THERE was a poet who had acquired the spotless eye of truth, and he believed in the Buddha, whose doctrine gave him peace of mind and comfort in the hour of affliction. It happened that an epidemic swept over the country in which he lived, so that many died, and the people were terrified. Some of them trembled with fright, and in anticipation of their fate were smitten with all the horrors of death before they died, while others began to be merry, shouting loudly, "Let us enjoy ourselves today, for we know not whether tomorrow we shall live"; yet was their laughter no genuine gladness, but a mere pretense and affectation.
Among all these worldly men and women trembling with anxiety, the Buddhist poet lived in the time of the pestilence, as usual, calm and undisturbed, helping wherever he could and ministering unto the sick, soothing their pains by medicine and religious consolation. And a man came to him and said:
"My heart is nervous and excited, for I see people die. I am not anxious about others, but I tremble because of myself. Help me; cure me of my fear."
The poet replied: "There is help for him who has compassion on others, but there is no help for thee so long as thou clingest to thine own self alone. Hard times try the souls of men and teach them righteousness and charity. Canst thou witness these sad sights around thee and still be filled with selfishness? Canst thou see thy brothers, sisters, and friends suffer, yet not forget the petty cravings and lust of thine own heart? Noticing the desolation in the mind of the pleasure-seeking man, the Buddhist poet composed this song and taught it to the brethren in the vihara:
"Unless you take refuge in the Buddha and find rest in Nirvana,
Your life is but vanity-empty and desolate vanity.
To see the world is idle, and to enjoy life is empty.
The world, including man, is but like a phantom, and the hope of heaven is as a mirage.
"The worldling seeks pleasures, fattening himself like a caged fowl,
But the Buddhist saint flies up to the sun like the wild crane.
The fowl in the coop has food but will soon be boiled in the pot;
No provisions are given to the wild crane, but the heavens and the earth are his.
The poet said: "The times are hard and teach the people a lesson; yet do they not heed it." And he composed another poem on the vanity of worldliness:
"It is good to reform, and it is good to exhort people to reform.
The things of the world will all be swept away.
Let others be busy and buried with care.
My mind all unvexed shall be pure.
"After pleasures they hanker and find no satisfaction;
Riches they covet and can never have enough.
They are like unto puppets held up by a string.
When the string breaks they come down with a shock.
"In the domain of death there are neither great nor small;
Neither gold nor silver is used, nor precious jewels.
No distinction is made between the high and the low.
And daily the dead are buried beneath the fragrant sod.
"Look at the sun setting behind the western hills.
You lie down to rest, but soon the cock will announce morn.
Reform today and do not wait until it be too late
Do not say it is early, for the time quickly passes by.
"It is good to reform and it is good to exhort people to reform.
It is good to lead a righteous life and take refuge in the Buddha's name.
Your talents may reach to the skies, your wealth may be untold-
But all is in vain unless you attain the peace of Nirvana."