King Heron’s daughter at Mantāvatī,
Born of his chief consort, was Sumedhā,
Devoted to the makers of the Law.
A virtuous maid was she and eloquent,
Learnèd and in the system of our Lord
Well trained. She of her parents audience sought,
And spake: ‘Now listen, mother, father, both!
All my heart’s love is to Nibbana given.
Transient is everything that doth become,
E’en if it have the nature of a god.
What truck have I, then, with the empty life
Of sense, that giveth little, slayeth much?
Bitter as serpents’ poison are desires
Of sense, whereafter youthful fools do yearn.
For that full many a night in wretchedness
They drag out tortured lives in realms of woe.
The vicious-minded, vicious doers mourn
In purgatorial lives. Ever are fools
Without restraint in deed and word and thought.
Oh! but the foolish have no wit or will.
They cannot grasp what maketh sorrow rise—
When taught, they learn not; in their slumb’ring minds
The Fourfold Ariyan Truth awakens not.
Those Truths, O mother, that th’ Awakened One,
The Best, the Buddha, hath revealed to us,
They, the Majority, know not, and they
Delight in coming aye again to be,
And long to be reborn among the gods.
E’en with the gods is no eternal home.
Becoming needs must be impermanent.
Yet they, the foolish souls, are not afraid
Again, again to come somewhere to birth.
Four are the ways of doleful life, and two
Alone the ways of weal —and these how hard
To win! Nor if one come into the four,
Is there renunciation from that world.
Suffer ye both that I renounce my world;
And in the blessed teaching of the Lord,
Him of the Powers Ten, heedless of all
Without, I’ll strive to root out birth and death.
How can I take delight in many births,
In this poor body, froth without a soul?
That I may put an utter end to thirst
Again to be, suffer that I go forth.
Now is the Age of Buddhas! Gone the want
Of opportunity! The moment’s won!
O let me never while I live misprize
The precepts, nor withstand the holy life!’
Thus spake Sumedhā, and again: ‘Mother
And father mine, never again will I
As a laywoman break my fast and eat.
Here will I sooner lay me down and die!’
Th’ afflicted mother wept; the father, stunned
With grief, strove to dissuade and comfort her
Who prostrate lay upon the palace floor:—
‘Rise up, dear child. Why this unhappiness
For thee? Thou art betrothed to go and reign
In Vāraṇavatī, the promised bride
Of King Anikaratta, handsome youth.
Thou art to be his chief consort, his queen.
Hard is it, little child, to leave the world,
Hard are the precepts and the holy life.
As queen thou wilt enjoy authority,
Riches and sov’reignty and luxuries.
Thou that art blest herein and young, enjoy
The sweets life yields. Let’s to thy wedding, child.’
Then answered them Sumedhā: ‘Nay, not thus!
No soul, no essence, can becoming yield.
One or the other shall be—choose ye which:
Or let me leave the world, or let me die.
Thus, and thus only, would I choose to wed.
What is it worth —this body foul, unclean,
Emitting odours, source of fears, a bag
Of skin with carrion filled, oozing impure
The while? What is it worth to me who know—
Repulsive carcass, plastered o’er with flesh
And blood, the haunt of worms, dinner of birds—
To whom shall such a thing as this be given?
Borne in a little while to charnel-field,
There is this body thrown, when mind hath sped,
Like useless log, from which e’en kinsfolk turn.
Throwing the thing that they have bathed to be
The food of alien things, whereat recoil
The very parents, let alone their kin.
They have a fondness for this soulless frame,
That’s knit of bones and sinews, body foul,
Filled full of exudations manifold.
Where one the body to dissect, and turn
The inside outermost, the smell would prove
Too much for e’en one’s mother to endure.
The factors of my being, organs, elements,
All are a transient compound, rooted deep
In birth, are Ill, and first and last the thing
I would not. Whom, then, could I choose to wed?
Rather would I find death day after day
With spears three hundred piercing me anew,
E’en for an hundred years, if this would then
Put a last end to pain, unending else.
The wise would with this [bargain] close, and meet
Utter destruction, seeing that His Word,
The Master’s, runneth: “Long the wandering
Of them who, smitten, ever rise again.”
Countless the ways in which we meet our death,
‘Mong gods and men, as demons or as beasts,
Among the shades, or in the haunts of hell.
And there how many doomed tormented live!
No sure refuge is ours even in heaven.
Above, beyond Nibbana’s bliss, is naught.
And they have won that Bliss who all their hearts
Have plighted to the blessed Word of Him
Who hath the Tenfold Power, and heeding naught,
Have striv’n to put far from them birth and death.
This day, my father, will I get me forth!
I’ll naught of empty riches! Sense-desires
Repel and sicken me, and are become
E’en as the stump where once hath stood a palm.’
So spake she to her father. Now the King,
Anikaratta, on his way to woo
His youthful bride’s consent, drew near
At the appointed time. But Sumedhā
Let down the soft black masses of her hair
And with a dagger cut them off. Then closed
The door that led to her own terraced rooms,
And forthwith to First Jhana-rapture won.
There sat she lost in ecstasy, the while
Anikaratta reached the capital.
Then she fell musing on impermanence,
Developing the thought. Then is she ware
The while Anikaratta swiftly mounts
The palace steps, in brave array of gems
And gold, and bowing low woos Sumedhā.
‘Reign in my kingdom and enjoy my wealth
And power. Rich, happy and so young thou art,
Enjoy the sweets that life and love can yield,
Though they be hard to win and won by few.
To thee my kingdom I surrender! Now
Dispose as thou dost wish, give gifts galore.
Be not downcast. Thy parents are distressed.’
To him thus Sumedhā, for whom desires
Of sensuous love were worthless, nor availed
To lead astray, made answer: ‘O set not
The heart’s affections on this sensual love.
See all the peril, the satiety of sense.
Mandhātā, King o’ th’ world’s four continents,
Had greater wealth to gratify his sense
Than any other man, yet passed away
Unsatisfied, his wishes unfulfilled.
Nay, an the rain-god rained all seven kinds
Of gems till earth and heaven were full, still would
The senses crave, and men insatiate die.
‘Like the sharp blades of swords are sense-desires.’
‘Like the poised heads of snakes prepared to dart.’
‘Like blazing torches,’ and ‘like bare gnawn bones.’
Transient, unstable are desires of sense,
Pregnant with Ill and full of venom dire,
Searing as heated iron globe to touch.
Baneful the root of them, baleful the fruit.
As ‘fruit’ that brings the climber to a fall,
Are sense-desires; evil as ‘lumps of flesh’
That greedy birds one from the other snatch;
As cheating ‘dreams’; as ‘borrowed goods’ reclaimed.
‘As spears and jav’lins are desires of sense,’
‘A pestilence, a boil, and bane and bale.
A furnace of live coals,’ the root of bane,
Murderous and the source of harrowing dread.
So hath the direfulness of sense-desires,
Those barriers to salvation, been declared.
Go, leave me, for I do not trust myself,
While in this world I yet have part and lot.
What shall another do for me? For me
Whose head is wrapped in flames, whose steps are dogged
By age and death that tarry not. To crush
Them utterly I needs must strive.’
Then coming to her door she saw the king
Her suitor, and her parents seated there
And shedding tears. And once more spake to them:
‘Long have they yet to wander through the worlds
Who witless aye again their tears renew,
Weeping world without end for father dead,
Or brother slain, or that themselves must die.
Call ye to mind how it was said that tears
And milk and blood flow on world without end.
And bear in mind that tumulus of bones
By creatures piled who wander through the worlds.
Remember the four oceans as compared
With all the flow of tears and milk and blood.
Remember the ‘great cairn of one man’s bones
From one æon alone, equal to Vipula’;
And how ‘great India would not suffice
To furnish little tally-balls of mould,
Wherewith to number all the ancestors
Of one’s own round of life world without end.’
Remember how ‘the little squares of straws
And boughs and twigs could ne’er suffice
As tallies for one’s sires world without end.’
Remember how the parable was told
Of ‘purblind turtle in the Eastern Seas,
Or other oceans, once as time goes by,
Thrusting his head thro’ hole of drifting yoke’;
So rare as this the chance of human birth.
Remember too the ‘body’-parable,
The ‘lump of froth,’ of spittle without core,
Drifting. See here the fleeting factors five.
And O forget not hell where many thole.
Remember how we swell the charnel-fields,
Now dying, now again elsewhere reborn.
Remember what was said of ‘crocodiles,’
And what those perils meant for us, and O!
Bear ye in mind the Four, the Ariyan Truths.
THE NECTAR OF THE NORM IS HERE! O how
Canst thou be satisfied with bitter draughts
Of sense satiety? All sensual joys
Are bitterer for the fivefold dogging Ill.
THE NECTAR OF THE NORM IS HERE! O how
Canst thou be satisfied with fevered fits
Of sense-satiety? All sensual joys
Are burning, boiling, ferment, stew.
THERE IS, WHERE ENMITY IS NOT! O how
Canst thou be satisfied with joys of sense
Engend’ring thee so many foes—the wrath
Or greed of king, or thief, or rival, harm
Through fire, or water—yea, so many foes!
EMANCIPATION WAITS! O how canst thou
Be satisfied with sensual joys, wherein
Lie bonds and death? Yea, in those very joys
Lurk gaol and headsman. They who seek t’ indulge
Their lusts needs must thereafter suffer ills.
Him will straw-torches burn who holds them long
And lets not go. So, in the parable,
Desires of sense burn them who let not go.
Cast not away, because of some vain joy
Of sense, the vaster happiness sublime,
Lest like the finny carp thou gulp the hook,
Only to find thyself for that foredone
Tame thou thyself in sense-desires, nor let
Thyself be bound by them, as is a dog
Bound by a chain; else will they do forsooth
With thee as hungry pariahs with that dog.
Once more I say, immeasurable Ills
And many weary miseries of mind
Thou’lt suffer yoked to sensual life. Renounce,
Renounce desires of sense! They pass away.
THERE IS, THAT GROWETH NEVER OLD! O how
Canst thou be satisfied with sense-desires
That age so soon? Are not all things reborn,
Where’er it be, gripped by disease and death?
THIS that doth ne’er grow old, that dieth not,
THIS never-ageing, never-dying Path—
No sorrow cometh there, no enemies,
Nor is there any crowd; none faint or fail,
No fear cometh, nor aught that doth torment—
To THIS, the Path Ambrosial, have gone
Full many. And to-day, e’en now ’tis to be won.
But only by a life that’s utterly
Surrendered in devotion. Labour not,
And ye shall not attain!’
Ended her say, who found no joy in all
Activities that lead from life to life,
And, to Anikaratta thus her mind
Declaring, dropped her tresses on the floor.
Then up he rose with outstretched folded hands,
And with her father pleaded for her thus:
‘O suffer Sumedhā to leave the world,
That she may see the Truth and Liberty!’
The parents suffered her, and forth she went,
Afeared to stay and build up fear and grief.
Six branches of Insight she realized,
As learner, winning to the Topmost Fruit.
O wondrous this! O marvellous in sooth!
Nibbāna for the daughter of a king!
Her state and conduct in her former births,
E’en as she told in her last life were these:
‘When Koṇāgamana was Buddha here,
And in a new abode, the Order’s Park,
Took up his dwelling, two o’ my friends, and I
Built a Vihāra for the Master’s use.
And many scores and centuries of lives
We lived among the gods, let alone men.
Mighty our glory and our power among
The gods, nor need I speak of fame on earth.
Was I not consort of an Emperor,
The Treasure-Woman ’mongst the Treasures Seven?
Endurance in the Truth the Master taught—
This was the cause, the source, the root,
This the First Link in the long Causal Line,
This is Nibbana if we love the Norm.
Thus acting, they who put their trust in Him,
Wisdom Supreme, lose every wish and hope
Of coming back to be—and thus released
They from all passion’s stain are purified.”