Amitabha, A Story of Buddhist Theology, by Paul Carus, , at sacred-texts.com
War is always deplorable, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. And if that be the case, far from shunning it, a ruler, responsible for the welfare of his people, should carry it on resolutely and courageously with the one aim in view of bringing it speedily to a happy conclusion.
Such was Kanishka's maxim, and he acted accordingly. Having gathered as strong an army as he could muster, he surprised the mountaineers by coming upon them suddenly with superior forces from both sides. They made a desperate resistance, but he overthrew them and, leaving garrisons in some places of strategic importance, carried the war farther into the heart of the kingdom of Magadha. He descended into the valley of the Ganges, and hurrying by forced marches through the vassal kingdoms of Delhi and Sravasti, the Gandhâra
army marched in four columns toward the capital of the country.
Subâhu, king of Magadha, met his adversary in the field near Pâtaliputra with an army that had been rapidly assembled, but he could not stay the invader's victorious progress. In several engagements his troops were scattered to the four winds, his elephants captured, and he was obliged to retire to the fortress of Pâtaliputra. There he was besieged, and when he saw that no hope of escape was left he decided to make no further resistance and sent a messenger to king Kanishka, asking him for terms of peace.
The victor demanded an indemnity of three hundred million gold pieces, a sum which the whole kingdom could not produce.
When the besieged king asked for less severe terms, Kanishka replied: "If you are anxious to procure peace, come out to me in person and I will listen to your proposition. I wish to see you. Let us meet face to face, and we will consider our difficulties."
Subâhu, knowing the uselessness of further resistance, came out with his minister and accompanied
by his retinue. He was conducted into the presence of Kanishka, who requested him to be seated.
The king of Magadha complied with the request of his victorious rival with the air of a high-minded man, the guest of his equal. Kanishka frowned upon him. He observed the self-possession of his conquered foe with a feeling of resentment, which, however, was somewhat alloyed with admiration.
After a pause he addressed the royal petitioner as follows: "Why didst thou not render justice to me when I asked for it?"
"My intentions were good," replied Subâhu, "I wanted to preserve peace. The mountaineers are restless, but they are religious and full of faith. Their chieftains assured me the people had only retaliated wrongs that they had suffered themselves. Trying to be fair and just to my vassals, I roused the worse evil of war, and in preserving the peace at home I conjured up the specter of hostility from abroad. He who would avoid trouble sometimes breeds greater misfortune."
"In other words," interrupted King Kanishka
sternly, "your weakness prevented you from punishing the evil-doers under your jurisdiction, and being incapable of governing your kingdom, you lost your power and the right to rule."
"Sir," replied the humiliated monarch with calm composure, "thou art the victor and thou canst deal with me at thy pleasure, but if the fortunes of the day had turned against thee, thou mightest stand now before me in the same degraded position in which thou now seest me. But the difference is this: I have a clean conscience; I have proved peaceful; I never gave offence to anybody,—consciously. Thou hast carried the war into my country. Thou art the offender; and shouldst thou condemn me to die, I shall die innocent to be reborn in a happier state under more auspicious conditions. The Lord Buddha be praised!"
Kanishka was astonished at the boldness of the king's speech, but he mastered his anger and replied calmly: "Art thou so ignorant as not to know that a ruler's first duty is justice, and to me justice thou hast refused!"
"Man's first duty is to seek salvation," replied
the king of Magadha, "and salvation is not obtained by harshness but by piety."
The king of Gandhâra rose to his feet: "Thou art fitted for a monk, not a monarch. Thou hadst better retire to the cloistered cell of a Vihâra than occupy the throne of a great empire. What is the use of piety if it does not help thee to attend to the duties of thy high office? It leads thee into misery and has cost thee thy throne. The world cannot prosper on the principles which thou followest."
Subâhu seemed imperturbable, and without deigning to look at the incensed face of his vituperator he exclaimed: "What is the world if we but gain salvation? Let all the thrones on earth be lost and whole nations perish if only emancipation can be obtained! We want escape, not secular enhancement."
Kanishka stared at the speaker as if unable to comprehend his frame of mind, and Subâhu without showing any concern quoted a stanza from the Dhammapada, saying:
Filled with admiration of Subâhu's fortitude, Kanishka said: "I see thou art truly a pious man. But thy piety is not of the right kind. Thy way of escape leads into emptiness, and thy salvation is hollow. This world is the place in which the test of truth must be made; and this life is the time in which it is our duty to attain Nirvâna. But I will .not now upbraid thee for thy errors; I will first raise thee to a dignified position in which thou canst answer me and give thy arguments. I understand that thou art a faithful disciple of the Buddha and meanest to do that which is right. I respect thy sincerity and greet thee as a brother. Therefore I will not deprive thee of thy crown and title, but I insist on the penalty of three hundred million gold pieces. Thou shalt remain king with the understanding that henceforth thou takest council with me on all questions of political importance, for I see clearly that thou standest in need of advice. But in place of the three hundred million gold pieces I will accept substitutes which I deem worth
that amount. First, thou shalt deliver into my hands the bowl which the Tathâgata, the Blessed Buddha, carried in his hand when he was walking on earth, and, secondly, as a ransom for thy royal person which I hold here besieged in Pâtaliputra I request from thee the philosopher Açvaghosha whose fame has spread through all the countries where the religion of enlightenment is preached."
The vanquished king said: "Truly, the bowl of Buddha and the philosopher Açvaghosha are amply worth three hundred million gold pieces, and yet I must confess that thou art generous and thy conditions of peace are fair."
"Do not call me generous," said Kanishka, embracing the king of Magadha, "I am only worldly wise; and it is not my own wisdom. I have learned the maxims of my politics from the Blessed One, the great Buddha."