In her 1926 account of the Buddha’s life, popular fantasy writer L. Adams Beck describes a brooding Prince Siddhartha in a pleasure garden called the Paradise after his first glimpse of death. He is approached by his childhood friend Udayi, sent by his father to soothe the prince.
So seeing the Prince alone, Udayi, smooth of speech, came softly along the pleasure-paths of the Paradise, brushing aside the flowers, observant and quiet as a serpent, and saluting the Prince he drew up beside him and spoke this:
“Prince in whom all beauty and nobility meet, you sit here sad and alone, and it is therefore that your great father, consumed by care for your welfare, appointed me to act as beseems a friend. Permit me then to speak, for a wise friend removes what is unprofitable, promotes real gain, and in adversity is true.”
And Siddhartha lifting his eyes said:
“Speak, if indeed in this great strait there be anything to say.”
So supporting his arm on a bough of the fire-flame tree Udayi spoke, inclining his delicate dark face and subtle eyes toward the Prince.
“True it is that sickness may assail us and that old age and death will by no means be baulked of their prey, yet youth is youth and beauty divine, and the man who turns his back on pleasure because it passes is a coward. Indeed the rose is the sweeter because even in blooming it treads the way of death and soon we see it no more. Truly, my Prince, you are afflicted with a distempered mind. Aquiescence is the secret of life. We who are wise know that these things must be, and even old age and death, the conquerors, we take to enhance our pleasures, saying to ourselves, “The moment is mine, and love is sweet, and lust the spur of life. This moment neither death nor old age can take from me. I will spend it as a man would spend his all if he knew that next day he would be plundered, and a beggar.”
But Siddhartha was silent, with brooding eyes fixed on the ground, and presently Udayi resumed, in a delicately modulated voice:
“While you believed that joy and beauty were eternal, and that ages hence these women would still surround you, beautiful and yielding, then you might well shrink from a delight too prolonged, for dropped honey cloys. An eternity of love may well become hell. Was it not so, my Prince?”
And slowly the Prince answered:
“It was so. I have looked on the racing river, swollen with melting snows, thinking that, were any end possible, to be hurled beaten and broken down the rocks in its mad hurry were better than the changeless paradise of love and soft words and swooning music. There you are right, Udayi, the smooth-tongued. This is true.”
And highly satisfied, Udayi resumed:
“And now, having learnt that there is an end, what should be your course? The pleasures of a prisoner released, who enjoys knowing that he has a respite, though the doors will shut upon him one day. Surely it is not the part of a brave man to fling away what he has because he cannot have all, nor to own himself conquered because one day he must face the enemy whom as yet he has not seen. No—not so. Take what the Gods send—the Gods who have themselves been amenable to beauty and docile in the arms of loveliness. Indeed, what choice is there but to slink through life starting at every shadow, or to dice and drink and love, like a man tasting the best while it lasts? For what comes after we cannot tell. Who knows?”
And the Prince said.
“This has the sound of wisdom, yet wisdom it is not. There is an answer—there is a way, but I have not found it. It may be that it cannot be found—that there is no such thing. Yet, better the search than dully to agree with necessity. And as for these women—to me they are no enticement, and if I would I cannot. Under their fair faces I see the skull, and they mop and mow like apes in the face of horror. If the Gods have thus made the world it is a folly and a brutality and they are more foolish than men who must abide their cruelties, and if they have not made it and all is chance we sink in the slough lit only by the flicker of dying dreams. Leave me, Udayi the smooth-tongued. I would be alone.”
And the courtier crept silently away under green shades, treading lightly on turf and blossoms, thanking destiny that he was not Siddhartha but could lift the brimming cup and drain it to the dregs, savouring every sparkle. And in his heart he mocked him, laughing at his weakness—he whose name is now remembered only because one day he spread out his folly before the Perfect One!
But the Prince, bending his great brows upon life and death, sat beneath the jambu tree, feet folded, hands laid upon his knees in perfect immobility.
And he thought:
“Hollow compliance and a protesting heart! Is this life? Is there better? Great are the concerns of life and death. So great, so awful that the poor race of mankind struggles only to forget for a brief moment what it can never comprehend. For all about us are seen injustices that were a king to commit them, his miserable people would rise and hurl him from his bloody throne. And we are told by the priests that the Gods have committed these crimes and yet are worthy of worship and honour. No—rather is it the propitiation of fiends who will torture us if they have not the servility of our praises while we die for their pleasure. And the good suffer and the evil flourish, and to the rich man is given more riches and to the poor more toil, even exceeding their strength. Now indeed all that was hidden from me bursts upon my mind as when a flash of lightning tears the dark, and things I put aside for want of comprehension shriek aloud in my ears. Why am I clothed in jewels, why is my father generous and good, and my wife the fairest and most loving of women, when at this moment, were my eyes opened they would behold men dying for bread that the least of my jewels would buy, with none to tend or pity them. And what are my deserts more than theirs? And why are some evil and some good as it were by nature? O cruel Gods who, rapt in far-off pleasures, care nothing for our agonies, and let fall your good things on the wicked and evil things on the good—yourselves perhaps the sport of chance, if indeed you are at all!”
And these thoughts and many like them, black and miserable, stormed about him in the wreckage of the world.
And at long last he aroused himself and the Paradise was empty of all
but a broad moonlight that lay in glories of light and shadow on trees and waters, and there was deep silence. For the women, ashamed and terrified, had slipped noiselessly away and so back to the city, and far off down a long glade his chariot and wearied horse stood waiting in marble patience.
Very slowly the horses paced through the city, and that also was empty of all but moonlight, for not a living soul went or came in the quiet, and the pacing of the horses echoed loudly down the empty ways.
And not a word was spoken as they went, but when they reached the House of the Garden, a woman ran out to meet them veiled like a ghost in the moonlight, and cried aloud:
“O happy Prince—the Gods are good to this glad House and to you, for on the bosom of the Princess lies your first-born son.”
And at these words a strange trembling seized him, so that for a moment he hid his face in his hands. Then pale in the moonlight he said these words:
“A fetter, a fetter is set upon me, therefore call the child Rahula, a Fetter.”
From The Splendour of Asia by L. Adams Beck, © 1926 by Dodd, Mead, and Company.
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
This is the first of your five free articles this month. Subscribe today to gain access to our award-winning publication plus all of our online offerings, including films, video dharma talks, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.