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A Young People's
Life of the Buddha

Bhikkhu Silacara

Chapter I


In times long past, fully twenty-five hundred years ago, where are now the border-lands between Nepal and the northern parts of the provinces of Oudh and North Bihar, there were a number of little kingdoms inhabited by different races of people, each ruled over by its own Raja or King. One of these little kingdoms which lay some distance north of the present-day town of Gorakhpore, on the north side of the river Rapti, was the land of a race called the Sakyas, the king who ruled over them at that time being called Suddhodana. The family to which King Suddhodana of the Sakyas belonged was called the Gotama family, so that his full name was King Suddhodana Gotama; and the name of the chief city in his kingdom where he had his chief palace, was Kapilavatthu.

This King Suddhodana had a chief queen whose name was Mahamaya. And after they had lived together for some time in married happiness, the Queen became aware that the day was drawing near when she should bring forth a child. So, before time came upon her, she asked her husband to give her leave to go and pay a visit to her own people who belonged to a city not very far away called Devadaha. King Suddhodana very willingly granted his chief Queen her wish, and sent out his men with orders to prepare the way for her, and do everything needed to make the journey to her father's house a pleasant and comfortable one for her.

Now half way between Kapilavatthu and the town of Devadaha there was a very fine forest garden called Lumbini where the people of both places used to go in the hot weather to enjoy the cool shade of the great Sal trees of which there were many in the grove. Here in the month of May, these great trees were covered from top to bottom with lovely blossoms. In among their long branches flew many kinds of birds singing their sweetest songs so that the whole air was full of the sound of their warbling. And over and through the myriads of flowers, swarms of bees went cheerfully humming, busily gathering honey on every hand.

When, as her bearers carried her along the road to Devadaha in her royal litter, Queen Mahamaya came to this pleasant place, she thought she would like to rest there a while in the cool shade for it was a hot day, and so she told her bearers to carry her in among the trees. But she had not been there long, walking about and enjoying the pleasing sights and sounds all round her, when suddenly and unexpectedly the pangs of child-birth came upon her, and in a little while, there in the Lumbini Grove, under the Sal trees, among the birds and bees and flowers, she brought forth a son.

The place where this Lumbini Grove stood at that far off time can still be seen to-day. For a great king called Asoka, who ruled over a large part of India about three or four hundred years after King Suddhodana's time, caused a tall pillar to be set up in the forest-garden where thus was born the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of Kapilavatthu, in order to mark the place; and on it he had a writing carved in deep-cut letters which can still be read, saying that he had put it there in order that men in the future should know where the great event had taken place. And although in the course of the two thousand and more years that have passed since King Asoka set up this pillar, the upper half of it has been broken off, and the half that is left leans all on one side, it still stands to this day in the place where King Asoka put it with his inscription on it for any one to see. And many people go to see it every day.

Now on the hills outside Kapilavatthu there lived many hermits; and among them there was one old hermit whom every one in Kapilavatthu admired and esteemed for his goodness, King Suddhodana himself being especially fond of him and showing his esteem and affection for him in many ways. This old hermit, when he heard that his great friend the King now had a little son, came down to the King's palace in the city to see the babe; and when he had come, the King asked him to give the babe his blessing, and, as he made his request, he held the infant out toward the hermit in a posture of doing homage to the old man. But the hermit said:

"Nay, Maharaja, it is not your son who should bow his head to me, but I who ought to bow my head before your son. For I see well that he is no ordinary child. I see well that as he grows up to manhood's years he will become a very great religious teacher. Yes, I believe he will become the greatest religious teacher the world has yet seen."

Having said this, the old man sat silent for a little while smiling to himself with a pleased and happy look. Then his eyes slowly filled with tears and he began to weep, the tears trickling down his cheeks.

"Why!" said the King in great bewilderment and some alarm, "What is the matter with you? Just a moment ago you were smiling and now you are weeping. Is anything wrong? Do you foresee some evil thing that is going to happen to my boy?"

"No, no, Maharaja," said the hermit, "do not be alarmed. No evil thing will ever come near your son. All-prosperous shall be his name, and all-prosperous he will be."

"Then why do you weep?" asked the King.

"I weep," said the hermit, "to think that I am now so old I must soon pass away, and I shall not live to see your son become the great teacher I know he one day will be. You Maharaja, will live to see that great and happy day, and so will many another person now alive, but I shall not live to see it. That, Maharaja, is why I cannot help weeping."

With these words the old man rose from his seat, and putting his two hands together, palm to palm, be bowed down before the little infant.

King Suddhodana was very much astonished at all the hermit had said and to see him bowing down his old grey head before the little baby; but he thought so much of him that he felt that he himself must do the same as the hermit had done, so he too bowed down and with folded hands, did obeisance to his own baby son.

Now in India in those days, it was the custom when a boy-baby was born, to gather together the wise men, and on the fifth day after the boy's birth, to bathe his head and give him the name that had been chosen for him by the wise men. And this was done with King Suddhodana's son also. The name the wise men chose for him was Siddhattha, a word which means all-prosperous or all-successful, one who will prosper or succeed in everything he sets out to do. For they said they could see that this boy was not going to be like any ordinary boy. They said they could see that if he followed the ordinary life of the world and in due time became king like his father before him, then he would become a very great king indeed. But, they said, if he did not follow his father on the throne of his country but instead turned to follow the religious life, then he would become a very great religious teacher. One of the wise men, however, spoke a little differently from the others. He said that he, for his part, was quite sure that when the boy grew up he would be certain not to follow the worldly life and take his father's place, but would leave throne and kingdom and everything behind him, and following the religious life, become the very greatest religious teacher in the world. This particular wise man thus said the very same thing that the old hermit had said about the boy's future.

The king, of course, was very much pleased that so many people, and these the wisest and most learned in his kingdom, should think that his little son was going to grow up to be a very great man. But he was not so highly pleased at the thought that he might not follow him upon the throne, but only become a great hermit. He wanted his son to grow up living the ordinary life of the world that every body lives; he wanted him to marry and get children; and when he himself was too old to govern the kingdom any longer he wanted to see his son mount the throne after him and rule the people as he had done, wisely and well. "And then, after a time," he thought to himself, "who knows? Perhaps my son may, become as great a king as any that have ever been, and rule, not only over little Kapilavatthu, but over the whole of India!" Thus did King Suddhodana consider within himself; and the bare thought of such a thing happening to a son of his filled him with the greatest delight; and he resolved to do all in his power to make sure that Siddhattha should live the ordinary worldly life and never think about anything else.

But in the meantime he had cause to be anxious about something else. Ever since she had given birth to Siddhattha, Queen Mahamaya had been ill. She had never recovered her former strength. She received all the best care that a queen could get, all the best doctors, all the most skilled attendants and nurses, but in spite of everything she died just two days after the day on which her baby had been given his name, and seven days after she had brought him into the world. Every one, especially her husband the king, grieved very much at her death, for she had been a good woman and a good queen beyond most women and queens. So now the sorrowful king had to give his motherless baby into the care of his mother's sister, Princess Mahapajapati, and she took care of him now and brought him up just as if he had been her own son. Thus the little boy Siddhattha never knew his own real mother.

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Chapter II


The old hermit and the wise men who gathered together on Siddhattha's name-giving day had agreed in saying that King Suddhodana's son was no ordinary boy, and their words were very soon proved true. After being brought up under the kind care of his aunt Mahapajapati who nursed and attended to her dead sister's child as if he had been her own, until he reached the age of eight years, teachers then were got for the young prince in order that he might learn reading and writing and arithmetic. Under these teachers' instructions he quickly learned all each had to teach in his own subject. Indeed, he learned so quickly and well that every one was astonished, his teachers and his father and foster-mother as well, at the rapid progress he made. For no matter what subject he was being taught, as soon as he was told anything, at once his mind took hold of what he was told and he never again forgot it, in this way showing himself particularly apt at arithmetic. Thus it was easily seen by all that as regarded the power of his mind he was well endowed, indeed, very much beyond the common. Yet with all his so superior ability in learning, and the high position he held in the country as the heir to the throne, he never failed to show to his teachers that respect which a pupil always should show, seeing that it is through them they gain. The prince was always gentle and dignified in his usual bearing towards every one about him, and towards his teachers in particular, ever modest and deferent and respectful.

In bodily attainments also, he was no less well endowed than he was in mind and character. Notwithstanding the gentleness of his manners, notwithstanding that he was a gentle man in the very best sense of the words, he was bold and fearless in the practice of all the manly sports of his country. He was a cool and daring horseman and an able and skillful chariot-driver in this latter sport winning many chariot races against the best drivers in the country. Yet for all his keenness in trying to win a race, he was kind and compassionate towards the horses who helped him to win so often, and frequently would let a race be lost rather than urge his weary, panting horses beyond their strength. And not only towards his horses but towards all creatures he seemed to have a heart full of tenderness and compassion. He was a king's son and had never himself had to suffer hardship or distress, yet in his kind heart he seemed to know by sympathy how others felt when they were afflicted or in pain, whether these others were men or animals; and when he was quite to others as far as he could {sic}, and where it was possible, tried to relieve any suffering they already were enduring.

Thus, once when he was out walking in the country with his cousin Devadatta who had his bow and arrows with him, Devadatta shot a swan that was flying over their head. His arrow hit the swan and it fluttered down, painfully wounded, to the ground. Both boys ran forward to pick it up, but Siddhattha reached it first and holding it gently, he pulled the arrow out of its wing, put some cool leaves on the wound to stop it from bleeding, and with his soft hand stroked and soothed the hurt and frightened bird. But Devadatta was very much annoyed to see his cousin take the swan from him in this way, and he called to Siddhattha to give the swan to him because he had brought it down with his arrow. Siddhattha, however, refused to give it to him, saying that if the bird had been killed, then it would have been his; but as it was alive and not dead, it belonged to the one who actually secured possession of it, and so he meant to keep it. But still Devadatta maintained that it should belong to him because it was his arrow that had brought it down to the ground.

So Siddhattha proposed and Devadatta agreed that their dispute should be sent for settlement to a full council of the wise men of the country. The council, accordingly, was called and the question put before them; and some in the council argued one way and some the other; some said the bird should be Devadatta's, and others said that Siddhattha was quite right to keep it. But at last one man in the council whom nobody had ever seen before rose and said: "A life certainly must belong to him who tries to save it; a life cannot belong to one who is only trying to destroy it. The wounded bird by right belongs to the one who saved its life. Let the swan be given to Siddhattha." All the others in the council agreed with these wise words, and Prince Siddhattha was allowed to keep the swan whose life he thus had saved. And he cared for it tenderly until it was quite cured of its wound; then he set it free and let it fly back once more well and happy to its mates on the forest-lake.

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Chapter III


In those days in India everybody knew that everything man needs for his life comes out of the ground, and that, therefore, the man who cultivates the ground and makes it bring forth food without which men cannot live at all, is the man who does the most useful and necessary work in any nation. So, once a year it was the custom in those days for the king of the country himself, along with his ministers, to go out to the fields and with his own royal hands, plow a field, and so set an example to all his people not to be ashamed of honest, honorable labor.

And one day in the spring, at the beginning of the plowing season, King Suddhodana went out from Kapilavatthu in full regal state, to carry through this yearly observance of the "Royal Plowing," as it was called. And all the people of the city went out after him, for this was their great annual holiday festival, in order to see their King plowing and to share in the feasting and merry-making that always followed. And the King took his young son with him out to the fields, and leaving him in the care of some attendants, he went to the plowing place and taking hold of the shafts of his own plow which was all decorated with gold, he plowed up and down the fallow field, followed by his ministers with their plows and oxen ornamented with silver, the ordinary farmers coming last with their common plows and yokes of oxen, all of them turning over the rich, fat, brown soil so that it might be made ready for the seed.

After a time, when the feasting began, Prince Suddhodana's attendants went off to share in it; and by and by all of them had gone away, quite forgetting the young prince, and leaving him alone by himself. Then, seeing himself thus left alone, the prince felt rather pleased, for already he was a thoughtful boy, and he wanted to get a chance to think quietly about what he had seen on this day of feasting and rejoicing, so he wandered away quietly by himself till he came to a nice, shady apple tree, and there he sat down and began to turn everything over in his mind.

First, so his thoughts ran, there was his father the king and all his ministers and the cultivators after them, plowing the land, and all were very happy and pleased looking; but he had noticed that the oxen did not look as if they were very happy. They had to pull their very hardest to make the plow go through the tough, turfy soil; they had to tug and strain at it till they were all perspiring and panting for breath. Evidently life was not easy for them, not even on a holiday like this when everybody else was making merry. They had to work hard; and often when they did not do exactly as their masters wished, they had to take harsh words and harsher blows. And young Prince Siddhattha thought that even amid the pleasures of a great holiday, there is always something that is not so pleasant.

And then from under his apple tree he looked at the movements of the birds and beasts and insects around him, and he noticed a lizard ran out near his feet and with its quick, darting tongue begin to lick up and eat the little, harmless, busy ants. And then, in a little while, a sly snake came along and caught the lizard in its jaws and swallowed it. And then a hawk swooped down from the sky and picked up and killed and devoured the snake. And again the prince began to think deeply and ask himself if it really was so, that all the prettiness and beauty of the shows of life have all got some thing at the back of them that is not pretty and beautiful at all. In all his own young life yet, he himself had not suffered anything, but as he looked round him now and pondered on what he saw, he perceived that there was a good deal of suffering going on all the time for somebody or something, even though he himself happened to be free from it. And he sat there intently until he became so wrapt up in his thoughts that he forgot everything else, forgot all about the day's festival, and his father, and the plowing, and everything.

In the meantime the "Royal Plowing" was done, and the feasting that followed it was all over. But when the young prince's attendants came back to where they had left him, they could not find him; he was not there. Very much frightened, they started looking for him everywhere, for soon his father the king would be asking for him in order to take him home with him. At last, they found him sitting as quiet and still as a stone statue under his apple tree, so completely absorbed in his thoughts that at first he did not know they were speaking to him. But when at length they succeeded in making him understand that his father was calling for him, that the hour was getting late and it was time to go home, then he rose and went back with them to his father; but all the way home his heart and thoughts were filled with pity and concern for all living things that love their lives so much, and yet find it so hard to live.

But the king was far from pleased to find that his son was beginning so early to think seriously about life and what it really means. He began very much to fear that what the old hermit had said was already beginning to come true, that his son's thoughts already were turning in the direction of the religious life, and that if they were not soon turned away from it, what he was so much afraid of would come to pass, and Siddhattha would leave his father's house, and he would have no son left to follow him on the throne of the country. So he resolved at once to do something to turn his son's mind away from such serious thoughts. He resolved to make life in every possible way so pleasant and comfortable for his son that in his own pleasure and enjoyment, he would stop thinking so much about how other beings fared in life.

So he ordered his workmen to build three splendid palaces for his son. The first one was built of good, stout blocks of wood outside, and lined inside with fine, sweet-smelling cedar. In this warm, comfortable palace, he meant his son to live during the cold winter season. The second palace was built of cool, polished marble, so as to be nice and pleasant to live in during the hot season when everything outside was burning in the hot sun. And the third palace was built of good hard bricks and had a roof of blue tiles on it to keep out the heavy monsoon rains. In this last palace the king meant his son to pass the rainy season safe from its damp and chills. Round each of these palaces, also, he caused to be laid out a splendid pleasure-garden planted with every kind of shady and flowering tree, with many ponds and running streams in it where there grew lotuses of all colors, so that the prince might be able to go out walking or riding in it when he chose, and always find coolness and shade and flowering beauty wherever he looked.

But all these pleasant things, palaces, gardens, ponds, walks and rides, and the hosts of pleasant companions that were provided along with them, were all of no use to stop the young prince from thinking. And the king saw this. He saw that all he had contrived to turn his son's thoughts towards his own pleasure only, had completely failed, and he called his ministers to him and asked them what else he could do to make sure that the old hermit's prophecy should not come true.

His ministers replied that, in their opinion, the best way to occupy a young man's mind so that he would not think about such things as leaving the worldly life, would be to get him married to a nice, pretty young wife. Then, so they said, he would be so taken up with her that he would have no time or inclination to think of anything else; and in due time, when his father wished it, he would take his place on the throne in the regular way, and live in the world just like everybody else.

This seemed to the king to be very good advice; but how could he make sure of getting for his son a wife so lovely and attractive that once he was married he would be completely to her, altogether charmed with her loveliness, and henceforth live with no other object but to make her perfectly happy?

After considering the matter for some time, the king hit upon a good plan. He sent out an order that all the most beautiful maidens in the country were to come to Kapilavathu on a certain day and pass before Prince Siddhattha in order that he might say which of them was the most beautiful and give her a prize for her beauty; while each of the others who came and showed themselves would receive, each one, a gift from the hand of the Prince, great or small, according as he thought her to come near or fall below the chief of them all in beauty.

Now when King Suddhodana gave this order, he also arranged that some of his ministers should keep a close watch on his son as the procession of beautiful maidens passed before him, and if they saw him show any sign of special pleasure when any particular maiden came forward to receive her gift, then they were to take note who she was and come and let him know.

So the day came for the beauty competition, and all the fairest, most beautiful girls in the kingdom passed in a brilliant, dazzling procession of loveliness before the prince, one after another, and each received from his hands the gift which he thought her beauty deserved. But instead of being pleased thus to come close and touch the hand of their sovereign's son, each girl seemed to be almost afraid as she approached him, and glad, when, having got her gift, she was at liberty to pass on and run back among her companions again.

And there was a good reason for their behaving in this unusual way. For this prince of theirs was not at all like any other young man they knew. He did not seem to be looking at them, or indeed, thinking of them at all! He handed each girl her gift, but he seemed to be thinking of something else altogether, something great and solemn it seemed, far far beyond their smiling faces and dainty ways. Indeed, some of them said that as he sat there on his prince's throne, he seemed to them to be more like a god than a human being. And the ministers who, by the king's command, were watching him, felt almost afraid at the thought that they would have to go back and tell King Suddhodana that his and their plan had failed, that his son had not shown the least pleasure at the sight of a single one of all the beauties who had passed before him. For now nearly all the girls had passed, nearly all the prizes had been given away, and the prince still sat there unmoved, his mind evidently far away from this scene of delight for everybody else, this gay procession of one beauty after another.

But now, just as the last girl took the last prize from the prince's hand, and curtsied and passed on, there came along hastily, a little late, one more girl; and those who were watching the prince noticed that he gave a little start as she drew near. The girl too on her part, instead of passing him with her eyes timidly turned on the ground as all the other girls before her had done, looked Prince Siddhattha straight in the face, and with a smile asked "Is there no gift left for me, too?"

"Sorry am I," said the prince smiling back to her, "that all the gifts I had to give out are finished but take this." And with that he took a string of splendid jewels from his neck and clasped them round the girl's waist.

Then the king's ministers, when they saw this, were very glad; and after they had found out that the name of this young girl who had come last, was Yasodhara, and had learned where her father Suppabuddha lived, they went back to king and told him all about it; and they very next day the king sent off messengers to Suppabuddha, asking that his daughter Yasodhara might be given in marriage to Prince Siddhattha.

Now it was the custom among the Sakya people who were a strong, vigorous, mountain folk, that when any young man wanted to marry, he first must show himself as clever and skillful in horse-riding, shooting with the bow and arrow, and wielding the sword, as any other young man in the kingdom; and Prince Siddhattha, although he was the heir to the throne, had to follow this custom just the same as every other young man.

So one day there came to the //maidan// of Kapilavatthu, all the strongest and cleverest young men of the Sakya kingdom, all the best horsemen and archers and swordsmen. And each of them before the assembled crowd of ministers and people, showed what he could do with horse, with bow and arrow and with sword. And Prince Siddhattha, mounted on his white horse Kanthaka, showed what he could do, also; and in the contest with the others he showed that he was as good as, and even better than, the best in the country.

At shooting with the bow and arrow, he sent an arrow farther than the young man who up till then had been considered the best archer in the kingdom, his own cousin Devadatta.

At the exercise or test with the sword, he cut a young, growing tree through so neatly and cleanly at one stroke, that after his sword had passed through it, it still remained standing for several moments, so that those who were judging the contest at first thought it had not been cut through at all. But then there came a puff of wind, and the tree fell over to the ground, and everybody saw that it had been cut through as smooth and even as a piece of butter. At this test, Prince Siddhattha beat his own half-brother Nanda, who, so everybody thought, could not be beaten at swordsmanship by anyone in the country.

The next test was in horse-racing; and on his fast white horse Kanthaka, Prince Siddhattha easily left all the others behind. But they were not satisfied to see him win this test so easily. They said: "O, if we had a swift horse like that to ride, we could win a race to. This is only the merit of the horse; it is not the merit of the man. But we have here a wild, black stallion which has never yet allowed any man to get on his back. Let us now see which of us can mount him and stay on his back longest."

So all the youths tried hard, one after another, to catch hold of the stallion and swing himself on to its back, but all of them were flung to the ground by the proud, fierce animal, until it came to the turn of Arjuna, the best rider in the kingdom. After a little struggle, this Arjuna managed to get on the stallion's back and stay there while he whipped it once round the race-course. Then, before anybody knew what it was going to do, the savage animal bent its head round quickly, and catching Arjuna by the foot with its big strong teeth, it pulled him by main force out of the saddle and dashed him to the ground, and if some of the syces had not run forward quickly and dragged him away, while others beat off the stallion, it would have trampled Arjuna to death. Then it Siddhattha's turn to try to ride the stallion, and everybody thought he would be sure to be killed, since Arjuna the best rider in the country had just missed being killed by it. But Prince Siddhattha just walked quietly up to the stallion, laid one hand on its neck and the other on its nose as he spoke a few soft, gentle words to it; then he patted it on its sides, and to the surprise of everybody, it stood still and allowed the prince to mount it and ride backward and forward just as he wished, subdued entirely to his will. It was the first time anybody had come near it who was not afraid of it and did not want to beat it, but instead spoke and acted kindly to it; and in its surprise at this new kind of treatment, the stallion allowed the prince who was neither afraid of, nor angry at, it, to do as he pleased with it.

Then every one admitted that Prince Siddhattha was the best horseman in the kingdom, too, and well worthy to be the husband of so fair a maiden as beautiful Yasodhara. And Suppabuddha, Yasodhara's father, also agreed that this was so, and he willingly gave his daughter as wife to so handsome and manly a young prince. And so Prince Siddhattha was married amid scenes of great rejoicing to beautiful Yasodhara, and went with her to live in a new and splendid palace which the king had caused to be built for them, surrounded by everything delightful and pleasing that any young man's heart could desire.

And now King Suddhodana was beginning to feel satisfied that his son would no longer think about giving up his chance of getting a throne and becoming a religious man. But in order to make quite sure that his thoughts would never turn in this direction, the king ordered that nobody about the prince, none of his servants or attendants within the palace walls or grounds, were ever to speak a single word about such things as old age, or sickness, or death. They were always to act as if there were no such unpleasant things in the world.

More than that. The king sent away from his son's palace all the servants and attendants who showed the least sign of getting old or weak or sickly. He arranged that there should be nobody in the palace and the gardens round it but young, happy, pleasant, smiling people. Those who happened to fall ill were at once taken away and not allowed to come back until they were perfectly well again. The king also gave strict orders that no one when at the princes' presence, was to show any sign of weariness or sadness. Everybody round him was required to be cheerful and merry and bright all day long. And at night too, when his attendants danced and sang before the prince, they were never to show any signs of weariness or fatigue with their exertions. In short: King Suddhodana tried so to arrange everything and everybody around the prince that he should not know or even suspect that there was anything else in the world but smiles and laughter and joyous, happy youth. For, to complete his arrangements, he caused a high wall to be build round the prince's palace and gardens, and gave strict command to the keepers of the gates that on no account were they to allow the prince to pass outside.

In these ways did King Suddhodana think to make sure that his son would never come to see anything but the pleasing sight of youth and beauty, never hear anything but the pleasant sounds of songs and laughter, and so be content to live as his father had done before him, and never wish to become a religious ascetic, or seek any other higher good than the life of a King's favorite son.

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Chapter IV


But in spite of all the luxury with which he was surrounded, and the pains that were taken too keep from him anything that might make him think the least unhappy thought, the young prince Siddhattha did not feel altogether as happy as his father wished him to feel. He wanted to know what lay outside these palace walls he was never allowed to pass. To distract his attention from any such questions about the outside world, his father planned new festivals and merrymakings of all kinds; but it was all of no use. The prince continued to become more and more dissatisfied with his shut-in life. He wanted to see more of the world than was contained within his own palace and pleasuregrounds, even though the life he led there was full of delights. He wanted to see how other people who were not princes, lived their lives, and told his father again and again that he could not be really happy until he had seen this. Until a day came when the king annoyed by his continual request to be allowed to go outside the palace grounds, could refuse his wish no longer, and said to him: "Very well, my son. You shall go outside the palace walls and see how our people live; but first I must prepare things so that everything may be made fit and proper for my noble son's eyes to look at."

So the king sent out his messengers through the city to tell the people that on a certain day his son was coming out to see the city; and that everybody must hang flags and banners and gay bunting out of all their windows, and clean up their houses and paint them afresh, and put flowers over their doors and in front of them, and make everything as bright and gay as they possibly could. He also gave strict orders that nobody was to show himself in the streets who had anything in the least the matter with him. Nobody who was blind or lame or sick in any way, no old folk and no lepers were to appear in the streets of the city anywhere that day, but all such people must stay at home indoors all the time the prince was riding through the streets. Only the young, the strong, the healthy and happy looking people were to come out and give the prince a welcome to the city. Orders were also given that on this day no dead were to be carried through the streets on their way to the burning place, but all dead bodies were to be kept till the next day.

And the people did as the king commanded them. They swept all the streets and watered them to keep the dust from rising. They put new coats of whitewash on their houses and made them bright with wreaths and festoons of flowers hung in front of their doors. They hung streamers of many colored cloth from the trees that grew along the road by which the prince would come. In short, they did all they could think of to make their city look to the eyes of their prince as if it were not a city of this world at all but one of the cities of the gods in the heaven worlds.

Then when everything was all ready, Prince Siddhattha came forth from his palace and, mounting his splendid car, passed slowly through all the streets of the city, looking everywhere about him, and everywhere seeing nothing but the glad, smiling faces of the people, all pleased to see their prince come among them, some of the crowd standing and shouting as he passed: "Victory, victory to our Prince!" while others ran in front of his chariot throwing flowers before the horses' feet. And the king, as he saw how well the people had obeyed his commands, felt highly pleased, and thought that now that his son had seen the city, and had seen nothing but what was pleasant and happy-looking, now surely he would feel more contented in mind, and once for all give up his brooding thoughts.

And then, suddenly, all that he had planned so well was completely spoiled, all his hopes and desires for his son brought to nothing. From a little hut by the roadside before any one could prevent him, there tottered out a man, with grey hair and nothing on him but a few wretched rags. His face was all withered and wrinkled, his eyes dim and bleary, there were no teeth in his mouth. And as he learned, trembling and half doubled up, on a staff, he had to hold it hard with his two skinny hands to save himself from falling. Then dragging himself along the street and paying no attention to the scenes of rejoicing all round him, he let a few, weak, stammering sounds come from between his pale lips. He was begging the people to give him something to eat or else he would die that very day.

Of course everybody round him was very angry at him for daring to come out of his house on this day when the king's son was visiting the city for the first time, and the king had commanded that people like him were not to show themselves in the street, and they tried to drive him back into his house before the prince should see him. But they were not quick enough. Prince Siddhattha saw the man, and he was horrified at the sight. He hardly knew what he was looking at.

"What is that, Channa?" he hurriedly said to his favorite attendant at his elbow. "Surely that cannot be a man! Why is he all bent? Why does he not stand up straight like you and me? What is he trembling for? Why is his hair that strange colour and not black like mine? What is wrong with his eyes? Where are his teeth? Is this how some men are born? Tell me, good Channa, what does this mean?"

Then Channa spoke to his master and said:

"My Prince, this man is what is called an old man. He was not born like this. He was born like everybody else, and at one time, when he was young, he was straight and strong and black-haired and clear-eyed. But now he has been a long time in the world, and so he has become like this. Do not concern yourself about him, my Prince. This is just old age."

"What do you mean, Channa?" said the Prince. "Do you mean that this is quite common? Do you mean that everybody who has been a long time in the world becomes like this? Surely no! I never saw anything like this before. Old age! What is old age?"

"My Prince," said Channa, the charioteer, "every one in the world who lives a long time becomes just like this man."

"Everybody, Channa? You? I? My father? My wife? Shall we all become like this and have no teeth or black hair, and be bowed and trembling, and have to lean on a stick when we want to move about instead of standing up straight?"

"Yes, my Prince," said Channa. "Everybody in the world, if they live long enough, become just like this man. It cannot be stopped. It is old age."

Then Prince Siddhattha ordered Channa to drive him home again at once. He did not want to see any more of the city that day. He could not take any more pleasure in the sight of the laughing crowds and the gaily decorated streets. He wanted to get away by himself and think about this terrible thing he had just heard for the first time, that he, a prince, heir to a throne, he and everybody he loved, one day must grow weak and feeble and have no more joy in living because they would be old, and there was nothing that could stop this from happening to them, no matter who they were, no matter how rich and great and powerful.

And when he got home to his palace, although his servants set out before him a royal feast of everything delightful to eat, he could not eat, for he was thinking all the time: "Some day I will grow old." And then, when the dishes he had hardly tasted were taken away, and the dancers and singers came before him to try to please him with their songs and dances, he hardly could bear to look at their graceful poses or listen to their instruments and voices, for he was thinking: "Some day you will all grow old, every one of you, even the prettiest." And when at length he had sent them all away, and lay down to rest, he could not sleep, but lay awake all night thinking of himself and his beautiful wife Yasodhara, and how that one day they would both grow grey and wrinkled and toothless and ugly like that man he had seen to-day in the streets of the city, and have no more pleasure in one another. And as he thought of this, he began to wonder if out of all the millions and millions of men in the world somebody or another among them all had not found some way of escaping this terrible thing, old age. More than that; he began to wonder if, supposing he tried, tried very hard, stopped trying to do anything else, and gave all his thoughts and energies to this one thing, might he not himself find out such a way for the benefit of himself and Yasodhara and his father and everybody in the world?

Of course the King was told about what had happened, and was very much distressed to hear it. And he, to, lay awake all that night trying to think of some new pleasures with which to distract his son's attention from these thoughts which, if they were not soon stopped, would surely lead him to leave his home behind and go and live the lonely life of a religious hermit or wanderer. And the King did devise and offer his son new pleasures, but it was all useless. The young Prince refused them. Instead, he pleaded with his father that he might be allowed to go out and visit the city another time without any one being told that he was coming, so that he might be able to see it just as everybody else saw it, following its usual every-day life.

As first King Suddhodana was very unwilling to give his son his wish, for he feared now more than ever, that if once Siddhattha saw the kind of life that is lived by people who are not fortunate enough to be king's or rich men's sons, but have to earn all they get by the sweat of their brow, then the old hermit's prophecy would come true, and Siddhattha would not succeed him on his throne. However, he knew quite well, that having seen so much, his son would never be happy again until he had seen more, whatever the result might be. So once more, though very unwillingly, he gave permission for his son to leave the palace and see the life of the city; and once more Prince Siddhattha went forth beyond the walls that were meant to shut out from him all knowledge of any unpleasant thing. This time, so that the people would not know him as he passed among them, he did not go out dressed like a prince, and nobody was told he was coming. This time, too, he went on foot, not in his chariot, and dressed just like a young man of good family. And nobody went with him but Channa, he also in a dress different from his ordinary one, so that the people would not know him either, and through him, recognize his master.

No huzza-ing crowds, no flower-decked houses, no waving flags did the eyes of the young Prince look upon this time, but just the ordinary sights of a city full of common folk all busy about the various occupations by which men earn their bread. Here a blacksmith was perspiring over his anvil as he hammered and beat out a plowshare or a sickle or a cart-wheel tire. There, in a richer quarter, in their little shops sat the jewelers and goldsmiths, cunningly fitting jewels and precious stones into chasings of silver and gold, skillfully fashioning out of the yellow metal, necklaces and bangles and anklets. There, in another street, the dyers were hanging out to dry in long lines, lengths of newly dyed brilliantly colored cloths, blue and rose-red and green, and many another pretty colour, that one day would drape the form of beauty making it yet more beautiful. And there, too, were the bakers busily baking their cakes and serving them out to customers waiting to get and eat them while they were yet fresh and warm from the baking. At these and similar sights the young Prince now looked with the keen interest of one who had never seen such sights before; and his heart found pleasure in seeing how busy every one seemed, and so interested and seemingly contented and happy in their work. And then, again, something happened that spoiled all his pleasure in this day of new and interesting sights, and sent the Prince home a second time, sad and sorrowful at heart.

For as he was passing along one of the streets with Channa, a little way behind him, he heard a cry as of some one calling for help. He looked around to see what was the matter, and there on the ground near him he saw a man lying twisting his body about in the dust in a very strange way. And all over his face and his body there were ugly looking purple blotches, and his eyes were rolling queerly in his head, and he gasped for breath as he tried to get on to his feet; and every time he got up a little way, he fell helplessly down again.

In the kindness of his heart the Prince at once ran forward to the man and picked him up, and resting his head on his knee, tried to comfort the man, asking him what was wrong with him, and why he did not stand up. The man tried to speak but he could not. He had no breath left for speaking; he could only moan.

"You, Channa," said the Prince to his servant who had now come up to him, "tell my why this man is like this. What is the matter with his breath? Why does he not answer me?"

"O, my Prince," cried Channa, "do not hold the man like that. This man is ill. His blood is poisoned. He has the plague-fever, and it is burning him up so that he cannot do anything but just draw hard breath until his breath too is burnt up by the fever."

"But are there any other men who become like this? Might I become like this?" the Prince asked Channa.

"Indeed you may, my Prince. If you hold the man so close as that. Pray put him down and do not touch him, or the plague will come out from him and go into you, and then you will become the same as he is."

"Are there any other bad things that come on men besides this plague, Channa?"

"Yes, my Prince, there are others, many many others, of many different kinds, and all of them painful, as this is."

"And can no one help it? Does sickness like this come on men without their knowing it, by surprise?"

"Yes, Prince, that is what it does. Nobody knows what day he may fall ill like this. It may happen at any time to anybody."

"To anybody, Channa? To Princes, too? To me?"

"Yes, even to you, my Prince."

"Then everybody in the world must be afraid all the time, since nobody knows when he goes to bed at night, if he may not awake in the morning ill like this poor man?"

"That is so, my Prince. No one in the world knows what day he may fall ill, and after much suffering, die."

"Die! That is a strange word! What is 'die,' Channa?"

"Look, my Prince," said Channa.

The Prince looked where Channa pointed, and saw a little crowd of people coming along the street weeping, while behind them came four men carrying on a board a terribly lean-looking man who lay there flat and still, his cheeks fallen in, his mouth set in a strangely ugly grin, but never turning, never saying anything in complaint to those who were carrying him when they gave him a hard jolt on his hard board as they stumbled over a stone in their way. The Prince looked after the little crowd as it passed him wondering why they were all crying, and why the man on the board did not tell those who were carrying him to be more careful and not shake him so much. And when they had gone a little further, to his astonishment, he saw the man's bearers lay him on a pile of wood, and then put a light to the wood so that it blazed up in a fierce flame, and still the man did not move, though the flames were licking all round his head and feet.

"But what is this, Channa? Why does that man lie there so still and let these people burn him? Why does he not get up and run away?" asked the Prince in horror and bewilderment.

"My Prince," said Channa, "that man has died. He has feet but he cannot run with them. He has eyes but they do not see anything now. He has ears but he will never hear anything with them again. He cannot feel anything any more, neither heat nor cold, neither fire nor frost. He does not know anything any more. He is dead."

"Dead, Channa? Is this what it means to be dead? And I -- shall I too, a king's son, one day be dead like this? And my father, and Yasodhara, and every one I know -- shall we, every one of us, some day lie dead like that poor man on that pile of burning wood?"

"Yes, my Prince," said Channa. "Everybody who is alive must some day die. There is no help for it. There is nothing more sure and certain. No one can stop death from coming."

The Prince was struck dumb. He could say no more. It seemed to him such a terrible thing that there should be no way of escape from this devouring monster death who ate up everybody, even kings and the sons of kings. He turned home in silence, and going to his room in the palace, sat there by himself thinking and brooding hour after hour about what he had seen that day.

"But this is awful," said the Prince to himself as he sat pondering alone. "Every single person in the world must some day die, and there is no help for it, so Channa says! O, there must be help somewhere, for such a state of things! I must find help; I will find help, for myself and my father and Yasodhara and everybody. I must find some way by which we shall not always be under the power of these hateful things, old age, and sickness, and death."

On another occasion as the Prince was driving to the Royal Gardens, he came face to face with a man garbed in the flowing orange-colored robes of the recluse. The Prince observed the Monk closely, and, feeling an inward pleasure at the calm and the dignified mien and the noble bearing of the man, he questioned Channa about the life led by such a person. The charioteer replied that the man belonged to the class of people who had "left the world" to seek a remedy for the sufferings and sorrows of the world. The Prince was highly elated over this, and going to the Gardens, spent the day happily, himself having made up his mind to leave home.

As the Prince thus sat thinking and talking to himself, news was brought to him that his wife had given birth to a fine baby boy. But the Prince showed no signs of gladness at the tidings. He only murmured with distracted look: "A Rahula has been born to me, a fetter has been born to me." And because this was what his father had said when he heard that he was born, the baby was called on his name-giving day, Prince Rahula.

After this day, King Suddhodana saw that it was of no more use trying to shut Prince Siddhattha up in his pleasant palace and keep him occupied only with his own pleasure and delight, so now he allowed him to go out into the city as much as he pleased. And very often the Prince drove round the city, seeing everything, and thinking, always thinking about what he saw, and trying to make up his mind what to do.

After one of these drives through the city, as, on his way home again, he was passing the rooms of the palace where the ladies lived, one of the Princesses called Kisagotami happened to be looking out of her window, and seeing the Prince, she was much struck by his handsome, noble appearance, and exclaimed to herself: "O how happy, how cool, how content must be the mother, and the father, and the wife of such a splendid young Prince?"

But she spoke louder than she thought she was speaking, and the Prince, as he passed, heard what she was saying. And he thought to himself: "Yes, mother and father and wife have happiness and comfort and content in their hearts at having such a son and husband. But what is real true happiness and comfort and content?"

And the Prince's mind, being already turned away from delight in worldly things by the sights he had seen and the thoughts about them that filled his mind all the time, he said low to himself: "Real true happiness and comfort and content come when the fever of craving and of hating and of delusion is cured. When the fires of pride and false notions and passions are all put out, then comes real true happiness and coolness and content. And that is what I and all men need to get. That is what I must now go forth and seek. I cannot stay any longer in this palace leading this life of pleasure. I must go forth at once and seek, and go on seeking till I find it -- that real true happiness which will put me and all men beyond the power of old age and sickness and death. This lady had taught me a good lesson. Without meaning it she has been a good teacher to me. I must send her a teacher's fee."

So he took from his neck a fine pearl necklace he was wearing at the time, and sent it with his compliments to Princess Kisagotami. And the princess accepted it from the Prince's messenger and sent him back with her warmest thanks to the Prince, for she thought it was meant for a token that the handsome and clever young Prince Siddhattha had fallen in love with her and wished to make her his second wife.

But the Prince's thoughts were very far indeed from any such thing, and his father and his wife knew it very well. Indeed, every one about the Prince could see that he was now completely changed, more serious and thoughtful than he had ever been, when he came home from this day's ride about the city. But the father could not bear to lose his son without making one more, one last attempt to keep him. So he caused all the cleverest and most entrancingly beautiful singers and dancers in the kingdom to be brought to his son's palace, and they sang and danced before Prince Siddhattha as King Suddhodana commanded, doing their very best with their gayest, sweetest songs, their most enchanting and alluring postures to draw from his son smiles of approval and pleasure. And for a time the Prince looked at, and listened to them, not wishing to disappoint his father by a flat refusal to see them. But his eyes only half saw the beautiful, enticing forms before him, for his mind was taken up with something else that never left it alone now; he was thinking of the one only thing that now seemed worth thinking about at all -- how old age and sickness and death might be escaped by him and by all men, for ever. And at last, weary with so much thinking, worn out with so much brooding, in the midst of the music and loveliness that no longer now had power to charm or please, he fell into a dozing sleep.

The singers and dancers soon noticed that he whom they were supposed to be amusing, cared so little for their efforts, that he did not even take the trouble to keep awake and look at, and listened to them. So they stopped their dancing and singing, and lay down just where they were to wait till the Prince woke again. And soon they, too, like the Prince, fell asleep without knowing it, leaving the lights in the room all burning.

After some time the Prince woke from his doze and looked round him in astonishment, and also in disgust; for what did he see? All those girls who were supposed to be the prettiest and most charming in the country, and only a little while before had been posing before him in the most enchanting attitudes, now were scattered about the floor of the apartment in the ugliest, the most ungainly positions imaginable; some snoring like so many pigs, some with their mouths gaping wide open, some with the spittle oozing from the corners of their lips dribbling down over their dresses, some grinding their teeth in their sleep like hungry demons. So ugly, so repulsive did they look, one and all, that the Prince wondered how he ever could have taken any pleasure in them. The sight of all this that he once had thought loveliness so completely turned to loathsomeness, was the last thing needed to fill his mind with complete disgust for the life he was leading. His mind was now fully made up to leave all this repulsiveness behind him, and to go forth immediately to look for that real happiness which would bring to an end all evil things.

Rising quietly, so as not to disturb and wake any of the sleeping girls, he stole out of his room, and called his servant Channa to him, and told him to saddle his favorite white horse, Kanthaka, for now, at once, he was going out on a long journey.

While Channa was away getting ready Kanthaka, Siddhattha thought he would go and take a last look at his little son before he left. So he went to the room where his wife lay sleeping with her babe beside her. But when he opened the door and looked in, he saw that his wife was sleeping with her hand so placed that it rested on and was covering the baby's head.

"If I try to move her hand," said the Prince to himself, "so as to see my boy's face, I fear I may wake her. And if she wakes, she will not let me go away. No, I must go now without seeing my son's face this time; but when I have found what I am going forth to seek, I shall come back and see him and his mother again."

Then, very quietly, so as to wake nobody, the Prince slipped out of the palace, and in the stillness of the midnight hour mounted his white horse Kanthaka who also kept quite quiet, and neither neighed nor made any other sound that might wake any one. Then, with faithful Channa holding on to Kanthaka's tail, Siddhattha came to the city gate, and, passing through without any one trying to stop him, rode away from all who knew and loved him.

When he had gone a little distance, he pulled up Kanthaka and, turning round, took a last look at the city of Kapilavatthu sleeping there so calm and quiet in the moonlight, while he, its Prince, was leaving it like this, not knowing when he should see it again. It was the city of his fathers, the city where he was leaving behind him a young and beloved wife, and a precious infant son, but he did not weaken in his resolve one jot; no thought of turning back to them entered his mind. That mind was now thoroughly made up. Again he turned his face in the direction he had to go, and rode on till he came to the banks of a river called the Anoma. Here he dismounted, and standing on the sandy beach, that on both hands, stretched away, white as silver, in the moonlight, he took off all his jewels and ornaments, and giving them to Channa, said: "Here, good Channa. Take these adornments of mine and white Kanthaka, and take them back home. The hour has now come for me to give up the worldly life."

"O my dear master," cried Channa, "do not go away like this all by yourself. Let me too leave the world and come with you."

But although Channa again, and yet once more, asked to be allowed to stay with his master and to go with him wherever he went, the Prince was firm and refused to take him with him.

"It is not yet the time for you to retire from the worldly life," he said to Channa. "Go back to the city at once and tell my father and mother from me that I am quite well." And he forced him to take all his jewelry from him and also his horse Kanthaka.

Channa could not now refuse to do what his master commanded him, so with a heavy heart and weeping sorely, he turned back along the white moonlit road to the city leading Kanthaka by the bridle to take the sad news to Kapilavatthu that his beloved master, their prince, at last as he long had threatened, had left parents and wife and children and kingdom behind him, and had gone away to be a wanderer without a home.

In this way it was that at the age of twenty-nine, in the full flush of early manhood, while still black-haired and young and strong, Prince Siddhattha Gotama of the noble house of the Sakya race, went forth from home into homelessness, in order to seek for himself and for all men, some way whereby he and they might win forever beyond the reach of all ill, all distress, all grief, all sorrow, all despair.

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last updated: 13-06-2005