Turning Point | Story of Lord Gautama Buddha

Prince Siddharta Gautama Leaving Home

Both mother and father were at home on the following Wednesday. That day too they all lit the oil lamp in the name of the Buddha, offered flowers and joss sticks and worshipped the Buddha by pleasantly chanting the virtues of the Buddha. Then, they chanted Pirith. Finally, they meditated for a while. All are very happy when the day of Dharma discussion turns up.

“Father the other day mother explained to us how our Prince Siddhartha grew up in the royal palace.”

“Yes my son, today we will learn what happened after that. The Prince reached his young adult age and the royal family was searching for a suitable, beautiful royal Princess for him. Finally, the most beautiful Princess in India was selected to be his bride. She was Princess Yasodhara.

Prince Siddhartha had to display his talents and capabilities to the royal family of Princess Yasodhara. He exhibited his skills with the arrow, and in horse racing. Making everyone astonished the Prince demonstrated his unmatched abilities in swordsmanship. This royal wedding ceremony took place when they were quite young. Both Prince and Princess were only sixteen years old. The custom in India during that time , was to marry at a very young age. This tradition exists in India even today.

Even though Prince Siddhartha enjoyed, he never drank alcoholic beverages. Neither was he involved in gambling nor in hunting. he never approved of promiscuity. He lived a very honourable and righteous life. The Prince was very intelligent and kind.

Both Kapilavasthu kingdom and the adjacent Devdaha kingdom used the water of the river Rohini, which flows in between the two kingdoms, for their well being. The two kingdoms had even had wars when trying to share water of this river. And Prince Siddhartha had always settled the situation by explaining things and had avoided the wars. The Prince was always kind towards people.”

“In that case, could you tell us why our Prince Siddhartha became disheartened with the lay life?” Once again mother asked the father. Bimsara and Vishaka were listening with great interest.

“Yes! Well that is a very good question. That is the question which many people do not understand. But, if you think carefully you will understand.

King Suddhodana never liked the idea of Prince Siddhartha renouncing his lay life. Hence, he never let the Prince see any unpleasant things. Only beautiful and pleasant things were shown to the Prince. If an ordinary person experienced this kind of lavish lifestyle, he would certainly be addicted and would never become a person who could contemplate the reality of life.

But Prince Siddhartha was thinking about life deeper than anyone imagined. How people fight with each other and kill each other in wars. How people are filled with jealousy and greedily collect treasures. How they dream of living forever, trying to survive with deceit, slander and lie. Prince Siddhartha started to think about the meaning of life.”

“Father, what we have heard before was that the Prince Siddhartha became seriously disheartened after seeing the ‘four foresigns ’( satara pera nimithi ). Are you saying that the Prince did not see the four foretokens?” questioned Bimsara.

“Certainly he saw them son. Our Prince Siddhartha saw the four foretokens. Let me explain that a little. Let’s say, anyone of you or mother or myself falls sick, we would not be alarmed, we would regard it as something normal. But think about a day you visited the cancer hospital or any other hospital. We feel very disturbed and disheartened over our lives. Similarly, the person whom Prince Siddhartha saw on his way to the Royal Gardens was not an ordinary sick person.

This sick person’s body was covered with blisters, from cancer, all those blisters were ruptured, pus and blood oozing out. Flies were all over the body, he looked so deformed, it was hard to identify him as a human. So the Prince asked “ What is this? ”and found that it was a sick person. The Prince then asked whether everyone could fall sick like that. Who would not get scared from such a sight?

Next day he saw a very old person. He was crouched, the skin was wrinkled, his eyes oozed mucus. He had no teeth, and was dribbling. His hair looked like the tuft of a coconut. He was unable to move and lying in his own faeces and urine.

“Oh….Who is this?” asked the Prince. That was the first time the Prince saw such an old and scrawny person. When the Prince realized that life could be that decaying, he felt such disgust about his own body.

King Suddhodana had made all possible effort to make sure that the Prince should never hear about death. Neither had he allowed Prince Siddhartha to feel nor hear any suffering. But again on another day, while the Prince was going to the royal gardens, he saw something unusual. He spotted a group of people carrying something which was kept on a wooden plank. And lots of people were going behind that, weeping and moaning. Then the Prince asked “What are they carrying?” He learnt that it was a corpse. Only then did he realized that death was involved in this life. This sight will make no difference to a person who cannot contemplate deeply. But children..! Prince Siddhartha understood all. He realized that all those who are born are subject to death.

On those days when the Prince encountered the sick, the old and the dead, he did not go to the royal garden. He looked very sad. He appeared to be in deep thinking. All these were new to the Prince, and they gave food for thought. It was like a new page turned in his life for him to reassess.

Moreover my children, no recluses were allowed within the city of Kapilavastu Kingdom. The king Suddhodhana feared that the Prince should one day become a recluse. That’s why the King enforced this law. But one day, the Prince saw a recluse.

The recluse looked very calm, well disciplined and self controlled. His head was shaved. The eyes were cast down. He was wearing a robe and was on his way for alms with a bowl in his hands. He was peacefully walking, taking each step with such serenity. The Prince observed the recluse for a long time. He was attracted by this serene sight which he had never seen before. The Prince understood the meaning of the life of a recluse.

A recluse is a very independent person. He has no house of his own. He doesn’t have a family to care for and does not engage in earning money. He is content with what he receives. He lives with a very light heart, and he is as free as a bird. And a recluse’s life is so special, he is constantly in search for liberation from suffering. He is in search of liberation from the round of births. He is exploring how to prevail over this life of endless cycles of births and deaths.

So my children, our Prince felt very happy. He had seen many hermits and wrishis (special kind of hermits who are very knowledgeable and live in the Himalaya mountain range) in his life. But the Prince was deeply touched by the serene sight of this recluse. The Prince saw emptiness in the luxuries of the Royals and he realised that there is a greater meaning in the humble life of a recluse. Thereafter, children the image of that recluse occupied the mind of the Prince Siddhartha. “Yes, I too shall become a recluse” the Prince made a strong vow to himself.

But, from whom can he gain permission? Who will grant permission? No one agreed with his idea of becoming a monk. Why? Because the Royal family wanted Prince Siddhartha to become an Emperor. So who will allow the Prince to abandon royal life and be a monk?

After seeing the four great indications or four foresigns Prince Siddhartha was utterly distressed about the lay life. He was very unhappy. He was always in deep contemplation, and showed no interest in anything around him.

A full moon day dawned. That night too the Prince looked very sad. In order to make the Prince happy, the royal dance group staged beautiful dances. They sang melodious songs for his pleasure. They were dancing wearing beautiful delicate silk clothes and moving in harmony with the melody. But the Prince saw them as shadows. He saw no beauty in the dance. So he fell asleep. The dancers saw that the prince had lost interest in dancing and fallen asleep. They discussed secretly “There’s no point dancing. The Prince looks so tired, worried and not interested at all. Let us stop dancing and sleep”. And they all fell asleep in the same hall leaving their musical instruments aside.

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, Prince Siddhartha woke up. He looked around and found that the dancers were sleeping here and there. Some were groaning in sleep. Some were grinding their teeth in sleep. Some were coughing. Some were talking in sleep. For the Prince, it looked like a cemetery. He felt further disgust towards lay life.

Then my children, that night the Prince took a very firm decision. He called his charioteer Channa, and asked him to prepare the horse. Prince Siddhartha departed from the Royal palace with his horse Kanthaka and Channa that night, without informing anyone. Prince Siddhartha renounced his Royal lay life.”

“Father, the Prince jumped over the river Anoma on his way, didn’t he?”

“Very good Vishaka, you remembered the name of the river! But the Prince did not jump over the river Anoma, he just crossed it. But Vishaka, you may have seen the wall paintings in some of our temples, where the Prince is seated on Kanthaka and Channa is hanging onto its tail, and Kanthaka jumping over the river. That my children, is how the artists imagined it, not what really happened.

The rivers in India are very different from ours. Those are very wide, but not very deep. It is only during the rainy seasons that it is difficult to cross them. Other days, everyone walks across the rivers to cross them. The Prince left the palace on Esala full moon poya day. That means in the month of July. That was before the rainy season in India. The rainy season starts after the full moon Poya day in July in India.

So my children, that day the Prince, before his great renunciation, walked to the room of Princess Yasodhara. He moved the curtains and looked inside. Princess Yasodara was fast asleep. The small Prince Rahula was cuddled up to her. Prince Siddhartha wanted to cuddle the beautiful Prince Rahula. But instantly, Prince Siddhartha thought that if Princess Yasodhara wakes up, he will fail in leaving the palace on his great mission. Hence, he left without telling her. It is not because he did not love them. It is purely because of his love for all humans that he decided to leave and find an end to all sufferings.

How many fathers and mothers in this country leave their small children behind and go abroad for employment? They do so to make their children’s lives better. Prince Siddhartha left for a greater mission. He left the palace in search of consolation, to find liberty from suffering for all beings in the world. And he returned to the palace as the Buddha to give the liberty he gained to everyone in the palace. Princess Yasodhara and Prince Rahula too found the ultimate liberation. Hence, Prince Siddhartha’s great renunciation from lay life is admired as a distinguished achievement by the entire world. It is because of that the world was endowed with a Samma Sambuddha.