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   Buddhist Writings.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
II. The Doctrine
 
Death’s Messengers
 
1. Translated from the Anguttara-Nikya (iii. 351)
 
 
DEATH has three messengers, O priests. And what are the three?  1
  Suppose, O priests, one does evil with his body, does evil with his voice, does evil with his mind. Having done evil with his body, done evil with his voice, and done evil with his mind, he arrives after the dissolution of the body, after death, at a place of punishment, a place of suffering, perdition, hell. Then, O priests, the guardians of hell seize him by the arms at every point, and they show him to Yama, the ruler of the dead, saying,  2
  “Sire, this man did not do his duty to his friends, to his parents, to the monks, or to the Brahmans, nor did he honor his elders among his kinsfolk. Let your majesty inflict punishment upon him.”  3
  Then, O priests, king Yama questions, sounds, and addresses him touching the first of death’s messengers.  4
  “O man! Did you not see the first of death’s messengers visibly appear among men?”  5
  He replies, “Lord, I did not.”  6
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Did you not see among men a woman or a man, eighty or ninety or a hundred years of age, decrepid, crooked as the curved rafter of a gable roof, bowed down, leaning on a staff, trembling as he walked, miserable, with youth long fled, broken-toothed, gray-haired and nearly bald, tottering, with wrinkled brow, and blotched with freckles?”  7
  He replies, “Lord, I did.”  8
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Did it not occur to you, being a person of mature intelligence and years, ‘I also am subject to old age, and in no way exempt. Come now! I will act nobly with body, voice and mind’?”  9
  He replies, “Lord, I could not. Lord, I did not think.”  10
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Through thoughtlessness you failed to act nobly with body, voice, and mind. Verily, it shall be done unto you, O man, in accordance with your thoughtlessness. And it was not your mother who did this wickedness, nor was it your father, nor your brother, nor your sister, nor your friends and companions, nor your relatives and kinsfolk, nor the deities, nor the monks and Brahmans; but it was you yourself who did this wickedness, and you alone shall feel its consequences.”  11
  Then, O priests, when king Yama has questioned, sounded, and addressed him touching the first of death’s messengers, he questions, sounds, and addresses him touching the second of death’s messengers.  12
  “O man! Did you not see the second of death’s messengers visibly appear among men?”  13
  He replies, “Lord, I did not.”  14
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Did you not see among men, women or men, diseased, suffering, grievously sick, rolling in their own filth, who when lying down had to be lifted up by others, and by others had to be laid down again?”  15
  He replies, “Lord, I did.”  16
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Did it not occur to you, being a person of mature intelligence and years, ‘I also am subject to disease, and in no way exempt. Come now! I will act nobly with body, voice, and mind’?”  17
  He replies, “Lord, I could not. Lord, I did not think.”  18
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Through thoughtlessness you failed to act nobly with body, voice, and mind. Verily, it shall be done unto you, O man, in accordance with your thoughtlessness. And it was not your mother who did this wickedness, nor was it your father, nor your brother, nor your sister, nor your friends and companions, nor your relatives and kinsfolk, nor the deities, nor the monks and Brahmans; but it was you yourself who did this wickedness, and you alone shall feel its consequences.”  19
  Then, O priests, when king Yama has questioned, sounded, and addressed him touching the second of death’s messengers, he questions, sounds, and addresses him touching the third of death’s messengers.  20
  “O man! Did you not see the third of death’s messengers visibly appear among men?”  21
  He replies, “Lord, I did not.”  22
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Did you not see among men a woman or a man that has been one day dead, or two days dead, or three days dead, and had become swollen, black, and full of putridity?”  23
  He replies, “Lord, I did.”  24
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Did it not occur to you, being a person of mature intelligence and years, ‘I also am subject to death, and in no way exempt. Come now! I will act nobly with body, voice, and mind’?”  25
  He replies, “Lord, I could not. Lord, I did not think.”  26
  Then, O priests, king Yama says to him, “O man! Through thoughtlessness you failed to act nobly with body, voice, and mind. Verily, it shall be done unto you, O man, in accordance with your thoughtlessness. And it was not your mother who did this wickedness, nor was it your father, nor your brother, nor your sister, nor your friends and companions, nor your relatives and kinsfolk, nor the deities, nor the monks and Brahmans; but it was you yourself who did this wickedness, and you alone shall feel its consequences.”  27
  Then, O priests, when King Yama has questioned, sounded, and addressed him touching the third of death’s messengers, he becomes silent.  28
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell inflict on him the torture called the fivefold pinion: they force a heated iron stake through his hand; they force a heated iron stake through his other hand; they force a heated iron stake through his foot; they force a heated iron stake through his other foot; they force a heated iron stake through the middle of his breast. There he experiences grievous, severe, sharp, and bitter pains; but he does not die so long as that wickedness is unexhausted.  29
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell lay him down, and hack him with axes. There he experiences grievous, severe, sharp, and bitter pains; but he does not die so long as that wickedness is unexhausted.  30
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell place him feet up, head down, and hack him with hatchets. There he experiences grievous, severe, sharp, and bitter pains; but he does not die so long as that wickedness is unexhausted.  31
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell harness him to a chariot, and they make him go forward and they make him go back over ground that is blazing, flaming, and glowing. There he experiences grievous, severe, sharp, and bitter pains; but he does not die so long as that wickedness is unexhausted.  32
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell make him ascend and make him descend an immense, blazing, flaming, and glowing mountain of live coals. There he experiences grievous, severe, sharp, and bitter pains; but he does not die so long as that wickedness is unexhausted.  33
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell take him feet up, head down, and throw him into a heated iron kettle that is blazing, flaming, and glowing. There he cooks and sizzles. And while he there cooks and sizzles, he goes once upwards, once downwards, and once side-ways. There he experiences grievous, severe, sharp, and bitter pains; but he does not die so long as that wickedness is unexhausted.  34
  Then, O priests, the guardians of hell throw him into the chiefest of the hells. Now this chiefest of the hells, O priests, is
        Symmetrical, and square in shape,
Four-gated, into parts laid off.
Of iron is its bounding wall,
An iron roof doth close it in;
And of its glowing iron floor
The light with dazzling brilliancy
Spreads for a hundred leagues around,
And ever and for ay abides.
  35
  In former times, O priests, king Yama thought to himself, “All they, alas, who are guilty of wicked deeds in the world must suffer such horrible and manifold torture! O that I may become a man and a Tathagata arise in the world, a holy, Supreme Buddha, and that I may sit at the feet if The Blessed One and The Blessed One teach me the Doctrine, and I come to understand the Doctrine of The Blessed One!”  36
  Now this, O priests, that I tell you, I did not get from any one else, be he monk or Brahman; but, O priests, what I by myself, unassisted, have known, and seen, and learnt, that I tell you.
        All they who thoughtless are, nor heed,
What time death’s messengers appear,
Must long the pangs of suffering feel
In some base body habiting.
But all those good and holy men,
What time they see death’s messengers,
Behave not thoughtless, but give heed
To what the Noble Doctrine says;
And in attachment frighted see
Of birth and death the fertile source,
And from attachment free themselves,
Thus birth and death extinguishing,
Secure and happy ones are they,
Released from all this fleeting show;
Exempted from all sin and fear,
All misery have they overcome.
  37
 
2. Reprinted from Mrs. Piozzi’s (Thrale’s) Autobiography (ed. Hayward, Ticknor and Fields, Boston, 1861), vol. ii. p. 247


        
THE THREE WARNINGS
A TALE
 
The tree of deepest root is found
Least willing still to quit the ground;
’Twas therefore said by ancient sages,
That love of life increased with years.
So much, that in our latter stages,
When pains grow sharp and sickness rages,
The greatest love of life appears.
This greatest affection to believe,
Which all confess, but few perceive,
If old affections can’t prevail,
Be pleased to hear a modern tale.
When sports went round, and all were gay,
On neighbor Dobson’s wedding-day,
Death called aside the jocund groom,
With him into another room;
And looking grave, you must, says he,
Quit your sweet bride, and come with me.
With you, and quit my Susan’s side?
With you! the hapless husband cried:
Young as I am; ’tis monstrous hard;
Besides, in truth, I’m not prepared:
My thoughts on other matters go,
This is my wedding night, you know.
What more he urged I have not heard,
His reasons could not well be stronger,
So Death the poor delinquent spared,
And left to live a little longer.
Yet calling up a serious look,
His hour-glass trembled while he spoke,
Neighbor, he said, farewell. No more
Shall Death disturb your mirthful hour,
And further, to avoid all blame
Of cruelty upon my name,
To give you time for preparation,
And fit you for your future station,
Three several warnings you shall have
Before you’re summoned to the grave:
Willing, for once, I’ll quit my prey,
And grant a kind reprieve;
In hopes you’ll have no more to say
But when I call again this way,
Well pleased the world will leave.
To these conditions both consented,
And parted perfectly contented.
What next the hero of our tale befell,
How long he lived, how wise, how well,
How roundly he pursued his course,
And smoked his pipe, and stroked his horse,
The willing muse shall tell:
He chaffered then, he bought, he sold,
Nor once perceived his growing old,
Nor thought of Death as near;
His friends not false, his wife no shrew,
Many his gains, his children few,
He passed his hours in peace;
But while he viewed his wealth increase,
While thus along life’s dusty road
The beaten track content he trod,
Old time whose haste no mortal spares
Uncalled, unheeded, unawares,
Brought him on his eightieth year.
And now one night in musing mood,
As all alone he sate,
Th’ unwelcome messenger of fate
Once more before him stood.
Half stilled with anger and surprise,
So soon returned! old Dobson cries.
So soon, d’ye call it! Death replies:
Surely, my friend, you’re but in jest;
Since I was here before
’Tis six-and-thirty years at least,
And you are now fourscore.
So much the worse, the clown rejoined,
To spare the aged would be kind;
However, see your search be legal
And your authority,—Is’t regal?
Else you are come on a fool’s errand,
With but a secretary’s warrant.
Besides, you promised me three warnings,
Which I have looked for nights and mornings;
But for that loss of time and ease
I can recover damages.
I know, cries Death, that at the best,
I seldom am a welcome guest;
But don’t be captious, friend, at least;
I little thought you’d still be able
To stump about your farm and stable;
Your years have run to a great length,
I wish you joy though of your strength.
Hold, says the farmer, not so fast,
I have been lame these four years past.
And no great wonder, Death replies;
However, you still keep your eyes,
And sure to see one’s loves and friends,
For legs and arms would make amends.
Perhaps, says Dobson, so it might,
But, latterly, I’ve lost my sight.
This is a shocking story, faith,
Yet there’s some comfort still, says Death;
Each strives your sadness to amuse,
I warrant you have all the news.
There’s none, cries he, and if there were,
I’ve grown so deaf, I could not hear.
Nay then, the spectre stern rejoined,
These are unjustifiable yearnings;
If you are lame and deaf and blind,
You’ve had your three sufficient warnings,
So come along, no more we’ll part:
He said, and touched him with his dart;
And now old Dobson, turning pale,
Yields to his fate,—so ends my tale.
  38
 

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