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Poetry from the Jataka

June 19, 2013

“Over the past I do not mourn nor for the future weep,
I meet the present as it comes, and so my colour keep.

Mourning about the hopeless past or some uncertain future need,
This dries a young man’s vigour up as when you cut a fresh green reed.

No, let the young man leave the world and fly its vanities,
The ascetic’s life best suits the young, thus counsel all the wise.

No, let the young man leave the world, a hermit and alone;
I will embrace the hermit’s life, I need no pomp nor throne.

I watch the boy, with childish lips he “father” “mother,” cries,
Himself begets a son, and then he too grows old and dies.

So the young daughter in her flower grows blithe and fair to see,
But she soon fades cut down by death like the green bamboo tree.

Men, women all, however young, soon perish, who in sooth
Would put his trust in mortal life, cheated by fancied youth?

As night by night gives place to dawn life still contracts its span;
Like fish in water which dries up,–what means the youth of man?

This world of ours is smitten sore, is ever watched by one,
They pass and pass with purpose fell, why talk of crown or throne?

“Who sorely smites this world of ours? who watches grimly by?
And who thus pass with purpose fell? Tell me the mystery.”

‘Tis death who smites this world, old age who watches at our gate,
And ’tis the nights which pass and win their purpose soon or late.

As when the lady at her loom sits weaving all the day,
Her task grows ever less and less, so waste our lives away.

As speeds the hurrying river’s course, on with no backward flow,
So in its course the life of men doth ever forward go;

And as the river sweeps away trees from its banks uptorn,
So are we men by age and death in headlong ruin borne.

Why seek for wealth, it will not last; why woo a wife, she soon will die;
Why think of youth, ’twill soon be past; and threatening age stands ever nigh.

What are the joys that life can bring? beauty, sport, wealth, or royal fare?
What is a wife or child to me? I am set free from every snare.

This thing I know,–where’er I go, Fate watching never slumbereth;
Of what avail is wealth or joy to one who feels the grasp of death?

Do what thou hast to do to-day, who can ensure the morrow’s sun?
Death is the Master-general who gives his guarantee to none.

Thieves ever watch to steal our wealth, I am set free from every chain;
Go back and take thy crown away; what want I with a king’s domain?”

— Spoken by the Bodhisatta (the Buddha in a previous life) Jataka Tales, Vol. 6: Book XXII. Mahanipata No. 538 — “Muga-Pakkha Jataka”

From → Buddhism, Leadership

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