Canto 5: abhiniṣkramaṇaḥ
Getting Well & Truly Out


Kramaṇa means stepping, walking, going. With the prefix nis (out, forth, away), niṣkramaṇa means going out or going forth. And the additional prefix abhi (over) adds emphasis and a sense of transcendence – as also in the title of Canto 14, Abhisaṁbodhi, The Total Transcendent Awakening.

Ostensibly the transcendence in question is the Prince’s transcendence of family life, in going forth from Kapilavāstu.

At the same time, following on from the previous Canto, there are further vivid descriptions of individual women who are different (anyā). And for a person steeped in the ignorant misconception of “correct posture,” these descriptions are very challenging. They seem, below the surface, to ask: Whether or not you are a home-leaver, have you really, well and truly, got free of all the old conceptions that stopped you from being free?



sa tathā viṣayair vilobhyamānaḥ paramarhair api śākya-rāja-sūnuḥ /
na jagāma ratiṁ na śarma lebhe hṛdaye siṁha ivātidigdha-viddhaḥ // 5.1 //

Though enticed in this way by most costly sensual enjoyments [or by most worthy objects], the son of the Śākya king / Neither partook of pleasure nor obtained relief – like a lion pierced in its heart by a poisoned arrow. //5.1//

atha mantri-sutaiḥ kṣamaiḥ kadā-cit sakhibhiś citra-kathaiḥ kṛtānuyātraḥ /
vana-bhūmi-didṛkṣayā śamepsur nara-devānumato bahiḥ pratasthe // 5.2 //

Then one day, attended by sons of ministers whose diverse chatter would make them suitable companions,/ Since, in his desire for tranquillity, he wanted to visit the forest, with the king’s permission he set off out. //5.2//

nava-rukma-khalīna-kiṅkiṇīkaṁ pracalac-cāmara-cāru-hema-bhāṇḍam /
abhiruhya sa kanthakaṁ sad-aśvaṁ prayayau ketum iva drumābja-ketuḥ // 5.3 //

Onto the good horse Kanthaka, decked with bridle-bit and small bells of new gold, with waving plume, and with lovely golden harness, / He climbed, and rode forth, like a star among trees, or a star among lotuses, on a shooting star. The simile can be understood in more than one way, due to the ambiguity of ketu (brightness, sign, flag, comet, etc.) and drumābja (tree + water-born). The suggestion in this translation is of stillness in movement. 01 //5.3//

sa vikṛṣṭatarāṁ vanānta-bhūmiṁ vana-lobhāc ca yayau mahī-guṇāc ca /
salilormi-vikāra-sīra-mārgāṁ vasu-dhāṁ caiva dadarśa kṛṣyamāṇām // 5.4 //

To the edge of a more distant forest, he rode, by dint of his impatient yearning for the woods, and on the grounds of the merit inherent in the Earth; Mahī (lit. the great one [f.]) means the Earth, Mother Earth. 02 / And there indeed, where tracks of ploughs had turned the soil to waves, he saw the bountiful earth Vasu-dhā (lit. wealth-giver [f]), the bountiful earth. 03 being tilled. //5.4//

hala-bhinna-vikīrṇa-śaṣpa-darbhāṁ hata-sūkṣma-krimi-kīṭa-jantu-kīrṇām /
samavekṣya rasāṁ tathā-vidhāṁ tāṁ svajanasyeva vadhe bhṛśaṁ śuśoca // 5.5 //

As the ploughs tore and scattered tufts of young grass over the soil, and littered the soil with dead worms, insects, and other little creatures, / He saw that soil Rasā (f) means soil or earth. 04 like that, and felt intense sorrow, as if at the killing of his own human relatives. //5.5//

kṛṣataḥ puruṣāṁś ca vīkṣamāṇaḥ pavanārkāṁśu-rajo-vibhinna-varṇān /
vahana-klama-viklavāṁś ca dhuryān paramāryaḥ paramāṁ kṛpāṁ cakāra // 5.6 //

Again, seeing the men ploughing, their complexions riven by the wind, the sun’s rays and the dust, / and seeing the oxen unsteady from the exhaustion of drawing, the most noble one felt extreme pity. //5.6//

avatīrya tatas turaṅga-pṛṣṭhāc chanakair gāṁ vyacarac chucā parītaḥ /
jagato janana-vyayaṁ vicinvan kṛpaṇaṁ khalv idam ityuvāca cārtaḥ // 5.7 //

Then, getting down off the back of his fleet-footed steed, he slowly moved over the ground, Gām (f) means a cow, or the earth as the milk-cow of kings. 05 overtaken by sorrow. / And as he reflected on how life comes into existence and perishes, hurting, he uttered, “How pitiful this is.” //5.7//

manasā ca viviktatām abhīpsuḥ suhṛdas tān anuyāyino nivārya /
abhitaś cala-cāru-parṇavatyā vijane mūlam upeyivān sa jaṁbvāḥ // 5.8 //

Desiring to be alone with his thoughts, he fended away those amicable hangers on / And drew close to the root of a solitary rose-apple tree whose abundant plumage fluttered agreeably all around. //5.8//

niṣasāda sa yatra śaucavatyāṁ bhuvi vaidūrya-nikāśa-śādvalāyām /
jagataḥ prabhava-vyayau vicinvan manasaś ca sthiti-mārgam ālalambe // 5.9 //

There he sat upon the honest, verdant earth Bhū (again, feminine) is the usual term for the earth. 06 whose horizons shimmered like emeralds; / And, while reflecting how the living world arises and perishes, he dangled on the path of standing firmly upright, which is of the mind. The juxtaposition of ālalambe (he hung, he dangled) and sthiti (standing upright or standing firm) seems to hint at the balancing act of sitting on the earth resolutely still, without fixity. Bhuvi (loc.) means “on the earth” or, maybe more accurately “in [the gravitational field of] the earth.” 07 //5.9//

samavāpta-manaḥ-sthitiś ca sadyo viṣayecchādibhir ādhibhiś ca muktaḥ /
sa-vitarka-vicāram āpa śāntaṁ prathamaṁ dhyānam anāsrava-prakāram // 5.10 //

In stumbling upon firm upstandingness of the mind, he was instantly released from worries, such as those associated with desires for objects; / He entered the first peaceful stage, in which there are ideas and thoughts, of the meditation whose essence is freedom from polluting influences. The first dhyāna is also described in SN Canto 17 and BC Canto 12 as containing ideas and thoughts, and being born of seclusion. 08 //5.10//

adhigamya tato viveka-jaṁ tu parama-prīti-sukhaṁ manaḥ-samādhim /
idam eva tataḥ paraṁ pradadhyau manasā loka-gatiṁ niśamya samyak // 5.11 //

But then, having experienced that most excellent state of joy and ease, born of seclusion, which is integration of the mind, / He proceeded to give consideration to the following evident fact – since, by means of the mind, he had clearly seen the way of the world. //5.11//

kṛpaṇaṁ bata yaj janaḥ svayaṁ sann avaśo vyādhi-jarā-vināśa-dharmā /
jarayārditam āturaṁ mṛtaṁ vā param ajño vijugupsate madāndhaḥ // 5.12 //

“O how pitiable it is that human beings, while being ourselves at the mercy of sickness, aging and death, / Should tend, in our ignorance and wanton blindness, to disavow the other, who is afflicted by old age, or who is diseased or dying. //5.12//

iha ced aham īdṛśaḥ svayaṁ san vijugupseya paraṁ tathā-svabhāvam /
na bhavet sadṛśaṁ hi tat-kṣamaṁ vā paramaṁ dharmam imaṁ vijānato me // 5.13 //

For if I here, being like that myself, should disavow another in the same condition, / That would not be worthy of me, or conduce to my knowing this most excellent dharma.” //5.13//

iti tasya vipaśyato yathāvaj jagato vyādhi-jarā-vipatti-doṣān /
bala-yauvana-jīvita-pravṛtto vijagāmātma-gato madaḥ kṣaṇena // 5.14 //

While he, for his part, was properly seeing through faults of the living associated with sickness, aging, and death, / The high spirits that had once intoxicated him, arising from his strength, youth and life, instantly evaporated. //5.14//

na jaharṣa na cāpi cānutepe vicikitsāṁ na yayau na tandri-nidre /
na ca kāma-guṇeṣu saṁrarañje na vididveṣa paraṁ na cāvamene // 5.15 //

He felt neither thrill nor pang; into intellectual striving, or lassitude and sleepiness, he did not fall; / He was not reddened by passion for sensual desires, and neither did he hate, or look down upon, the other. //5.15//

iti buddhir iyaṁ ca nī-rajaskā vavṛdhe tasya mahātmano viśuddhā /
puruṣair aparair adṛśyamānaḥ puruṣaś copasasarpa bhikṣu-veṣaḥ // 5.16 //

Thus did this dustless mind, this mind which is cleansed, develop in him whose nature was great; / Whereupon, unseen by the other men, up crept a man who was dressed in beggar’s garb. //5.16//

nara-deva-sutas tam abhyapṛcchad vada ko ’sīti śaśaṁsa so ’tha tasmai /
nara-puṁgava janma-mṛtyu-bhītaḥ śramaṇaḥ pravrajito ’smi mokṣa-hetoḥ // 5.17 //

The prince asked him: “Say! Who are you?”, to which he replied: / “O bull among men! Alarmed by birth and death, I have gone forth as an ascetic striver, for the sake of liberation. //5.17//

jagati kṣaya-dharmake mumukṣur mṛgaye ’haṁ śivam akṣayaṁ padaṁ tat /
sva-jane ’nya-jane ca tulya-buddhir viṣayebhyo vinivṛtta-rāga-doṣaḥ // 5.18 //

Desiring liberation in a world marked by decay, I pursue that happy step which is immune to decay. / I am even-minded towards my own people and other people; turning back from objects, I have allowed the stain of redness to fade away. //5.18//

nivasan kva-cid eva vṛkṣa-mūle vijane vāyatane girau vane vā /
vicarāmy aparigraho nirāśaḥ paramārthāya yathopapanna-bhaikṣaḥ // 5.19 //

Dwelling anywhere – at the root of a tree, or in an abandoned house, or on a mountain, or in the forest, / I wander here and there, with no possessions and no expectations, subsisting, for the sake of ultimate riches, on whatever scraps I chance to get from begging.” //5.19//

iti paśyata eva rāja-sūnor idam uktvā sa nabhaḥ samutpapāta /
sa hi tad-vapur-anya-buddhi-darśī smṛtaye tasya sameyivān divaukāḥ // 5.20 //

He uttered these words, while the son of the king looked powerlessly on, and then he vanished into the clouds; / For he was a sky-dweller who, peeping the prince’s mind conflicting with his body, had come to help him towards mindfulness. //5.20//

gaganaṁ kha-ga-vad gate ca tasmin nṛ-varaḥ saṁjahṛṣe visismiye ca /
upalabhya tataś ca dharma-saṁjñam abhiniryāṇa-vidhau matiṁ cakāra // 5.21 //

When he had gone, like a bird into the sky, the foremost of men was full of gladness and wonder; / And having thus received a hint of dharma, he set his mind on the matter of marching forth. //5.21//

tata indra-samo jitendriyāśvaḥ pravivikṣuḥ param aśvam āruroha /
parivartya janaṁ tv avekṣamāṇas tata evābhimataṁ vanaṁ na bheje // 5.22 //

And so, powerful as Indra, with the powerful horses of his senses tamed, the prince mounted his highest of horses, wishing to get started. / But then, having regard for people, he turned [his horse] around again, and did not repair directly to the longed for forest. //5.22//

sa jarā-maraṇa-kṣayaṁ cikīrṣur vana-vāsāya matiṁ smṛtau nidhāya /
praviveśa punaḥ puraṁ na kāmād vana-bhūmer iva maṇḍalaṁ dvipendraḥ // 5.23 //

Desiring to put an end to aging and dying, he had – while remaining mindful – directed his thinking towards living in the forest, / And yet he reluctantly re-entered the city, like a mighty elephant from the jungle entering a ring. //5.23//

sukhitā bata nirvṛtā ca sā strī patir īdṛkśa ih’ āyatākṣa yasyāḥ /
iti taṁ samudīkṣya rāja-kanyā praviśantaṁ pathi sāñjalir jagāda // 5.24 //

“Made happy, alas, and nirvṛtā, perfectly contented, is the woman whose husband is such as you are here, O one of lengthened eyes!” / Thus, on seeing him entering, did a young princess exclaim, as she watched by the road with her hollowed hands joined. //5.24//

atha ghoṣam imaṁ mahābhra-ghoṣaḥ pariśuśrāva śamaṁ paraṁ ca lebhe /
śrutavān sa hi nirvṛteti śabdaṁ parinirvāṇa-vidhau matiṁ cakāra // 5.25 //

Then, he of battle-cry like roaring thunder-cloud, listened to this cry of woe, and experienced a calmness most profound; / For as he heard the word nirvṛtā, “perfectly contented,” he set his mind on the matter of pari-nirvāṇa – the happiness of complete extinction. Nirvṛta is from the root √vṛ, to stop, whereas nirvāṇa is from another root, for example, √vā, to blow; but in both words the prefix nir- suggests something having faded out. The prefix pari- adds the sense of completeness. 09 //5.25//

atha kāñcana-śaila-śṛṅga-varṣmā gaja-megha-rṣabha-bāhu-nisvanākṣaḥ /
kṣayam akṣaya-dharma-jāta-rāgaḥ śaśi-siṁhānana-vikramaḥ prapede // 5.26 //

Then, statuesque as a golden mountain peak, with the arms, voice, and eyes of an elephant, a cloud, and a bull, / Ardent desire having been aroused in him for [or by] something imperishable, he of moon-like faces and lion’s paces entered the palace. //5.26//

mṛga-rāja-gatis-tato ’bhyagacchan nṛpatiṁ mantri-gaṇair upāsyamānam /
samitau marutām iva jvalantaṁ maghavantaṁ tri-dive sanat-kumāraḥ // 5.27 //

And so, going with the gait of a king of beasts, he approached the lord of men attended by his coveys of ministers, / Like “Fresh Prince” Sanat-kumāra in the third heaven approaching shining Indra among his retinue of storm-gods. //5.27//

praṇipatya ca sāñjalir babhāṣe diśa mahyaṁ nara-deva sādhv-anujñām /
parivivrajiṣāmi mokṣa-hetor niyato hy asya janasya viprayogaḥ // 5.28 //

Bowing down with hollowed hands joined, he said: “Grant me, O god among men, proper assent! / I desire to go wandering, for the sake of liberation, since, for a man such as I am, the invariable rule is separation.” //5.28//

iti tasya vaco niśamya rājā kariṇevābhihato drumaś cacāla /
kamala-pratime ’ñjalau gṛhītvā vacanaṁ cedam uvāca bāṣpa-kaṇṭhaḥ // 5.29 //

The king, hearing these words of his, shook like a tree assaulted by an elephant; / He grasped the hands that were folded like a lotus and spoke, in a voice choked with tears, as follows: //5.29//

pratisaṁhara tāta buddhim etāṁ na hi kālas tava dharma-saṁśrayasya /
vayasi prathame matau calāyāṁ bahu-doṣāṁ hi vadanti dharma-caryām // 5.30 //

“Put off this idea, my son; it is not time for you to be united with your dharma. / For early in life when the mind is changeable there are, they say, many pitfalls in the practice of dharma. //5.30//

viṣayeṣu kutūhalendriyasya vrata-khedeṣv asamartha-niścayasya /
taruṇasya manaś calaty araṇyād anabhijñasya viśeṣato viveke // 5.31 //

When his curious senses reach out to objects, when in the face of wearying observances he lacks fixity of purpose, / When, above all, he is not accustomed to seclusion, the mind of one who is young veers away from the wasteland. //5.31//

mama tu priya-dharma dharma-kālas tvayi lakṣmīm avasṛjya lakṣa-bhūte /
sthira-vikrama vikrameṇa dharmas tava hitvā tu guruṁ bhaved adharmaḥ // 5.32 //

For me, O lover of dharma! it is time for religious dharma – after I have surrendered to you, the apple of my eye, the apple of my royal power. / But for you, O firmly striding force! After you have forcibly forsaken your own father, religious dharma might turn into irreligion. //5.32//

tad imaṁ vyavasāyam utsṛja tvaṁ bhava tāvan nirato gṛha-stha-dharme /
puruṣasya vayaḥ-sukhāni bhuktvā ramaṇīyo hi tapo-vana-praveśaḥ // 5.33 //

Therefore give up this fixity of purpose and be, for the present moment, devoted to the dharma that abides in living at home; / For when a man has already experienced the joys of vernal energy, his entry then into the ascetic’s grove is something to delight in.” //5.33//

iti vākyam idaṁ niśamya rājñaḥ kalaviṅka-svara uttaraṁ babhāṣe /
yadi me pratibhūś caturṣu rājan bhavasi tvaṁ na tapo-vanaṁ śrayiṣye // 5.34 //

Having heard these words of the king, he with the voice of a kalaviṇka bird Famed for its beautiful song. 10 spoke his reply: / “If in four things, O king, you will be my guarantor, I will not go to the ascetic grove – //5.34//

na bhaven maraṇāya jīvitaṁ me viharet svāsthyam idaṁ ca me na rogaḥ /
na ca yauvanam ākṣipej jarā me na ca saṁpattim imām hared vipattiḥ // 5.35 //

My life shall not lead to death; no breakdown shall put asunder my present state of soundness; / Growing old shall not take away my youthfulness; and going wrong shall not impinge upon what presently goes well.” On the surface, the prince is asking the king to guarantee what could never be, since all lives lead to death. Below the surface, the irony is that the Buddha would in fact obtain the nectar of immortality. And a deeper irony still might be that obtaining the nectar of immortality would itself be a kind of dying. Similarly for the other three conditions. 11 //5.35//

iti dur-labham artham ūcivāṁsaṁ tanayaṁ vākyam uvāca śākya-rājaḥ /
tyaja buddhim imāṁ ati-pravṛttām avahāsyo ’ti-mano-ratha-kramaś ca // 5.36 //

To the son who had expressed such a difficult purport, Ostensibly dur-labham artham means a thing that is hard to do; below the surface dur-labham artham is meaning that is hard to grasp. 12 the Śākya king told his command: / “Abandon this idea, which goes too far! A way of high-flown fancy is ridiculous.” //5.36//

atha meru-gurur guruṁ babhāṣe yadi nāsti krama eṣa nāsmi vāryaḥ /
śaraṇāj jvalanena dahyamānān na hi niścikramiṣum kṣamaṁ grahītum // 5.37 //

Then he who had the moment of Mount Meru addressed his momentous relative: “Whether or not this turns out to be a way, I ought not to be held back; / For when a house is being consumed by fire it is not right to stop a man who seeks a way out. //5.37//

jagataś ca yathā dhruvo viyogo nanu dharmāya varaṁ svayaṁ viyogaḥ /
avaśaṁ nanu viprayojayen mām akṛta-svārtham atṛptam eva mṛtyuḥ // 5.38 //

Again, since for the living world separation is the immutable constant, is it not better for the separation to be willingly done for dharma’s sake? / Will not death, whether I like it or not, separate me, leaving me unsatisfied, the doing of my own thing being unfinished?” //5.38//

iti bhūmi-patir niśamya tasya vyavasāyaṁ tanayasya nirmumukṣoḥ /
abhidhāya na yāsyatīti bhūyo vidadhe rakṣaṇam uttamāṁś ca kāmān // 5.39 //

A lord of the earth, thus perceiving the fixity of purpose of his freedom-seeking son, / Declared “He shall not go!” And he provided him with an increased guard, along with the most exquisite objects of desire. //5.39//

sacivais tu nidarśito yathāvad bahu-mānāt praṇayāc ca śāstra-pūrvam /
guruṇā ca nivārito ’śru-pātaiḥ praviveśāvasathaṁ tataḥ sa śocan // 5.40 //

Apprised, following protocol, by ministers, with great respect and affection and with reference to sacred books; / While forbidden by his father, with falling tears, he went then into his lodging quarters, sorrowing. //5.40//

cala-kuṇdala-cumbitānanābhir ghana-niśvāsa-vikampita-stanībhiḥ /
vanitābhir adhīra-locanābhir mṛga-śāvābhir ivābhyudīkṣyamāṇaḥ // 5.41 //

Women whose swaying ear-rings lightly kissed their mouths, and whose deep sighs caused their breasts Stana means the female breast (either human or animal), teat, udder – a part of mammalian anatomy to which Aśvaghoṣa keeps coming back. 13 to tremble, / Watched him with skittish eyes, like young does, looking up. //5.41//

sa hi kāñcana-parvatāvadāto hṛdayonmāda-karo varāṅganānām /
śravaṇāṅga-vilocanātmabhāvān vacana-sparśa-vapur-guṇair jahāra // 5.42 //

For he with the luminance of a golden mountain, he who unhinged beautiful women’s hearts, / Carried away their ears, bodies, eyes, and souls, with his speech, sensitivity, handsome form, and excellent qualities. //5.42//

vigate divase tato vimānaṁ vapuṣā sūrya iva pradīpyamānaḥ /
timiraṁ vijighāṁsur ātma-bhāsā ravir udyann iva merum āruroha // 5.43 //

Then, when day was done, blazing like the sun with his handsome form, / The one who would by his own brightness dispel darkness ascended the palace, like the rising sun ascending Mount Meru. Āruroha means he ascended, he went up. The upward direction is given further emphasis by adhiruhya in the next verse, and uttamam in the next verse but one. 14 //5.43//

kanakojjvala-dīpta-dīpa-vṛkṣaṁ vara-kālāguru-dhūpa-pūrṇa-garbham /
adhiruhya sa vajra-bhakti-citraṁ pravaraṁ kāñcanam āsanaṁ siṣeve // 5.44 //

Rising above, [he sat seated within] a light-tree that blazed with golden brightness, a womb filled with the finest fragrance of kālāguru, ‘impenetrable lightness,’ / And streaked with dotted lines of diamonds – he occupied a most excellent seat [or practised most excellent sitting], made of gold. Kanaka, ujjvala, and dīpta in the 1st pāda, and kāñcana in the 4th pāda, as nouns, can all mean gold. Ostensibly Aśvaghoṣa is describing a golden seat (kāñcanam āsanam), but āsana is originally an -na neuter action noun that means “sitting.” A dīpa-vṛkṣam (“light-tree”) ostensibly means a candlestick, but in the hidden meaning a tree of light and golden sitting might be synonymous. Kālāguru was the proper name for a kind of black aloe wood, but kālāguru (kāla + a-guru) literally means a lightness (a-guru) that is black or dark (kāla), i.e. difficult to see distinctly or impenetrable. Wrapping up the allusion to sitting practice itself are the streaks of dotted lines of diamonds (vajra-bhakti-citra) which suggest the needlework on the kaṣāya of the one who is sitting. 15 //5.44//

tata uttamam uttamāṅganās taṁ niśi tūryair upatasthur indra-kalpam /
himavac-chirasīva candra-gaure draviṇendrātmajam apsaro-gaṇaughāḥ // 5.45 //

Then the upmost of women, accompanied by musical instruments, waited in the night on him the upmost man, a man to rival Indra; / They waited on him like cumuli of celestial nymphs waiting on the son of the Lord of Wealth up upon a moon-white Himālayan peak. //5.45//

paramair api divya-tūrya-kalpaiḥ sa tu tair naiva ratiṁ yayau na harṣam /
paramārtha-sukhāya tasya sādhor abhiniścikramiṣā yato na reme // 5.46 //

But even those ultimate instruments, on a par with heavenly harps, gave him no pleasure nor any joy. / His desire, as a sincere man going straight for his goal, was to get out, in pursuit of the happiness of ultimate riches; and therefore he was not in the mood for play. //5.46//

atha tatra surais tapo-variṣṭhair akaniṣṭhair vyavasāyam asya buddhvā /
yugapat pramadā-janasya nidrā vihitāsīd vikṛtāś ca gātra-ceṣṭāḥ // 5.47 //

At that juncture, the a-kaniṣṭha gods, the doyens of asceticism ‘of whom none is youngest,’ being acquainted with his fixity of purpose, / Visited, upon all the young women at once, deep sleep, and upon the women’s bodies and limbs, irregular poses. Vikṛta means changed but especially changed for the worst – deformed, disfigured, abnormal. Vikṛta can also mean unnatural, strange, extraordinary. So the ostensible meaning is that the women were sleeping in grotesque forms. But in the hidden meaning which emerges from the following fourteen verses, each different individual was letting her own light shine, without trying to make herself meet any external or internal norm of “correct posture.” 16 //5.47//

abhavac chayitā hi tatra kā-cid viniveśya pracale kare kapolam /
dayitām api rukma-pattra-citrāṁ kupitevāṅka-gatāṁ vihāya vīṇām // 5.48 //

There was one girl there, for instance, who slept with her cheek resting on a precarious hand, / Her cherished lute, brightly decorated with gold-leaf, lying by her lap as if cast aside in anger. A parody of a monk who has dropped off next to a begging bowl that resembles the body of a large-bellied lute? 17 //5.48//

vibabhau kara-lagna-veṇur anyā stana-visrasta-sitāṁśukā śayānā /
ṛju-ṣaṭ-pada-paṅkti-juṣṭa-padmā jala-phena-prahasat-taṭā nadīva // 5.49 //

Another individual, Anyā, one who is different. One who does not necessarily conform to expectations.18 clasping her bamboo flute in her hand, as she slept with a white robe slipping down from her breast, / Resembled a river where a line of orderly bees is visiting a lotus – a river where foam from the water is giving the shore a white smile. To explain the simile: the woman resembles a flowing river; the line of bees correspond to the bamboo flute, and the lotus to the woman’s hand; the white foam along the shore corresponds to the white robe. What is harder to understand, however, is the point of the metaphor – what connection is intended between a beautiful scene in nature and a pose that has been described as irregular, or grotesque (vikṛta)? 19 //5.49//

nava-puṣkara-garbha-komalābhyāṁ tapanīyojjvala-saṁgatāṅgadābhyām /
svapiti sma tathāparā bhujābhyāṁ parirabhya priyavan mṛdaṅgam eva // 5.50 //

With her two arms as soft as the sepals of young lotuses, with her two arms whose blazing golden bands For soft arms see also BC4.30. Golden cuffs or golden arm-bands are a recurring theme (see also verses 54 and 81). Is the suggestion of unhindered circulation when shoulders, elbows, and wrists are free? 20 had merged together, / Slept an individual who thus was different, embracing, as if it were a beloved friend, nothing more or less than a drum. Like the expanded belly of a Happy Buddha? For expanded belly, see also BC3.41. 21 //5.50//

nava-hāṭaka-bhūṣaṇās tathānyā vasanaṁ pītam anuttamaṁ vasānāḥ /
avaśā vata nidrayā nipetur gaja-bhagnā iva karṇikāra-śākhāḥ // 5.51 //

Other individuals who, similarly, were different, who, wearing their peerless yellow garments, lent beauty to new-found gold from gold-rich Hāṭaka, / Dropped down helpless (alas!) under the influence of sleep, like Karṇikāra branches broken by an elephant. The suggestion is of sitting practitioners wearing ochre robes, all dropping off together body and mind. 22 //5.51//

avalaṁbya gavākṣa-pārśvam anyā śayitā cāpa-vibhugna-gātra-yaṣṭiḥ /
virarāja vilambi-cāru-hārā racitā toraṇa-śāla-bhañjikeva // 5.52 //

Another individual slept leaning against the side of a round window, her slender body curved like a bow; / She shone, entrancing in her pendulous splendour, like the breaker of a Śāla branch, sculpted in an arched gateway. A particularly famous example of such a sculpture adorns an arched gateway to the great stupa commissioned by Aśoka at Sanchi. The point might be that it would be false always to associate beautiful form with symmetry. If when you sit, your right shoulder is lower than your left shoulder, don’t fiddle about trying to put it right, you ignoramus – let it all be wrong! 23 //5.52//

maṇi-kuṅḍala-daṣṭa-pattra-lekhaṁ mukha-padmaṁ vinataṁ tathāparasyāḥ /
śata-pattram ivārdha-vakra-nāḍaṁ sthita-kāraṇḍava-ghaṭṭitaṁ cakāśe // 5.53 //

With its streaks of scented make-up nibbled by jewelled ear-rings, the bowed lotus-face of one, again, who was different, / Looked a picture, like a lotus of many petals, with its stalk half rounded, that had been pecked and dunked by a perching duck. Neither should we strive, when sitting, to push and pull anything into what we feel to be upright alignment. The point is to drop off body and mind, not to simulate perfect physical form. Thus Aśvaghoṣa here praises the beauty of one who does not sit bolt upright but whose back is naturally somewhat rounded. 24 //5.53//

aparāḥ śayitā yathopaviṣṭāḥ stana-bhārair avanamyamāna-gātrāḥ /
upaguhya parasparaṁ virejur bhuja-pāśais tapanīya-pārihāryaiḥ // 5.54 //

Other individuals, having dropped off as they sat, their bodies bowing down under the troy weight Bhāra means weight in general, but a particular weight (20 tulās) of gold. 25 of their breasts, / Shone forth, as they drew each other into a protective embrace, using the leashes of their arms, with golden cuffs. //5.54//

mahatīṁ parivādinīṁ ca kā-cid vanitāliṅgya sakhīm iva prasuptā /
vijughūrṇa calat-suvarṇa-sūtrā vadanenākula-yoktrakojjvalena // 5.55 //

One woman, who was far gone, embraced a large lute as if it were her confidante; / She rolled about, her golden strings trembling, and her face shining with the golden radiance of fastenings fallen into disarray. A metaphor for coming undone, i.e., for the undoing of needless tensions. 26 //5.55//

paṇavaṁ yuvatir bhujāṁsa-deśād avavisraṁsita-cāru-pāśam anyā /
sa-vilāsa-ratānta-tāntam ūrvor vivare kāntam ivābhinīya śiśye // 5.56 //

Another young woman had close to her a portable drum, whose impeccable strap she had let slip down from her shoulder. For a monk to carry his or her bowl using a shoulder strap is traditional behaviour. 27 / As if the drum were her breathless beloved, at the end of playful enjoyment, she had brought it into the open space between her thighs, and dropped off. //5.56//

aparā na babhur nimīlitākṣyo vipulākṣyo ’pi śubha-bhruvo ’pi satyaḥ /
pratisaṁkucitāravinda-kośāḥ savitary astam ite yathā nalinyaḥ // 5.57 //

Different women, though truly they had large eyes and beautiful brows, did not make a pretty sight, Na babhur means they did not shine. The ostensible meaning is they looked bad. But the real meaning is that they made no effort to look good – just as a beautiful lotus pond makes no effort, but looks fine as it is. 28 with their eyes closed, / Like lotus ponds with their lotus buds closed at the setting of the sun. //5.57//

śithilākula-mūrdhajā tathānyā jaghana-srasta-vibhūṣaṇāṁśu-kāntā /
aśayiṣṭa vikīrṇa-kaṇṭha-sūtrā gaja-bhagnā pratiyātan’-āṅganeva // 5.58 //

One adorable woman, similarly, was otherwise: decorative threads had fallen from her hips, and her hair was undone and dishevelled [or her thoughts were occupied with undoing]. Ostensibly ākula means “dishevelled” but it can also mean “eagerly occupied.” Mūrdha-ja (lit. “head-born” or “begotten from the head”) ostensibly means the hair that grows on the head but its hidden meaning is thinking that is conceived in the head. 29 / She had dropped off, sending her necklaces scattering [or propagating the Neck Sūtra], like a statue-woman, broken by elephants. The original meaning of sūtra is string or thread, as in a string of pearls. The breaking of a statue might be a metaphor for breaking the fixed conception of correct posture – as preached in the Sūtra of Liberation of the Neck.30 //5.58//

aparās tv avaśā hriyā viyuktā dhṛti-matyo ’pi vapur-guṇair upetāḥ /
viniśaśvasur ulbaṇaṁ śayānā vikṛtāḥ kṣipta-bhujā jajṛṁbhire ca // 5.59 //

Contrary ones, meanwhile, helplessly and shamelessly – possessed though they were of self-command and personal graces – / Exhaled, in their repose, in a manner that was extra-ordinary and unreasonable; and, in irregular fashion, their arms moving impulsively, they stretched out. What is spontaneous movement? The behaviour of the ignorant who just do whatever they like, without self-restraint? Or the behaviour of the enlightened who just do whatever they like, without self-restraint? The matter is discussed, with reference to the non-buddha, in Shobogenzo chap. 28, Butsu-kojo-no-ji. 31 //5.59//

vyapaviddha-vibhūṣaṇa-srajo ’nyā visṛtāgranthana-vāsaso visaṁjñāḥ /
animīlita-śukla-niścalākṣyo na virejuḥ śayitā gatāsu-kalpāḥ // 5.60 //

Different individuals, leaving trinkets jettisoned and garlands trashed, unconsciously, in robes of undone knots, / With their bright, motionless eyes open, displayed no beauty, reposing there like women who had breathed their last. //5.60//

vivṛtāsya-puṭā vivṛddha-gātrī prapatad-vaktra-jalā prakāśa-guhyā /
aparā mada-ghūrṇiteva śiśye na babhāse vikṛtaṁ vapuḥ pupoṣa // 5.61 //

With her oral cavity open and her legs spreading out, so that she sprayed saliva, and made visible what normally remains secret, / One very different one had dropped off; rocking somewhat in her intoxication, she did not make a pretty sight, but filled an irregular frame. In the last of these fourteen verses, the gap between ostensible and hidden meaning is stretched to the limit. Ostensibly the scene portrayed is disgusting: saliva is being sprayed out from the open mouth of an ignorant one who is asleep. In the hidden meaning, the spraying is going on inside the oral cavity of a conspicuously healthy person who is free of undue tension. Ostensibly a woman is unconsciously revealing her private parts. In the hidden meaning, a buddha is revealing secrets of the Buddha’s teaching. 32 //5.61//

iti sattva-kulānvayānurūpaṁ vividhaṁ sa pramadā-janaḥ śayānaḥ /
sarasaḥ sadṛśaṁ babhāra rūpaṁ pavanāvarjita-rugna-puṣkarasya // 5.62 //

Thus, each in accordance with her nature and her lineage, that company of women – all reposing in diversity – / Bore the semblance of a lotus-pond whose lotuses had been bent down and broken by the wind. //5.62//

samavekṣya tathā tathā śayānā vikṛtās tā yuvatīr adhīra-ceṣṭāḥ /
guṇavad-vapuṣo ’pi valgu-bhāṣā nṛpa-sūnuḥ sa vigarhayāṁ babhūva // 5.63 //

Beholding them dropped off in irregular fashion, in this way and that, seeing the lack of constraint in the movement of their limbs, / Perfectly beautiful though those women were in their form, and beautifully dulcet in their speech, the son of the king was moved to scorn: The scorn, in a superficial reading, is directed towards women. 33 //5.63//

aśucir vikṛtaś ca jīva-loke vanitānām ayam īdṛśaḥ sva-bhāvaḥ /
vasanābharaṇais tu vañcyamānaḥ puruṣaḥ strī-viṣayeṣu rāgam eti // 5.64 //

“Impure and impaired – such, in the living world of men, is the nature of women. / And yet, deceived by clothes and accoutrements, a man is reddened with love for a woman’s sensual charms. On a deeper reading, the prince’s scorn is directed towards men who are slaves to sensual desire for women who in their imperfect (impure and impaired) reality, really are beautiful. 34 //5.64//

vimṛśed yadi yoṣitāṁ manuṣyaḥ prakṛtiṁ svapna-vikāram īdṛśaṁ ca /
dhruvam atra na vardhayet pramādaṁ guṇa-saṁkalpa-hatas tu rāgam eti // 5.65 //

If a man reflected on women’s original nature, and on how such change is wrought by sleep, / Surely by these means he would not be making intoxication grow. Smitten by a notion of excellence, however, he is moved to redness.” Ostensibly the allusion is to “impurity meditation.” In a deeper reading, the reflection in question would be reflection on the buddha-nature. 35 //5.65//

iti tasya tad-antaraṁ viditvā niśi niścikramiṣā samudbabhūva /
avagamya manas tato ’sya devair bhavana-dvāram apāvṛtaṁ babhūva // 5.66 //

When he had seen this deficiency in the other, Ostensibly the deficiency is the impurity of women; in the deeper meaning, the deficiency is in the attachment to sensual passion of men. 36 the desire sprang up in him to escape in the night; / Whereupon, under the influence of gods, who were steeped in this mind, In the hidden meaning, the gods are cosmic observers of irony. Therefore they are steeped in the mind which sees its own faults not in itself but in the other. 37 the entrance of the palace was found to be wide open. [Or the way to freedom from existence was seen to be wide open.] A play on bhavana, whose meanings include “palace” and “coming into existence.” 38 //5.66//

atha so ’vatatāra harmya-pṛṣṭhād yuvatīs tāḥ śayitā vigarhamāṇaḥ /
avatīrya tataś ca nirviśaṅko gṛha-kakṣyāṁ prathamaṁ vinirjagāma // 5.67 //

And so he descended from the palace heights scorning those women who were asleep, / And thus, having descended, being quite without doubt, he went directly into the outer courtyard. In the ironic hidden meaning, in being without doubt the prince is committing the sin of certainty. In scorning others who are asleep, it is the prince himself who is not yet awake. 39 //5.67//

turagāvacaraṁ sa bodhayitvā javinaṁ chandakam ittham ity uvāca /
hayam ānaya kanthakaṁ tvarāvān amṛtaṁ prāptum ito ’dya me yiyāsā // 5.68 //

He woke that ready runner of the fleet of foot, the stableman Chandaka, and addressed him as follows: / “Bring me in haste the horse Kanthaka! I wish today to flee from here, in order to obtain the nectar of immortality. //5.68//

hṛdi yā mama tuṣṭir adya jātā vyavasāyaś ca yathā dhṛtau niviṣṭaḥ /
vijane ’pi ca nāthavān ivāsmi dhruvam artho ’bhimukhaḥ sa me ya iṣṭaḥ // 5.69 //

Since there has arisen today in my heart a certain satisfaction, Ostensibly the prince is demonstrating the virtue of contentment, but in the hidden meaning he might still be demonstrating the sin of religious certainty. 40 since strenuous fixity of purpose has settled down into a contented constancy, / And since even in solitude I feel as if I am in the presence of a protector, assuredly, the valuable object to which I aspire is smiling upon me. //5.69//

hriyam eva ca saṁnatiṁ ca hitvā śayitā mat-pramukhe yathā yuvatyaḥ /
vivṛte ca yathā svayaṁ kapāṭe niyataṁ yātum anāmayāya kālaḥ // 5.70 //

As the women, abandoning all shame and submission, relaxed in front of me; / And as the doors opened, spontaneously, it is doubtless time to depart, in pursuit of wellness.” //5.70//

pratigṛhya tataḥ sa bhartur ājñāṁ viditārtho ’pi narendra-śāsanasya /
manasīva pareṇa codyamānas tura-gasyānayane matiṁ cakāra // 5.71 //

Chandaka acquiesced, on those grounds, in his master’s wisdom – though he knew the meaning of a king’s command – / And he made the decision, as if his mind were being moved by another, to bring the horse. //5.71//

atha hema-khalīna-pūrṇa-vaktraṁ laghu-śayyāstaraṇopagūḍha-pṛṣṭham /
bala-sattva-javānvay’-opapannaṁ sa varāśvaṁ tam upānināya bhartre // 5.72 //

And so one whose mouth was filled with a golden bit, one whose back was overspread by the instant refuge of a light covering of cloth, In the hidden meaning, a kaṣāya, an ochre robe. 41 / One endowed with strength, spirit, quickness and pedigree – a most excellent horse he brought out for the master. //5.72//

pratata-trika-puccha-mūla-pārṣṇiṁ nibhṛtaṁ hrasva-tanūja-prṣṭha-karṇam /
vinat’-onnata-pṛṣṭha-kukṣi-pārśvaṁ vipula-protha-lalāṭa-kaṭy-uraskam // 5.73 //

His tail, supports, and heels formed spreading triangles; the mane around his crown and ears was closely cropped, in an unassuming manner; / The curves of his back, belly and sides wound downward and wound upward; his horse’s nostrils expanded, as did his forehead, hips and chest. Ostensibly, a description of the horse; in the hidden meaning, of a master. 42 //5.73//

upagṛhya sa taṁ viśāla-vakṣāḥ kamalābhena ca sāntvayan kareṇa /
madhurākṣarayā girā śaśāsa dhvajinī-madhyam iva praveṣṭu-kāmaḥ // 5.74 //

He whose chest was broad reached up and drew him to himself; then, while comforting with a lotus-like hand, / He bade him with a song of soothing noises, as might a warrior when preparing to go, where banners fly, into the middle: //5.74//

bahuśaḥ kila śatravo nirastāḥ samare tvām adhiruhya pārthivena /
aham apy amṛtaṁ padaṁ yathāvat turaga-śreṣṭha labheya tat kuruṣva // 5.75 //

“Often indeed has a lord of the earth expelled enemies while riding in battle on you! / So that I too might realise the deathless step, please, O best of horses, act! //5.75//

su-labhāḥ khalu saṁyuge sahāyā viṣayāvāpta-sukhe dhanārjane vā /
puruṣasya tu dur-labhāḥ sahāyāḥ patitasyāpadi dharma-saṁśraye vā // 5.76 //

Readily indeed are companions found when the battle is joined, or in the happiness at the gaining of the end, when the booty is acquired; / But companions are hard for a man to find when he is getting into trouble – or when he is turning to dharma. //5.76//

iha caiva bhavanti ye sahāyāḥ kaluṣe karmaṇi dharma-saṁśraye vā /
avagacchati me yathāntar-ātmā niyataṁ te ’pi janās tad-aṁśa-bhājaḥ // 5.77 //

There again, all in this world who are companions, whether in tainted doing or in devotion to dharma, / Living beings without exception – as my inner self intuits – are entitled to their share of the prize. //5.77//

tad idaṁ parigamya dharma-yuktaṁ mama niryāṇam ato jagadd-hitāya /
turagottama vega-vikramābhyāṁ prayatasv ātma-hite jagadd-hite ca // 5.78 //

Fully appreciate, then, this act of mine, yoked to dharma, of getting out, proceeding from here, for the welfare of the world; / And exert yourself, O best of horses, with quick and bold steps, for your own good and the good of the world.” //5.78//

iti suhṛdam ivānuśiṣya kṛtye turaga-varaṁ nṛ-varo vanaṁ yiyāsuḥ /
sitam asita-gati-dyutir vapuṣmān ravir iva śāradam abhram āruroha // 5.79 //

Having thus exhorted the best of horses, as if exhorting a friend to his duty, and desiring to ride into the forest, / The best of men with his handsome form, bright as fire, climbed aboard the white horse, like the sun aboard an autumn cloud, up above. //5.79//

atha sa pariharan niśītha-caṇḍaṁ parijana-bodha-karaṁ dhvaniṁ sad-aśvaḥ /
vigata-hanu-ravaḥ praśānta-heṣaś-cakita-vimukta-pada-kramo jagāma // 5.80 //

And so, avoiding the noise that stridently attacks slumber, avoiding the noise that makes people all around wake up, In the hidden meaning what is denied is the sense of compulsion – making people wake up in the sense of trying to force them to wake up, by direct, unskilful means. 43 / Being through with sputtering, the fires of his neighing all extinguished, that good horse, with footsteps liberated from timidity, set off. //5.80//

kanaka-valaya-bhūṣita-prakoṣṭhaiḥ kamala-nibhaiḥ kamalān iva pravidhya /
avanata-tanavas tato ’sya yakṣāś cakita-gatair dadhire khurān karāgraiḥ // 5.81 //

Bowing yakṣas, their wrists adorned with golden bands, their lotus-like hands seeming to emit sprays of lotus flowers, / Their lotus-petal fingertips coyly trembling, then bore up that horse’s hooves. //5.81//

guru-parigha-kapāṭa-saṁvṛtā yā na sukham api dvi-radair apāvriyante /
vrajati nṛpa-sute gata-svanās tāḥ svayam abhavan vivṛtāḥ puraḥ pratolyaḥ // 5.82 //

Primary pathways were blocked by gates with heavy bars [or by gates whose bars were gurus] As an adjective, guru means heavy. As a noun it means a venerable or respectable person, like a father or a teacher, and especially a spiritual preceptor. 44 – gates not easily opened, even by elephants – / But as the prince went into movement, those major arteries, noiselessly and spontaneously, became open. //5.82//

pitaram abhimukhaṁ sutaṁ ca bālaṁ janam anuraktam anuttamāṁ ca lakṣmīm /
kṛta-matir apahāya nir-vyapekṣaḥ pitṛ-nagarāt sa tato vinirjagāma // 5.83 //

The father who doted on him, a son who was still young; the people who loved him; and an incomparable fortune – / With his mind made up and without a care, he had left them all behind, and so, on that basis, from the city of his fathers, away he went. //5.83//

atha sa vikaja-paṅkajāyatākṣaḥ puram avalokya nanāda siṁha-nādam /
janana-maraṇayor adṛṣṭa pāro na punar ahaṁ kapilāhvayaṁ praveṣṭā // 5.84 //

Then he with the lengthened eyes of a lotus – one born of mud, not of water Paṅkaja, “mud-born,” means a lotus. Vikaja can be read as not (vi) water(ka) born (ja) – in which case the point is to emphasize that the bodhisattva was not only an ideal archetype but also a real human being. 45 – surveyed the city and roared a lion’s roar: / “Until I have seen the far shore of birth and death I shall never again enter the city named after Kapila.” //5.84//

iti vacanam idaṁ niśamya tasya draviṇa-pateḥ pariṣad-gaṇā nananduḥ /
pramudita-manasaś ca deva-saṅghā vyavasita-pāraṇam āśaśaṁsire ’smai // 5.85 //

Having heard this declaration of his, the yakṣa cohorts sitting around Kubera, Lord of Wealth, rejoiced; / And jubilant sanghas Here is one of several examples of Aśvaghoṣa using the word saṁgha to mean a group or a religious congregation. It is remarkable that Aśvaghoṣa never once uses the word saṁgha in the conventional sense of a community of devotees of the Buddha – though he does describe the Buddha leading Nanda to a vihāra. 46 of gods conveyed to him the expectation that a resolution must be carried through to the end. //5.85//

huta-vaha-vapuṣo divaukaso ’nye vyavasitam asya ca duṣkaraṁ viditvā /
akuruta tuhine pathi prakāśaṁ ghana-vivara-praṣṛtā ivendu-pādāḥ // 5.86 //

Sky-dwellers of a different ilk, Once again anye indicates individuals who were different. The religious congregations of gods in heaven were one kind of sky-dweller, burdening the bodhisattva with their expectation. These were sky-dwellers of a different ilk – perhaps they were real fireflies? 47 with fiery forms, knowing how difficult his resolution was to do, / Produced on his dewy path a brightness like moon-beams issuing through chinks in the clouds. //5.86//

hari-turaga-turaṅgavat-turaṅgaḥ sa tu vicaran manasīva codyamānaḥ /
aruṇa-paruṣa-tāram antar-ikṣaṁ sa ca su-bahūni jagāma yojanāni // 5.87 //

With the one in question, as quick as the bay horse of Indra, moving swiftly on, as if being spurred in his mind, / The one in question The subject of each line is sa, he, that one. But was the one in question the prince, Sarvārtha-siddha? Or was the one in question the horse, Kanthaka? 48 rode into the dawn sky, where ruddy Aruṇa Dawn personified. 49 tarnishes the stars, and a good many miles he went. //5.87//

iti buddha-carite mahā-kāvye ‘bhiniṣkramaṇo nāma pañcamaḥ sargaḥ //
The 5th canto, titled Getting Well & Truly Out,
in an epic tale of awakened action.