Sacred Texts  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book on Kindle

Amitabha, A Story of Buddhist Theology, by Paul Carus, [1906], at

p. 93


Protestations of fidelity and admiration greeted King Kanishka from all sides when he retired to his private rooms after having shaken hands with the conspirators. He had conquered his enemies, not by the power of arms, as he had done before in battle, but by the superiority of his mind.

It was at this moment that a messenger arrived who had been sent by the custodian of King Subâhu's summer palace, saying: "Sir King, send your hunters to the summer palace with elephants and soldiers, for a man-eating tiger has been seen in its garden and parks, and all the people living in the neighborhood are sore afraid of the beast."

Then the generals of the South shouted: "Great King and Sire, allow us to go to the summer palace to hunt the tiger; for we are anxious to distinguish ourselves and prove to

p. 94

the world that we are valiant soldiers and good hunters."

And they received permission to be the foremost in the hunt, and after a hasty preparation they set out the same evening, but the two kings and their retinue with many officers followed them on the following day; Charaka, however, stayed behind at the command of King Kanishka, to observe the courtiers and councilors of King Subâhu and keep an eye upon the populace of the city, the capital of Magadha.

Charaka sat at a window in company with the venerable Açvaghosha to see the suite of the two kings with their hunters and elephants leaving the city, and Charaka addressed the sage, saying: "My reverend friend, I learned much yesterday from king Kanishka by watching his mode of treating enemies. Truly, I understand the doctrine of the Tathâgata better now than if I had lived for many years in the monastery and studied all the wisdom of the monks. How much evil can be avoided by discretion, and should not mortals blame themselves for all the ills that befall them?

p. 95

[paragraph continues] But there is this doubt that vexes my mind. If Amitâbha, the omnipresent, the eternal, the omnibeneficent source of all wisdom, fashions the world and determines our destinies, why should not life be possible without suffering? However, the first sentence of the four great truths declares that life itself is suffering. If that be so, no amount of discretion could give us happiness so long as we live. And, on the other hand, how can Amitâbha permit innumerable things to suffer innocently for conditions which they did not create themselves?"

"My young friend," replied Açvaghosha, "the first great truth is truly obvious to any one who knows the nature of life. Life consists of separation and combination; it is a constant meeting and parting and has in store both pains and pleasures. Prove to me that life be possible without any change, and I will begin to doubt the first of the four great truths. But if life is suffering, no being has a right to blame Amitâbha for existing. All beings exist by their own karma; they are the incarnation of deeds of their former existences; they are such as they are by their own determination,

p. 96

having fashioned themselves under the influence of circumstances.

"By Amitâbha all beings are merely educated in the school of life. Some have gained more insight than others. Some love the light, others hate it. Some rise to the pure heights of Buddhahood, and others grovel in the dust to take delight in badness and deeds of darkness. Amitâbha is like the rain that falls upon the earth without discrimination. The seeds of herbs assimilate the water that falls from the clouds of heaven in â refreshing spring shower, and grow to be herbs each of its kind. Fernspores become ferns, acorns change the water into the leaves and wood and bark of oak trees, and the germs of fruit trees fashion it into fruit, each of its own kind, into mangoes, bananas, dates, figs, pomegranates, and other savory fruits. Amitâbha is the same to all, as the water of the refreshing rain is the same: but diverse creatures make a different use of the benefits of truth, and each one is responsible for itself.19 Each one has originated in ignorance by its own blind impulses, each one, in its own field of experience, has learned the

p. 97

lesson of life in its own way, and each one can blame no one but itself for what it is and has become—except that it ought to be grateful for the light that Amitâbha sheds upon the course of its development.

"Amitâbha is not a god that would assert himself or care for worship and adoration. He does not think and act and do deeds. He is not Ishvara, not Sakra, not Indra, not Brahma: He is the norm of all existence, the good law, the order and intrinsic harmony that shows itself in cause and effect, in the bliss of goodness, in the curse of evil-doing. He is above all the gods, and everything that is has been fashioned by him according to the eternal ordinances of his constitution.

"We are not creatures of Amitâbha, we are creatures of our own making. Life starts in ignorance. It begins with blind impulses, and life's start is life's own doing. But as soon as an impulse acts and is reacted upon, it is encompassed by the good law and thus it is educated by Amitâbha and raised by him as children are nourished by their mother and instructed

p. 98

by their father. We are not the creatures of Amitâbha, but his children.20

"Ask thy own self, whether thou art because thou wast created by some extraneous power; or contrariwise whether it is not truer to say that thou art because thou dost will thy own existence. Every man is what he wills to be.

"Thou hast become what thou art of necessity according to the norms that constitute the nature of Amitâbha. But thou grewest to be what thou art because thou wantedst to become such.

"Now if an Ishvara had created thee, thou wouldst not have the feeling of freedom that thou now hast, but thou wouldst feel like the vessel made by the potter which is what it is in spite of its own like or dislike."

"But if I am determined to love life," asked Charaka, "is it wrong to do so and shall I be punished for it by suffering?"

Replied Açvaghosha: "There is neither punishment nor reward, my son, though we may use the words in adapting our language to the common mode of thought. There is only cause and effect. The Tathâgata gave no commandments,

p. 99

for what authority has any one to command his brother beings? The Tathâgata revealed to us the evils of life, and what people call the ten commandments are the ten ways pointed out by the Tathâgata how to avoid the ten evils. He who does not take the Tathâgata's advice must bear the consequences. The tiger will be hunted down, and a murderer will be executed. Their fate is the result of their deeds. As to love of life, there is nothing wrong in it. If you love life, you must not be afraid of suffering. While the Tathâgata lived in the flesh, he was as much subject to pain as I am and as you are. But when the pangs of his last disease came upon him he bore them with fortitude and did not complain. If you love life, bear its ills nobly and do not break down under its burdens. Avail yourself of the light of Amitâbha, for thus you can escape the worst evils of life, the contrition of regret, of remorse, of a bad conscience; and the noblest pleasure of life is that of becoming a lamp unto others. Let your light shine in the world and you will be like

p. 100

unto your master, Buddha-Amitâbha, the omnibenevolent source of all illumination."

Next: The Buddhist Abbot and the Brahman