let us ever be ready to offer the hand of brotherly good-will to our enemies without cherishing feelings of revenge for the injuries we may think we have suffered. The policy of long suffering, of loving-kindness, of forgiveness, not only shows goodness of heart but also a rare gift of wisdom, as all those are aware who know the story of King Long-suffering and his noble son Prince Long-life, which the Tathâgata told to the quarrelsome monks of Kaushâmbî.
King Kanishka then told the story of Brahmadatta, the powerful king of Benares,—how he had conquered the little kingdom of Kôsala and had the captive king Long-suffering executed in Benares. But Prince Long-life escaped and, unknown to any one, entered the service of King Brahmadatta, whose confidence he gained by his talents and reliability. Thus he became King Brahmadatta's personal attendant.
King Kanishka was a good story-teller, and
the people of India, whether of high or low birth, love to hear a story well told, even if they know it by heart. So the conspirators were as though spellbound and forgot their evil designs; nor did they notice how the hall began to fill more and more with the officers of the king of Gandhâra. They listened to the adventures of Prince Long-life; how on a hunt he was left alone with King Brahmadatta in the forest, how the king laid himself down and slept, how the prince drew his sword, how the king was frightened when he awoke and learned that he was in the power of his enemy's son; and finally how each granted the other his life and made peace, thus demonstrating the wisdom of the maxim, that hatred cannot be appeased by hatred, but is appeased by love,—and by love only.18
When the king finished the story of Prince Long-life, the hall was crowded with armed officers of the Gandhâra army, and seeing his advantage, King Kanishka, feeling the satisfaction of one who had gained a great victory in battle, paused and glanced with a good-natured look over the party of conspirators.
[paragraph continues] He remained as self-possessed as a schoolmaster teaching a class of wayward boys. "I am anxious to be at peace with all the world," he said, "but the question arises, what shall be done with traitors and conspirators who misunderstand my good intentions and would not brook the loving-kindness of our great master?" Then addressing the prime minister of Magadha by his full name and title, he added: "Let me hear your advice, my friend. I meant to promote your welfare, while you attempted to take my life. What shall I do with you and your associates?"
The prime minister was overwhelmed. He fell upon his knees and sobbed: "You are in wisdom like the Enlightened One, the Omniscient Tathâgata. Would that you were his equal also in mercy and compassion. Never should you regret having forgiven me my transgression!"
King Kanishka made no answer but looked round and cast conquering glances at the several conspirators, until they, one by one, joined the kneeling prime minister. Then espying the venerable head of Açvaghosha among his
audience, he approached the sage respectfully and said: "Now, most reverend sir, it is your turn to speak, for I want you to tell me what a king ought to do to those men who conspire to take his life. Would it be wise for him to follow the behest of the Tathâgata and to grant them forgiveness?"
Said Açvaghosha: "Not I, sir, but you are the king. Pronounce judgment according to your own discretion. I cherish the confidence that the seeds of kindness will fall here upon good soil."
"Thank you, venerable sir. I have learned from the Great Teacher of all beings, that to hate no one is the highest wisdom. But a king is responsible for the welfare of his people and cannot let crime go unpunished. The duty of a judge is justice. In the present case I do not think that I would condone your action if it were unmitigated treason but I see in it a redeeming feature which is your patriotism, misguided though it may be. Rise, gentlemen, and if you will promise forthwith to banish from your heart all falsehood, spite, and envy, come and shake hands with me in token of your
faithful allegiance to both your august sovereign, the king of Magadha, and myself, his ally and brother on the throne."