16. Siddhartha and King Vimbasara
ONE morning, the hero took his alms-bowl and entered the city of Rajagriha. The people who passed him on the road admired his beauty and his noble bearing. “What is this man?” they wondered. “He is like a God, like Sakra or Brahma himself.” Presently, it was noised abroad that a marvellous being was wandering through the city, begging. Every one wanted to see the hero; they followed him about, and women rushed to the windows as he passed by. But he gravely pursued his way, while over the city a strange light appeared.
A man ran to inform the king that a God, no less, was begging in the streets of the city. King Vimbasara went out on the terrace of the palace; he saw the hero. His splendor dazzled him. He sent him alms, and he gave orders to have him followed, in order to discover his retreat. Thus did the king learn that the magnificent beggar lived on the slope of the mountain, near the city.
The following day, Vimbasara drove out of the city and came to the mountain. He left his chariot, and, quite alone, walked toward a tree in whose shade the hero was seated. The king paused near the tree, and, speechless with wonder, reverently gazed at the beggar.
Then, bowing humbly, he said:
“I have seen you and great is my joy! Do not remain here on the lonely mountain-side; sleep no longer on the hard ground. You are beautiful, you are resplendent with youth; come to the city. I will give you a palace, and all your desires shall be gratified.”
“My lord,” replied the hero, in a gentle voice, “my lord, may you live many years! Desires mean nothing to me. I lead the life of a hermit; I know peace.”
“You are young,” said the king, “you are beautiful, you are ardent; be rich. You shall have the loveliest maidens in my kingdom to serve you. Do not go away; stay and be my companion.”
“I have given up great riches,” said the hero.
“I will give you half my kingdom.”
“I have given up the most beautiful of kingdoms.”
“Here you may gratify all your desires.”
“I know the vanity of all desire. Desires are like poison; wise men despise them. I have thrown them away as one would throw away a wisp of dry straw. Desires are as perishable as the fruit on a tree, they are as wayward as the clouds in the sky, they are as treacherous as the rain, they are as changeable as the wind! Suffering is born of desire, for no man has ever gratified all his desires. But they that seek wisdom, they that ponder the true faith, they are the ones that find peace. Who drinks salt water increases his thirst; who flees from desire finds his thirst appeased. I no longer know desire. I seek the true law.”
The king said:
“Great is your wisdom, O beggar! Which is your country? Where is your father? Where is your mother? Which is your caste? Speak.”
“Perhaps you have heard of the city of Kapilavastu, O king? A prosperous city it is. The king, Suddhodana, is my father. I left him in order to wander and beg.”
The king replied:
“Good fortune attend you! I am happy now that I have seen you. Between your family and mine there is a friendship of long standing. Be gracious to me, and when you have gained enlightenment, deign to teach me, O master.”
He bowed three times, then returned to Rajagriha.
The hero heard that there lived near Rajagriha a famous hermit named Rudraka, son of Rama. This hermit had many disciples whom he instructed in the law. The hero went to listen to his teachings, but like Arata Kalama, Rudraka knew nothing of the true law, and the hero did not tarry.
Presently he came to the banks of the Nairanjana. Five of Rudraka’s disciples: Kaundinya, Asvajit, Vashpa, Mahanaman and Bhadrika, had joined him.