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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

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,

“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

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,

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!

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

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.

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;

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

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?”

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!”

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

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,

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

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,

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;

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.

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;

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;

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:

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!’

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!

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,

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,

“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.

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.

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

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;

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

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

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.”

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.”

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

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,

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

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

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

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,

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

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.

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

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

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,

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,

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

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,

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:

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.”

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.