Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Pure Sacrifice of Buddha
By Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)
From ‘The Light of Asia’

ONWARD he passed,
Exceeding sorrowful, seeing how men
Fear so to die they are afraid to fear,
Lust so to live they dare not love their life,
But plague it with fierce penances, belike        5
To please the gods who grudge pleasure to man;
Belike to balk hell by self-kindled hells;
Belike in holy madness, hoping soul
May break the better through their wasted flesh.
“O flowerets of the field!” Siddârtha said,        10
“Who turn your tender faces to the sun,—
Glad of the light, and grateful with sweet breath
Of fragrance and these robes of reverence donned,
Silver and gold and purple,—none of ye
Miss perfect living, none of ye despoil        15
Your happy beauty. O ye palms! which rise
Eager to pierce the sky and drink the wind
Blown from Malaya and the cool blue seas;
What secret know ye that ye grow content,
From time of tender shoot to time of fruit,        20
Murmuring such sun-songs from your feathered crowns?
Ye too, who dwell so merry in the trees,—
Quick-darting parrots, bee-birds, bulbuls, doves,—
None of ye hate your life, none of ye deem
To strain to better by foregoing needs!        25
But man, who slays ye—being lord—is wise,
And wisdom, nursed on blood, cometh thus forth
In self-tormentings!”

                        While the Master spake
Blew down the mount the dust of pattering feet,
White goats and black sheep winding slow their way        30
With many a lingering nibble at the tufts,
And wanderings from the path, where water gleamed
Or wild figs hung. But always as they strayed
The herdsman cried, or slung his sling, and kept
The silly crowd still moving to the plain.        35
A ewe with couplets in the flock there was:
Some hurt had lamed one lamb, which toiled behind
Bleeding, while in the front its fellow skipped,
And the vexed dam hither and thither ran,
Fearful to lose this little one or that;        40
Which when our Lord did mark, full tenderly
He took the limping lamb upon his neck,
Saying, “Poor wooly mother, be at peace!
Whither thou goest I will bear thy care;
’Twere all as good to ease one beast of grief        45
As sit and watch the sorrows of the world
In yonder caverns with the priests who pray.”
“But,” spake he of the herdsmen, “wherefore, friends!
Drive ye the flocks adown under high noon,
Since ’tis at evening that men fold their sheep?”        50
  And answer gave the peasants:—“We are sent
To fetch a sacrifice of goats fivescore,
And fivescore sheep, the which our Lord the King
Slayeth this night in worship of his gods.”
  Then said the Master, “I will also go!”        55
So paced he patiently, bearing the lamb
Beside the herdsmen in the dust and sun,
The wistful ewe low bleating at his feet.
Whom, when they came unto the river-side,
A woman—dove-eyed, young, with tearful face        60
And lifted hands—saluted, bending low:—
“Lord! thou art he,” she said, “who yesterday
Had pity on me in the fig grove here,
Where I live lone and reared my child; but he,
Straying amid the blossoms, found a snake,        65
Which twined about his wrist, while he did laugh
And teased the quick forked tongue and opened mouth
Of that cold playmate. But alas! ere long
He turned so pale and still, I could not think
Why he should cease to play, and let my breast        70
Fall from his lips. And one said, ‘He is sick
Of poison’; and another, ‘He will die.’
But I, who could not lose my precious boy,
Prayed of them physic, which might bring the light
Back to his eyes; it was so very small,        75
That kiss-mark of the serpent, and I think
It could not hate him, gracious as he was,
Nor hurt him in his sport. And some one said,
‘There is a holy man upon the hill—
Lo! now he passeth in the yellow robe;        80
Ask of the Rishi if there be a cure
For that which ails thy son.’ Whereon I came
Trembling to thee, whose brow is like a god’s,
And wept and drew the face-cloth from my babe,
Praying thee tell what simples might be good.        85
And thou, great sir! didst spurn me not, but gaze
With gentle eyes and touch with patient hand;
Then draw the face-cloth back, saying to me,
‘Yea! little sister, there is that might heal
Thee first, and him, if thou couldst fetch the thing;        90
For they who seek physicians bring to them
What is ordained. Therefore, I pray thee, find
Black mustard-seed, a tola; only mark
Thou take it not from any hand or house
Where father, mother, child, or slave hath died;        95
It shall be well if thou canst find such seed.’
Thus didst thou speak, my lord!”

                        The Master smiled
Exceeding tenderly. “Yea! I spake thus,
Dear Kisagôtami! But didst thou find
The seed?”

            “I went, Lord, clasping to my breast
The babe, grown colder, asking at each hut,—
Here in the jungle and toward the town,—
‘I pray you, give me mustard, of your grace,
A tola—black’; and each who had it gave,
For all the poor are piteous to the poor:        105
But when I asked, ‘In my friend’s household here
Hath any peradventure ever died—
Husband or wife, or child, or slave?’ they said:—
‘O sister! what is this you ask? the dead
Are very many and the living few!’        110
So, with sad thanks, I gave the mustard back,
And prayed of others, but the others said,
‘Here is the seed, but we have lost our slave!’
‘Here is the seed, but our good man is dead!’
‘Here is some seed, but he that sowed it died!        115
Between the rain-time and the harvesting!’
Ah, sir! I could not find a single house
Where there was mustard-seed and none had died!
Therefore I left my child—who would not suck
Nor smile—beneath the wild vines by the stream,        120
To seek thy face and kiss thy feet, and pray
Where I might find this seed and find no death,
If now, indeed, my baby be not dead,
As I do fear, and as they said to me.”
  “My sister! thou hast found,” the Master said,        125
“Searching for what none finds, that bitter balm
I had to give thee. He thou lovedst slept
Dead on thy bosom yesterday; to-day
Thou know’st the whole wide world weeps with thy woe;
The grief which all hearts share grows less for one.        130
Lo! I would pour my blood if it could stay
Thy tears, and win the secret of that curse
Which makes sweet love our anguish, and which drives
O’er flowers and pastures to the sacrifice—
As these dumb beasts are driven—men their lords.        135
I seek that secret: bury thou thy child!”
  So entered they the city side by side,
The herdsmen and the Prince, what time the sun
Gilded slow Sona’s distant stream, and threw
Long shadows down the street and through the gate        140
Where the King’s men kept watch. But when these saw
Our Lord bearing the lamb, the guards stood back,
The market-people drew their wains aside,
In the bazaar buyers and sellers stayed
The war of tongues to gaze on that mild face;        145
The smith, with lifted hammer in his hand,
Forgot to strike; the weaver left his web,
The scribe his scroll, the money-changer lost
His count of cowries; from the unwatched rice
Shiva’s white bull fed free; the wasted milk        150
Ran o’er the lota while the milkers watched
The passage of our Lord moving so meek,
With yet so beautiful a majesty.
But most the women gathering in the doors
Asked, “Who is this that brings the sacrifice        155
So graceful and peace-giving as he goes?
What is his caste? whence hath he eyes so sweet?
Can he be Sâkra or the Devaraj?”
And others said, “It is the holy man
Who dwelleth with the Rishis on the hill.”        160
But the Lord paced, in meditation lost,
Thinking, “Alas! for all my sheep which have
No shepherd; wandering in the night with none
To guide them; bleating blindly toward the knife
Of Death, as these dumb beasts which are their kin.”        165
  Then some one told the King, “There cometh here
A holy hermit, bringing down the flock
Which thou didst bid to crown the sacrifice.”
  The King stood in his hall of offering;
On either hand the white-robed Brahmans ranged        170
Muttered their mantras, feeding still the fire
Which roared upon the midmost altar. There
From scented woods flickered bright tongues of flame,
Hissing and curling as they licked the gifts
Of ghee and spices and the Soma juice,        175
The joy of Indra. Round about the pile
A slow, thick, scarlet streamlet smoked and ran,
Sucked by the sand, but ever rolling down,
The blood of bleating victims. One such lay,
A spotted goat, long-horned, its head bound back        180
With munja grass; at its stretched throat the knife
Pressed by a priest, who murmured, “This, dread gods,
Of many yajnas cometh as the crown
From Bimbasâra: take ye joy to see
The spirted blood, and pleasure in the scent        185
Of rich flesh roasting ’mid the fragrant flames;
Let the King’s sins be laid upon this goat,
And let the fire consume them burning it,
For now I strike.”

                But Buddha softly said,
“Let him not strike, great King!” and therewith loosed        190
The victim’s bonds, none staying him, so great
His presence was. Then, craving leave, he spake
Of life, which all can take, but none can give,
Life, which all creatures love and strive to keep,
Wonderful, dear and pleasant unto each,        195
Even to the meanest; yea, a boon to all
Where pity is, for pity makes the world
Soft to the weak and noble for the strong.
Unto the dumb lips of his flock he lent
Sad, pleading words, showing how man, who prays        200
For mercy to the gods, is merciless,
Being as god to those; albeit all life
Is linked and kin, and what we slay have given
Meek tribute of the milk and wool, and set
Fast trust upon the hands which murder them.        205
Also he spake of what the holy books
Do surely teach, how that at death some sink
To bird and beast, and these rise up to man
In wanderings of the spark which grows purged flame.
So were the sacrifice new sin, if so        210
The fated passage of a soul be stayed.
Nor, spake he, shall one wash his spirit clean
By blood; nor gladden gods, being good, with blood;
Nor bribe them, being evil; nay, nor lay
Upon the brow of innocent bound beasts        215
One hair’s weight of that answer all must give
For all things done amiss or wrongfully,
Alone, each for himself, reckoning with that
The fixed arithmetic of the universe,
Which meteth good for good and ill for ill,        220
Measure for measure, unto deeds, words, thoughts;
Watchful, aware, implacable, unmoved;
Making all futures fruits of all the pasts.
Thus spake he, breathing words so piteous
With such high lordliness of ruth and right,        225
The priests drew back their garments o’er the hands
Crimsoned with slaughter, and the King came near,
Standing with clasped palms reverencing Buddha;
While still our Lord went on, teaching how fair
This earth were if all living things be linked        230
In friendliness of common use of foods,
Bloodless and pure; the golden grain, bright fruits,
Sweet herbs which grow for all, the waters wan,
Sufficient drinks and meats. Which, when these heard,
The might of gentleness so conquered them,        235
The priests themselves scattered their altar-flames
And flung away the steel of sacrifice;
And through the land next day passed a decree
Proclaimed by criers, and in this wise graved
On rock and column:—“Thus the King’s will is:        240
There hath been slaughter for the sacrifice
And slaying for the meat, but henceforth none
Shall spill the blood of life nor taste of flesh,
Seeing that knowledge grows, and life is one,
And mercy cometh to the merciful.”        245
So ran the edict, and from those days forth
Sweet peace hath spread between all living kind,
Man and the beasts which serve him, and the birds,
Of all those banks of Gunga where our Lord
Taught with his saintly pity and soft speech.        250

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